This weekend, the Cyclehaven9w crew (just two of us) took on the North / South County Trailway from Brewster, NY down to NYC’s city limits in Van Cortlandt Park. I’ve done the full route twice now, and it’s approximately 50 miles from start to finish. A fair number of people will do the full century out and back.
The history of the trail is pretty neat and there are signs at random intervals offering information along the way. In effect, the trail used to be a commuter line! You can definitely see remnants of rail beds here and there.
We started out the day taking the train from Grand Central – there were A LOT of cyclists on the train (easily over 20). Remember, this was at 7:50 am on a Sunday Morning. It’s always nice to see the sheer diversity of the demographic taking a weekend train at that hour. You have people going to work, people headed home after a weekend in the city, cyclists in spandex, families, etc…
Getting to Brewster took more or less an hour and a half. As an aside, there *IS* a bathroom in the tiny train station. The trailhead is currently ~1 mile from the station. You essentially make a left turn, go up a very short hill, and then take the first left that goes over the train tracks. From here, you will keep straight ahead, go over a somewhat short hill, until you get to the stop light at Putnam Avenue. Across the intersection, you will see the trailhead on the righthand side.
They are in the process of building out the trail to bring the start of it closer to the station. If I had to take a guess, I’d say it’ll be another 9 months – 1 year before it’ll be done.
The first portion of the North / South County Trail is actually known as the Putnam County Trail – but it’s arguably the most scenic, followed closely by the North County Trail. You’ll pass by reservoirs, farm lands, and it’s also pretty smooth. I can’t say the same for the North County Trail – there is a need for resurfacing because some of the trees growing on the side of the trail have spread their roots and as a result, cracked the asphalt.
Since the route used to be a commuter line, it’s never too steep in any portion. I don’t think I saw a grade % over 6% (and in very small sections). That said, I felt a bit sore the next day after this route because I was constantly standing to avoid absorbing the bumps in the road with my skeleton.
I’d say the absolute highlight of the entire trail was the wooden bridge spanning the New Croton Reservoir. It’s so incredibly peaceful and the sound that your bike makes over the boards are similar to the Brooklyn Bridge, minus all noise pollution.
There are a couple portions thereafter in Milwood where the trail seems to abruptly stop and you’re guided towards a big road very similar in feel to the flatter sections of 9W. There’s a portion where you can ride behind the car barriers, or you can carry on via the wide shoulder – probably faster that way (less debris, smoother).
To be honest, the next portion of the North County Trail was nice, but bumpy from the tree roots that I mentioned earlier. You’ll pass under some overpasses, pass over some underpasses, etc… Immediately before reaching Elmsford, you’ll pass right by a Coca-Cola distribution center, FedEx center, UPS, and finally the trail will end seemingly out of the blue.
Within the next year, I believe that will no longer be the case because they are working steadily on creating a seamless trail connection to lead you to the South County Trail. Currently, you will have to take a mix of main streets (two blocks) to some desolate warehouse streets (I believe one of them is called Warehouse Lane). After that section, the South County Trail begins across the street – this is a highly trafficked road, so it may take a few minutes to get across. If you need to stop for food or water, there’s a Subway sandwich shop, a deli, and a number of other small places for pitstops.
From there, the South County Trail becomes less tree-lined and ends up going through various parking lots, construction sites. This does not last too long though – and the trail opens up to a slightly long hill. It’s really funny because when I first tried this route, I’d never been on 9W, so I felt as thought it was somewhat hilly. Not very difficult, but still a hill by any means. On this ride, I kept waiting for the “hill” but never passed it. Until I realized, I had gotten so used to the 9%+ grades in certain areas near 9W that the 1.7% was essentially flat. The same goes for the “descent.”
When you reach the top of this “hill”, if there’s not too much foliage on the trees, you will be able to see the NYC skyline on your left, which is awesome! I could hardly see any buildings, as the vegetation is pretty full these days.
You will pass by the Saw Mill Parkway, Brophy Brother’s Produce, and all of a sudden, the trail will seemingly end and leave a packed dirt path in its wake. If it has been raining, or if it rained within the past few days, this will be a muddy mess. If not, it should be manageable for even road bikes (though not pleasant on 23’s by any means). On the Caadx, it was actually fun, I was able to comfortably get up to 14 mph. This section is only ~0.5 miles, so it’s not bad at all.
When you cross over a small blue bridge, you’ll see a rusting structure on the left-hand side, off of the trail. That used to be a commuter station for the train! (Picture is near the top of the post). It’s also here where you’ll make a left before the station and follow that path which will lead you under another blue bridge. The path is paved again here, but not in the best condition. You essentially can keep going straight, passing a sports field on the left and finally, you can see the above ground (end of the line) 242nd street 1-train station above Broadway.
On this ride, we took a mix of streets and made it over the Broadway Bridge. I’m never sure if cyclists should take the mini-sidewalk packed with pedestrians, or ride over the roadway. We decided to ride over, which was a neat experience since it’s grated, you can see the water 30 or 40 feet beneath your wheels.
I picked up the A train from 207th street and Broadway (now in Manhattan). All in all, a very nice route – it was a bit boring at times since it’s not very challenging, but it’s excellent for a good recovery ride, and if you’re looking for a place to relax while you ride and admire the scenery.
Video Recap of the ride: