Van Cortlandt Park

John Muir Trail

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

By hiking a nature trail, you honor the spirit of John Muir. This great Scottish-American preservationist can be considered the father of our National Parks, and founder of the modern environmental movement. More than anything, though, he loved a walk in the woods.

Born on April 21, 1838, in Scotland, Muir immigrated to Wisconsin at age 11. Life on his family’s farm was hard, and his father was tough, but Muir found solace in long woodland walks. As a young man, he walked 1,000 miles through the wilderness to Florida, explored the Sierra Nevadas in California, and traveled the American West.

Muir likened the wilderness to a church and he believed passionately that the nation’s forests and wilderness ought to be preserved. He helped found the Sierra Club in 1892, became an advisor to the U.S. Forestry Commission in 1897, and in 1903 hosted President Theodore Roosevelt on a three-day hike around Yosemite National Park. John Muir’s writings, lobbying, and perseverance set the stage for the creation of our national park system. By the time of his death in 1914, he had helped preserve over 166 million acres of wild lands, including the giant sequoia groves of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite Valley, and the Grand Canyon.

Van Cortlandt Park is the third largest park in New York City, with 1,146 acres of forest, wetlands, and meadow. The John Muir Nature Trail, the only east-west route in the park, explores three ecologically distinct wooded areas.

The Northeast Forest is a moist wood of red oak, sweetgum, and tulip trees. A walk in the woods reveals a freshwater marsh. In the spring, one is welcomed by the calls of countless frogs, including the tiny spring peeper.

At Croton Woods you will be greeted by sugar maple, oak, beech, and hickory trees, and a babbling brook. The Old Croton Aqueduct, built in the 1830s to provide fresh water to the City of New York, passes through underground. A large stone building here houses a weir, which regulated the rate of flow for the City’s water system.

The Northwest Forest features hilly terrain, with stately tulip, oak and hickory trees. Venture deeper into the woods on the Cass Gallagher Nature Trail.

Directions to Van Cortlandt Park

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