The Putnam Trail is located on the western edge of Van Cortlandt Lake and along Tibbetts Brook. The 1.5–mile trail occupies the old rail bed of the New York Central Railroad’s Putnam Division. Construction of the rail line began in 1870 and took ten years. The last passenger service on the line ended in 1958; however some freight continued to be carried on the line until the early 1980’s. Throughout the trail, hikers will notice the former rail line’s passages integrated into the park’s landscape — iron bridge structures at the trail’s south end and large underpasses below the roadways that weave through the park.
An entrance to the trail is in the northwest corner of a large parking lot along Van Cortland Park South. Just south of this entrance are the remnants of an old passenger platform. From this point moving north, the trail is frequently used and a wide dirt and grass corridor allows easy passage on foot or on bicycle. South of this point the trail is heavily overgrown.
As the trail stretches northward there are several connections to the John Kieran Nature Trail. Further north, the trail crosses a small bridge that spans an arm of Van Cortlandt Lake. Across the lake are views of the Bronx skyline and the impressive golf course club house. Van Cortlandt is the largest freshwater lake in the Bronx. This manmade lake was created during the 1690s when Tibbetts Brook was dammed to power a gristmill and is home to ducks, geese, swans and other waterfowl.
Among the unusual sights along the Putnam Trail are 13 large stone pedestals erected along the western side of the trail near a connecting trail to the Park’s Parade Ground. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt placed the stone slabs along New York Central’s Putnam Division as an experiment. Stone samples were sent to the location from quarries across the northeast to determine which material would be the most impervious to weathering. The choice building material would be used to erect Grand Central Station in New York City. In the end, the second southern most stone, Indiana limestone, was chosen not for its durability but because it was cheaper to transport.
At the Westchester County line, the Putnam Trail joins the South County Trailway, an asphalt paved trail extending for 2.35 miles to Redmond Park in Yonkers.