Sussex Branch Trail Lake

Riding the Sussex Branch Trail

Beaver lodge along Sussex Branch Trail

A beaver lodge on a reflective lake: one of many nature scenes on the Sussex Branch Trail

If you are looking to ride your bike on a rail trail that offers a great deal of solitude, check out the Sussex Branch Trail, which as the name suggests, is located in Sussex County, New Jersey. This trail is 18 miles long, unpaved, and goes through many quiet areas where you can easily spot wildlife. This trail is also a great feature of our New Jersey End-to-End bike tour. 

While the Sussex Branch trail is generally flat, thanks to the fact that it was once the Sussex Branch line of the former Erie Lackawana Railroad, it has its “ups and downs” in terms of conditions and maintenance. The trail is not paved, and can have lots of puddles, mud and flooding if it has recently rained. In autumn, this trail is a spectacular tunnel of color, but that also means that there are leaves on the trail obscuring rocks. No matter when you go, make sure you show up with a mountain bike or a hybrid bike. Take your time and go slow. There’s no need for speed and it’s better to relax and enjoy the quiet solitude. The generally tough conditions of this trail help keep it quiet, and you may go long distances without seeing another cyclist. 

Sussex Branch Trail conditions

One of the smoother sections of trail.

The Sussex Branch trail generally runs north-south between the Borough of Branchville and Allamuchy Mountain State Park at the southern end of Byram Township, right at the border of Morris County and Mount Olive Township. Mount Olive has a train station that is located about a mile away from the trailhead in Allamuchy Mountain State Park, so the NJ Transit Morris and Essex Line train is your only option if you are seeking to access the Sussex Branch Trail by train with your bike  Be advised that the train serves the Mount Olive station on weekdays only and you will have to switch trains in Dover if you are coming from NYC. 

If you are driving, the clearest parking area is at the southern end in Allamuchy Mountain State Park.  Just off Waterloo Road (County Road 604) is a sizable parking lot with a port-a-potty. This is also the closest parking area to Interstate 80. But there are also other parking areas available along the route, mostly just roadside pull-offs.  Consult this map produced by the Sussex County tourism organization for parking locations and other info about accommodations, and things to do near the trail. 

Sussex Branch Trail Lake

One of the many viewpoints of quiet lakes along the trail.

Starting at the south parking lot, you immediately get to travel north through Allamuchy Mountain State Park which has two beautiful lakes that you can stop and enjoy. Unfortunately, the first lake has you riding close to its dam and this area can severely flood under the wrong conditions. (We’re not kidding – check out this video!)  Allamuchy State park used to have quarries and you can see the remnants of those as smaller ponds along the route.  Eventually you will reach Cranberry Lake and you will get to ride along its shore.  The trail enters a small commercial area here with a deli and then goes along Route 206, more or less through parking lots, and then as a dirt path on the side of the road. Eventually the road rises up above you and you are down lower, which means poor drainage after a rain.  The good news is that Route 206 has wide shoulders here, so you can hop off and so some road riding if you want a break from the trail conditions. 

Quarry pond

You can see these quarry ponds adjacent to the trail in Allamuchy Mountain State Park

At Whitehall Hill Road, there is a gap in the trail, but instead of riding along Route 206, you can ride along the much quieter Whitehall Hill Road, which parallels Route 206. At the junction of Whitehall Hill Road, Whitehall Road and Morris and Sussex Turnpike look for a little dirt path off to the right.  That is where the trail picks up again. This time you are higher up, above Route 206.  No flooding here, but it is bumpy. Take your time and push through. You’ll be rewarded by going over an old stone bridge. Shortly after you’ll arrive in Andover, which has a few restaurants and bunch of antique shops. 

Old stone bridge

The trail goes over this stone bridge

North of Andover, the trail gets very quiet again as you veer away from Route 206 and head back into the woods. You will skirt along the east side of Newtown (another opportunity to access stores and restaurants) and you will need to ride on Hicks Avenue for a short distance to cover a break in the trail.  After that, it is very quiet as you bike through the woods next to several streams. One interesting site you will see is the crossing of the Paulinskill Valley Trail high above you.  This is another rail trail that was built on a line of the former New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad.  It is an uncommon sight to see two rail trail bike paths cross each other like this!

Paulinskill Valley Trail

The Paulinskill Valley Trail passes high above you.

Soon after this crossing you will approach Lafayette Township where the trail starts going along Route 15. Fortunately, you are far enough away from the road to not be distracted by a lot of car noise. Also, at this point you are biking along the Paulins Kill, a rushing stream whose flowing water adds to the sounds you will hear. But you are never far from Route 15 which has restaurants and stores along it, particularly if you need a restroom. 

sculpture garden

A quirky trail-side sculpture garden welcomes you to Lafayette Township

The bike path flows in the same direction as the streams you will pass, which in a few miles takes you to Branchville where the Sussex Branch Trail ends.  The trail ends unceremoniously on Mill Street and then it’s just a quick bike ride to the borough’s historic business district where shops and restaurants are available.

Sussex Branch Trail farm scene

This bucolic farm scene is not very far from services located along Route 15 and the end of the trail in Branchville.

Bronx River Greenway

Bronx River Waterfall

The Bronx River Valley has been a corridor for transportation and industry throughout New York’s history. As the only fresh-water river in NYC it played an important role in industry, with many mills set up along its banks, the remnants of which can be seen in the many “waterfalls” you see along the river flowing over dams that date back to the 19th century. The Bronx River Valley has also been an important transportation corridor dating back to the 1840’s when the New York and Harlem Railroad was constructed (now the the Metro-North Harlem Line) and the construction of the Bronx River Parkway in 1907 as the first parkway to be constructed in the United States.

One of the innovations of parkway construction at the dawn of the automobile era was the preservation of lands along each side of the roadway as dedicated parkland.  This parkland has allowed for the development of one of the region’s best bicycle paths.  While not fully complete, you can ride 25 miles between the source of the Bronx River in Valhalla to and the mouth of the river at Claisson Point in the Bronx by using existing trail segments and roads that fill in the gaps.  Eventually, both the City of New York, with the help of the Bronx River Alliance, and Westchester County are committed to constructing a trailway along the river’s entire length.  But for now, you can ride the whole river mostly on bike paths, so long as you are OK with detours onto nearby streets.

One of the nicest attributes about the Bronx River Greenway is that it connects many downtown areas with restaurants, services, train stations and parking. So you are never far from services and this is an ideal ride to do one-way and take the train back, since the bike path follows the Metro-North Harlem Line closely.  So whether you want to ride a little, or a lot, the Bronx River Greenway is a great choice for a day out on a bike that is close to home.  During spring and autumn you can also combine your ride with Bicycle Sundays which involve the closure of the Bronx River Parkway for bikes and pedestrians between Yonkers and White Plains.  

Concrete Plant Park

In the Bronx, the Greenway takes you though a series of smaller parks, such as Concrete Plant Park.

Let’s take a look at the route from south to north.  For an overview of the route in both the Bronx and Westchester, click here. Use this map to guide you as you read, since your ride will take you through many different park areas and then on streets in between. But this map is not a recommended route. Please consult the various other maps we call your attention to later in this article. To start with, you may also want to check out the maps and cue sheets on this webpage

Classon Point is at the south end. There is a dock here that gets regular NYC Ferry service which is a great way to arrive with your bike if you are coming from Brooklyn, Queens or Manhattan. Parking here is also relatively easy to find. From here you will ride through a series of parks with a little on-street riding in between each. Head directly out on a bike path which takes you through Soundview Park along the tidal flats of the mouth of the Bronx River. Then with a little knowledge of local streets from a map, you can get across the Bruckner Expressway to Concrete Plant Park. From here the route is well put together, with signage and a protected bike lane along the decommissioned Sheridan Expressway (now Sheridan Boulevard) which leads to Starlight Park.

Starlight Park Bronx

Cheering on riders in Starlight Park during the Tour de Bronx in October

North of here, the park land is interrupted as you go through the bustling West Farms neighborhood. This is a major transit hub for subways and buses, so it’s a good starting point if you want to take the subway to get to the ride. You can also try your luck with parking here since there is good highway access at this particular spot. Again a map is helpful getting you through the neighborhood streets.  Watch out for cars!

The good news is that it’s only a half mile of on-street riding and then you are back on a nice bike path starting at 180th Street. At this point you are going to be on a path for a while as you go through Bronx Park, so relax and enjoy. If you are interested in an odd piece of New York history, take a very small detour to the East 180th Street subway station, which used to be a train terminal for the now-defunct New York, Boston and Westchester Railroad. Both the 2 and 5 trains stop here and the 5 continues on along the old NY,B &W route to Dyre Avenue.

Bronx River Pathway

The Bronx River Greenway in Shoelace Park is wide and straight.

Once you are on this bike path, everything is straightforward and well marked almost until you reach the northern border of NYC. There are also plenty of restrooms and water fountains (usually found at playgrounds) along the way. The only challenging section is where you need to cross Pelham Parkway. This is a busy street that is difficult to cross.  So take your time and use the pedestrian signals.  Or check out the neighborhood and get a snack or lunch while you are there. 

After about 4.3 miles of riding on this path, you will reach Woodlawn Heights, which is where NYC ends and Westchester County begins. The bike path here continues north of 233 Street, but it is a dead-end bike path that goes to Muskrat Cove, a quiet little spot along the Bronx River in between the parkway and the railroad. So if you want to check it out, you’ll have to go back to 233 Street again. Be aware of homeless encampments if you go on this bike path.  From 233 Street you are looking at 4 miles of on-road riding to get to the next trail segment. So you may want to take a break here and grab lunch while you figure out the best route for you to ride. The Woodlawn Heights neighborhood is famous for Irish restaurants. Or you can head up Bronx Boulevard and get great jerk chicken and BBQ from the Cookmaster who sets up shop most days in the summer on the sidewalk in front of a self-storage facility.

Muskrat Cove

The ride to Muskrat Cove goes under the looming Nereid Avenue Bridge.

There is a lot of debate about the best on-road route to connect the Bronx and Westchester segments of this trail. On our map we use a jumble of streets in southeast Yonkers that takes you to Kimball Avenue, which is a relatively wide 2-lane road. It’s a mystery why the City of Yonkers doesn’t stripe this road with bike lanes. If you go this way, you will need to be careful riding past Cross County Shopping Center because there are a lot of cars here.  But north of the mall you’ll ride through Sarah Lawrence College, which is a nice change. Right after Sarah Lawrence the bike path starts up again. Another route is offered on these cue sheets. You should decide the best route for you. 

This 4 mile gap will probably be the least pleasant part of your ride, since there are no signs to guide you and you will be on streets with cars. Rest assured, Westchester County will eventually construct a bike path for this segment, but it has been hard to engineer using the available land.  If you don’t want to ride this part, you can also ride Metro-North railroad with your bike between the Woodlawn Station and the Bronxville station.  Trains run every 30 minutes on weekends and you can bring your bike on board for this 8 minute ride. 

Bicycle Sunday Bronx River Parkway

On Sundays during spring and autumn, the Bronx River Parkway is closed to cars.

Once you are in Bronxville, the final 11 miles of your ride are going to be pretty nice as you ride a bike path through the Bronx River Reservation. While there are few directional signs here, the bike path is (mostly) intuitive. The path also closely follows the Metro-North Harlem Line with direct access to several train stations which is perfect for getting to the trail and then back home again.  There is also free parking at many of these stations on weekends if you want to drive to the trail. Westchester County Parks has also produced a nice map of this trail showing access points and parking.   

Once you are north of Scarsdale Road in Yonkers, the bike path parallels the section of the Bronx River Parkway that is closed on Sundays in the spring and fall for “Bicycle Sundays”. So if you are doing your ride on a  Sunday, you can choose to ride on the bike path or on the parkway itself. Either way, you’ll go directly through the center of a number of downtowns offering places to get lunch. Restrooms, however, are harder to find. 

When you get north of Scarsdale, you will need to be aware that there is an interruption in the trail. Most people ride on Fox Meadow Road in between these trail segments.  Westchester County is currently constructing this missing piece of trail now, which should hopefully be open soon. 

XC skiing on the Bronx River Pathway

The section just south of White Plains is great for cross-country skiing when it snows.

When you get to White Plains the bike path goes under two roadway bridges. Ring your bell if you have one as you approach the bridges because there are sometimes homeless people under them and you’ll want to give them a heads up. They won’t bother you. White Plains is a busy place, but if you are tempted to get off the trail and explore, be aware that the streets in White Plains are very inhospitable to bikes and, unless you like brutalist architecture, there aren’t a lot of places worth checking out unless you ride several blocks into the core of downtown. There is, however, a hot dog stand right next to the trail that is popular with local cyclists. 

After the bridges and the hot dog stand, the bike path goes through a large parking lot associated with the Westchester County Center. They have restrooms here, but you’ll have to cross the parkway using a pedestrian signal to get to them. You can also park here, but you have to pay a fee. 

Kensico Dam

Kensico Dam Plaza is a bold visual finish to your ride.

The final 3 miles of the pathway between White Plains and Kensico Dam Plaza is a relaxing finish to the ride. There is plenty to explore at Kensico Dam, including a hike to the top of the dam. On weekends there are also a number of cultural festivals that are held here. From the dam you are a short bike ride to downtown Valhalla which has several nice restaurants which are perfect for the end of your ride.  There is also a Metro-North station here if you want to get back to the city. Parking at Kensico Dam Plaza is free, so you could also start here and ride this bike path in the reverse order if you wanted to. 

The Bronx Greenway Mosholu / Pelham System

Bronx Greenway Mosholu Pelham System

One of the best bicycle path networks in the New York Metro Region is located in the Bronx. While many counties and cities in our region have great bicycle paths, a common issue among many of them is connectivity. Perhaps they run a few miles and stop. Or perhaps one trail is unable to connect to another thanks to a missing piece. The Bronx is fortunate in this regard in that a number of bike paths connect together into a system that stretches almost entirely across the borough.  As shown on the excerpt of the NYC Bike Map below, the Mosholu-Pelham Greenway System is the spine of a large network of trails that connects cyclists to attractions such as Orchard Beach, City Island, the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Gardens as well as many local neighborhoods, great restaurants, employment sites, universities, swimming pools, golf courses (including mini-golf courses) and more. 

NYC Bike Map

This trail of networks is the showpiece of the Tour de Bronx bike tour that is held every October. But it’s also a system that can be easily used by residents and visitors alike, with many access points, parking areas and transit connections. So it’s perfect place to go for a day-long outing. It also connects to other regional trail systems such as the North-South County Trailway in Westchester and the multi-state East Coast Greenway.

East Coast Greenway

This trail system is part of the larger East Coast Greenway.

While this trail system generally runs east-west, there are a number of connections that will also take you north or south. The west end of this system is Van Cortlandt Park, which is home to many sports fields, a pool, a golf course, and the historic Van Cortlandt House Museum. It is in Van Cortlandt Park that this system connects to Westchester’s South County Trailway, which will take you more than 50 miles north up to Brewster in Putnam County. Trailside parking is available at the Van Cortlandt Golf Course and you can also easily get to the park by subway. Leaving Van Cortlandt Park, the bike path system goes along Mosholu Parkway where it connects with the New York Botanical Gardens.  There is bike parking at the garden entrance here.

Moving east, the Mosholu/Pelham system merges into the Bronx River Greenway, a longer north-south route that generally follows the length of the Bronx River between Kensico Dam in Valhalla to Soundview where the Bronx River empties into the East River. It is here that you can access the Bronx Zoo or a number of Metro-North train stations. There is also on-street parking on most of the side streets here. 

Bronx River Pathway

The Bronx River Greenway is a (mostly completed) bike path between Kensico Dam and the East River

At Pelham Parkway, the Mosholu/Pelham system breaks away from the Bronx River and heads east again as a bike path within the large median of Pelham Parkway. A quick side trip to the south brings you to the Morris Park neighborhood, with many great Italian restaurants. If you just want to stop for a quick lunch there are many options including the famous Emilio’s pizza which has a one-of-a-kind recipe for chicken vodka sauce slices. You could also park within this neighborhood or take the subway here with your bike. 

Pelham Bay Park

Ride through Pelham Bay Park, next to an equestrian trail and a historic mansion.

As the bike network crosses highway interchanges for both the Hutchinson River Parkway and I-95, you will need to cross many exit and entrance ramps here, so be careful. Most of these are well marked with signs and crosswalks, but always watch out for speeding cars. You can also gain access to the Hutchinson River Greenway here, which is another great north-south route that follows the Hutchinson River Parkway. 

Once you cross I-95 you are in Pelham Bay Park, which is New York City’s largest park. This park includes Orchard Beach, Split Rock Golf Course, the Bartow-Pell Mansion Historic Site, Turtle Cove batting cages and mini-golf, and a stable for horseback riding. All of these attractions are right on the bike path which takes you as far east as City Island or north to the Village of Pelham Manor, where the trail dumps you out on a residential street that continues as part of the East Coast Greenway. City Island also features a number of great restaurants and it is a very interesting community to visit. Riding your bike to City Island also lets you not have to think about traffic or parking. Isn’t that great?

Orchard Beach & City Island

Relax by the water on City Island or at Orchard Beach