Breakneck Ridge

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Cold Spring, New York, weather forecast

Scenery: 5 cameras out of 5

Difficulty: 10 out of 10 (crazy steep hike)

Highlights: Insane views, incredibly steep trail, rock scrambling

Distance: 3.7 miles, loop

Approximate roundtrip time: 4 hours

Total ascent: 1,442 ft

Max elevation: 1,207 ft above sea level

GPS goodies:  Google Terrain map and a cool Google Earth flyover of hike route

This hike is for you if: You want to take in some of the best views in the Hudson Valley, and you’re not afraid of doing some serious rock scrambling to see them.

Background you can feel free to skip:  Until recently, I didn’t understand why Breakneck Ridge was such a wildly popular hike.  It had been many years since I’d climbed it, and my most vivid memory from Breakneck was our friends hoisting their black lab over some rocks that were too steep for their poor pooch to climb.  Nearby Bull Hill offers similar views without Breakneck’s crazy steepness.  Why would anyone want to climb an elevator shaft when they could just take the stairs instead?

In preparing this write-up, I gave Breakneck another shot, taking half a day off work to meet my buddy Rob, who hopped the train from Grand Central up to Cold Spring, about a mile south of the trailhead.  (For New York City hikers, there’s also a Breakneck Ridge MTA stop right across the street from the trailhead, with a limited weekend-only schedule.  See this very nice Breakneck write-up from nycdayhiking.com for more information on that stop.)

After hiking the loop up Breakneck again, I can’t understand why I ever thought this place was anything short of spectacular.  A few weeks after our hike, Rob sent me this link to a very cool, 2.5-minute video he put together from our day at Breakneck, which helps to show why it’s such a popular place.  With multiple cliff overlooks and ever-expanding views the entire way up, this hike is not to be missed.

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It is extremely difficult, though, and I’d be very hesitant to recommend this hike for small children.  I’ve done most of the hikes in Hike the Hudson Valley with a baby on my back, but I’d never attempt that here.  And I’d only bring a dog that I could carry.

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I didn’t see any other dogs there that day, but a fellow hiker assured me that she sees dogs here all the time.  There were several spots where my pooch Memphis needed a boost, and I honestly don’t see how a dog would get over some of those spots without being picked up and placed on top of the rocks.

The point I’m trying to make: This hike is steep.

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It is also gorgeous and unforgettable.  If you have a chance to pay a visit to Breakneck Ridge, don’t pass it up.  And if you don’t have a chance, you should probably make one anyway.

**UPDATE October 2014** A friendly first responder reached out to me with this message: “Our local volunteer first responders do a lot of rescues at Breakneck. Amazing how ill-prepared some folks are when they attempt any outdoor adventure.”  She recommends that everyone review this list before attempting this hike.  Good advice!  Let’s make sure your day at Breakneck is memorable for the right reasons.


Trail guide:

1.  From the parking area by the tunnel (or the overflow parking just north – see “Directions to the trailhead” below), head to the northern side of the tunnel and grab a map from the box at the trailhead.  If you’re the preparing type, you can also print this PDF trail map from the NYS Parks dept.

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2.  Climb up and over the tunnel that runs over Rt 9D, following the White Trail markers.

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3.  Keep climbing.  Up and up and up.  After what feels like quite a climb (because it is), you’ll come to a flagpole with a great overlook.  Across the river is Storm King Mountain.  To your right is Pollepel Island with Bannerman’s Castle perched on the side, and the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge beyond.  Incidentally, has anyone ever called this bridge the Hamilton Fish Bridge, like it says on the sign as you cross it?  If you pointed to it right now and called it the Hamilton Fish Bridge, you’d probably be the first.

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4.  Enjoy the view toward the river, and try not to think too much about what’s waiting behind you.

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Oops, you thought about it, didn’t you?  Oh well, might as well start climbing again.  Just keep following those white markers.

There are a few spots where you can choose steeper or less steep options, which you’ll see marked with an X pointing left and right.

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See that guy on the cliff in the picture above?  He was heading down, and when he popped out beside a rock to my left (I was looking right – he surprised me), I realized that the trail was less steep the way he came down.  That guy saved me at least one dog-carry.

5.  Keep climbing, and the flagpole becomes a distant memory.

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6.  Take some time to enjoy the next cliff overlook.

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7.  Keep climbing, and eventually, this mountain will run out of bluffs to throw at you.  Really, it will.  When it feels like you’re at the top and you can’t see any more bluffs in front of you, you’re probably there.  You’ll have traveled about a mile, though it seems more like ten.  The next three miles on the loop fly by in comparison.

At the top, above a couple of nice little pine trees, enjoy the view and munch a granola bar or two, if you packed ‘em.

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8.  It wouldn’t be a bad hike to just go straight back down the White Trail from here.  That’s really where the best views are.  Most hikers like a good loop, though, so if that applies to you, let’s keep trekking.  (Also, the rest of the loop doesn’t require any dog-carrying.  The thought of carrying my dog back down some of those White Trail sections again was enough to keep us pressing forward.)

9.  In the small saddle after the last big bluff, ignore the Yellow Trail as it departs to your right.  Keep heading straight on the White Trail.

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10.  You’re looking for a turnoff on your left to the Red Trail, after you pass one last small summit and a little marsh on your right (the frogs were going nuts in there when we walked past in late March – I thought we were coming upon a flock of turkeys.  Also, the Internet tells me that I should have said “a rafter of turkeys,” but somehow that seems like the only way to talk about turkeys and be pretentious at the same time.)

The turnoff to the Red Trail is very tough to miss.  The only thing it’s lacking is a flashing light, and perhaps some sort of siren.  When you see it, take a left.

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11.  Follow the Red Trail (aka the “Breakneck Bypass”) down a much more gradual descent through the woods, with occasional northerly views of Sugarloaf and the river.

12.  After 30-60 minutes, depending on how leisurely you’re strolling, the Red Trail dead-ends into the Wilkinson Memorial Trail, marked in yellow.  Take a left onto the Yellow Trail and keep following it downhill.

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13.  The Yellow Trail continues its gradual descent for 15 minutes or so, ending abruptly and dumping you unceremoniously onto Route 9D, which can be a pretty busy road.

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Normally, I hate road hikes, and don’t consider a loop trail that has a large road section to be much of a loop.  But you can actually see the parking area from the dump-out point, so we’ll let this one slide, especially since it kept us from having to carry our dogs back down the mountain.

Take a left onto Route 9D and walk carefully on the well-worn path beside it.

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14.  Carefully cross the street once you get back to your car.  Boom!  You did it.  Congratulations on knocking out one of the toughest hikes in the area.  Now find someone to show all your awesome pictures.

 


 

Directions to the trailhead: From the village of Cold Spring, head north on Route 9D for about one mile.  At the far end of the tunnel, turn left immediately into the small parking area.  If there aren’t any spots there, head north just a couple hundred more yards to find a larger lot on the left.

You can also get directions by checking out the Breakneck Ridge entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.

Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The intersection of Fair St and Route 9D in Cold Spring, NY is about a mile south of the Breakneck Ridge trailhead (the parking area is immediately north of the only tunnel around on Route 9D).  My old-ish Garmin Nuvi lets me put in an intersection as a destination, so hopefully yours does, too.

Related resources:  If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these pages:

  • New York State’s Hudson Highlands State Park page
  • New York State’s Hudson Highlands trail map
  • Some great preparation advice in this blog post from a Breakneck Ridge trail steward
  • Breakneck’s Wikipedia page
  • Train schedule for Breakneck’s MTA stop
  • Nycdayhiking.com’s very nice Breakneck write-up (and description for a longer loop trail)
  • The page to buy the awesome New York-New Jersey Trail Conference map for this area
  • Another nice Breakneck write-up from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

More Breakneck Ridge pictures from the hike’s Picasa album:

Was this trail guide useful to you?  Please leave a comment!


Search HiketheHudsonValley.com:

Search HiketheHudsonValley.com plus other awesome local sites (nynjtc.org, scenichudson.org, nysparks.com, catskillmountaineer.com, nycdayhiking.com, berkshirehiking.com, localhikes.com, njhiking.com, cnyhiking.com):




48 thoughts on “Breakneck Ridge

  1. Hi there,

    Great article. This may be a rhetorical question, but if I’m concerned about my dog, can I just take the yellow Wilkinson trail, to the red trail to the top?

    Thanks,

    Chris

    • Chris,

      Thanks! And yes, you can do that, then you could just take the White (Breakneck) Trail downhill until it gets too dicey for your pooch. You’d still get some nice views from the top of the White Trail that way, but if you had to turn around and come back the way you came, you’d be missing out on the awesome views and clifftop perches that are farther down the White Trail (near the flagpole and immediately above it). To me, helping a dog up a steep patch is easier than helping her down, so I prefer to come up the White Trail.

      That’s all a long way of saying — yes, your alternate plan would be perfectly pooch-safe, but you might miss out on a view or two.

      Hope you and your dog enjoy the hike — should be a beautiful time of year to visit!

      Mike

      • Thanks Mike,

        How about taking the alternate ‘x’ trails on the White on the way up. Does that make it anymore dog friendly?

        -Chris

        • Chris, a bit more — it did save me one dog carry to try the other way at one of the Xs — but there’s no way around hoisting the dog over certain sections. My dog is forty pounds and it wasn’t a huge issue — but I can imagine that it could be for some dogs, especially if their owners can’t help give them a boost. My friends’ black lab made it just fine, but that dog also needed to be hoisted in a couple of spots. I would think most healthy dogs should probably not have too much of an issue, but it’ll definitely be a team effort in places.

  2. I first did this hike 15 years ago with my new Bride and puppy, more recently (past 4 years I’ve done this hike in the spring and fall, with at the time 5 year old and his 9 year old brother, last time my 11 year old daughter joined us, looking forward to going again march/April 2013, I really enjoyed your video and pictures

    • That’s great that your kids were up to the challenge! I hope mine will be when they’re a little older, too (they’re 10 months and 3 years right now, so they’ve got a little time yet). Hope you have some great hikes this year, and thanks for the nice words!

  3. more than your average hike! Piles of slippery leaves, dry grass, etc. careful esp. coming down. Great vistas, bring a snack and water and chill. 9D north of tunnel near start, witnessed a dog severely stuck by a vehicle, just missed a kid. 10 min. later another crash which my daughter saw, I heard. Very dangerous combination of cars parked along the road, traffic going too fast, people crossing the street. Heads up!

  4. I’ve done this hike on numerous occasions & absolutely love it! I came across your website today when searching for other hikes in the area. Thanks for much for putting this all together, its awesome!

  5. This looks amazing! What special skills/equipment/preparation is needed to attempt this hike? Can a couple who hasn’t really hiked (but occasionally trailruns) complete this? We are runners and are in reasonably good shape (running 5K at least 5 times a week). Can we do this with no special prep?

    • Just good boots, you take the white trail up, easier staying to the left, nice hike on white and you can always go to the right for a more difficult climb, venture off trail for some abandoned building,s nice Hike , we go on weekdays because it can get busy on weekends, going next monday

    • Sounds like you’re in much better shape than me! You should be good to go. As RicheRich said, just good footwear, some water, snacks and a healthy sense of caution should be all you need. If you check it out, have fun! And if you go on one of these beautiful weekend days, enjoy all the company!

  6. Pingback: Losing Ourselves at Breakneck Ridge | A Fast Paced Life

  7. I came across an elevated catch basin in CT while hiking in Weatogue – at the same time of year you encountered these peepers. It wasn’t even big enough to call a pond. Actually, they are sizable frogs coming out of the mud and having an all-round party for getting out of their murky lairs. And, finding their mates. It was awesome loud and it looked like they were all hanging out in a hot-tub, except the water temp was probably not even 50F.
    Cheers,
    Peter

  8. Follow up to previous comment. I trekked this climb this past week on an impulse. I was in the area and decided to check out this view that I have driven past my entire life and never stopped to check it out.
    It is a pretty rigorous climb. There seems to be a direct almost straight-up route where you are virtually bouldering to get up. I had two camera bags and a solid tripod I was lugging up with me. I stopped to shoot every so often where there was an opening- caught some photos of cidadas in the trees along the way. Several great vantage points to shoot Bannerman’s Castle. On the way down there seemed to be a somewhat less challenging path along the north side of the direct route I took on the way up. Lugging my equipment back up again soon, I will stay to the left (north) side of what most people seemed to be taking. Excellent photo vantages at several points on the way up. I think photo ops may be very good at sunrise, but how to get up there that early is a question – maybe the back route which is covered in the latter half of the hike description above – do it in reverse in the dark???
    Otherwise, awesome hike so close to population – right off Rte 9D. Will be doing this again in the near future.

    • Hey Justin, I’m afraid I don’t know of an easy way to do it. The trailheads are about three miles apart. If you’re up for that stroll, I suppose it’s possible, but that’s a pretty long road trek. If anyone knows of a good cab service in Cold Spring, please illuminate us!

  9. Great hike – we did it yesterday July 4th. Great physical workout and challenge straight up. Loved it. Not so crowded as not that many people are making that trek straight up. It was a great round trip, white to red to yellow and down.
    BUT I would NOT recommend that people bring a dog if doing the white trail up. Depending on the time of year, I would truly advise not to bring the poor dogs. It’s scary for most of them but more importantly dangerous. The rocks were so HOT yesterday that they were burning my hands when climbing and grabbing a hand hold. I saw two dogs really suffering and having a hard time with their pads on those blazing hot rocks. So please use your brains and don’t bring the dogs. One little dog was so terrified and looked like he was going to have a heart attack and his people were too stupid to realize that. Finally enough people were yelling at them to please take the dog back down and stop torturing the poor dog. Another dog yelled out when he hit one of the rocks that was so hot and then stumbled backwards.

  10. The information that you provided was perfect. I can’t tell you how much my husband and I enjoyed the scramble up the first mile (with your encouragement that the rest would be easier). The Hudson River Valley is such a lovely place. Thank you.

  11. Great writeup, thanks!

    Just a note for dog owners: I live in Cold Spring and do this trail with my dog often, but she’s a Border Collie and kinda crazy athletic. She has no problem with this trail, but other dogs may. If your dog is lightweight, agile, and all over everything in the outdoors, it will probably be ok; if you have doubts, best to leave them behind.

  12. I’ve done this hike many times.. The views are breath taking. I’ve always taken the yellow down. If you take the yellow down and cross the bridge over a small creek and make a left, not far up is an old dairy barn. After exploring it for a few minutes I turn around and follow the road down you come across a cistern. The last two times I’ve passed it, it was filled with huge frogs. Continue walking and you will come to the old Cornish Estate. We were lucky enough to come across some locals who knew the history of the place and had some photos of what the house looked like before the fire. It’s a cool place to explore. To get back out to 9D you follow the red trail.

  13. Hello! I did the Labyrinth at Mohonk two years ago and loved it. There’s something so much more fun about rock scrambles vs. hiking. But I missed the Lemon Squeeze due to time constraints and pure inability to follow the right path. I’m looking at doing Breakneck, Mohonk, or something else in the area, and my main goal is fun rock scrambling without dying. The two mile walk just to GET to the rock scramble at Mohonk has me a little wary of Mohonk – how would you compare the two if my main goal is to climb on some rocks?

  14. One of my friends suggested the hiking place and I came across ur site/blog. After reading your site I was planning to do alone but both of my kids were crying while I was leaving. So I took both of them for hiking. While driving to the tunnel destination my thinking was if it is difficult as mentioned in couple of sites I would just visit near by view point. But Once I reached the place both girls were ready to roll. Yesterday I did hiking with my 2 girls(7 year, 5 year) and we did 3.5 mile loop(W+R+Y) in 3.5 hours. We started at 2:30 and my the time we reached 1200 ft it was 4:30 but girls were still energetic. The view is so beautiful up there. I could not believe my 5 year old kid did this. Couple of dogs were climbing with their owners and my 5 year old just followed the dogs up hill. Your site helped me to understand where to see red and yellow trails and other alt routes.

  15. I’m a bit scared of heights, but fit and cautious. Bull Hill wasn’t a problem for me, but walking a treeless outcropping while viewing the river below is going to be problematic! Thoughts?

    • Heights are kind of part of the package with Breakneck, but the trail doesn’t force you to walk out to any cliff edges if you’d prefer not to. Hope you enjoy it if you decide to check it out!

  16. I spent a year in Israel doing some crazy hikes, but always with a guide. I was thinking that it was time to discover my home country and your site seens like an awesome place to start! Breakneck sound amazing from all I’ve read online. I’m just a little apprehensive of the initial hour of rock scrambling that everyone discusses bec I plan On bringing my thirteen year old baby brother. (he is not a bad hiker… He’s done mohonk mountain and loved it) any advice?

    • Hi, Leah! If he’s done Mohonk, I bet he’ll be just fine at Breakneck. I saw some very young kids (6 or 7 years old) on my last trek there, and they seemed to be eating it up. I doubt they did the whole loop, but even the trip to the flagpole and back is rewarding. Hope you have a great trip and enjoy exploring the area!

  17. Good news!!! I took him there yesterday and he LOVED it (as did I). I even got him to say he would rather be there than six flags :) your guide was awesome… And yes he managed the whole loop!!!! Was an awesome family hike thanks for this awesome website

  18. We finished this loop today (7/6/2014) and enjoyed it very much. The views and rocks are spectacular. We are 70+ years old and used alternative routes to reach the top. We will go back to hike this loop again soon.

  19. Tried this for the first time today. This was probably the hardest trail I’ve done to date, but you really feel on top of the world once you finally…finally!!!…reach the top. Thank you for noting the nice loop trail. I was very happy to learn I would NOT have to navigate my way back down some of those really sheer rock faces. I would definitely do this again!

  20. Really hoping its nice tomorrow and I will be going on this trek! So excited, thank you for all the good reference points!!!

  21. Woot, finally made it out to the hike and it was great. A little nerve racking as we never rock scrambled before and we got a little frazzled at the end trying to follow the yellow train connected to Fire Tower lane (beware, a few trail markers are on downed trees and some sections near the small stream can get you lost). Will be making this trip again.

    On a side note, on the listing of trails, would it be possible to add a list of hikes that can be reached without a car? Will be looking forward to go on more runs. Thank you.

    Gabe

  22. Mike, thanks so much for putting this website together. It has been extremely informative when planning hikes in and around the Hudson Valley.

    I am looking at hiking Breakneck Ridge this weekend and we’ll be taking the train from Grand Central. I was thinking about starting at the Breakneck Ridge train station and ending in Cold Spring to take the train back from there. In looking at the map, we were thinking of taking the Notch trail after the ruins and then taking the Washburn trail down to Little Stony Point to get some well deserved food in Cold Spring. Since we won’t have a car, we don’t need to do the loop, so thought about mixing it up. Have you done this version? If so, any idea of the distance and time on this trail? Much appreciated, Mike.

    Jeff

    • Hi Jeff! I’ve never done that route before, but on the map, it looks doable, assuming you are in really good shape and up for climbing both Breakneck Ridge and Bull Hill. From the ruins to the Bull Hill parking lot (taking Notch Trail to Washburn Trail), it’s about 3 miles, going straight up and back down the mountain. A tamer option would be to take the Red Trail (Brook Trail) from the ruins, then down the Blue Trail (Cornish Trail) back to the parking lot, which completely avoids climbing Bull Hill. The good news is that you’ve got options — you can see how you’re feeling at the ruins and decide whether to tackle Bull Hill or not. Sounds like a great day either way — hope you enjoy it! (Update: My original comment misstated the elevation change and total distance — the Notch Trail doesn’t go over the summit of Bull Hill, but it comes pretty close. The total distance from the ruins to the parking lot would be just over three miles (not four, as I’d originally said) going Brook (Red) Trail -> Notch (Yellow) -> Washburn (White). Sorry about that!)

  23. I want to do the hike with a few friends this weekend. Does anyone know of an individual or company that offers guided tours for Breakneck Ridge?

  24. Hey Mike,

    So, I got in touch with Chase at Xcelerated Adventures for my tour. There was a group of 12 of us and he was an AWESOME guide for this hike. For people who are not seasoned hikers but want to do something challenging like this, I think its super beneficial to do it with a guide. Chase was amazing! I’d highly recommend his company for these tours.

  25. City hikers – please use common sense when taking a trip up here from Brooklyn to hike. This is an incredibly dangerous and difficult hike. Please bring proper boots, proper gear and a map/compass. We love the visitors, but tire of our FD and amulence corps volunteers having to go out on calls to find lost hikers every weekend.

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