Just an hour away from NYC is the Hudson Highlands State Park, home to several incredibly scenic hiking trails. One of the highlights of the park is the famous Breakneck Ridge hike.
As you scramble your way up the ridge, you will pass by several lookout points overlooking the Hudson River and the surrounding natural beauty of the area. This guide will go into detail for what to expect on the trail and how to prepare yourself for the climb.
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1) Hike Background & Information
WARNING: THE BREAKNECK RIDGE HIKE IS NOT MEANT FOR EVERYONE. THE TRAIL IS VERY TECHNICAL AND CAN BE QUITE DANGEROUS FOR THOSE NOT ADEQUATELY EXPERIENCED. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS TRAIL UNLESS YOU ARE CONFIDENT IN YOUR HIKING / SCRAMBLING ABILITIES.
The Breakneck Ridge trail can be completed in a variety of ways, as it does connect with a few different trails in the park. The most common option though is to complete the 3 hour loop trail, which is what this guide will be focused on.
With that said, below are some of the key facts about the Breakneck Ridge Loop Hike:
- Trail Name: Breakneck Ridge
- Starting Point: Breakneck Road 9D (GPS Coordinates: 41°26’35.0″N 73°58’40.1″W)
- Ending Point: Breakneck Road 9D (GPS Coordinates: 41°26’52.4″N 73°58’49.6″W)
- Trail Colors: White to Red to Yellow
- Distance: 3.2 miles
- Duration: 3 hours
- Elevation Gain: 1,250 feet
- Difficulty: Hard
The Breakneck Ridge Loop trail starts right off the main Breakneck Road / 9D, and the above coordinates will take you to the exact starting point. You you will be able to park all along the side of the road or in the small parking lot located between the starting and ending point (more on that soon).
Once you complete the loop, you will be let out about a half mile away from the starting point of the hike, and head back to your car (or train station) from there.
Summer 2023 Update: the standard loop trail was recently renovated to improve trail conditions & directions. You will now found much clearer marked trails throughout the area. If you believe there are any helpful updates I should include after you hike it, feel free to comment below!
2) Breakneck Ridge Trail Map
Below you can find the Breakneck Ridge trail map that breaks down the trail into its different sections. You will start on the white Breakneck Ridge trail from Breakneck Road / 9D, as you make your way up the ridge and past the various viewpoint spots.
After enjoying those views and walking a bit further along the white trail, you will see signs pointing you on the red trail, named the Breakneck Bypass.
After the red trail ends you will continue on the yellow Wilkinson trail which will point you back down to Breakneck Road / 9D. From there it is back to your car or the train station.
3) Breakneck Ridge from NYC
If you don’t have your own car and are looking to take part of Breakneck Ridge as a day trip from NYC, that can be solved by heading on the Metro North Hudson Line from Grand Central Station.
On weekends and holidays, the train will stop right near the trailhead at the Breakneck Ridge Station. If headed during the week, the train will not stop directly near the trailhead and you will need to get off in the town of Cold Spring – a 2 mile walk to the trailhead. If you don’t want to make the walk from the station, you could also hop in a quick taxi ride.
The ride from Grand Central to Cold Spring / Breakneck Ridge will take just around 90 minutes. Before you go, please be sure to check the latest MTA Metro North schedules to figure out train times.
Hiking Resources & Checklist
Before heading out for the trails, be sure to read up on some of the hiking resources up on the site. These are here to better prepare you for all types of outdoor adventure.
4) Arriving by Car & Parking
On the other hand, if not taking the train from NYC, then you can also easily make your way by car directly to the starting point of the hike from anywhere nearby. Right between the starting and ending points of the hike, you will find a small parking lot on the Hudson side of the road.
If that lot is full, then you can also park all alongside the road on either side until the signs say no parking allowed.
When I arrived on a Sunday morning around 8:30AM, there were about 30 cars parked on the side of the road. When I finished the hike and arrived back to the main road, there were cars filling up every spot on both sides of the road.
Since this is one of the more popular hikes in the region, I would highly recommend an earlier start to the day on weekends to avoid any sort of parking dilemma and to have less trail traffic in general.
5) What To Bring on the Trail
Hiking Packing List
In general when it comes to hiking, there are a few main aspects to consider. These includes clothing layers, hiking shoes, hydration & fuel, electronics, and other essentials.
Below in a breakdown of some of the top items, but be sure to check out the Hiking Packing List for a more comprehensive view.
Layering is going to be a top consideration when hiking. You will want to be prepared for all sorts of weather so you can be comfortable in different situations. Some items may include:
→ Hiking Shorts
→ Hiking Pants
→ Short Sleeve Shirt
→ Long Sleeve Shirt / Sun Hoodie
→ Mid Layer Fleece
→ Puff Jacket (not always needed)
→ Packable Rain Jacket (Columbia Watertight II)
Note that your layers should be made of moisture wicking material as they are breathable and quick drying.
Having appropriate footwear will also be very important. You will want to have shoes with the necessary grip and support to keep you safe on the trail.
Whether it is hiking gear, electronics, or just some miscellaneous items, here are some other essentials to bring along on hikes.
→ Hiking Backpack (Osprey Talon 22) & Rain Cover (Joy Walker Cover)
→ Hiking Poles (Black Diamond Trekking Poles)
→ Water Bottle (CamelBak Chute or Katadyn Filter Bottle)
→ Portable Charger (Anker PowerCore 5000mAh)
→ Action Camera (GoPro Hero)
→ Energy Bars & Snacks
→ Hat & Sunglasses
→ Sunscreen & Bug Spray
6) The Breakneck Ridge Hike
Once you have made your way to the trailhead, it is time to begin the trek up Breakneck Ridge and take in those Hudson River views.
After parking off the road or taking the train into Breakneck Ridge Station, you simply will want to walk on the right hand side of the road towards the tunnel. As you approach the tunnel you will see a few porta potties alongside the hiking trail signs and maps, explaining the various routes to choose from.
This guide goes over the middle option listed on the image below -> the 3 hour Breakneck Loop, which goes from White to Red to Yellow.
To start you simply will need to follow the white trail markers and rock markings, which will bring you up alongside the ridge.
At some points you will see multiple routes to go up, but these will all take you up to the same spot eventually.
Right off the bat, the trail will contain tricky terrain along with plenty of incline. There will be large and small rocks to maneuver through and plenty of rock scrambling to be done.
I found myself using my hands and knees plenty throughout the hike so do be prepared for that type of climb.
As you are making your way through the first technical section, take some time to look back and enjoy some of the first views of the Hudson River out behind you. There will be plenty more of that to come!
The route will continue up on a steep and technical incline as you follow the white markers and get higher up the mountainside. Eventually though you will get to enjoy your first unobstructed viewpoint at the flagpole viewing area.
You will get some beautiful views up and down the Hudson River with that vibrant greenery all around you, as well as West Point way out in the distance. Take some time here to sit back and relax, as you have just completed one of the tougher portions of trail.
The technical climb will soon continue up once again, as you make your way along the Breakneck Ridge route, and onto the next few viewpoint areas.
Similarly as before you will have several sections of what will feel like pure rock climbing as you get your feet and hands in the correct positions to lift yourself higher up the trail.
While the next few viewing areas are not as spread out and open as the one near the flagpole, you can still find some space to sit down and enjoy the view.
Right across the Hudson you will see the famous Storm King Mountain, another top hiking option in the area to choose from.
Soon you will see the very top of the Breakneck Ridge route, which will be the next destination of the hike. The trail will mix in some forest and greenery along the way as you still have some technical and rocky sections laying ahead.
From the top of the Breakneck Ridge route you will be able to enjoy the last main viewpoint area of the Hudson River and surrounding landscape.
After this, the views will slowly disappear as you head further into the forest and eventually down the mountain. So, my advice would be to take some time here to just relax and enjoy the views as this will be the last time you will be able to take them in.
After this last main viewpoint area, the trail will be another mix of rocky terrain as you continue along the ridge on the trail. Most of this last portion of the white trail will make its way through the forest, with a couple times where the landscape opens up a bit more.
After a little while, you will come across a very important intersection, where you will make a left on the Red Breakneck Bypass trail (on the rock you will also see a painted sign pointing you back to 9D).
While most of the route up was done on tricky, rocky terrain, the route down is on a much easier pathway.
It will be a mixture of dirt and small rocks as you pass by all the greenery and trees heading down the red trail. Be on the lookout for a couple of these wooden tented structures too!
A little while after heading down the Breakneck Bypass, you will come to the last intersection onto the Yellow Wilkinson trail back to the main 9D Breakneck Road.
Turn left at this intersection, following signs for 9D as you continue through the woods. You will pass a small waterfall and river, and plenty more trees and nature before the trail opens up on the main road.
From there it is back to your car or the train station, to end a successful day out on Breakneck Ridge.
7) Cold Spring
If taking the train from Cold Spring or driving your own car, I would recommend you head into the town of Cold Spring after the hike. The main town is full of boutique stores and small eateries, where you can enjoy a nice stroll.
Then be sure to head to the waterfront area, where there are plenty of benches to sit down on overlooking the Hudson River. Right nearby you will also find the famous Moo Moo’s Creamery if you are looking to have a refreshing ice cream after a strenuous hike.
After a successful hike up Breakneck Ridge, taking in those views, heading through the forest, and wandering around town, it is time to head back home. I hope this guide has helped you out a bit more to prepare you for the hike and has answered any questions you might have had.
If you do have any other questions or comments, be sure to add them in below. Don’t forget to check out some other nearby trails like:
Have fun out there and safe travels!