Breakneck Ridge is a 1,240-foot mountain located in the heart of the nearly 6,000-acre Hudson Highlands State Park. Situated on the east side of the Hudson River, just north of Cold Spring, Breakneck Ridge is one of the main highlights of the park and an extremely popular hiking destination for thousands of visitors each year. A 5-mile loop, from the White to Red to Yellow Trails, takes you from the Hudson River all the way up steep and exposed rock face to several awe-inspiring views that span up and down the Hudson Valley. It won’t take long for you to realize why this trek is often rated as one of the best day hikes in America. The New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) maintains a map of the Hudson Highlands to help you navigate your route.
The trailhead is located along Route 9D a quarter-mile north of a tunnel. Over 100 cars can fill the parking lot and roadsides on a sunny weekend. Many others also take the Metro-North train to the Breakneck Station on the East Hudson River Line, or to the Cold Spring Station, which has more regular service. Be mindful of the warnings that line the beginning of the path. The trail is quite challenging. Breakneck Ridge ascends 1,250 feet in the first three-quarters of a mile! It is an extremely steep rock scramble that is exposed to cliff faces and high winds. Wear proper footwear, and do not attempt in adverse weather conditions.
Follow the white markers and arrows that lead directly up the mountain face. Your first lookout will be marked by the America and Prisoners of War flags. This spot is an unmistakable icon of the hike, and halfway up the mountain. The scenery becomes even better as you continue to climb. In some places the trail splits between easy and hard routes. The harder routes will involve rock climbing and dangerous steps. Each vista is better than the last.
Storm King Mountain in Storm King State Park is directly across the river, and Mount Taurus is directly south. Army helicopters regularly fly overhead en route to the United States Military Academy (USMA) just to the south. Sometimes you can feel the mountain tremble with passing trains.
After reaching the peak, the path will dip down and intersect the Undercliff Trail, marked in yellow, which leads to the Cornish Trail, marked in blue. The Cornish Trail runs past ruins of the Edward J. Cornish Estate and eventually returns to Route 9D. Stay on the white path and climb another peak, where the path is well worn from the thousands of visitors each year. Eventually you will reach an unmistakable sign directing you to the Breakneck Bypass Trail, marked with red blazes. This path will lead to the Wilkinson Memorial Trail, marked by yellow blazes, and take you on a 3-mile descent back to the bottom of the mountain a short distance north of the parking lot.
Beginning in the days of the American Revolution, these mountains were mined extensively for their iron and copper. The jagged rock face on the southern end of this mountain is the result of the mining operations that continued work into the early 20th century. Many of the paths today were once used by vehicles when mining was still active. The Breakneck Ridge face was the first 177-acre purchase of Hudson Highlands State Park in 1938 by the Hudson River Conservation Society (HRCS). Several decades later the Rockefeller family’s foundation gave New York State a deed of trust for land purchases which enabled the group to acquire an additional 2,500-acres.
NYSOPRHP requests that you remain on the trails to minimize the impact on the forest environment. This helps to protect the many rare and delicate plant species on these mountains. The only potable water is available in Garrison and Cold Spring. Lyme disease, transmitted by deer ticks, has become a major concern and danger throughout the Hudson Valley, so please check your body for these pin-head size creatures during and after your adventure. Camping and fires are prohibited throughout the park and all-terrain vehicles are not permitted on the trails. Dogs are permitted on leashes 10-feet long or less. For additional information on hiking tips and safety, visit the NY-NJ Trail Conference website.