There comes a time when every New Yorker must escape the city for a breath of fresh air. Luckily, you don’t have to go too far to find it! Read on for everything you need to know about the Breakneck Ridge Hike, one of New York’s toughest yet most beautiful trails.
While living in NYC, I was surprised to learn that New York state offers incredible hiking trails like the Breakneck Ridge Hike just a train ride away.
The Breakneck Ridge Hike is one of the most beautiful trails in the region. Located along the Hudson River, between the charming cities of Beacon and Cold Spring, Breakneck Ridge is a mountain known for its steep, rocky trails and sweeping views of Hudson Valley.
It’s also considered one of the most challenging hikes in New York, which means climbing the mountain gives hikers all sorts of bragging rights.
Despite the hike’s known difficulty, it continues to be incredibly popular due to its easy access. You can get to the Breakneck Ridge Hike via Metro North from Manhattan, which makes it a high-trafficked trail on weekends.
If you’re wondering whether the Breakneck Ridge Hike is worth the sweat, here is everything you need to know before you go.
Read More: 25 Must-Do Hikes in Upstate New York
The Breakneck Ridge Hike At a Glance
The Breakneck Ridge Hike is a short but steep trail that can be done in a loop or as a longer hike through the woods, depending on your desired exit point. Here’s the hike at a glance:
- Trail Distance: 2.5 to 4 miles, depending on the route
- Elevation Gain: 1,250 feet
- Difficulty: Strenuous but doable
- Type of Trail: Loop (with options to continue onto Cold Spring)
- Distance from NYC: 1 hour 20 minutes by car, or 1 hour 30 minutes by train
Where Is The Breakneck Ridge Trailhead?
The Breakneck Ridge trailhead lies in front of a tunnel on State Road 9D, about 2 miles from the town of Cold Spring. The location “Breakneck Mountain Trailhead” on Google Maps will take you near the starting point.
If you’re taking an Uber or taxi from Cold Spring, the driver will most likely know where to drop you off. The entrance will be directly after the only tunnel on the road.
How To Get To Breakneck Ridge
The easiest way to get to Breakneck Ridge is via train from NYC. It’s truly a gift to be able to reach such an incredible hike though public transit, especially since most people living in the city don’t own cars.
Taking The Metro-North To Breakneck Ridge
If you live in Manhattan, you can hop on the Metro-North at Grand Central or 125th St. Station in Harlem. You’ll be taking the Hudson line to Breakneck Ridge or Cold Spring, depending on whether the Breakneck station is open.
On weekends, the train typically stops at the Breakneck Ridge station dedicated to the hike. This is the easiest and most convenient way to get to the trailhead, as the train drops you off right next to it. However, the Breakneck station was closed for a good part of 2020, including in September when I went.
Cold Spring is the next closest station. You can choose to hike to the trailhead from there, but in my opinion, that’ll tire you out before the real hike even starts! If you take the train to Cold Spring, I recommend calling an Uber or a local cab — you’ll see signs for “Taxi” once you exit the train station — to the trailhead. It’s a quick 5-minute ride.
Note: I recommend checking the MTA transit site before buying your train tickets to ensure the Breakneck station is open. To be safe, you can always purchase your ticket to Breakneck Ridge and ask the ticket collector onboard if the station is open. Breakneck is the station directly after Cold Spring, so if it’s closed, you can just get off in Cold Spring instead.
Driving To & Parking At Breakneck Ridge
You can also drive to Breakneck Ridge from the city. It takes just under an hour and a half to get there without traffic.
You can park on the side of the road leading up to the trailhead, just before the tunnel.
I recommend leaving as early as possible to ensure you find a parking spot. They tend to fill up quickly!
How Difficult Is The Breakneck Ridge Hike?
The biggest concern I had before tackling the Breakneck Ridge Hike was how difficult the rock climbing would be.
While the hike was strenuous, it’s certainly doable!
A big portion of the Breakneck Ridge trail requires you to use your hands and feet to lift yourself over pretty large rocks. You gain elevation quickly and steeply, which is what makes the hike more difficult than others in the region.
When I was reading about the hike beforehand, I was pretty nervous about the rock scrambling. I’m afraid of heights, and the thought of climbing the side of a cliff with no support really scares me!
This was certainly not the case at Breakneck Ridge. I never felt like I was falling off the mountain. It’s more of a constant scramble up, with plenty of rocks around to (literally) break your fall.
You’ll see white arrows signaling easier routes up the mountain, too.
Would I recommend this as your first hike ever? No. If you’ve done previous hikes before that involved a bit of rock scrambling, then you should be fine!
I saw all types of hikers on the trail, from children to older folks. A few people weren’t even wearing proper hiking gear, which I would strongly recommend against. If you’re going to attempt any hike up a mountain, you should come with the proper footwear and clothing.
How Long Does It Take To Climb Breakneck Ridge?
It depends on your hiking experience and the route you choose.
The short Breakneck Ridge loop should take about two hours, while the full classic loop should take about three. I’d factor in some extra time to rest and take pictures at the different lookouts.
The Breakneck to Cold Spring trail takes four to five hours, depending on the number of stops you make.
What To Bring?
- Hiking boots
- Plenty of water
- Hiking snacks and lunch
- Rain jacket
The No. 1 thing to bring on your hike is a good pair of hiking boots. These are essential for all the rock scrambling you’ll be doing.
You’ll also want to pack a good amount of water, especially in the summer when it can get extremely hot on the mountain. On that note, packing sunscreen and a hat to protect you from the sun is also a good idea. There are several portions of the trail without any tree coverage, where you’ll be completely exposed to the sun.
I always pack hiking snacks like cereal bars and fruit, and for this hike, I packed lunch as well. If you’re not stopping in Cold Spring before heading home, I recommend bringing your own lunch.
Lastly, I always pack a light rain jacket in case it rains. You can always check the weather beforehand, but I like to be as prepared as possible. I love this rain jacket that folds into its own pocket that’s easy to pack away in my hiking backpack.
8 Things To Know Before Hiking Breakneck Ridge
Tackling the Breakneck Ridge Hike for the first time? Here are a few tips to help you prepare for an epic day of hiking.
- There are three different routes. You’ll see a sign at the beginning of the trail breaking down each of the three different routes you can follow. There is a short loop (2 hours), the regular loop (3 hours) and the trail that takes you back to Cold Spring (4 hours). Since I was taking the train back to NYC from Cold Spring, I chose the third option.
- Avoid going after a big snowstorm or rainfall. There’s a lot of rock scrambling required on the trail, so it’s best to avoid going when the rocks may be slippery or icey.
- Protect yourself from ticks. It’s recommended to wear long sleeves and/or pants to avoid tick bites. Light-colored clothing also makes it easier to spot them. You should avoid areas with large amounts of vegetation and thoroughly check for ticks after your hike.
- The rock scrambling starts right away. You’ll start using your hands at the beginning of the hike.
- You should wear proper hiking shoes. I saw a few people attempting the hike in regular sneakers and let me tell ya — they did not look happy. The hike requires proper hiking boots with a good grip.
- It’s not the most dog-friendly hike. Due to all the rock scrambling and climbing, you’d probably have to carry your dog most of the time.
- Use the bathroom before you start your hike. There were a couple of portable toilets at the trailhead when I went. I’m not sure if they’re there all the time.
- Check-in with a park ranger before you go. On the weekend that I went, there were park rangers checking in hikers and answering questions about the trail.
Breakneck Ridge Trail Review: Scrambling, Viewpoints & Route Options
The first thing you’ll do when you arrive at the trailhead is choose your hiking route.
There are three route options: the short loop (2 hours), the classic Breakneck loop (3 hours) and the Breakneck to Cold Spring hike (4 hours). There will be a sign explaining each route at the trailhead. Take a photo of this sign to reference back to later on!
I definitely recommend doing the full classic loop or the Breakneck to Cold Spring hike — you didn’t come all the way out here not to experience the full hike, right?!
I took the longer route from Breakneck to Cold Spring.
The Breakneck Ridge station was closed, so I was taking the train back to Manhattan from Cold Spring. If I had done the loop, I’d have to try to get an Uber on the side of the road to get back to the train station. I figured the extra hour of hiking would be worth the adventure!
Now onto the trail: The first hour is more of a rock scramble than a hike.
You’ll definitely be using your hands most of the time. It’s actually really fun! While the scrambling is physically strenuous, I didn’t find it scary at all.
If you’re in relatively good shape, wear the proper shoes and have some hiking experience, you should do just fine.
The trail is well-marked with white arrows that show which way to go. Sometimes you’ll see a few arrows pointing in different directions. These are marking easier paths up the mountain.
Depending on what time you arrive, there may already be a string of people working their way up the rocks ahead of you. I actually had to wait until the path was clear to continue climbing on certain parts of the trail.
The good news is that the first lookout you come up on is already worth the sweat! You’re met with sweeping views of the Hudson River, Storm King Mountain and Bannerman’s Castle. The view only makes you want to keep going!
The rocky climb continues up. You’ll soon reach another viewpoint over the Hudson, this one marked by a flagpole. Here you’ll have plenty of room to take a break and lots of photos. The cliff hanging over Route RD was my personal favorite lookout.
You’ll continue straight up after this! Look out for signs marked by the words “easier ascent” or two arrows showing different routes up. Follow the arrows to the left for the easier route.
Either path will take you to the next cliff overlook, which offers an even higher bird’s eye view of the surrounding valley.
Continue following the white arrow markers for the Breakneck Ridge Hike trail, and keep a lookout for other trail markers. Remember to refer back to the photo you took of the route sign in the beginning of the trail.
You’ll gradually ascend to yet another summit with amazing views.
I was happy to find that the next portion of the trail to Cold Spring was much calmer than the rocky climb up the mountain. The first signs of fall were starting to show on the trail, and it was a lovely way to end the difficult trek.
The woodsy trail onto Cold Spring passes by the ruins of the Cornish Estate, an abandoned mansion once home to Edward Joel Cornish and Selina Bliss Carter Cornish. You can wander through the ruins and imagine how grand the estate once was.
It won’t be too long now before the trail spits you out into the streets of Cold Spring, where you can grab lunch, a coffee or the train back to the city.
I hope this guide to hiking Breakneck Ridge helps you prepare for the big day! Enjoy oyur hike, and stay safe!
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