Breakneck Ridge Loop

Overview

This loop hike steeply climbs Breakneck Ridge, with many spectacular views over the Hudson River.

Details
Time:
3.5 hours
Difficulty:
Strenuous
Length:
2.8 miles
Route Type:
Circuit
Dogs:
Allowed on leash
Features:
Views, Public Transportation
Location
Park:
Region:
County:
Dutchess
State:
NY
Maps/Books
Buy Trail Map:

Buy Book:
Publication
First Published:
07/13/2004

Updated/Verified:
07/03/2013
Submitter:
Daniel Chazin
Trail Conference volunteers maintain trails in this park.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates
41.447809,-73.980861
Driving Directions

Take the Palisades Interstate Parkway to its northern terminus at the Bear Mountain Bridge. Cross the bridge and proceed north on N.Y. Route 9D for about 8.5 miles to the Village of Cold Spring. Continue ahead on Route 9D for another two miles past the intersection with N.Y. Route 301 in Cold Spring. Immediately after passing through a tunnel under Breakneck Ridge, park in a small parking area on the left (west) side of the road. (If this parking area is full, continue north for another 0.2 mile to a much larger parking area on the west side of the road).

Train

Take the Metro-North Hudson Line to the Cold Spring station and walk north on Route 9D to the trailhead.  On weekends and holidays, three trains (two in the morning and one in the early afternoon) stop at the Breakneck Ridge station, a short distance north of the trailhead.

Description

Despite its relatively short length, this is generally considered to be the most strenuous hike in the East Hudson Highlands. It involves steep climbs over rock ledges that can be very slippery when wet. You'll need to use both your hands and your feet in many places along the way. Proper footgear is essential for this hike, which is best done on weekdays, to avoid the crowds on weekends. Do not attempt this hike in wet weather, or if the trail is covered with snow or ice.

The white-blazed Breakneck Ridge Trail starts at the southern end of the parking area just north of the tunnel and heads south, almost immediately reaching a viewpoint over the Hudson River to the left of the trail. Storm King Mountain is visible directly across the river, and Bannerman's Castle on Pollopel Island is to the right. This broad view is the first of many that you'll encounter along the hike.

Follow the white-blazed trail as it steeply climbs the exposed rocky ridge. There are views through the trees of the river as you climb, but it will probably take you about 20 to 30 minutes to reach the first panoramic view - from a rock ledge marked by a flagpole. The views up and down the river from this point are spectacular, and you will want to take a rest from the strenuous climb and enjoy the panoramic views.

Hiker climbing steep section of Breakeck Ridge Trail. Photo by Daniel Chazin.Looking up to the top of the ridge from this spot, you'll notice a steep, near-vertical rock outcrop that you'll have to climb to gain the crest of the ridge. The trail bears slightly to the left to find a climbable route, but this part of the trail is the most challenging from a technical point of view. In several places, an alternative route, marked with X's, has been blazed to the left of the main route (which is marked with white blazes). Those who wish to avoid the toughest climbs - some of which require a degree of technical skill - should follow the alternative route.

Along the way, you'll pass more panoramic viewpoints. Finally, the steepest part of the climb ends, and you'll come out on a large flat area with spectacular views over the river. From here, the trail descends slightly. It then climbs through a wooded area and emerges on south-facing ledges, with views over Bull Hill and the valley between Breakneck Ridge and Bull Hill.

After a steep climb through pines, the trail reaches a south-facing viewpoint over the river. It then descends Knob of Breakneck Ridge with Storm King across river. Photo by Daniel Chazin.steeply and - after a more moderate descent - reaches a junction with the yellow-blazed Undercliff Trail, which leaves to the right. You've gone only about 0.7 mile from the start of the hike, but it will certainly seem that you've hiked much farther! Continue ahead on the white-blazed Breakneck Ridge Trail, which now climbs steeply to reach another panoramic viewpoint. This one is a little different from the previous overlooks, as a knob of Breakneck Ridge protrudes just to the left of Storm King Mountain, across the river.

The trail now climbs a little more, then levels off, which some minor ups and downs. You'll pass another south-facing viewpoint over Bull Hill and then get a glimpse of the river to the left. Keep a lookout for three red-on-white blazes on a large boulder to the left of the trail, reached after a short ascent. These blazes mark the start of the red-blazed Breakneck Bypass Trail.

Turn left, leaving the Breakneck Ridge Trail, and follow the Breakneck Bypass Trail, which climbs a small rise. As you descend from the rise, watch carefully for a sharp left turn in the trail after 100 feet. Do not continue on a well-trodden path that proceeds straight ahead, downhill.

Sugarloaf Mountain from Breakneck Bypass Trail. Photo by Daniel Chazin.Soon, you'll reach a viewpoint to the right of the trail, looking northeast over Sugarloaf Mountain, with the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge in the distance. (If you come to a viewpoint over the river to the left of the trail, you've gone the wrong way and should return to the top of the knob.) The trail continues to descend along an eroded woods road, with the trail having been rerouted to the left to avoid some badly eroded sections of the road. The trail makes a sharp left turn and then climbs slightly to another view of Sugarloaf Mountain - this one, at a closer range.

After descending - first steeply, then more gradually - the Breakneck Bypass Trail ends at a junction with the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Memorial Trail. Turn left and follow the Wilkinson Memorial Trail, which proceeds downhill along a woods road (now largely narrowed to a footpath) to its end at Route 9D. Turn left and follow Route 9D south for about 0.3 mile to the parking area where you began the hike.


 

Watch our video about Hiking at Breakneck


Comment: Please be relevant, civil, non-commercial.

what a terrific video!

How nice that someone bothered to put this together to give an informative heads up to newcomers to this hike.

Left turn heads up

The sharp left turn described on the red trail is unmarked. You may even think you have taken a wrong turn because you won't see any red blazes. But keep going. Eventually, the red blazes do appear. Also, the downhill is challenging. 

2014 Weekends at Breakneck Ridge

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Strenuous Up and Steep Down

HIked this today. The turn described in the third paragraph from the end is now well marked with two bright red NYS Taconic Region markers. The junctions with both the Breakneck Bypass and Wilkinson trails are quite well marked. The route is indeed quite steep going up with challenging rock scrambles. While the route up is what gets most of the attention, following the tiring ascent, the rest of the rocky descent feels longer than the 2 miles or so it is. With a few short stops this took us just under 3.5 hours

Breakneck Bypass turnoff easy to find (October 2011)

Arrived around 7 am on a beautiful fall weekend, first car in the lot. The trail was very fun when you're the only one on it....a little scary that way, too. The fun part definitely occurs in the first hour. The rest of the hike offers some interesting glimpses of Bannerman's Castle, but after the thrill of the rock climb, it's kind of a downer.

The turnoff onto the Breakneck Bypass Trail was very clearly marked. Here is a photo of the Breakneck Bypass Junction in October 2011: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kleepet/6650569355/