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...
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.
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 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.
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
Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 07/13/2004 updated/verified on 07/03/2013
This loop hike steeply climbs Breakneck Ridge, with many spectacular views over the Hudson River.
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.