Breakneck Ridge Loop
Directions to trailhead
From the east end of the Bear Mountain Bridge, 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).
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.
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