Nelsonville/Notch/Breakneck Ridge Trail 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 a junction with N.Y. Route 301 in Cold Spring. Turn right and follow Route 301 (Main Street) for 0.4 mile to the top of the hill, then turn left onto Pearl Street at the Nelsonville village hall. Continue for one block to Secor Street, and park on the left (west) side of the parking area just west of the Masonic Lodge.
Take the Metro-North Hudson Line to the Cold Spring station, and walk uphill on Main Street. Continue 0.4 mile beyond the intersection with Route 9D at the top of the hill, then turn left onto Pearl Street at the Nelsonville village hall. Continue for one block to Secor Street. The hike begins at the parking area just west of the Masonic Lodge.
From the parking area, proceed east on Secor Street until you reach the trailhead for the Nelsonville Trail which is on the left side of the road, opposite 29 Secor Street. This green-blazed trail is marked with plastic markers which feature the logo of a bull (the blazing may be sparse in places). Almost immediately, the trail crosses a stream. If you wish to utilize the two boards which have been placed across the stream here, use caution, as the boards may be unsteady. It is also possible to cross the stream on rocks. After crossing the stream, the trail turns left onto an old woods road. It soon bears left and crosses another stream on rocks.
At 0.3 mile, the Nelsonville Trail turns right onto a wide, eroded woods road -- also the route of the yellow-blazed Undercliff Trail. A short distance ahead, the Undercliff Trail leaves to the left, but you should continue ahead on the woods road, following the green blazes. The Nelsonville Trail crosses paved Gatehouse Road at 0.6 mile (there is a kiosk with a map here), and shortly thereafter it reaches a cleared strip of land -- the route of the Catskill Aqueduct. The large stone building uphill on the left is not a pumping station; rather, it houses one end of an inverted syphon that carries the water down to and under Route 301 and then up to the next ridge (another similar structure is visible in the distance to the right).
The Nelsonville Trail now crosses a stream, bears right, and begins a steady ascent. At 1.2 miles, it passes gate posts (and a broken gate) which mark the boundary of Hudson Highlands State Park. Just beyond, the Split Rock Trail (red) leaves to the right. The plastic blazes with the bull logos are now gradually replaced by painted green diamonds (with a white border), and the trail begins to pass through attractive mountain laurel thickets. After several more turns, the Lone Star Trail (blue) begins to the right. The Nelsonville Trail continues to climb steadily along the woods road, quite eroded in places, until the trail ends at 2.6 miles at a four-way junction.
Here, you should turn right, following the sign "Breakneck Notch." You are now on the blue-blazed Notch Trail, which descends steeply on a wide footpath. After turning sharply left, the trail levels off, crosses several streams, then descends more moderately. It turns left again onto a footpath parallel to a woods road, then joins the road, paralleling a stream -- first to the right, then to the left. After about a mile, the Notch Trail passes a stone foundation to the left, crosses a wooden bridge over Breakneck Brook, and reaches a T-junction. Here, the red-blazed Brook Trail begins to the left, but you should turn right, continuing to follow the blue blazes of the Notch Trail.
Just beyond the junction, you will pass several concrete and stone ruins on both sides of the trail. These are the remnants of a dairy farm, once operated by the Cornish family. Please use care if you wish to explore these ruins, as there are some steep drop-offs. Past the ruins, the trail goes by a dam and skirts the northwest side of a pond. Just beyond the end of the pond, the Notch Trail turns left, leaving the road, and begins a steep ascent to the crest of Breakneck Ridge, with limited views to the right through the trees. After climbing over rocks and around switchbacks, the Notch Trail reaches the white-blazed Breakneck Ridge Trail at a T-junction. Turn left and follow the white blazes, which continue to climb.
In a short distance, the Breakneck Ridge Trail reaches a viewpoint on the left side of the trail, with Surprise Lake and its camp visible to the left. Continue ahead, and soon you will reach a magnificent 360° viewpoint from one of the highest points on Breakneck Ridge. The Hudson River is visible to the east, with the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge in the distance to the north. The long ridge to the southeast is Bull Hill (Mt. Taurus). The highest point on Breakneck Ridge may be seen to the northeast. In the distance to the north, you can see North Beacon Mountain (with multiple radio towers) and South Beacon Mountain (the higher peak, with a single fire lookout tower).
After spending some time resting from the steep climbs and taking in the view, follow the white blazes as they turn sharply right and descend steeply from the peak. The trail soon levels off and, in about 500 feet, you will reach a junction with the red-blazed Breakneck Bypass Trail. Watch carefully for this junction, which is marked by three red-on-white blazes on a rock to the right of the trail (there is also a small cairn). Turn right onto the red trail, which climbs over a large rock, and begins to descend. Just ahead, be sure to bear left at a Y-junction, marked by a small cairn. A short distance beyond, there is a view of Sugarloaf Mountain, with Bannerman's Castle on Pollopel Island visible to its left.
The red trail now descends steadily. After bearing left and passing through a wet area, the grade moderates briefly, but it steepens again after the trail passes another viewpoint over Sugarloaf Mountain. The Breakneck Bypass Trail ends, 0.8 mile from its start, at a junction with the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Memorial Trail. Turn left on the yellow trail, which follows an old woods road (now narrowed to a footpath) downhill. Soon after crossing a stream on a wooden bridge, the trail ends on Route 9D.
It is possible to leave a second car in a turnout along the road at this point (half a mile north of the Breakneck Ridge tunnel), but a more interesting return option is to take a short ride on the Metro-North Railroad from the Breakneck Ridge station, just to the north. Service to this station is provided only on weekends, with southbound trains departing at 1:09 p.m., 3:09 p.m., 4:13 p.m., 5:11 p.m., 6:13 p.m. and 7:17 p.m. (For more information, call Metro-North at 1-800-METRO-INFO, or visit their web site, www.mta.info.) To reach the southbound Breakneck Ridge station, proceed north on Route 9D for 0.25 mile and cross the footbridge that spans the tracks. The station (which is marked by a sign adjacent to a small platform) is about 100 feet south of the footbridge. Take the train one stop to Cold Spring. To return to your car, cross the footbridge over the tracks at the Cold Spring station, and walk north, following a walkway to Main Street. Turn right and follow Main Street uphill for about a mile. Turn left onto Pearl Street at the Nelsonville village hall, and continue for one block to Secor Street.