We have been searching for the perfect day trip from NYC that would remind us that the beautiful world of nature is not really as far away as it feels. Thank god we found it just an hour and a half north! Seriously, Breakneck Ridge Trail is the most fun I’ve had on a hike in ages. This hike is not for the feint of heart. It requires a certain level of fitness and experience. And lots of water!
To get to Breakneck Ridge from NYC, you can take the Metro North. On the weekends, the train stops at Breakneck. During the week, you have to get off at Cold Spring, a town about 2 miles from the trail head. You can also drive of course, but there is limited parking by the trail.
You want to leave as early as possible because it takes 1.5hrs to get there. We left at 6:39am. Get on the train early and enjoy it with a cup of coffee. The ride up is absolutely gorgeous along the Hudson. You also get a fun glimpse of West Point.
Once you get to the Breakneck stop, you take the stairs up and over the tracks, then walk a half mile to the trail head. You’ll hit Sugarloaf Mountain/Wilkinson Trail first, which sounds like a lovely place to start, but I encourage you to keep going. Breakneck is too fun not to start from the beginning!
Choosing A Hiking Route
There are several hiking trails through Sugarloaf Mountain/the Hudson Highlands. At the beginning of the Breakneck Ridge Trail, there’s a helpful sign that tells you how long a few of the options are estimated to take starting from Breakneck Ridge.
We took the 4 hour option because we didn’t have breakfast and wanted to eat in Cold Spring after the hike. Might as well hike as much of the way there rather than walk on the road! By the way – I don’t suggest not eating breakfast. We ended up missing the first train to Grand Central, so we didn’t have enough time once there to get food and they don’t sell food on the train.
So what is so fun about Breakneck? Well, for the first hour, it’s much more of a scramble than a hike. You ascend up the mountain over a steep, rocky “trail.”
I have to say, it’s extremely well marked, but the markers are these ridiculous arrows everywhere until you’ve gotten over the scramble. You can see one in the shot above, or this one was one of my favorites:
Yup, the trail is just over this rock. Good luck.
They have added “alternative” routes as well. They call them the easier ascent paths. I can’t quell my sense of adventure, so I continued to scramble up and over these rocks, but our friend choose the easier path at times. Either way you went took about the same time, but we were panting and she was enjoying nature at a more leisurely pace. Here are a few more shots of what to expect during the scramble:
Man, this was so much fun. As you ascend, there are several vista areas. The view is of the Hudson and the surrounding hilltops. It’s quite beautiful, and we stopped to take it in each time (not just because we were so tired!). Every time you reach another vista point, you think you’re as high as you’re going to go, but somehow you climb to the top of another. We didn’t descend until hour 2.
It felt so good to be out of the city and in the rocks! It was just after 10 by the time we started to flatten out, and it was getting hot! If you do this hike in summer, I strongly suggest very light/airy pants and sleeves. I really don’t recommend this portion of the trail in short sleeves/shorts because you’re climbing up over rocks. You can always take your layers off when you get to the top (though you have to watch for ticks, too!).
There also is some incredible bird watching to be done up here and some flowers/vegetation to enjoy as well.
After Breakneck: Notch Trail
Once you’re past all the scrambling, the rest of the trail to Cold Spring is through the woods. We continued on Breakneck Trail where it meets Notch Trail so that we could catch a glimpse of Lake Surprise. Oh so tired with another 2 hours of trail left, we didn’t stay long. We turned back to get on the Notch Trail and off Breakneck. Notch is a very nice trail through the woods:
After some time, you come across ruins. They come seemingly out of nowhere. There is no plaque saying what these particular ruins were, but it looks like some sort of estate or grain mill?
It was this point in the trail when we actually started seeing other people. We began walking along a river and there were quite a lot of people enjoying the cool water. The trail itself was more obviously a trail and well-worn.
Cornish Estate Ruins
The next surprise along the trail was another set of ruins! This time a big house from the early 1900s that must have been gorgeous in its day. The couple who owned the house also owned 650 acres in the area. They apparently died just 2 weeks apart from each other. 20 years later, their lovely home in the woods burned down. The rock structure still stands and gives an eerie abandoned feeling to the house.
The house had these shells of fire places/chimneys, too. I never really thought about what a fireplace looks like without a house around it. It looks pretty cool…
Leaving Breakneck: On to Cold Spring
The trail at this point becomes a paved road of sorts. It’s not my kind of hiking, but I knew we were on our way out. We took it to the blue trail, which comes out to a parking lot across from the park office. The park office for some insane reason does not have a water fountain. We were looking at another 15 minute walk into Cold Spring and were just about out of water. We could have bought some for $3, but decided to try our luck.
You don’t have to walk on the road to Cold Spring. Starting at the park office, there is a nice trail right to Cold Spring that goes along the road/water. Once you get to the Cold Spring city line, however, you’re on the road. You go up a little hill (at which point there are sidewalks) and three blocks to main street. The town is really pretty.
Main Street has a lot of food options. We ate at Hudson Hil’s Cafe and Market. It was a cute diner-style restaurant at the further end of Main Street. The food was decent. We got a piece of pie to go and headed to the train station. We left on the 2:12pm train, so all in all we spent 6hrs on the trails/in town. Such a great day trip and exactly what we needed! We will 100% be back.
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