One of the best hiking trails in New York is a day trip away from the center of Manhattan. The Breakneck Ridge Trail is renowned for its scenic view of the Hudson River Valley and the Storm King Mountain just across the river. The trail, with its 10/10 difficulty rating, is not a casual stroll but still attracts hikers of all levels and ages and even a couple of pet owners and their dogs.
I explored the popular hike in the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve after learning about the trail ten years ago. I wanted a break from New York City and a hiking challenge. Breakneck Ridge Trail met my yearning for nature and added to my year of hiking experience.
Parking was easy to find and Trail Stewards from the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference operate an information tent by the entrance of popular trails in the area during weekends in the summer. There, you can find color-coded trail maps and expert advice from volunteers.
Joined by a friend, we chose the Breakneck Ridge Loop, 3 miles with 3-4 hours return. Unsure of our capabilities after months of no hiking, we chose the abbreviated version of the trail, white blaze to red blaze trail markers.
The trail began with an uphill climb and within five minutes, the rock scramble began. Shortly after, I was drenched with sweat, my hair splattered on my face, clothing marked by dirt and hands chalked from climbing. It was a full body workout. Even so, the shape of rocks is generous and offer loads of places for hikers to rest. The in-between moments of rest, rays of mid-morning sunlight filtering through the sparse canopy of trees and warming your face, a gentle cooling breeze, the sound of birds chirping, are the ones I look forward to the most when hiking.
During the weekends in warm weather, the trail is crowded and challenging sections of the trail create a queue of hikers. Close to the highest section, a couple was trying to traverse an extremely flat rock face with just thin cracks as footholds. They let me have a go at it but it was tricky and potentially dangerous for a beginner; I opted for the more conventional path in the end. I would recommend trying the hike on a weekday to avoid crowds. On a side note, you can’t take the Long Island Railroad on weekdays to the Breakneck Ridge station. On weekdays, it stops a mile away in Cold Spring, a historical village in Philipstown, New York.
During the descent, we made a few wrong turns on the trail, which led us to the perfect picnic spot. We lunched in the shadows of Northgate – also known as the Cornish estate – a collection of ruins that was once a mansion. The ruins and forest loomed before us as a sudden rain shower drizzled on our faces. We ate juicy peaches, cherries, and rice rolls and guzzled a liter of coconut water. As we sat on corner of the mansion, other hikers meandered through the ruins. The ruins provide a sense of what the mansion was before it burnt down 1958.
Retracing our steps to the trail, we exited through an opening to the 9D state highway, just a fifteen-minute walk from the proper entrance of the hike. If the process of hiking the Breakneck Ridge offers a priceless interaction with nature, then the views – miles of stunning mountains, quarries, forest, and the Hudson River – is your reward. The juxtaposition of nature with the manmade landscape of the city grew my appreciation for conservation. The Hudson Highland State Park, once an area privately and commercially owned, was born out the advocacy efforts of public and private entities, keen to preserve this area as is.
Enroute back to the New York City – refreshed and energized from the hike – I was left with a desire to discover more of the state parks in New York.