Everything you need to know about climbing Breakneck Ridge in Hudson Valley–the good, the bad and (yep), the ugly.
Let me start this by saying hiking Breakneck Ridge in the Hudson Valley is NOT easy. Nope. Not at all. It’s at least an hour of rock scrambling up 1,400 feet before you reach level ground. I probably should have read into this before wearing my new engagement ring because I, um, chipped off a diamond… Sigh. Poor Frank. At least I’m consistent?
Anyway, despite the challenges and chipped diamonds, Breakneck Ridge is definitely one of my favorite climbs in the Hudson Valley. I love the challenge of locating the right crevices for my feet and testing my strength and agility while catapulting myself up tricky, seemingly insurmountable rocks. If this sounds up your alley, too (lookin’ at you my fellow masochists!), here are 9 things to know before you hike the Breakneck Ridge trail.
1. It’s a beautiful road trip
If you have a car in the NYC area, you can take the quick and scenic 90-minute drive north overlooking the New Jersey Palisades and Hudson River. Because New York is, well, New York, I’d recommend leaving the area as early as possible to avoid traffic. Unfortunately, you should be ready for some congestion on the way home, because, yep—New York. Parking is right past the Route 9D tunnel, just after Cold Spring. It’s right by the trailhead; if spots are full, continue up the road for more parking options. The trailhead is on the northern side of the tunnel. You’ll see a “trail maps” post where you can grab a map on the way up.
2. You can take a train up there, too
Don’t have a car? Fear not! You can still climb this beast of a mountain. Take the MTA Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central to the Breakneck stop (it’s the Hudson line). Make sure you get round trip tickets at Grand Central because there are no machines at Breakneck. Ticket prices are about $20 and trains run every hour.
3. Take the white blazes up the mountain
When heading (er, scrambling) up the mountain, follow the white blazes to the top. It can get a bit tricky to keep an eye on them with so many rocks to analyze for footholds (not to mention white snow…). I tried to keep an eye out, staying generally on the trail, but strayed a bit now and then because pretty much all scrambles lead up (except those scrambles well you, ya know, fall…).
Just make sure you keep an eye on the white blazes every few minutes, particularly when you reach the sections that level out. It can get steep on the far sides of the mountain, so you’ll want to avoid going too far off the path.
4. The trail is crowded
One big difference between Breakneck and those Catskills mountains I typically climb is that Breakneck is super crowded. There were probably a dozen climbers walking from the train to the trailhead, and we were climbing up with at least that same dozen the entire time. It’s honestly not all bad because people are willing to help you up the tougher spots, but if you’re seeking a remote trek, this is definitely not your spot.
5. But the views are worth it
Pain is beauty may never be truer than the peaks on Breakneck Ridge. You have views over the Hudson and out to West Point and beyond. Take time to enjoy each overlook because unless you’re extremely comfortable reverse climbing down rock scrambles, you’ll be taking a different trail down.
6. The trail down
Because we were short on time, my co-hiker Maggie and I took the white blazes to the yellow (on the right), before turning right on red to exit down along the brook. This shortened our hike a bit, but given the sun sets at 4:30 in the winter, we wanted to finish well ahead of that for safety (it was our first time at Breakneck and obviously weren’t all that prepared!)
7. Expect slippery rocks
We visited right after an unexpected November snowstorm, and the trail—from the rocks to the descent—was crazy slippery. Maggie wore sneakers … a choice that didn’t bode well for her climb. I’d recommend boots or hiking shoes with good grips no matter when you visit (always better to be safe!)
8. Total time commitment
Our hike was pretty quick (but an excellent workout). Start to finish took us no more than three hours, including time spent snacking at the top while enjoying the views. For a longer hike, you can continue on the white blazes out to the red blazes on the left; here’s a helpful map to plan your own trip.
9. Grab some grub afterward
Cold Spring is an adorable little town to grab a much-needed bite after your hike. We stopped at Cold Spring Depot, a comfort-food restaurant housed in a former train station. The food was exactly as promised—heavy, filling and delicious (I got the veggie burger)—and I’ll definitely be heading back here next trip!
There you have it! This quick one-day road trip to Breakneck Ridge was exactly what we needed (whether we knew it going into the climb or not). I love the challenge of a good hike, particularly when it involves strategically finding footholds as we did on Breakneck Ridge. If you’re climbing, I’d highly recommend reading the NJNY-TC’s write-up for trail specifics and logistics. Enjoy!