Hiking Breakneck Ridge, New York’s Most Thrilling Trail and the Best Scrambling Near NYC

As much as I love living in NYC (and I do), I’ll admit that the one thing the city lacks is some good rock scrambling near it—or so I thought until I discovered Breakneck Ridge. Located in Hudson Highlands State Park, the 3.2-mile classic loop trail near Cold Spring is an exhilarating climb with tons of scrambling and stunning views, especially during leaf-peeping season.

Breakneck Ridge hike near New York City.

When paired with Bannerman Castle and charming Cold Spring for a bite and boutique shopping after, Breakneck Ridge makes for an amazing day trip from NYC.

My friends and I love going on this hike when we want to escape the city. Here’s what you should know before going:

Breakneck Ridge.

Hiking Breakneck Ridge: What to Expect at a Glance

This overview refers to the Breakneck Long Loop, the most popular route option at the Breakneck Ridge trailhead.

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Length: 3.2 miles total (2.8 miles on the mountain. 0.4 miles to reach the trailhead again on NY-9D)
  • Duration: 3 to 4 hours to complete
  • Type of hike: Loop (one-way)
  • Elevation gain: 1,269 feet
  • Distance from NYC: Approximately 1.5 hours by car or train
  • Parking: Free street parking at the trailhead
  • Public transportation: Trains run from NYC to Cold Spring or the Breakneck Ridge station in Beacon, depending on the season and day of the week
  • Hiking shoes or boots required? Not required, but strongly recommended
  • Suitable for: Experienced hikers, scrambling enthusiasts
  • Dog friendly? No, unless your dog is small enough to carry in a backpack or is a mountain climber
Breakneck Ridge parking.

How to Get to Breakneck Ridge from NYC

Breakneck Ridge is one of the easiest hikes to access from New York City. Both taking the train and driving are easy and take relatively the same amount of time.

Driving to Breakneck Ridge from NYC

It isn’t often that driving in the city makes sense, but sometimes it really does for weekend or day trips from NYC with large groups.

To drive to Breakneck Ridge from NYC, leave the city by crossing the George Washington Bridge, then get on the Palisades Interstate Parkway N. From the Parkway, exit onto US-202 E/US-6 E, then continue on to NY-9D N. You will drive past Cold Spring and Little Stony Point before reaching the start of the trail.

If you’re one of the rare New Yorkers with a car, you’re in luck—there’s free parking on the street where the trailhead is located.

If you want to drive but don’t have a car in the city, don’t fret. There are several spots to pick up NYC car rentals across the city.

Breakneck Ridge train from NYC.

Train to Breakneck Ridge from NYC

The easiest way to reach Breakneck Ridge if you don’t have a car is by taking the train.

Trains to Breakneck Ridge from NYC are fast but switch schedules throughout the week and by season. Check train schedules on the MTA website in advance to avoid a stressful situation.

Previously, the only option for taking the train to Breakneck Ridge from NYC was to get off at Cold Spring and walk a couple of miles to the trailhead (or call Uber, for those with tired legs). Recently, the MTA reopened the Metro-North station a half mile from the trailhead, making taking the train easier than ever.

From Manhattan, the Breakneck Ridge train station can be reached by taking the Metro-North Hudson Line from Grand Central Terminal or Harlem-125th St. The Yankees-E 153rd St in the Bronx is also on the line. When you’re on the train, sit on the left side for beautiful views along the Hudson River!

If you’re not in Manhattan or the Bronx, the 4, 5, 6, and 7 subway lines can be taken from Brooklyn or Queens to reach Grand Central Terminal.

Trains stop at the Breakneck Ridge station on weekends and holidays. On weekdays and off-season, trains do not stop at the trailhead, so you’ll need to get off at Cold Spring one stop earlier. From Cold Spring, you can either walk two miles or call an Uber.

Once you get off the train, you’ll take the stairs to walk over the track, then walk a half mile to the trailhead, passing by Sugarloaf Mountain first.

Breakneck Ridge hiking trail in upstate New York.

Best Time to Hike Breakneck Ridge

The best months to hike Breakneck Ridge are May and October. In May, you’ll be treated to comfortable weather and slightly less foot traffic than in peak summer months. While the summer is a popular season for people to take this hike, New York gets very hot and humid, and the trail is mostly full sun on a nice day.

Towards the end of October, you’ll be able to see incredible views as the leaves change colors. Breakneck Ridge is truly one of the best hikes near NYC for leaf peeping! This is why it’s my favorite time to do this hike. Peak foliage times tend to vary a lot in New York—they can be as early as the beginning of October and as late as November—check foliage maps before your hike.

Keep in mind that this is an extremely highly frequented hike. If you can, avoid going on weekends and holidays. Weekday mornings are the best time to go. If you must go on the weekend, get up early to get on a 6 am train and be one of the first on the mountain.

Do not attempt this hike if there is any rain in the forecast. Speaking from experience, the rocks on the trail get extremely slippery and dangerous to climb on.

Breakneck Ridge Long Loop.

Breakneck Ridge Trailhead Location

The Breakneck Ridge Trailhead is located right on NY-9D N (which, yes, makes crossing the street to start the trail a little contentious). Cars whip by on the highway at 55 mph, and there is no official crosswalk or sidewalk.

From the trailhead, you can access all of the main loops. When on the trail, there are several other hikes you can connect to, such as the Cornish Estate Trail, Notch Trail, Bull Hill, and the new Fjord Trail, among others.

Find everything you need to be prepared for the hike by clicking below:

Breakneck Ridge hiking trails.
Take a photo of this sign at the beginning of the hike! A trail guide brochure is also sometimes available here.

Breakneck Ridge Hiking Trails

There are four main hiking routes at Breakneck Ridge: the Breakneck Short Loop, Breakneck Moderate Loop, Breakneck Long Loop, and the Breakneck to Cold Spring Trail.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to ensure you’re in good shape for any of these hikes. The Breakneck Ridge trail is not a joke. Each year, hikers get injured or lost and need to be rescued.

Routes from the trailhead are one-way. Due to the difficulty of scrambling, you do not want to go the opposite direction on these hikes, especially on the Long Loop.

Breakneck Short Loop

The Breakneck Short Loop is a quick workout if you’re short on time. The trail is 1.4 miles total, which includes one mile on the mountain and 0.4 miles on NY-9D to reach the trailhead again. Expect to complete the trail in an hour if you’re in good physical shape.

To take the Short Loop, follow the white trail markers from the trailhead to get on the Breakneck Ridge trail. When you reach the green markers, turn left to get on Nimhan Trail. You’ll turn left again to get onto the Wilkinson-Memorial trail at the yellow markers.

Breakneck Ridge hiking trail.

Breakneck Moderate Loop

If you’re hesitant about committing to the challenge of the Long Loop but are looking for something longer than the Short Loop, try the Breakneck Moderate Loop. The Moderate Loop is doable in two hours and is 2.1 miles on the mountain.

After starting on the Breakneck Ridge trail by following the white markers, you’ll turn right to take the Undercliff trail at the yellow markers. Turn right again onto the Undercliff Bypass green trail markers, then finish the hike by turning right onto the Breakneck Brook trail before returning to route 9D.

Breakneck Long Loop

The most popular and exhilarating trail at Breakneck Ridge, the Long Loop, is a challenge for the physically fit and experienced scramblers.

The 2.8-mile route (3.2 miles, including time spent walking on the NY-9D) offers incredible views and the best rock scrambling near NYC. It typically takes three to four hours to complete, depending on your level of fitness and how much time you spend taking photos and hanging out admiring the view.

Like the other Breakneck Ridge routes, the hike starts on the Breakneck Ridge white trail markers before veering left onto the Breakneck Bypass red trail markers. After following the Breakneck Bypass, turn left onto the Wilkinson-Memorial yellow trail markers before returning to the NY-9D to walk back to the trailhead.

Breakneck to Cold Spring Trail

The final common route you can take from the Breakneck Ridge trail will take you to the Village of Cold Spring. The point-to-point route is 4.5 miles long and takes around four hours to complete.

It all starts from the Breakneck Ridge white trail markers before turning right onto the Notch Trail blue markers. The route then continues straight onto the Brook Trail red markers before veering left onto the Cornish Trail blue trail markers.

You’ll then follow Cornish Trail to the Washburn Trailhead, crossing Route 9D and turning left onto the Hudson Highlands Gateway Footpath. From there, turn right onto Fair Street and follow it into Cold Spring.

Breakneck Ridge hike in New York.

Breakneck Ridge Trail Difficulty

The Breakneck Ridge trail is an advanced-level trail. Don’t just take my word on it—hiking authority AllTrails rates these hikes as “hard” trails. Aside from the scrambling on the trail, Breakneck Ridge is steep, requiring a lot of endurance and strength.

Scrambling grading definitions vary based on who you’re talking to and where you are, but I’d categorize Breakneck Ridge as Class 3 scrambling, with maybe a couple of areas that could be considered Class 4 on more relaxed scales.

If you’re looking for a tough hike that isn’t quite as dangerous, try the Bull Hill Short Loop or Bull Hill Full Loop nearby instead. The hike still involves easy-moderate scrambling at the start; however, it isn’t quite the near-rock climbing that Breakneck is. Storm King Mountain is also a moderate choice.

Hiking Breakneck Ridge near Cold Spring, New York in the Fall.

How Long Does it Take to Hike Breakneck Ridge?

Breakneck Ridge hike durations vary by route, being as quick as an hour to as long as over four. On average, hikers tend to complete these trails as follows:

  • Short Loop: 1 hour
  • Moderate Loop: 2  to 3 hours
  • Long Loop: 3 to 4.5 hours
  • Breakneck to Cold Spring: 4.5 to 5 hours
Hiking Breakneck Ridge in New York.

Tips for Hiking Breakneck Ridge

Before you start heading to upstate New York and driving into the Hudson River Valley, keep the following in mind:

Follow the Trail Markers

Breakneck Ridge is an extremely well-marked and maintained hike. The park has put up tons of color-coded trail markers to help you easily navigate all of the trails there.

At the trailhead is a route map, as well as clearly written directions for all four top hikes. Take a photo of these signs to find your path with no issue.

Keep Your Distance

Due to the scrambling difficulty, allow ample space between yourself and the person in front of you. You don’t want to be underneath someone if they start slipping on this hike.

Rock scrambling at Breakneck Ridge.

Stay on the Trail

For rock climbing enthusiasts, Breakneck Ridge provides several areas to challenge yourself further with off-route rocks. If you’re not comfortable with bouldering or the weather is bad, do not attempt this. These rocks are dangerous and could easily kill someone who isn’t strong enough. Stay on the trail to maximize your safety, especially if you’re alone.

Drink Lots of Water

There isn’t anywhere to refill on water when hiking Breakneck Ridge. Bring your own water—lots of it. Keep in mind that Breakneck has many sections of full sun—you’ll need more on those days.

Have Stretchy Clothing

This is not the place to wear jeans or stiff clothing. The scrambling on the trail requires being able to stretch in all directions.

Wear stretchy clothing while hiking Breakneck Ridge that doesn’t restrict your movement.

Breakneck Ridge hike.

Wear Good Shoes

It isn’t often that I feel like a hike absolutely requires hiking boots or shoes, but this is one of them. You’ll need the traction to take on some of the scrambling sections.

I wore APL sneakers on the trail, and while I was okay, I was nervous about slipping, even as someone familiar with scrambling.

Enjoy the View

Plan more time than you think you need! When you reach the top, don’t rush down. Sit and admire the incredible view.

Don’t Bring Your Dog

I saw a few dogs on the trail, but not as many as others I’ve been on. The scrambling at Breakneck Ridge would be difficult for most dogs to do. If your dog can’t make it over the rocks, you’ll need to hike down, which is extremely dangerous.

Only bring your dog on this hike if they’re small enough to carry in a backpack (you need all hands and feet for this hike) or if your dog is a very experienced mountain climber and has tackled a rock scramble before.

Breakneck Ridge hike in New York.

What to Bring for Hiking Breakneck Ridge

Don’t leave the City before packing the following essentials:

Click below to shop hiking must-haves:

Things to Do Near Breakneck Ridge

New York State has so many charming places to visit! After you’re done hiking Breakneck Ridge, check out one of the following to make your time there one of these full-day trips from NYC:

Cold Spring viewpoint in New York.
View of the Hudson Valley from Cold Spring, New York.

Explore Cold Spring

The easiest add-on to Breakneck Ridge is the Village of Cold Spring. Even if you don’t have a car, you can access Cold Spring from Breakneck Ridge by hiking there, walking two miles, or taking the train for one stop.

Cold Spring has tons of cute restaurants and boutiques to explore for a couple of hours. As the weather gets colder, many start offering hot cider and indulgent hot chocolate.

Visit Beacon

Just north of Cold Spring is Beacon. If you finish hiking Breakneck Ridge early enough, you will likely be able to visit both Beacon and Cold Spring in one day. If you’re visiting Beacon from Breakneck Ridge, you’ll only need to drive a couple of minutes or take the train for one stop.

If you’re not interested in doing the full trail, you can also hike up to the Mount Beacon Fire Tower instead via the Casino Trail, then continue up the northernmost part of the Breakneck Ridge Trail.

From Cold Spring, Beacon is an 11-minute long drive or one stop on the train.

Bannerman Castle in the Hudson River Valley of New York state.

Take a Boat to Bannerman Castle

As you hike Breakneck Ridge, you might notice a castle on an island in the Hudson. That’s Bannerman Castle, an early 20th-century castle and military warehouse that was abandoned in the 1950s.

Located on Popell Island, the only way to visit Bannerman Castle is by taking a boat tour from its launch dock in Beacon. You can’t go inside the castle; however, you can walk around the island and see the exterior.

Luckily, the trail is just a one-minute drive or 20-minute walk away from its launch dock.

Boat tours to Bannerman Castle can be purchased on the site’s official website.

Hike Bull Hill

For a really full day of hiking, hike to Bull Hill after Breakneck Ridge. After starting on the main trail, Bull Hill can be accessed via Notch Trail or Wilkinson Memorial Trail.

Bull Hill can also be done separately. The Bull Hill Short Loop takes about 2.5 hours to complete, while the Bull Hill Full Loop takes about three hours.

If Bull Hill isn’t what you’re looking for, don’t forget that there are tons of hikes nearby in the Hudson Valley!

Hudson River viewpoint from Breakneck Ridge hiking trail in New York.

Hiking Breakneck Ridge: FAQs

How do I get to Cold Spring from Breakneck Ridge?

There are four ways to visit Cold Spring from Breakneck Ridge: walking two miles, taking the Breakneck to Cold Spring hiking trail, taking the Metro-North Hudson Line one-stop, or driving.

Can you hike from Breakneck Ridge to Beacon?

There aren’t really any hiking trails that go into Beacon directly like in Cold Spring. Beacon is a lengthy walk from Breakneck Ridge at one hour and 50 minutes on Route 9D, so I would take the train one stop instead.

What class of scramble is Breakneck Ridge?

Breakneck Ridge is solidly Class 3 scrambling, with some sections that a few might consider mild Class 4.

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