Located in the Hudson Highlands State Park just an hour and a half drive from New York City lays the Breakneck Ridge Trail. While this trail has the stunning vistas of the Hudson River Valley that many of the trails in the state park host, it makes hikers work for it. The Breakneck Ridge Trail is less of a pleasant ridge hike and more of a climbing adventure. Much of this particular trail involves scrambling and climbing over large rocks as hikers start at river level and gain 1,000 feet in elevation over about 3 miles. However, its difficulty and the views that lurk beyond have made Breakneck Ridge insanely popular for the outdoorsy weekenders from New York City. Many say that it is the other people of all different skill levels that make this trail harder than it has to be. Regardless, for those that can fight their way through the crowds and climb to the top, they are rewarded with unparalleled views and scenery.
|Trail Length:||3.7 miles||City/State:|| Beacon,
|Elevation:||1,442 feet elevation gain
For those coming from New York City, getting to this particular trail is actually really easy. There is a MTA Stop, conveniently named the Breakneck Ridge MTA, that runs all the way from the city right to the trailhead. The trailhead is literally right across the street from the train stop, however the train only runs on the weekends. For those driving in, Route 9D runs right along the train tracks, and there is a parking lot by the train stop.
Once at the trailhead, the trail heads up and over the tunnel that those who drove through Route 9D just came through to get there. Those unfamiliar with the area should make note of the white trail markers (they are little white circles) which is what hikers will be following for most of this trail. During some of the scrambling sections it is easy to lose the trail, so knowing the trail markers by sight is helpful.
When hikers cross over the top of the tunnel, the trail kind of disappears into a slope of boulders and loose rocks. However, it's still there, it's just a bit of a climb. The Breakneck Ridge wastes no time getting down to business, so hikers should get a solid foothold and start climbing. The trail kind of goes up this way for what seems like forever, however for those that stick it out, they will reach a flagpole and the first scenic vista. Hikers get a nice flat rock clearing nestled against the ridge which overlooks the Hudson River. Directly across from this plateau is that mighty Storm King Mountain, even if it is mighty sounding only in name. To the right of hikers in the river is Pollepel Island with the robustly-named Bannerman's Castle perched on one side as well as the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.
After hikers have gotten their fill of the river it is time to press on, with much trail like the section they just conquered waiting ahead. There is another steep climb at the end of the plateau, but it is particularly short. After that the trail becomes a bit of a "choose your own adventure" affair where hikers can take the steep or the slightly less steep trail option. Of course, the only indication of the split in the trail is a little white 'x' with arrows that point right and left. Sure, i could reveal which is the steep one and which is easier, but that would just ruin the fun. Rest assured, both lead to the same trail. I always tend to take the trail leading to the right to stay by the river; there are a few nice views, but nothing too terribly incredible.
After sorting out what sort of trail you wanted to take, navigating the constant weaves and up-and-down sections of this particular portion, hikers end up at the second overlook of the trail. While the first overlook was merely a nice stop, this particular vista is a wide slab of rock that overlooks the waters of the river. As the area is so open and it comes after such a hard climb, most hikers choose to stop here for a break or to have some lunch. It may not be such a bad idea as the trail is nearly out of challenges for hikers. After the overlook, it is one more big climb and scramble section then that's it. The trail is out of bluffs to throw in your way and only after about a mile (though it felt more like ten) of hiking.
The next few miles will fly by considering it is much more like actual hiking rather than climbing a mountain. While visitors can choose to continue to travel on the White Trail, most hikers end up taking the Breakneck Ridge Loop. After a little bit of enjoying some flat hiking which is high up with awesome views, hikers will come across an intersection. Visitors can easily continue straight on the White Trail, but it will be difficult hiking again. Instead, loop hikers will want to take the Red Trail at the intersection. The turnoff is hard to miss since it is a big red arrow spray painted on a huge rock. Just follow it left and hikers may notice that much of this particular trail is downhill. It's not a crazy descent like doing the White Trail in reverse, but gradual and actually pretty nice. It is fairly scenic as it leads past a small mountain and some marsh land with occasional views of Sugarloaf or the Hudson River.
After some fine leisurely hiking, the trail dead-ends into the Yellow Trail, keep to the left and follow the trail downhill. This trail will descend for a couple of hundred feet before it very abruptly takes hikers and dumps them out on Route 9D.
For those that hate road hiking, there's no reason to be worried, from where the trail ends, hikers can actually see the parking lot up and across the street. It's a rather anti-climactic to what was such an intense hike, but the view from the top was well worth it. This is one of the most difficult hikes in lower New York State, so hiker should feel accomplished in defeating it.