Breakneck Ridge

Super scenic and super sketchy — this is the funnest and most popular day hike in New York’s Hudson Highlands.

Hike Length: 3.0 miles (4.83 km)

Total Ascent: 1,300ft (396m)

Intensity: Hardest Hike

Route Type: Loop

Includes: Blazed Trail, Rock Scrambles, Road Walk

Parent Breakneck Ridge

Similar Entries In: Hudson Highlands, The Best Hikes, The Hardest Hikes, The Most Popular Hikes, , , , , .

hikers on breakneck ridge

Breakneck Ridge seen from Breakneck Ridge

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 A full loop up and over Breakneck Ridge.

Breakneck Ridge is the most popular hike in New York’s Hudson Highlands. It is also the hardest hike in the Hudson Highlands.

The climb from sea level up Breakneck Ridge’s open rock face is rugged, steep, sketchy, scary — and a ton of fun. You’ll work hard. You’ll feel great. The views are spectacular. Breakneck Ridge is a great day.

This tough hike requires the use of hands as well as feet. It is not easy. You should be in good physical condition before attempting this climb.

The trail begins at sea level and scrambles up 1,100 feet in less than ¾ mile — which is steeper than any hiking trail in the The Catskills.

Allow 3 hours for this hike.

Breakneck Ridge: Getting There

By Train: Take Metro-North’s Hudson Line from Grand Central Station to the Breakneck Ridge stop and then make your way south about half-a-mile to the trailhead. Trains stop at this station on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays only. This station has low-level platforms which are connected to Route 9D by dirt paths, posing a safety risk so please be extra careful.

On Foot: Weekdays, when the train doesn’t stop at Breakneck Ridge, you can walk north from Cold Spring along Route 9D. It’s about 2 miles to the trailhead.

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By Uber: The Breakneck Ridge trailhead is close enough to Beacon that you should be within range of an inexpensive car ride between both locations.

By Car: Parking here is a bit of a nightmare. See photo below. Most people park along 9D on either side of the road. Get here as early as you can, especially on weekends and public holidays. Breakneck Ridge is the hottest hike in the Highlands.

cars parked on both sides of 9D for Breakneck Ridge
Crazy parking for Breakneck Ridge

Please Read For Your Safety

The hike up the open rock face of Breakneck Ridge is short but intense. Prolonged effort is required. Fitness freaks will gobble up this hike, but average people will find it taxing and exhausting.

You must have appropriate footwear to tackle this hike. That is: extremely grippy hiking or climbing shoes. Some people also like to use climbing gloves for additional purchase on the scramble.

 Warning! Do not attempt this hike in winter, during rain, or after it has rained. There are many spots on this very steep and rocky climb that expose hikers to potentially fatal injury. Breakneck Ridge should only be hiked when it’s bone dry and with appropriate gear. If you have a fear of heights, or any medical condition, do not attempt this hike.

Top tip: at the trailhead, take a photo of the best number to call in case of an emergency.

During the hottest months, proper hydration/electrolyte loss is a big concern. For much of this hike, you’ll be exposed to the full blast of the sun’s rays.

This trail is not suitable for children or dogs.

I have never before begun a hike report with this many warnings. This trail demands it.

It’s right there in the name: Breakneck!

Breakneck Ridge Trail Guide

The trailhead for Breakneck Ridge lies between Route 9D and the train tracks that run alongside the Hudson River.

Please read the signs and information boards here.

Breakneck Ridge trailhead next to road and tunnel
Breakneck Ridge Trailhead

Begin your hike of Breakneck Ridge by passing between the signs and the shed. (There are garbage cans here but, really, on every hike you should pack out what you pack in and leave no trace.)

The first section is pretty easy. Follow the white blazes

Breakneck Ridge white trail arrow painted on rock
Breakneck Ridge Trail (beginning)

Breakneck Ridge: First View

After only 300 feet or so from the trailhead, look for an opening in the woods on the right side of the trail.

Here, I found a short unofficial herd path which lead me down to this wonderful sea-level view of Storm King Mountain across the Hudson.

view across hudson river to Storm King
First good view, from sea level

Hiking Breakneck Ridge: The Climb

Not long after that first view, the work begins. Keep following the white blazes.

The trail splits many times, giving you options on your ascent, which can be fun — but also a bit confusing.

A navigational app like AllTrails, GaiaGPS or Avenza is a great idea on any hike. You’ll always know exactly where you are and which way you should be headed. (See 12 Best Hiking Apps.)

Regardless of the route you choose, the next ¾ mile of trail is the hardest part of this hike…

hiker on rocky incline on Breakneck Ridge
Steep and rugged

When I did it on a fine May morning, the scramble was so hard, and required such concentration, I didn’t take a ton of photos. But much of the lower scramble looks like this…

rocky trail on Breakneck Ridge
Rocky climb

This is one of the “easier” sections on Breakneck Ridge…

very steep rocky trail
Tricky trail

Higher sections on this trail require real thought, and some courage.

There are also places where the trail forks for a short distance, offering you an easy/hard challenge. In general, the trail options to the left are easier and the trail options to the right are harder. (But stay on the white trail and keep an eye on the signs which will inform you about your options.)

Sketchy Ledge at 400’

The only part of the hike that really tested my nerves was this sheer ledge just above the 400’ contour. Making my way across the top of this ledge felt quit dangerous.

The rock face here is slanted downwards toward 9D, and the footing is very sketchy. I was definitely using my most careful and certain foot placement, and deploying both hands in death grips, to secure my hold on the mountain. A mistake here would be catastrophic.

Breakneck Ridge, the super sketchy bit
Breakneck Ridge, the scariest section

But I made it, and was quickly rewarded…

Breakneck Ridge Hike: First Amazing View

About 100 feet beyond the sketchy ledge, you get to rest. It took me well over an hour to get this far. The rest of the hike is easier.

This is the first great view. And how great it is.

two hikers resting on Breakneck Ridge
First great view

A large open flat ledge looks directly across to Storm King Mountain — but also way south (left) toward New York City and way north (right) to The Catskills.

storm king
Storm King Mountain

This is a great place to catch your breath. There are great views in every direction. Here’s a nice photo of a boat…

storm king and boat
Nice pic of a boat

Across the water you can see the scar of Route 218 as it traces its way around Storm King’s sheer eastern face. If you watch closely, you’ll see cars moving back and forth.

Route 2018 seen from Breakneck Ridge
Close-up of Storm King & Route 218

Looking north, you can look down on Pollepel Island and Bannerman’s Castle (an abandoned military surplus warehouse) in the Hudson River.

Pollepel Island and Bannerman’s Castle
Pollepel Island / Bannerman’s Castle

Beyond them, you can see the long low ridge of the Shawangunks — and to their right, on a sunny day, you can even make out Ashokan High Point and the Burroughs Range in the Catskills.

Pollepel Island
Pollepel Island and The Catskills

You can also look south at the Metro North line running down to Grand Central. Overall, it’s an amazing spot.

Onwards and upwards…

When you’re ready, continue uphill. Although the hardest part of the hike is behind you, this next section took me a minute to figure out.

There are large smooth rock faces to contend with, and it’s easy to slip.

Again, I would never attempt to hike this side of Breakneck during or after any precipitation.

Keep turning around. Keep checking the views. You can sit and watch boats and barges traveling north and south on the Hudson River. You’ll somtimes see helicopters flying back and forth too.

barge on the water and hikers resting
Barge on the Hudson, hikers on the rocks

A little higher up on the trail, to the right, a small rock ledge provides yet another great view of Storm King.

great view of storm king
Great view

Breakneck Ridge Quarry Face

Next you’ll come to a large exposed cliff formed by quarrying. Far below, you can make out a handful of buildings. The ruins of the Cornish Estate are somewhere down there, too; and that’s a super-fun short hike.

The large hill across the dip is Bull Hill (aka Mount Taurus).

view south down the Hudson
Quarry face & Bull Hil

Turn Around?

Most people seem to stop here and head straight back down to 9D by the same route they came.

I didn’t fancy that. Climbing down is much tricker than climbing up — you can’t always see what your feet need to do, and there’s a real danger (especially here) of slipping into a fall. People do the reverse route all the time, but this was my first visit to Breakneck Ridge so I figured, on this day, it wasn’t for me.

Instead, I decided to carry on and explore the loop that rolls over Breakneck’s highest point before then leading back down to Route 9D via some quiet, easy trails. (You can also hike out to Mount Beacon along the same trail.)

Breakneck Ridge Loop Hike

Once again, follow the white blazes and markings.

At first, the trail descends a little into a col between the two knobs.

white trail to Breakneck Ridge’s summit
A flat bit, finally

There are lots of criss-crossing trails up here. This is where an easy-to-use navigational app comes in handy — see 12 Best Hiking Apps.

Here, a sign says the easier ascent is to the left. I went to the right.

woodsy trail with white blazes on tree trunk
Easy section

After the first climb, this second climb was really no big deal. I soon found myself looking back at the first high knob of Breakneck Ridge, and the small groups of hikers enjoying the sunshine there.

Breakneck Ridge and Storm King seen from high on Breakneck Ridge
Looking back at Breakneck Ridge and Storm King

hikers on breakneck ridge
Breakneck Ridge seen from Breakneck Ridge

Here’s a quick video snippet…

Breakneck Ridge High Point

After less than 10 minutes, I was at the highest point on Breakneck Ridge which provides solid 360° panorama. This is the view looking south toward the southern Hudson Highlands.

scenic view down the hudson from the highest spot on breakneck ridge
High point of Breakneck Ridge

Somewhere around here, I caught the following view to my right. This is Camp Surprise at Lake Surprise.

camp buildings lakeside with mountains
Camp Surprise at Lake Surprise

Descend Breakneck Ridge to 9D

From here, follow the white blazes for another few minutes until you come to the junction with the red-blazed Breakneck Bypass trail which heads downhill to your left.

The descent is very easy and very quiet. Follow the red blazes.

For the rest of this hike, I saw only one other couple until I got all the way down to 9D.

easy trail
Red Trail

The woods here are very calm and quiet. There are some nice stone staircases like this one…

stone steps in woods, descending
Stone staircase

Pass this wigwam

wigwam in woods
Wigwam made of branches

Red/Yellow Junction

Here, the red trail ends as it hits the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Memorial trail. To return to 9D, turn left; it’s only 10 or 12 minutes to the road. (To the right, the yellow trail also leads up to Sugarloaf which is currently closed for habitat protection; a bad fire scorched the mountain in 2020.)

junction sign posts
Red/Yellow trail junction

This next section is also very easy, and much less steep.

It’s an easy mellow woods walk…

curved tree in woods
Curved tree

Pass this sweet mountain drainage…

Soon, you pop back out onto 9D.

trailhead signpost at road side
Final junction

And that’s it. You just did Breakneck Ridge, the hardest hike in the Hudson Highlands.

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Also on the east side of the Hudson is the wonderful (and easier) hike to Anthony’s Nose from Camp Smith.

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The parent mountain for this hike is Breakneck Ridge.

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Trailhead Info for this Hike

Roadside parking along 9D.

Google Maps Location: 41.443495, -73.978031

The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead

Cell Service

Excellent throughout. My network is Verizon. YMMV.