Breakneck Ridge And the Hudson Highlands
With its frequent elevation changes, and exposed rock-strewn trails, Breakneck Ridge, and the Hudson Highlands more broadly, offers some of the region’s most challenging hiking—it also rewards hikers with some truly phenomenal views. And at only 7,400 acres, visitors are often able to take in a good portion of the park’s most popular destinations in a single day. Though, you’ll probably want to spend an entire weekend. With its quiet trails, lush undergrowth, and exposed rocky summits, you’ll feel like NYC is in the next time zone, rather than just an hour away.
Highlights for Breakneck Ridge and The Hudson Highlands
The single biggest draw to the Hudson Highlands is Breakneck Ridge—a serpentine trail that runs along some of the park’s most challenging terrain. To give a sense of the effort you’ll exert, the trail gains over 1200’ of elevation in its first .75 miles. That, taken with the rock-scrambling you’ll be doing, ensures you’ll have to work for the views. But, they’re quite some views. At regular intervals along the way, trees will part for expansive vistas of the Hudson River and Storm King Mountain—a 1300’ massif whose sheer face drops dramatically into the opposite side of the Hudson, just a stone’s throw away.
Beyond views, the Hudson Highlands also offers a unique assortment of historic structures. One of the better known is the century-old Cornish Dairy Farm—a complex of stone and cement buildings that’s slowly being overtaken by a forest of hickory and chestnut. Another highlight is Bannerman Castle, which was built on a small island in the shallows of the Hudson River. While the structure itself is something to behold (think English fortress meets Victorian mansion) the late history of Bannerman’s island is also pretty interesting. It involves the owner—a Scottish munitions dealer, his stock pile of arms, and an explosion that left Bannerman with a slightly smaller island. While you can’t visit on your own, the Bannerman Castle Trust offers $35 tours from May through September. If you’d prefer to save the money, views from Breakneck Ridge provide numerous opportunities to appreciate the castle and the island’s lush vegetation.
Camping in the Hudson Highlands Area
The only drawback to visiting the Hudson Highlands is that you won’t be able to spend the night. The NYS Office of Parks does not permit camping in the Hudson Highlands east of the river. Committed explorers might want to consider camping at Clarence Fahnestock State Park, another state-managed area about 6 miles to the east. From your basecamp at Pelton Pond Campground, you’ll find relatively easy access to the Hudson Highlands and the best of Fahnestock’s waterways and trails. Another option would be to stay at a bed & breakfast in Cold Spring, a quaint village with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
Getting to Breakneck Ridge and the Hudson Highlands
Unlike other hiking destinations in the greater metro area which require multiple modes of transportation and transfers, accessing the Highlands is as simple as grabbing a train from Grand Central Terminal.
Throughout the day the Poughkeepsie-bound Metro-North line offers regular service from NYC to Cold Spring, the town closest to the Hudson Highlands and Breakneck Ridge. The 1.25 hour trip takes travelers along the east side of the Hudson River, offering dramatic views of the river and the pastoral Hudson Valley. The cost of an off-peak, roundtrip, ticket is $26.50. From Cold Spring station it’s a quick 20-minute walk north to the park. Consider picking up a map of the East Hudson Trails in NYC at EMS or at Old Souls in Cold Spring.
It’s even easier to access the Hudson Highlands on the weekends during the spring and summer. Due to the popularity of Breakneck Ridge, Metro-North trains also make stops at the path’s trailhead, just 2-miles north of the Cold Spring station. From Breakneck Ridge station, you’ll have easy access to the hike. To round-out your visit to the area, we’d recommend ending your day in Cold Spring, even if you started your hike at Breakneck Ridge station. Truly, there’s nothing better than enjoying a heaping ice cream cone or a cold beer after a long, hard day of trekking. Visitors to Cold Spring will find a handful of pleasant eating establishments to while-away a bit of time before grabbing the next train back to the city.