Can You Camp at Breakneck Ridge?
The short answer: no. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t undertake a camping trip near Cold Spring, New York that includes the iconic hike. We’ll give you what you need to know about Breakneck ridge generally and give you some camping ideas for easy launch off for hiking.
What is Breakneck Ridge?
Breakneck Ridge Trail is a short but difficult hike just north of Cold Spring, New York in Hudson Highlands State Park. This state park is a day-use area only, which is why you are not allowed to camp along this trail. The trail itself is an out-and-back, but there are several other trails available to make your day hike into a loop. Trail maps are available for free both at the trailhead and online.
Breakneck Ridge is popular for its stunning views of the Hudson River and the physical challenge of 1,250 feet of elevation gain in less than a mile. This trail is sure to get your heart and adrenaline pumping, even if you aren’t afraid of heights.
Length: 3.2 miles
Time to Complete: 4 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,250 feet
Season: April to November
How do I get to Breakneck Ridge Trail?
The trailhead for Breakneck Ridge is located about a mile north of Cold Spring along Route 9D, between the mountainside and the Hudson River, just north of a tunnel. The Breakneck Ridge trailhead is located on the river side of the road (left as you travel northward). There is a very small parking lot at the trailhead but it fills up fast. Parking is also available along the side of the road and at an overflow lot a few hundred yards south.
Alternatively, there is a Metro North train stop specifically for Breakneck Ridge on the Hudson Line, but the train only stops here on weekends and holidays. During the week, the train could be taken to Cold Spring, but you will still have over 2 miles to walk from the train station to the trailhead.
So where can you camp near Breakneck Ridge?
Though camping is not permitted in Hudson Highlands State Park, there is a nearby alternative. If you have your heart set on a camping trip that includes hiking Breakneck Ridge, consider camping in nearby Fahnestock State Park. This scenic state park includes a section of the Appalachian Trail and has a campground with rates starting at $19 per night. The Breakneck Ridge trailhead is 10.5 miles away from the Fahnestock State Park Campground and the drive takes about 16 minutes.
What to expect hiking Breakneck Ridge Trail
Breakneck is a popular but strenuous hike. Try to get to the trailhead as early as possible, as the parking lot fills up quickly and the most difficult part of the hike is the first mile; you do not want to be climbing the rock scramble in the heat of the day.
Climbing on the white-blazed trail begins immediately. The rock scramble in the first mile contains almost all of your elevation gain for the entire hike. You will have to use your hands as often as your feet to traverse the exposed ridges. This hike is not recommended for small children or any dog you can’t pick up to assist with climbing. These rocks can be very slippery when wet so do not attempt this hike with wet or snowy conditions.
As you climb, you can glimpse views of the Hudson River through the trees, but it will probably take 30 minutes to reach the first rock ledge. This first panoramic view is marked with a flagpole. You may want to stop here and take a break, drink some water, and maybe have a snack, before continuing with your climb. From here on out, the trail often has alternative, less technical climbs whose paths are indicated by a white “x” and arrows pointing in 2 different directions. There are 3 more rocky outcroppings, each with a more phenomenal view than the last.
After the final viewpoint the trail begins to descend slightly. The trail then climbs up through a wooded area and emerges onto a ledge with views of Bull Hill and the valley between Bull Hill and Breakneck Ridge. You descend and climb once more before reaching a junction with the yellow-blazed Undercliff Trail.
At this point you’ve hiked less than 1 mile, but it will feel like much more!
Continue on Breakneck Ridge Trail until you reach a junction with the red-blazed Breakneck Bypass Trail. Turn left to follow the red blazes up a small rise. Soon you will have another vantage point, this one looking northeast towards Sugarloaf Mountain and the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge far off in the distance. The trail continues to descend on old wooded dirt roads until you reach a junction with the Wilkinson Memorial Trail, indicated by yellow blazes. Turn left and follow this trail to its end, emerging back out onto Route 9D. Turn left on the road and walk 0.3 miles to the parking area and Breakneck Ridge Trailhead.
This loop may seem short at only 3.2 miles, but this hike can easily take over 4 hours depending on your hiking experience and physical health. This hike is by far the most popular route for exploring Breakneck Ridge.
What to Bring Hiking Breakneck Ridge
- Water: This is an arduous hike. Bringing water is strongly recommended, even in cooler spring or fall weather.
- Snacks: With the multiple breathtaking overlooks this hike includes, there are many places to stop and enjoy the view while eating a light snack. This hike can be a long one: replenishing your spent calories can be a good idea to keep up both your energy and your spirits.
- Adequate footwear: This is not the hike to attempt in flip flops. A decent hiking or trail running shoe with sufficient tread and traction is essential.
- A map: With all the trails and intersections in the Hudson Highlands, bringing a map can be the difference between a pleasant hike and several frustrating hours lost in the woods.
Breakneck Ridge Notch Trail: A Step Back In Time
A longer possible loop, and my personal favorite, is the Breakneck Trail, Notch Trail, and Brook Trail Loop. This route still climbs to the top of the iconic Breakneck Ridge, but descends to the south side where you will pass through the ruins of an old 20th-century estate that includes remnants of a mansion, dairy barn, and greenhouse.
Breakneck Ridge to Northgate Estate
The loop consist of several trails and takes some careful navigation to prevent taking a wrong turn. I highly recommend downloading a free map online or picking up one at the Breakneck Ridge trailhead.
After ascending Breakneck Ridge, you continue past both the yellow and red trails and, after a short climb and moderately steep descent, you reach the blue-blazed Notch Trail. You take a right onto the Notch Trail and descend into the valley between Breakneck Ridge and nearby Bull Hill. Soon the trail turns right onto an old dirt forest road.
Here comes my favorite part.
The trail passes by the ruins of an old estate called Northgate. The first building you will see is what remains of a dairy barn on your left. Here the Notch Trail turns left at a stone fence, but stay straight on the red-blazed Brook Trail. Shortly thereafter you will encounter the junction with the yellow-blazed Undercliff Trail. Continue straight on the Brook Trail, pass a large waterfall and encounter a concrete driveway. Up this driveway you will find other buildings that made up the estate. Remnants of a greenhouse, mansion, garage, and even swimming pool can be found among the ruins.
Continue down the Brook Trail until it intersects with 9D, then turn right and walk along the road and through the tunnel until you reach the trailhead where your adventure began.
This alternate loop is 4.2 miles with 1,443 feet of elevation gain and will take you between 4 and 6 hours to complete.
Northgate Estate on Breakneck Ridge
A hauntingly beautiful collection of ruins is tucked away in the Hudson Highlands. The remains of Northgate, also known as the Cornish Estate, was built sometime in the first decade of the 1900s by Sigmund Stern, a diamond merchant. In 1917 Edward J. Cornish and his wife Selina purchased the 650-acre estate. The couple owned the property until they both died, within one week of each other, in 1938. A major fire destroyed most of the mansion in 1956 and in the late 1960s it became part of the Hudson Highlands State Park.
The first ruins you come upon is that of the Cornish’s dairy barn that held their prize-winning Jersey cows. As you continue down the Brook Trail, you walk up the concrete driveway to see an old greenhouse completely covered in overgrown vines and an old pump-house. Once you reach the mansion itself, expect to see old stone walls and 3 levels of stacked fireplaces; most of the flooring has disappeared. Look closely and you will still be able to see the gas lines for the lamps that lit the halls.
Exploring the Cornish estate is both an eerie and fascinating experience for anyone interested in history and ruins.
A Breakneck Ridge for Everyone
No matter your hiking experience or fitness level, there are trails in the Hudson Highlands suitable for your needs. Consult a map to create the best loop for your visit.