Hiking in Cold Spring: The Breakdown of the Breakneck Ridge Trail
Cold Spring, NY is a popular day trip destination in the NYC area. It’s darling. It’s located in one of the most scenic spots in the Hudson Valley, beautifully set on the Hudson River and opposite Storm King Mountain. Surrounded by mountains, hills and ridges, it also makes for an amazing place to go hiking. One extremely popular hike is the Breakneck Ridge trail.
I’ve heard about Breakneck Ridge for years now. It consistently gets voted as one of the best hikes in the country – yes in the U.S. – as well as the best day trip hike from New York City. That’s saying a lot! I’ve read many times that it’s so popular that it gets over-crowded quickly, and to go first thing in the morning. Breakneck Ridge even has its own train stop on Metro North, though only available on the weekends.
Breakneck Ridge attracts so many people because it’s beautiful – the vistas you encounter are stunning, even breath-taking. That’s what I’ve read about Breakneck for some time now…so I figured, if it’s beautiful and popular and everyone does it, it must be a pretty fantastic hike. And me, I love to go hiking. Always have. Wish I did more of it, but with young kids, other priorities have taken over. As my girls have grown we’ve been able to do more hikes, such as a recent trip to Telluride, CO, so that’s great. This hike, however, I decided to do with a girlfriend of mine sans-kids. And thank god we did!
My Experience with Breakneck Ridge
As we were to soon discover, Breakneck Ridge is not for the faint of heart. It’s a very strenuous “hike” (if you can call it that! More like a rock scramble..) and should be well prepared for with proper shoes, food and water. There’s no way my girls could have done this hike. This is how it worked out for us:
My friend and I drove to Cold Spring together and parked on route 9-D right opposite the trail head, by the tunnel. It’s about a couple miles outside of the town of Cold Spring. If you’re taking the train, there is the Breakneck Ridge stop right near the trail head on the weekends, and if during the week, there is the Cold Spring stop and you can either cab it or walk the 2.5 miles. We got out of the car, crossed the street, to where there was a little tent with park rangers passing out trail maps and answering questions. My first thought was: wow, they even have the trail staffed, how unusual.
As the rangers told us and as the map indicated, it’s best to take the white-marked trail up to one of the first summits, and then you have your choice of trails to take from there, depending on difficulty and also depending on how far you want to hike. The Breakneck Ridge trail goes for 5.5. miles between Cold Spring and Beacon, NY and can take a long time. Most people choose to do smaller loops – we chose one that’s approximately 3 hours. It’s not the length that one should concern themselves with – it’s the steepness.
About 5 minutes into the trail you come to a straight shot up the mountain, full of rocks and boulders. It does not look like a regular trail. I don’t have photos of it, because unfortunately for us, it started to rain. This is not something you want to do in the rain! The rocks were very slippery and we waited out the rain underneath some tree branches. We almost turned away and walked down, as we were soaked and concerned about the rest of the hike, but something inside me said to not back away. I was here, ready to take it on, and no way was the rain or rocks going to get the best of me. (Haha, because they almost did!)
I kept telling my friend, once we get past the initial steep slope, it should even out and we’ll be greeted with amazing views that will have made it all worth it. So once the rain stopped, we soldiered on. It’s very hard to follow the white markers as literally the trail is a bunch of rock formations with no clear-cut path. But we kept heading up. And as we headed up, I kept saying it will eventually flatten out. But that it did not do!
The rocks became bigger – like boulders- and several times we had to use all four legs and arms to hoist ourselves up to the next ledge, to the next boulder. Both my friend and I struggled with some of the rocks and even asked for help from some other hikers at one point. This very nice woman, who was tall and didn’t have as much difficulty with it, lent a hand and lifted me up to the next rock a couple of times. She was really nice and agreed that the trail was extremely difficult, which made me feel better.
We ascended for a while, yet the first main part is only ¾ miles. I read that in this ¾ miles you climb 1200 feet – if that says anything! It’s very grueling. Once we reached the (first) summit, indeed we were greeted with incredible views of the Hudson River, Storm King and the Hudson Hills. It was a great sense of accomplishment. What we had just climbed was something neither of us had ever experienced before. It truly felt like rock climbing, or very close to it. At points our legs were shaking from both the physical activity, as well as the nerves. Once atop we took some photos, and a break, and were ready to follow the trail back down. Instead, it weaved in and out of some rocks and headed up again! We hadn’t realized that was the first of a few different summits.
We had to climb some more large boulders, but fortunately another hiker tipped us off and told us where to take the easy trail down (which is also marked). I have to say, we were so relieved once we started actually walking down. At times it felt like we would never get there.
Once back down again and at the trailhead I asked the ranger about all the people who come out from the city to this trail, and do they know how strenuous it is. He said not at all, most people know nothing about the trail, it’s just become wildly popular because it has the Metro North stop (which now I knew explained all the people!) He said there are a few accidents a month where people break ankles, legs, etc. and that most people aren’t educated about the trail. Including us! Wish we had actually read the sign below…
Alas, I still would have hiked the trail and am so glad we did. The views are 100% worth it, and the feeling of accomplishment can’t be beat. Breakneck Ridge is an amazing place to hike, you just have to be prepared and ready for a serious, vertical climb.