Breakneck Ridge is a challenging hike even for seasoned trail veterans. This marvelous path takes you along the massive Hudson River up through the multiple summits of Breakneck Mountain.
You might want to leave the kids and pets home for this one because you'll need all four limbs to climb up the rocks and boulders to reach the top. Although the hike is difficult for a beginner, you can't beat the view of the Hudson Valley from 1,200-feet in the air at the top of the mountain.
Here's everything you need to know before planning your trip to Breakneck.
The History of Breakneck Ridge
New York's massive Hudson Valley is infused with history at every step and turn. Indigenous tribes relied on the river and woods to sustain life and populated the entire valley for thousands of years prior to European colonization. Historians believed about 10,000 indigenous men, women, and children lived in the river valley which they called Mahicannituck.
An Englishman, Henry Hudson, was the first European to traverse the valley in 1609 as he looked for a faster route to China. (It isn't exactly clear how he thought that was supposed to work. Maybe he intended to cut through the entire continent?)
During the Revolutionary War, the valley around Breakneck Ridge played an important role repelling advances from British troops and delivering supplies to American forces.
According to a book by William J. Blake published in 1849, the ridge got its name after farmers chased a ravenous bull off of the cliff where he broke his neck.
Get it? "Breakneck" Ridge? Today, the trail sits in the Hudson Highlands State Park which spans 6,000 non-continual acres.
What You Need to Know Before You Go
Breakneck Ridge is a mountain about two hours outside of Manhattan between Beacon and Cold Spring – the hike spans two counties. At its highest point, Breakneck reaches 1,250-feet above sea level. If you drive in from the city, you should have no trouble seeing the rocky cliffs from quite a way out.
If a challenging hike in New York with incredible views sounds like something up your alley, Breakneck is a great choice. Here's what you should know about the trail before you head out.
This is definitely a hands-on hike. (Sorry, bad joke.)
No, but seriously, you should prepare to use both your hands and feet. The trek around Breakneck requires a lot of climbing over boulders and rocks as you go further and further up the mountain.
Take this into consideration as you plan your attire. Proper footwear is a must for Breakneck – preferably lightweight boots – and you might even want a pair of climbing gloves.
The popularity of Breakneck Ridge has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to social media and the hike's sheer beauty. In fact, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference estimates that over 100,000 people hike the path each year.
Unfortunately, this massive increase in popularity is both a blessing and a curse.
Breakneck is already a very rugged path. Experts aren't sure if the trail can withstand the increased traffic without causing irreparable damage. As a result, the Trail Conference has plans to conduct restoration efforts which will also improve the hiking experience.
Although the Trail Conference says the path will stay open through 2018, make sure to check their announcement page before planning any trip around the Breakneck Ridge hike.
It's not uncommon for hikers to bring their dogs on this hike. At the same time, it's really hard to recommend anyone do that.
Many people find they need to carry their dogs over the large boulders as they climb the summits. Even labs simply can't manage to get over the rocks. So, if you absolutely must bring your furry friend, make sure you can safely lift them a few feet.
Even then, the cliff drop-offs can become dangerous when combined with excitable pups – and children!
It's also probably a good idea to let the kids sit this one out. Even if your little one can climb the boulders, the hike's ascent might simply be too dangerous.
You might not mind hiking in the rain and mud if you have the right gear. Even so, you should probably leave Breakneck Ridge for a different day.
The Breakneck hike is very dangerous in the right (or wrong) weather conditions.
If the rocks are wet from rain, it could be very easy to slip as you climb up or down. And if you slip, it could be very easy to take a tumble of a modest few hundred feet – yikes.
Likewise, don't attempt Breakneck in the early spring or late fall if you suspect there might be any snow or ice along the rocks. Keep in mind that weather varies in the mountains. Even if you don't see snow around the base of the summit, that doesn't mean there isn't any 1,000 feet in the air.
There's no way around it: Breakneck Ridge is a challenging hike. At the same time, it's a fairly short hike considering the distance.
Budget yourself between three or four hours (or more if you want to explore other trails).
Four hours should give you enough time to leisurely climb the rocks and wander down the path on your way back. If you're up for it, you could even climb Sugarloaf in the same (long) day!
As mentioned above, this hike has grown almost too big for its britches.
Breakneck Ridge used to be a laid-back trail for hiking enthusiasts. Now, you might have trouble making your way through the crowds should you plan to hike on a weekend.
The Trail Conference recommends hiking during the week to avoid the weekenders. Not only does it make for a better hiking experience, but it's much safer too. Think about it: it's easier to trip and fall when you're wading through crowds of hikers.
Packing for Breakneck Ridge
It's not exciting, but it's important to make sure you pack properly for any hike – especially Breakneck Ridge. This hike is difficult and volunteer first responders have to rescue people from Breakneck every year. In most cases, people get lost and don't have the proper supplies to get by longer than they expect.
The simplest way to prepare for your hike is to ensure your bag is filled with the right supplies. For Breakneck Ridge, this includes:
Pack plenty of water for everyone hiking. Since Breakneck runs along the river, you could also pack a LifeStraw or water purifying tablets.
You know the drill: small bandages, alcohol wipes, medical tape, and some kind of mild painkiller. With Breakneck, you don't want to risk climbing over rocks and boulders with a bum hand so pack some decent sized bandages.
Sunscreen is a must – even on cloudy days. Make sure to bring it with you too in case you get lost somewhere.
You need a compass and you need to know how to use it. And remember to grab a map of the trail. Don't worry, you can find maps of Breakneck Ridge at the trailhead.
Even if you don't get stuck somewhere, you might be glad you brought some extra layers when you're 1,200 feet in the air looking down over the river. And if you do get stuck, you'll be glad you packed a tarp and jacket to protect yourself from the rain.
Everyone's grab-and-go hiking backpack should contain a bright but lightweight flashlight with extra batteries. Solar powered devices might sound like a great way to save the environment but they won't do you much good when you need light at night or on a dark cloudy day.
If you plan to eat after a hike, you might not think to pack adequate food. This can turn into a disaster should you take a wrong turn somewhere. Pack lightweight foods that provide high levels of protein like granola, nuts, or nut-butter sandwiches.
If you know your way around a pocketknife, bring that. If not, grab yourself a multipurpose tool. You can use these for everything from cutting rope to pulling out splinters or debris from wounds.
You'll need something to sanitize the knife should you need to use it for an injury. Dryer lint is perfect due to its lightweight.
Preparing for Your Trip to Breakneck Ridge
As long as it isn't too busy, you shouldn't have trouble finding somewhere to park in the lot at the trailhead along 9D.
Guess what? The way back down is much easier and takes you right back to the parking lot (as long as you don't take a wrong turn and accidentally start climbing Sugarloaf Mountain.)
The trails are marked very well with different colors – red, yellow, and white – which you can easily follow from the map. Happy hiking!
Featured Image: Image: CC 2.0, ScubaBear68, via Wikimedia Commons