Breakneck Ridge and Wilkinson Memorial trail

Refilling water at stream

An hour north from the skyscrapers of New York City, join me as I backpack one of the best hiking loops in the United States overlooking the scenic Hudson Valley River near Cold Spring, NY.  This time I travel not only along the popular Breakneck Ridge route but also take an extended route via the Wilkinson Memorial trail.  The rocky cliffs and steep ascents prove challenging but extremely rewarding as does the chance to view what appears to be an old fort and Bannerman Castle. We’re greeted with many excellent views of the Hudson River including an excellent view of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge from a high wooden observation platform.

If your interested in a shorter hike of breakneck ridge, be sure to check out my Breakneck Ridge bypass hike here

Location: North of Cold Spring, NY
GPS Trail Head Coordinates: 41º 26.59’N, 73º 58.68’W
GPS Waypoints: GPX CSV KML Google maps
Duration: Approximately 7-8 hours at moderate pace with time for sightseeing and rests.
Season (video): Spring
Weather Conditions (video): Sunny
Trail (video): Breakneck Ridge and WIlkinson Memorial trails
Difficulty: Moderate
Lower Hudson Valley, Westpoint, Newburgh-Beacon Bridge,
State Park: Hudson Highlands State Park
Access: Car Parking Lots and side of road are plentyful on Route 9D minutes north of Cold Spring and very close to trail head.  Metro North station stop extremely close but runs on restricted weekends/holiday schedule  only (Hudson Line).
Recommended Supplies: 5 x 750ml (20 OZ) bottles of water or sports drink (more during summer), a small snack, map, compass & first aid kit.
Other: Day Hike, Backpacking, Old Fort, Wooden Observation Platform, Bannerman Castle
Common Wildlife Encounted: Birds, Black Snakes (infrequent)
Safety Direction (if lost): West take you towards the Hudson and Route 9D.


Trail map



Breakneck Ridge Trail (White): The trailhead starts on the north side of the tunnel on Route 9D.  This trail is indicated with white markers/blazes.  You will start a steep rocky ascent but wherever there’s an area that requires some tricky climbing, there is a marked alternate path which you can take if you feel uncomfortable.  5-10 minutes into your climb, there will be a stone building to your left which has the inscription “City of New York Catskill water supply 1912”.  The stone building looks like an old fort and is abandoned. This first leg of the hike will test you but when you make it to the first plateaux the toughest part is behind you.  Continue on the white trail past the second and third plateaux.  After the third plateaux there will be a yellow trial on your left leading down.  Continue on the white trail which leads up a bit more until you get to the ridgeline.  While walking along the ridgeline, you will pass a pond (dries up in summer) and further on there is an unmarked path that leads off to the left (30 seconds off trail) and this affords another scenic overlook the Hudson River Valley.  Continuing on the white trail pass the red trail (breakneck bypass) on your left.  A while after you pass the red trail, the Notch trail (blue) will be on your right.  Continue forward on the same trail which will now be marked with white & blue blazes as the Breakneck Ridge & Notch trail join each other for a little over a mile.  The terrain continues relatively flat for the next few miles (with some smaller assent & descents). After over a mile the blue trail will part from the white trail.  Continue on the white trail (right). for another 0.5 miles until you meet the yellow trail.  Before you get to the yellow trail, you’ll be greeted by a wooden observation platform which provides an excellent view of the Hudson River and the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.
Wilkinson Memorial Trail (Yellow): When you reach the yellow trail turn left (downhill) and follow it for a short while until you reach where the Notch trail (blue) joins it and turn right (If you would like to see the Mt. Beacon Fire tower, turn right at the yellow trail and continue up the mountain about 15 minutes).  Continue to follow the blue and yellow trail for 0.5 miles.  Eventually the blue trail will lead to the left & the yellow trail to the right.  Follow the yellow trail.  From here you have two more significant ascents and about 2 miles till you each route 9D a couple minutes North of where you originally started.  If you parked in the main dirt parking lot or at the trailhead, go left (south) to find your car.  If you took the metro north train, go right  (north) to return to the train station.



Hiking Tips for Breakneck Ridge

1. If hiking during late spring, summer or early fall, start your hike early in the day. The first section of the Breakneck Ridge is the most intense section of the hike. You’ll burn through a lot of energy & generate a lot of heat which can make it less pleasant if your hiking this section during the heat of mid-day.

2. While hiking the first section you’ll encounter several trickier climbing areas. If you feel uncomfortable with any of these climbs, look for the alternate paths which is usually marked with an X and/or the word alternate. All alternate marked paths will lead you back to the main trail within a few minutes so you won’t miss out on the main trail.

3. Be sure to bring enough water and/or sport drinks especially during hot days. Consider brining water and add powdered electrolytes to ever other bottle of water you go through. Your great hike can quickly turn unpleasant if you run out of water on a hot day.

4. You can hike this in running shoes but some of the climbing area can be tricky if you cannot get a good grip. Good hiking boots will provide the desired traction as well as keep your feet getting sore as you get further into the hike.

5. Bringing some light snacks will help keep your hike spirited and enjoyable.

6. Bring a camera to capture some priceless shots & memories!

7. Hiking alone can be great, but traveling with a good friend is safer & often more fun.

8. Be sure to bring a well marked map and compass with you. Being unsure of where you going and if your lost is never a good feeling.

9. Car parking in a dirt parking lot and on the side of the street is plentiful but if your coming from New York City, consider the Breakneck Ridge Metro North Train (Weekend and Holiday only) stop on the Hudson line.

10. Don’t forget to sign in at the Trailhead log book!

Hope you enjoy these pictures of the Breakneck Ridge – Wilkinson Memorial Trail.



  8 comments for “Breakneck Ridge and Wilkinson Memorial trail

  1. May 16, 2011 at 5:28 am

    enjoyed your video, you seem to be familar with Breakneck ridge, Im trying to plan and overnight with my 7 and 12 year old. would like to keep hike 5-6 miles each day. is it possible to hike breakneck ridge with that criteria ? and find a camping site ?

    Thank You


  2. admin
    May 21, 2011 at 6:39 am

    Hi Rich, great question. Just returned from John’s USVI where I was filming a new Caribbean hiking video, hence the delay, new video will be up by end of may at link above if your interested.

    Back to your question, unfortunately camping is prohibited in Hudson Highlands State Park so if you really want to stay overnight this is not a good choice. Camping is permitted in many other parks within a couple hours of breakneck though. You may want to consider Bear Mountain, CT. If you do this trail in the same order I did it will allow you to get around the distance your looking for in on your first day, then only a mile or two to get out the next which may work well.

    Camping aside, the Breakneck Ridge hike may be great to do with your kids if your not sure how much stamina they have for the hike. You could start the Breakneck Ridge trail and decide if your going to take the bypass trail for a 1/2 day hike or an extended loop like the Wilkinson Memorial trail as shown on this page for a full day hike pending how your kids are doing when you get to the bypass.

    Enjoy the summer & time with your kids!

    • Rich
      May 21, 2011 at 11:06 am

      Thanks for getting back to me, I read up a little more after last post, waiting for trail maps I ordered, we decided to open the hike up to day hikers also, and the more adventurous can come over to Bear Mt NY, or even Harriman State Park for a short 1-1 1/2 hour hike to AT campsite. I’ll sign up for and post a video of our hike, we looked into the campsite with the platforms, and shuttle, no shuttle for BNR and its a 7 1/2 hike to the site 🙁 looking forward to video’s you post, I will try to copy your format 🙂

      • admin
        May 23, 2011 at 5:46 pm

        Hey Rich, I’ve upgraded your user from subscriber to contributor. When you log in you can now make a posting/upload pictures. If you would like me to host your video file on my server that’s not a problem, I can send you video upload information when you get to that point, just send me an email at I look forward to seeing your video! You’ll be our first user generated video!

  3. Mike
    April 14, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Correction – turn LEFT on the yellow+blue trail on the return half of the trip, then right when these diverge to stay on yellow Wilkinson for the remainder of the hike.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *