Breakneck Ridge Winter hiking

Icy climb

Icy climb

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.  The snowy rocky cliffs and steep ascents prove challenging but extremely rewarding during this winter time hike.  Travel with me as I guide you through the breakneck ridge bypass loop.  We’re greeted with many excellent views of the Hudson River Valley, Bannerman Castle and snow covered landscapes.

If your interested in a longer hike of Breakneck Ridge, be sure to check out my Breakneck Ridge and Wilkinson Memorial hike. To see a summertime hike, see Breakneck Ridge bypass loop

Location: North of Cold Spring, NY
GPS Trail Head Coordinates: 41º 26.59’N, 73º 58.68’W
Duration: Approximately 3-4 hours at moderate pace with time for sightseeing and rests.
Season (video): Winter (Late Janruary)
Weather Conditions (video): Sunny
Trail (video): Breakneck bypass
Difficulty: Moderate
Views: Lower Hudson Valley, Westpoint, Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, Bannerman Castle
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: 3 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, Bird Watching
Common Wildlife Encounted: Birds, Large Black Snakes (infrequent)
Safety Direction (if lost): West take you towards the Hudson and Route 9D.


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.
Breakneck Bypass Trail (Red): Continuing on the white trail, you’ll soon encounter the red trail on your left.  This is well marked with tree red triangles on a large stone.  Turn left at here and continue on the red trail.  This starts your decent back down the mountain.  It’s mostly a dirt path but in many spots it’s relatively steep so be careful when the ground is wet or covered in leaves as it’s area where one can easily slip if moving to quickly.
Wilkinson Memorial Trail (Yellow): When you reach the end of the red trail, you’ll be met with the yellow trail.  Proceed left down the hill.  As you continue on the red trail you’ll cross a flowing stream.  After about 30 minutes on the red trail, you’ll end up back on 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 doing 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 bypass Trail loop.

Breakneck Ridge Bypass Trail Loop Map

  6 comments for “Breakneck Ridge Winter hiking

  1. Wayne
    February 17, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    That looks interesting. I was wondering if you came across any animal life at all?

    • admin
      February 18, 2013 at 9:12 am

      Hi Wayne, great question. I think I may have seen one or two birds (probably on their way south) but aside from that I didn’t notice any. The snakes should be hibernating & the squirrels mostly holed up for the winter I presume.

      However in September I was hiking through the area (a bit off the trail) and encountered a large rock area that had a hundred+ ladybugs. It was a very interesting as they weren’t congregated any where but rather about every foot there was a lady bug along the entire large rock face regardless of if you looked up, down, left or right. Never noticed that before… Okay, not animal life or during this winter hike but interesting none the less!

  2. Fred
    February 19, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    How treachorous is this trail in winter? (im thinking about doing it sometime this week) I have done some scrambling and hiking in the past (including Mt Katahdin’s Cathedral Trail) so I was just wondering if this would be dangerous.

    • admin
      February 21, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      Hello Freddy. When I did it earlier this year (see video) it was fine as long but I was careful in the snowy areas and avoided the icy ones. As noted in the video, when you get to the top, there’s probably going to be a lot more snow then there is on the mountain side climb. I cannot speak for the trail conditions right now but I didn’t encounter any significant concerns when I went through. You may want to contact the state park for up to date trail info. Stay safe & happy hiking!

      • Noodles
        December 26, 2013 at 3:39 pm

        Climbing Breakneck during winter in icy conditions is doable, but more difficult than usual. It really depends on how bad it is. In this video, it looks a lot better than the ice I found there. When I went, I slipped on ice and land on my butt over a sharp rock. I also slipped and fell into a stream. I didn’t need them, but I really, really wished I had brought microspikes for some parts of it. I was very glad to have waterproof pants and shoes.

        • admin
          December 27, 2013 at 9:34 pm

          Hi Noodles. Thanks for sharing your experience. No doubt Breakneck can be a dangerous place in the winter as could any mountain, best to ascertain the viability of each hike by looking at weather conditions and pay attention early in the hike incase it’s best just to turn around. Thankfully on my hike there were only a few tricky spots but by taking it slow and with good pathfinding were easy to navigate through/around.

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