An hour and 15 minutes by train from the dizzying commotion of Grand Central Station is an expansive wilderness known only to New York City’s most adventurous day trippers. Making up just a piece of Hudson Highlands State Park, Breakneck Ridge offers miles of undulating trails through lush forest, over bulbous rock faces and along a zig zagging stream. For the heartiest of hikers, the trails provide unmatched views of the Hudson and surrounding mountains. They’re the kind of views that make you stop and think about your place in this crazy world, while you chew on your granola bar. However, they don’t come without a lot of sweat and hard hiking.
When you get off the train at the Breakneck stop (in between Cold Spring and Beacon) you notice that everyone you saw wearing boots in Grand Central is there. Some will be wearing hundreds of dollars worth of hi-tec wicking fabrics, polypropelene-lined boots and moving with titanium walking poles. Other hikers take a natural approach resemble Cheech and Chong. If you want to look like you know what you’re doing, walk from the train towards the tunnel as soon as you get off. Don’t be part of the crowd that stands on the side of the tracks with the air of “now what?” about their unconfident faces.
The first mile or so of Breakneck is challenging. The path is nearly straight up an unrelenting craggy mess of rocks and roots. Take your time and watch where you’re putting your feet and hands. Not long into it thoughts of days missed at the gym will begin to fill your mind. While a few of the more difficult sections will cause slight traffic jams, this is where the train full of people starts to thin out. It’s as if the mountain is saying, “You fast talking city folk better be worthy.” Take the time to appreciate the beautiful views as you go. (There’s no better excuse to rest if you’re sucking wind.)
At the heart of either the white, blue or red trails is verdant forest with thick ground cover. Golden rod, Japanese honeysuckle and hay-scented fern can be found in every direction. As you descend the ridge your conversations will bounce off of white oak and flowering dogwoods. The train load of people have all but dispersed and you can enjoy hiking in the silence of nature. Most routes will eventually lead you back to route 9D. A southerly half mile walk and you’re in the historic town of Cold Spring. Trains returning to NYC leave every hour.
The other way to experience this beautiful escape, the easier way, is to get off the train a stop before Breakneck Ridge, in Cold Spring. Walk north on 9D and find the trail head along the way. If an initial thousand foot climb rock scramble is not your idea of a fun hike then start gradually from Cold Spring. You can hike all the way up and out to the exansive views of the Hudson with the advantage of turning around and descending without the strenous climb of the Breakneck trail head.
Click Here for an online map of the trails from The Putnam County News and Recorder. I still recommend finding a clearer map from a local travel/gear store. The trails are difficult to follow at points and markers can be missed. Remember to bring lots of water, some snacks, and have fun! It’s a great hike and a very freeing and rejuvenating escape from city life for only $20 roundtrip.
For a full list of flora check out nynjctbotany.org.
For train schedules, visit Metro North Railroad.