Hudson Highlands State Park contains some of the most popular trails in the lower Hudson Valley including Breakneck Ridge and the Cornish Estate Ruins. These are must sees but don’t miss out on the other trails in this park!
About The Hikes
This is the most popular hike in the lower Hudson Valley and it’s easy to see why. Also, how about that name? First time you hear that how can you not want to find out more! This hike has incredible views that look out to Bannerman Island and Storm King Mountain (see guide here), another excellent hike in the lower Hudson Valley. Breakneck also has plenty of rock scrambles to challenge your climbing skills, something rarely tested in this area of New York.
The Breakneck Ridge ascent is steep with lots of technical climbs but also complete with side trails and alternate routes to avoid complicated sections. Even so, be prepared for a tough hike!
There are three main summit landings on the incline, the first is at the flag pole. This is the first landing zone after a short rock scramble section and will be the first time the trail breaks out from the trees. From this point until the summit, the trail is mostly along steep rock faces and you’ll be looking out at the Hudson River the whole way up.
The next summit is a couple hundred feet higher and this is where you’ll get some views at the edge of a rock cliff looking directly down to the Chalet restaurant below. Heading north from there you’ll have a short decline before the final ascent which leads to my favorite view with the foreground boulders and background mountains.
Be sure to take your time exploring, there are countless places to rest and chill on a secluded boulder.
The most important thing to note about the hike is that it’s always done in a counter-clockwise direction because the first quarter mile of ascent is marked as one way only. This is for safety reasons along the rock scrambles and to keep a constant flow of traffic.
The popular route is a roughly 3-mile loop that is sure to leave you tired, but if you consider 3 miles only a light snack and you’re hungry for more, the vast network of trails in the Hudson Highlands will take you far. I recommending using AllTrails to download maps and see your GPS location in real-time to help navigate and plan routes as you go.
Breakneck Ridge Loop:
Distance: 3.2 Miles
Elevation: 1260 feet
Ascent: 1250 feet
Cornish Estate Trail
Located to the south of the Breakneck Ridge is a network of trails through the old Cornish Estate. A 650—acre property purchased by a Chicago diamond merchant in 1917 and destroyed by a fire in 1958. The property was later to become an addition to the Hudson Highlands State Park in the 1960s. The estate ruins are left to be explored through miles of gentle trails. The ruins include everything from the mansion itself, to an old swimming pool, a greenhouse, stable, farm buildings and more.
The area around the mansion is quite popular and cleaned up as far as ruins go. For a better explorers feel check out the ruins that are a mile up the Breakneck Brook trail. This area has an overgrown farm building with an attached silo as well as a creepy compound. When I hiked the Cornish Estate Trail a lot of people were in the area surrounding the mansion but after venturing further, I didn’t see another person the entire time that I was on those back trails.
The distance to the ruins is just under a mile from the parking lot at Little Stony Point making the round trip a mostly flat, 2-mile hike. The fun doesn’t have to stop there by any means, like I mentioned before, the best of the estate is still another mile up Breakneck Brook. The ruins are also situated in a great location to add on another hike from. Three good options are to hike to Breakneck Ridge, Bull Hill, or even the Beacon Fire Tower if you’re looking for something in the low double-digits for miles.
Cornish Estate Trail:
Distance: 1.8 Miles
Type: Out & Back
Elevation: 200 feet
Ascent: 190 feet
The Crowds and How to Manage
Both of these hikes are extremely popular and with easy train access from New York City and the surrounding area they are usually packed. The best time, like any hike to avoid crowds, is to go early or to go late. What I did when hiking this trail was go mid-week in the summer and stayed on the back trails for most of the day. When sunset was approaching, I made my way over to the Breakneck Ridge summit and only a handful of people were left in the area at this time.
The back trails of the Hudson Highlands go to destinations like Sugarloaf Mountain and towards South Beacon Mountain. These trails are mostly wooded with some elevation and I thought they made for great hiking before hitting the popular points.
Due to the crowds that hike this trail, an uncanny amount of trash has accumulated as the summits and views. Please help out and pick up what you see when you hike, any amount helps restore the natural feel of the trail.
Getting There and Important Information
The trailheads for both hikes are north of the town of Cold Spring, off of Route 9D, and each have their own parking area. Fortunately, the town of Cold Spring has invested money into the development of the parking facilities in recent years to accommodate the increased traffic. Parking along the shoulder of Route 9D is not allowed in most places so if the parking near the Breakneck trailhead is full, try looking at the Cornish Estate trail parking located opposite of Little Stony Point.
The climb up Breakneck is very strenuous so if there was ever a time to have proper clothing, footwear, and a daypack for a Hudson Valley hike, this would be that time.
Breakneck has no water sources going up so expect to carry what you need. The Breakneck Brook does run next to trails near the Cornish Estate so water is not required if you have a water filter.
I always hike with a water filter and I recommend doing this as well. My brand of choice and most popular among hikers is a Sawyer Squeeze and can be found here. They’re inexpensive and crazy light so packing with you is always a no-brainer.
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