Get the blood pumping by hiking Breakneck Ridge and the Cornish Estate
As the leaves begin to turn from greens to rich oranges and reds, New Yorkers head up the Hudson River to go hiking Breakneck Ridge and the Cornish Estate at Cold Spring. With the promise of breathtaking views of the Hudson Valley in full fall foliage, challenging scrambles, and pumpkin spice beers at the end of it all, what’s not to love?
A scenic commute before a strenuous hike
The easiest way to get to the trails is to catch the Metro-North Hudson Line to either Cold Spring or Breakneck Ridge stations (the train only stops at Breakneck Ridge on peak weekends) – or drive if you have the option. The Metro-North departs from the Grand Central Terminal, which in these times is much less crowded and eminently more enjoyable navigating. The Metro-North trains are comfortable but dated. It’s the early 90s at best, but at least there are toilets. A quaint touch is a conductor, who still wears the same starched caps that the MTA has sported since the golden days of steam.
Traveling north through Harlem and following the glacier-carved banks of the Hudson, you’re reminded what space is. As the city thins out, the canyon of high-rise buildings makes way for steep cliffs that shoot straight out of the river. Tenements make way for townhouses that make way for actual houses. Ferries disappear, replaced by yachts and leisure craft, parks are filled with picnickers and community groups. In autumn, the escarpments glow like far, lit with brilliant hues of gold, orange, and fire engine reds.
Hiking Breakneck Ridge and the Cornish Estate, there are two main routes – the easy way, and the really freakin’ hard way.
The Hard Way: Hiking Breakneck Ridge (or should we say “climbing”)
Take the train to the Breakneck Ridge station. The platform is short here and the facilities are limited, but in peak summer and fall periods, you’ll find a fleet of food trucks and port-a-loos there for any pre-hike needs. It’s about a ten minute walk to the trail along the road.
Having taken the easy way via Cold Spring the first time, we had no idea just how challenging hiking Breakneck Ridge would actually be. Not that we could be accused of being fitness enthusiasts, but you need a level of fitness to take this route. If you have injuries, hypertension, or are pregnant, opt for the nice stroll from the other side.
At first, the trail is a well-trodden path through scrubby woodlands. Very quickly, the path becomes rougher and the elevation steeper. Before you know it, you’ll be scrambling from rock face to cliff faces, reaching for crevasses to grip and gaps to wedge your toes into to spring up to the next rest point. It’s strenuous, but a heap of fun. Just to add insult to injury, kids will tear past you like monkeys, bounding up what just took all your energy and wits.
Halfway up Breakneck Ridge, New York
At this part of the scramble, points of the path can seem challenging, but just require a little pre-thinking to determine the best way up. Stay hydrated – bring more water than you’d ever imagine needing as the climb will get your heart racing and your body sweating. Luckily there are plenty of places to pause and regain your breath. And the views are spectacular. Looking north, you’ll see Pollepel Island and the ruins of Bannerman’s Castle. Francis Bannerman VI made his fortune selling surplus military supplies after the American Civil War and purchased the island to house an armory. In 1920, two years after his death, 200 pounds of shells and powder exploded, destroying some of the structures. A fire on August 8, 1969, finished off the rest and now it’s a spooky destination for kayak tours.
Breakneck Ridge continues its torments to the aching muscles, with not one, but two peaks. The initial one is a welcome relief and offers the best view south down the Hudson River. The secondary and true peak is the steepest part of the climb. At this point, if you’re as unfit as us fast-approaching middle-agers, your arms will be hurting, and you’ll just want to turn around and go back.
Thankfully, there’s a rewarding view and cooling breeze awaiting. Once you’re at the peak, it’s a less strenuous scramble downhill on rough trails that will take you through the grounds of the former Cornish Estate to ruined pump houses, greenhouses, and the mysterious manor (read on for more).
The Easy Way: Cold Spring and the Cornish Estate
Get off the Metro North at Cold Spring station. Cold Spring is a small village just south of Beacon and Poughkeepsie. The township is nestled on the edge of the river, almost opposite the West Point military academy. It neighbors the West Point Foundry; the ruins of the armaments works that supplied the US Army and the Union. The sleepy village boasts a veritable treasure trove of antique shops and cafes. Adjacent to the station is the Cold Spring Depot, a bar with a casual vibe, a beer garden, cool beers and a welcome breeze. It’s our go-to after hiking and has an appealing menu of craft beers and gastropub fare.
Crawling north, traversing the back streets, the quaint church and cottages are soon left behind for sports fields and the local sewage treatment plant. Gladly, it’s only another mile to the hiking paths to the Cornish Estate and Breakneck Ridge.
The Hudson Highlands Hike and the Cornish Estate
The Hudson Highlands trail starts roughly, through poorly cut weed beds and undergrowth. Gladly, this is just a tester, as it is soon replaced by an actual road. The first major stop is the ruins of Northgate, the Edward J Cornish Estate. Cornish was the President of the National Lead Company and this was his summer residence from 1917 to 1938 – no doubt assisted by the Great War’s armaments boom. The road that has led here was the driveway to the estate, a luxury that we have had the pleasure of sharing too.
Just beyond lie a well and greenhouse and peppered further along the tracks are barns and outhouses, some with rusted machinery still present. One welcome surprise in the former well is a colony of frogs and toads and their offspring.
An easier scramble
Beyond the ruins of Cornish Estate, the path becomes rougher, more what we would have expected. The track is marked by colored tokens every few hundred meters. These lead across a small brook and its cascades towards the impressively named, Breakneck Ridge. You’ll pass ruined stone outbuildings, a sign of how opulent the estate was in its prime.
As the path switches from blue tokens to yellow, the path becomes more vertical and harsher. At times, it’s hard to work out in which direction it is going. Rocky outcrops jut out in every direction and it takes some imaginative navigation to make our way up the escarpment. After precariously balancing along sharp pokey-bits, we reach the pinnacle. It delivers on the promise of a spectacular view down the Hudson.
The path back down follows the route of the brook, past further outhouses and down to the main road. From there, it’s a short, but brisk walk back to Cold Spring to the Depot for a bite and a drink before taking the train back to Grand Central.
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Hiking Breakneck Ridge and the Cornish Estate is one of the best hikes you can do near New York City without a car. You can approach the trails from either Beacon or Cold Spring. There are plenty of trails to explore. These are just a couple that we have tried.
Breakneck Ridge, Cold Spring, and Beacon are on the eastern side of the Hudson River, about an hour and a half north of Manhattan.
Take the Metro-North Hudson line from Grand Central Terminal. On weekends, you can get an off-peak ticket and you can purchase them from the MTA app and activate them once onboard the train.Follow & Connect with us