My friend Ranger Rick (RR) and I were looking for an adventure over my summer break. Last year we had hiked Harriman State Park, with a few blips, and this summer we wanted to do another big hike. While we were initially considering some overnight options, neither of us have a car, so we were limited to trails accessible by bus or rail. Hitting the AT stop on the Metro-North would be fun, but the train only runs on weekends so getting back into the city in time for RR’s work wouldn’t really give us much time out on the trail.
After doing some cursory searches and reading some blogs and articles about hikes in and around NYC we settled on Breakneck Ridge. While the Metro-North also hits this station at irregular hours, the trail connects to others that take hikers into towns like Beacon and Cold Spring where the Metro-North makes regularly scheduled stops. After consulting some friends and co-workers who have hiked in the area we decided to make our hike stop in Beacon, taking us the full length of the Breakneck Ridge Trail and then descending via the Casino Trail.
In preparing for the hike I cross referenced four blogs for information on the full ridge line:
1. This one is probably the most informative once you scroll down to the “Hudson Highlands: Breakneck Ridge to South Beacon Mountain” they make it a loop back to the parking lot, but RR and I didn’t.
2. This one is also solid and little more digestible for the blogging readership. The writer has some pro-tips, like downloading the Hudson Highlands map to your phone along with bringing a print out version, and links to other relevant blogs for those wanting more research.
3. This blogger completed the same route RR and I were setting out on and took some good pictures along the way, this was also the first look we got at the fire tower.
4. I used this blog for information on the Casino Trail that would lead us down into Beacon
Saturday morning we took the 6:54am Metro-North, leaving from Harlem 125th, on the Hudson line to get us to the trail head stop 8:09am. While the blogs I read mentioned the popularity of the trail for weekenders from the city it wasn’t until we made our way back to the last two cars of the train that I began noticing seats full of people with back packs.
Once off the train an older gentleman gave us a tip off about a better way to get to the trailhead, so we followed him and bypassed the major bubble of weekenders who had gotten off with us. The man was a 75 year old retired dentist who didn’t look a day over 60. The trick, he told us, was that he took the train out and hiked around this park every weekend. Him and another hiker our age made up a little bubble, this other hiker made it up the first four plateaus in shoes, then decided to do his descent barefoot, which was pretty impressive, but not totally unreasonable given the kind of footing needed for the terrain. Power to him.
The scramble up to the first plateau is a fun quick up that gives the immediate reward of a view over the Hudson with Storm King mountain in the foreground.
The next three scrambles are also rapid ups, each ending with their own little plateau and view, but these have some pretty scary scrambles with sheer drops, which is probably why they put this sign right after the second climb:
Even some of the alternative routes have some “breakneck” moments if you look down, so make sure to bring shoes with good grip, or just go barefoot.
Finally we made it to the fourth and last view, which was only a little over a mile of our journey, but took about two hours for us to get up. That being said, we didn’t have any train schedule to make, so we took our time and made a lot of snack and photo breaks. If you were in a rush you could certainly cut this time down, but if you do rush it, you want to make sure you don’t miss views like this:
after this view the trail intersects the blue blazed Notch trail which both the dentist and barefoot were taking down back down to the train [note: the more popular, red blazed Breakneck bypass trail meets Breakneck Ridge trail earlier], so we said goodbye to our bubble and stayed on to trek the ridge line then go down into Beacon.
After this turn the white blazed Breakneck Ridge trail runs with the blue blazed Notch. All the turns along the trail were really well marked and usually accompanied with small signs giving further direction, so it’s easy to navigate even when multiple blazes overlap. On this section RR and I were pretty alone, we only bumped into one other hiker until we summited Mt. Beacon and it felt nice to have that sense of isolation. If you have a longer hike in you, I definitely recommend hiking the full ridge line past the first few turn offs and getting this trail to yourself.
The Breakneck ridge trail takes you right up the summit of Mt. Beacon. Standing at 1,611 ft Mt.Beacon is the highest peak in the Hudson Highlands and summiting it was quite the challenge. From the Breakneck ridge trail the summit is a series of rock scrambles
much like the original ascent, these rock scrambles get progressively more and more exposed making it a thrilling climb with amazing vistas at every new foot hold.
However the view at the top is worth the work.
While I climbed the fire tower, I almost felt more impressed by the view on the mountaintop itself, I like the mysterious sensation mountain ridges in the distance have and climbing the fire tower gives those far ranges a little more definition, which, if that’s your thing, is worth braving the climb.
After the summit we followed the red blazed Casino Trail down into Beacon. While the descent wasn’t bad, the day hikers taking this trail up Mt. Beacon were in for quite a steep climb.
In my IG post I only mention Bank Sq Coffee, but before you take the metro-north back to NYC stop and explore Beacon, it’s a cool mountain town with a lot to offer. We got lunch at The Pandorica, a Dr. Who themed cafe, then stopped in for a drink at 2 Way Brewing, both of which I recommend.