A (short) Walk in the Woods - Breakneck Ridge, NY

Date walked: 11/05/2015

Time taken: 5.5 hours

Distance: 20km

Ascent: 1000m

Summits: Bull Hill (433m), Breakneck Ridge (370m), Viewing platform (396m), South Beacon Mountain (498m).
Date: 11/05/2015.
Distance: 20km.
Ascent: 1000m.
Time taken: 5 hours, 30 minutes.
Weather: Hot and hazy.

This was never supposed to be a walking holiday, so I hadn't packed any walking gear or done any research. However, after 5 fun-filled days seeing the sites in New York City, I felt a bit of a breather was in order. Gill wanted to visit an out of town shopping village and there was no way I could stomach any more shops :roll: . So I left her to it and had a quick look online for somewhere else to go.

Popular perception is that in the USA the car is the boss and public transport is almost non-existent and for losers only. I have no idea how realistic that is in general, but close to New York, it couldn't be further from the truth. It took me about 5 minutes of looking at Google maps to find somewhere vaguely interesting to go hiking, and not a great deal longer to work out how to get there on the train and form some kind of a plan. Never mind the pre-internet days - this sort of thing is even easier now than it was 6 or 7 years ago, when I might have spent a couple of hours scouring rail operator and public authority websites for a hint of timetables or costs. Now most of the info is right there on Google maps.


So on Monday morning I found myself getting the tube from our hotel to Grand Central station, which is a pretty impressive start to the journey. Although it was packed with commuters, I was going against the flow and my train was nice and quiet. I was off to walk some trails in the Hudson Highlands State Park, which is easily accessible from the towns of Cold Spring and Beacon. In fact the most interesting trail in the area (the Breakneck Ridge trail) starts at a small train halt between these towns, but unfortunately trains only stop here at the weekend. As it was, I had a direct hourly service to either Cold Spring or Beacon from Grand Central, taking less than 90 minutes each way. If that isn't convenience, I don't know what is!

Fancy start to the day – Grand Central station:

I decided to start at Cold Spring, which was a journey up the eastern shores of the Hudson River. As the power stations and cement works are gradually left behind, the scenery gets better and better. Off the train just after 10am, it was an easy stroll through Cold Spring and across the 9D road to the start of the trail up Bull Hill.

Looking across the Hudson to West Point Military Academy:


Some nice swamp:

Cold Spring station:

Start of the trail up Bull Hill:

I started out on the Washburn trail, which zigzagged steeply up around a disused quarry. Higher up, there were a few small clearings and outcrops with good views back over the Hudson. The way was well marked with little plastic trail marker discs tacked to trees, not to mention arrows painted on rocks. You wouldn't want to leave the trail as the woods are pretty dense - making your own way over the ground here isn't really the same fun as it is back in the UK.

Pretty serious spider web:

Path up around the quarry:

Hudson River:


Storm King Mountain:

Barge on the river:

One of the better viewpoints on the way up Bull Hill – south down the Hudson:

Storm King Mountain:

I didn't have a paper map but I'd managed to download a useful pdf to my phone which had the trails on it. I didn't have any walking clothes either, but it was pretty warm so I was quite happy in my running gear (which is pretty much the same stuff anyway, footwear aside).

Rocky section of trail:

West Point and goods train:

I know bagging the 14,000 footers is a game in the USA, but it is fairly obvious why the lower hills aren't treated in the same way. Apart from the fact that there must be thousands of them, finding the summits isn't particularly easy or rewarding. Much better to enjoy the clearings and viewpoints when they appear.

Is this the summit?

Sadly yes:

I had thought about retracing my steps to the Undercliff trail but instead I carried on NE over Bull Hill. This dropped me in zigzags down to the Brook trail and Breakneck Brook.


Chipmunk with a beetle:

Pointless cairn building:

Bridge over Breakneck Brook:

There were a couple of options for getting onto Breakneck Ridge. I opted to rejoin the Undercliff trail as this would take me as close as possible to the SW (and most interesting) end of Breakneck Ridge. After a steep ascent through boulders, the trail ran along the bottom of some crags then dropped back down again. More minor scrambling and scrabbling took me onto the main ridge, sadly above the best scrambling.

Rocky ascent onto Breakneck Ridge:



Still, there were some great views back down, and across the Hudson to Storm King Mountain. Soon, further views opened out across Beacon and Newburgh. If it had been clearer, the Catskill Mountains would have been visible away to the west.

View SE over Breakneck Ridge and Storm King Mountain:


Pollepel Island and Bannerman Castle:


Newburgh-Beacon Bridge:

Storm King Mountain and Highway:

I passed a few people on the ridge onwards - a couple of them seemed unsure exactly where they were. Hardly surprising as the trees had closed in again at this point, and I'd lost track of exactly which bump I was walking over myself.

NW along Breakneck Ridge:

Well pecked tree:

After various ups, downs and rounds, the final climb up to South Beacon Mountain was steep and slightly scrambly. I knew there was a fire tower on the summit but I didn't realise how tall it was until I got there.

Scrambly ascent to South Beacon Mountain:

Summit fire tower:

View towards North Beacon Mountain:

…and Beacon Reservoir…

…and SE across Bull Hill and Breakneck Ridge:

…and back down the fire tower:

It was airy as hell up the tower - I was briefly more nervous than I have been on some more awkward scrambles in the past. I soon got used to it but I don't think I'd fancy a job as a wind turbine engineer! Well worth the extra 20m or so of elevation for the views.

I dropped NE towards Beacon reservoir, but I didn't see it again. The next views were from a lookout point at the top of an old inclined railway. There were also the remains of a steam engine in an engine house here - apparently the inclined railway used to deliver guests up to a high hotel back at the beginning of the 20th century, but it burnt down in the late 1920s.

Strolling over nice slabs towards the reservoir:

Beacon from the top of the incline:

Winding engine on North Beacon Mountain:

I was now on a popular trail down, and passed a couple of joggers. There was a fairly large parking area at the foot, and also a shop which I was very grateful for, as I'd run out of water at the fire tower.

Looking back to North Beacon Mountain:

Although the railway station in Beacon was a couple of miles away, the walk through town was very pleasant. This must be prime commuter belt for Manhattan - much more pleasant than the equivalent areas around London, that's for sure!

Ferry pier next to the station:

The station was right down by the Hudson, where there was also a ferry over to Newburgh. I was a bit short of time (not to mention a bit sweaty) for a visit to the nearest bar, so I enjoyed the sun down by the river before catching the 4:15pm train back to New York. It had been a great day out - I hadn't expected to be able to do a linear hike using public transport here - certainly not without a bit more planning!

Across the Hudson to Newburgh:

Heading back to NYC:

The report title was a little nod to Bill Bryson's classic 'A Walk in the Woods', his account of walking a chunk of the Appalachian Trail. I had assumed that the AT went across the Catskills in this area, but I discovered afterwards that it was only a few miles away to the east.

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Comments: 3

Carn na h-Easgainn via Tomatin

This post is not published on the Walkhighlands forum
Attachment(s) Grahams: Carn na h-Easgainn
Date walked: 03/05/2015
Distance: 17.05km
Ascent: 500m
Views: 33

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Donalds: Beinn nan Eun, Uamh Bheag
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Ascent: 710m
Comments: 3
Views: 243

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Views: 321

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Sub 2000s: Sail Chalmadale
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Ascent: 1200m
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Views: 393

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Attachment(s) Date walked: 06/04/2015
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Attachment(s) Sub 2000s: Seana Mheallan
Date walked: 25/03/2015
Distance: 9.5km
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Views: 459


User avatar
Location: Inverness
Occupation: Civil Engineer
Interests: Walking, Scrambling, Cycling, Mountain Biking
Munro rounds: 1

Munros: 282
Corbetts: 198
Grahams: 182
Donalds: 43
Wainwrights: 81
Hewitts: 206
Sub 2000: 116

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Wainwrights 4


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Ascent: 40740m
Munros: 12
Corbetts: 2
Hewitts: 75
Wainwrights 17


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Last visited: May 22, 2015
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