“I did not think on a Sunday I would be hiking above the cloud line.”
This is a line from my friend Zac, who had originally tried to talk me into boozy brunch over hiking. Luckily, I would not back down, a need to detox, slow down and remind myself what mountains looked like propelling me forward.
Despite not going out the night before — although I did stay up until midnight watching The Mindy Project — my 6:30am alarm leaves me confused what planet I’m on. Do I have a meeting? A workout class? A date with my parents on Long Island?
Excitement to be in the outdoors wakes me up, as does a shower, and I’m soon on a train bound for the Breakneck Ridge Trail, a popular hike with New Yorkers on weekends, as becomes evident by the fact 75% of the train is wearing backpacks. The trail is 4.6 miles (7.4 kilometers) in length, continuing over the mountain along the ridgetop to South Beacon Mountain. I day dream of nature, as out the train window the the Hudson River dotted with adorable homes and imposing bridges paints a picture.
The Breakneck Ridge stop is about 90 minutes into the ride, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Seriously. Nothing but Hudson Highlands State Park woodland and train tracks — and a set of simply wooden steps acting as a platform — is there.
Luckily, the trail is easy to make out. We start out semi-leisurely, a scenic walk in the woods, and in about 30 minutes are rewarded with a beautiful view of the Hudson and surrounding foliage.
“Is this it?” Zac asks.
While I’m confused as to where the trails leads, the guide I’d read suggested 3-4 hours. We realize we’d actually made a wrong turn, and are soon back on the trail following the white blazes and trail markers.
After here we also start experiencing the incline the trail is known for. It’s a challenge for another two hours, up and flat, up and flat, until we finally come to a wooden staircase with lookout platform, a higher version of our original view. We’d been told by another hiker at the beginning of the trail that we should look for the Beacon Fire Tower atop South Beacon Mountain, at which point we could either turn around or head into the city of Beacon.
“This can’t be it,” I say. “It’s too small. And we haven’t scrambled yet. The guide made this sound way tougher. I really wanted a challenge.”
Be careful what you wish for. Seriously. While many turned around at the wooden lookout, Zac and I continued on, up some of the steepest, rockiest terrain I’ve ever experienced; although I will say after tough rock scrambles we were greatly rewarded with inspiring views. Our first true ascent provides aerial vistas from 720 feet (219 meters).
I consider myself pretty fit, and this was definitely a struggle, albeit a very fun one. Along with the views, obstacles and numerous lookouts and peaks, the different sounds and scents of the trail were a gift: ruby-throated hummingbirds and American robins singing, the scent of wet leafs, twigs snapping, a mix of earthy pine and oak, hiking boots stepping, peanut butter sandwiches.
Suddenly, after 3.5 hours in, we find ourselves above the tree line, higher than any mountain in out vicinity, at least it feels that way. Soon after, finally, we reach the fire tower atop South Beacon Mountain, originally built in 1931 and bringing me to 1,653 feet (504 meters). I feel like I’m queen of the clouds, especially as the views stretch for at least 75 miles (121 kilometers) out, allowing me to see the Hudson Highlands, Beacon, the Hudson River, the Catskills, the old Beacon Reservoir, NYC…even Connecticut!
Seriously. It was so high — and shaky from the wind — Zac backed out halfway up, an aerial adventure not for the faint of heart.
From here, we descend a steep rock face — I purposely go down on my butt — and finally hike a not-so-clear trail to the red trail, which will take us to the city of Beacon.
While the previous section of the hike had been challenging steep-wise, the next section, about 60-90 minutes, is all downhill…and rocky! We both almost slip numerous times (so make sure to wear comfortable shoes).
Zac and I are rewarded at the bottom with cheap and meaty sandwiches and cold bottles of Root Beer at Bob’s Corner Store. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a Sunday, as long as you don’t mind waking up early for a challenge. If you had one too many beers the night before, this is also a great way to sweat off that hangover!
On Saturdays and Sundays it’s possible to take a train to and you from Grand Central to Breakneck Ridge via the Hudson Line. Two trains leave Manhattan at 7:43am and 8:43am, and two leave Breakneck for the return journey at 1:09pm and 4:13pm. The journey is about 90 minutes and costs $28 round trip.
While most people hike to the Beacon Fire Tower and turn back, I continued on to Beacon for a through hike. It took me about five hours total to complete the entire hike, including time spent getting lost. Although the trail is well marked, if you’re talking or taking photos while hiking it’s easy to pass some of the places it veers.
Once in Beacon you’ll be able to hop right into Bob’s Corner Store for cheap and tasty sandwiches, sodas, snacks, fruits and parfaits. From here, it’s about two miles or 25 minutes to walk to the train stations, which trains back to Grand Central running frequently. For instance, we took a 3:58 train, and the next one was coming at 4:08.
Water: I took about 70 liters of water and definitely I wish I had about 20 liters more.
Solo Travel Rating: Perfect! As this trail is popular on weekends, you’ll never be too far to be heard if you need help, especially if you bring a safety whistle. I also didn’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of people, still getting to experience peace in the woods.