By Susan Farewell
One of my favorite hikes is within easy reach of New York City as well as southwestern Connecticut and northern New Jersey: Breakneck Ridge, just north of Cold Spring, New York.
Don’t be turned off by the name. It’s hard, but not beyond reach for any reasonably fit adult or energetic child (though think twice about taking little kids).
Unlike so many hikes in the tri-state area, which are gentle trails through perfectly lovely deciduous forests, this one is off-the-charts exhilarating.
One minute you’re parking your car, the next you are on all fours, scampering up the rocky faces of the East Hudson Highlands. As you ascend, the view gets bigger and broader and you find yourself wondering if you’re really this close to New York City (it's about 60 miles away).
There are some really good teaser summits where you settle in, have water and trail mix, take your pictures and then happen to catch out of the corner of your eye that…oops, there are people higher than you are and that, in fact, you are not at the top. This is where the fair-weather hikers are separated from the peak-baggers. Some people will cash in at these scenic overlooks, take in the view and head back down. Others carry on, determined not to go home empty handed. And indeed, when you get to the highest point, you can luxuriate in that great feeling of accomplishment. This is something wonderful to share with your kids, by the way, especially if they spend the entire way up complaining.
Have a picnic up there and when you're ready to move on, turn left on the Notch Trail (blue) and then left again on the Wilkinson Memorial Trail (yellow), which will return you to NY 9D at your starting point, 0.3 miles north of the tunnel. The Wilkinson Trail passes over Sugarloaf Mountain, with far-reaching views.
En route, you'll spot a castle on a tiny island just off the eastern shore. An intriguing little spot, this castle was built in the gilded age by businessman Francis Bannerman. It later was donated to the people of New York State (Hudson Highlands State Park;Taconic Region; New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation). There are many wonderful tales about the island including its name, Pollepol. According to legend, a girl who had almost drowned in the frozen river, was rescued by a gentleman on the island and immediately married him. The island is popularly known as Bannerman's Island and there are guided tours offered through the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Once back at sea level, it's less than a five-minute drive into Cold Spring where you can take a look at the many shops and historic 19th-century buildings. Hope that it's warm enough to sit outside at the Cold Spring Cafe where you can have a hot chocolate, tea or coffee and a pastry. Or, right across the street, have a full meal (salads, burgers, crispy fried kalamari) at the Silver Spoon Bar & Restaurant.