From the parking area, proceed east on Secor Street until you reach the trailhead for the Nelsonville Trail which is on the left side of the road, opposite 29 Secor Street. This green-blazed trail is marked with plastic markers which feature the logo of a bull (the blazing may be sparse in places). Almost immediately, the trail crosses a stream. If you wish to utilize the two boards which have...
From the parking area, proceed east on Secor Street until you reach the trailhead for the Nelsonville Trail which is on the left side of the road, opposite 29 Secor Street. This green-blazed trail is marked with plastic markers which feature the logo of a bull (the blazing may be sparse in places). Almost immediately, the trail crosses a stream. If you wish to utilize the two boards which have been placed across the stream here, use caution, as the boards may be unsteady. It is also possible to cross the stream on rocks. After crossing the stream, the trail turns left onto an old woods road. It soon bears left and crosses another stream on rocks.
At 0.3 mile, the Nelsonville Trail turns right onto a wide, eroded woods road -- also the route of the yellow-blazed Undercliff Trail. A short distance ahead, the Undercliff Trail leaves to the left, but you should continue ahead on the woods road, following the green blazes. The Nelsonville Trail crosses paved Gatehouse Road at 0.6 mile (there is a kiosk with a map here), and shortly thereafter it reaches a cleared strip of land -- the route of the Catskill Aqueduct. The large stone building uphill on the left is not a pumping station; rather, it houses one end of an inverted syphon that carries the water down to and under Route 301 and then up to the next ridge (another similar structure is visible in the distance to the right).
The Nelsonville Trail now crosses a stream, bears right, and begins a steady ascent. At 1.2 miles, it passes gate posts (and a broken gate) which mark the boundary of Hudson Highlands State Park. Just beyond, the Split Rock Trail (red) leaves to the right. The plastic blazes with the bull logos are now gradually replaced by painted green diamonds (with a white border), and the trail begins to pass through attractive mountain laurel thickets. After several more turns, the Lone Star Trail (blue) begins to the right. The Nelsonville Trail continues to climb steadily along the woods road, quite eroded in places, until the trail ends at 2.6 miles at a four-way junction.
Here, you should turn right, following the sign "Breakneck Notch." You are now on the blue-blazed Notch Trail, which descends steeply on a wide footpath. After turning sharply left, the trail levels off, crosses several streams, then descends more moderately. It turns left again onto a footpath parallel to a woods road, then joins the road, paralleling a stream -- first to the right, then to the left. After about a mile, the Notch Trail passes a stone foundation to the left, crosses a wooden bridge over Breakneck Brook, and reaches a T-junction. Here, the red-blazed Brook Trail begins to the left, but you should turn right, continuing to follow the blue blazes of the Notch Trail.
Just beyond the junction, you will pass several concrete and stone ruins on both sides of the trail. These are the remnants of a dairy farm, once operated by the Cornish family. Please use care if you wish to explore these ruins, as there are some steep drop-offs. Past the ruins, the trail goes by a dam and skirts the northwest side of a pond. Just beyond the end of the pond, the Notch Trail turns left, leaving the road, and begins a steep ascent to the crest of Breakneck Ridge, with limited views to the right through the trees. After climbing over rocks and around switchbacks, the Notch Trail reaches the white-blazed Breakneck Ridge Trail at a T-junction. Turn left and follow the white blazes, which continue to climb.
In a short distance, the Breakneck Ridge Trail reaches a viewpoint on the left side of the trail, with Surprise Lake and its camp visible to the left. Continue ahead, and soon you will reach a magnificent 360° viewpoint from one of the highest points on Breakneck Ridge. The Hudson River is visible to the east, with the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge in the distance to the north. The long ridge to the southeast is Bull Hill (Mt. Taurus). The highest point on Breakneck Ridge may be seen to the northeast. In the distance to the north, you can see North Beacon Mountain (with multiple radio towers) and South Beacon Mountain (the higher peak, with a single fire lookout tower).
After spending some time resting from the steep climbs and taking in the view, follow the white blazes as they turn sharply right and descend steeply from the peak. The trail soon levels off and, in about 500 feet, you will reach a junction with the red-blazed Breakneck Bypass Trail. Watch carefully for this junction, which is marked by three red-on-white blazes on a rock to the right of the trail (there is also a small cairn). Turn right onto the red trail, which climbs over a large rock, and begins to descend. Just ahead, be sure to bear left at a Y-junction, marked by a small cairn. A short distance beyond, there is a view of Sugarloaf Mountain, with Bannerman's Castle on Pollopel Island visible to its left.
The red trail now descends steadily. After bearing left and passing through a wet area, the grade moderates briefly, but it steepens again after the trail passes another viewpoint over Sugarloaf Mountain. The Breakneck Bypass Trail ends, 0.8 mile from its start, at a junction with the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Memorial Trail. Turn left on the yellow trail, which follows an old woods road (now narrowed to a footpath) downhill. Soon after crossing a stream on a wooden bridge, the trail ends on Route 9D.
It is possible to leave a second car in a turnout along the road at this point (half a mile north of the Breakneck Ridge tunnel), but a more interesting return option is to take a short ride on the Metro-North Railroad from the Breakneck Ridge station, just to the north. Service to this station is provided only on weekends, with southbound trains departing at 1:09 p.m., 3:09 p.m., 4:13 p.m., 5:11 p.m., 6:13 p.m. and 7:17 p.m. (For more information, call Metro-North at 1-800-METRO-INFO, or visit their web site, www.mta.info.) To reach the southbound Breakneck Ridge station, proceed north on Route 9D for 0.25 mile and cross the footbridge that spans the tracks. The station (which is marked by a sign adjacent to a small platform) is about 100 feet south of the footbridge. Take the train one stop to Cold Spring. To return to your car, cross the footbridge over the tracks at the Cold Spring station, and walk north, following a walkway to Main Street. Turn right and follow Main Street uphill for about a mile. Turn left onto Pearl Street at the Nelsonville village hall, and continue for one block to Secor Street.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 06/13/2002
This hike passes the ruins of a dairy farm and climbs to an outstanding viewpoint over the Hudson River and Bull Hill.
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.