Hiking the Hudson Highlands State Park
Located on the eastern side of the Hudson River and just north of historic Cold Spring on Rt. 9D is Hudson Highlands State Park. Multiple trails run throughout the park, and while the Breakneck Ridge trail is the most popular, we start on our favorite, the yellow-marked Wilkinson trail. A strenuous hike, it takes approximately 3 hours to complete our loop. Though we hike this trail year round, we especially love it in the summer, and by the time we finish, we are, along with our packs and bandanas, drenched with sweat.
While we can easily stay on Wilkinson, we turn right at the junction with the red-marked Breakneck Bypass trail, which is a steeper path up to the ridge. It is extremely challenging but entirely rewarding. As we slowly but finally reach the top, being careful not to exhaust our four liters of water, we get our first view of the Hudson River and other ridges of the park. From here, we turn left on a blue and white marked trail called the Breakneck Ridge and Notch, and in several spots experience its sharp descents. While hiking up the Breakneck Bypass is tough enough, I am always reminded of how much tougher it is on my knees going downhill, especially without trekking poles – I have finally learned my lesson!
Like Harriman, there is much history in the Hudson Highlands Park. Stone walls abound throughout the hike, evidence of once thriving farming communities, dating back to the nineteenth-century. Beyond the occasional horns of passenger and freight trains in the distance, this place is incredibly peaceful.
Eventually we arrive on Sugarloaf Mountain, and the views are breathtaking. Particularly on clear days, we can see the breadth of the Hudson Valley, from the Catskills Mountains on the horizon, to the Shawangunk Ridge outside of New Paltz, NY. Directly in front of us is Storm King Mountain and beyond that Schunemunk Ridge. Below us on the river’s edge is Pollepel Island, also called Bannerman, named after a Scottish industrial robber baron at the turn of the 20th century, who built a castle-like home. The ruins are clearly visible, as are kayakers on the Hudson, coming in for a closer look. On each side of the river, trains rush by. Commuter trains pass below us, while across the river, mile-long freight trains barrel down from Albany. We relish it all, while relaxing under what we call the “Joshua tree”, always checking for rattlesnakes, since they like to relax too, on sun-drenched ridges. Too soon, it’s time to make our way back, and head to the village of Cold Spring for a quick bite.