I’ve been itching to hike. The last hike I did was Breakneck Ridge…and that was in the spring! The weekends have finally gotten cooler, so I convinced a friend to hike Great Falls Park.
We heard that the park can get very crowded, so we arrived at 9 AM on a Sunday. Since I hadn’t been there before, we parked at the Great Falls Park parking lot in Virginia. After paying our $10 park entrance fee, we easily found a spot and were ready to roll. Note that there are real bathrooms near the visitors center, which is such a luxury!
The visitors center didn’t open until 10 AM (hours are here), so we used a trail map I had bought at REI to figure out which trail to take. The trails are extremely well labeled – there are large signs throughout the park with arrows pointing you in the correct direction. Although it was early, there were also many people hiking.
We chose to hike south along the River Trail. However, our first stop was the Instagram worthy look out point. If you get there early (9 AM), you will have it mostly to yourself. Get there later and there will be a wall of people between you and the falls.
Breakneck Ridge is one of my favorite hikes. It’s challenging, scenic, train accessible, and you can celebrate with a burger, beer, and ice cream before you take the train home from Cold Springs. You can’t get much better than that!
I recommend wearing layers, a hat, sunglasses, and *light* hiking boots or sneakers. Bring a backpack (I love this one), at least one filled water bottle or pouch, small snack (e.g., nuts, protein bars, or jerky), sunscreen, and bug spray.
We take the first train from Grand Central to Breakneck Station (around 7:45 AM, but check the Metro North schedule). If you drive, there is very limited parking near the trail head, so plan to arrive early to secure a spot. I know it’s early, but the train takes over an hour and it can get very hot on the mountain.
There are no bathrooms or water on the actual hike, but there are porta potties at the trail head. There are typically 2 volunteers handing out free basic trail maps. We talked to them before we started our hike and paid $10 cash for a more detailed trail map.
The first part of the hike is challenging. After the initial ~15 minute climb, there are a few places to take a break. If there are large crowds, be patient and kind towards other hikers - let faster hikers pass your group and encourage those that might be struggling.
We always summit Breakneck and then walk past the Cornish Estate Ruins. They're super creepy but fascinating. If you have time, I recommend hiking up to Bull Hill (Mt. Taurus). The summit is higher than Breakneck, which is really cool!
From there, we head to into Cold Spring via the white trail, which leads you to another parking lot. We then follow the signs to Cold Springs, enjoying the flat walk along the water.
Once downtown, enjoy food and brews at Doug’s Pretty Good Pub or Silver Spoon Café's porch and share a scoop of Moo Moo’s ice cream before boarding the train back to Manhattan.
Have you done this hike before? If so, any tips or trails to try? Cold Spring restaurant recommendations are also welcome!
Kate Scott is an avid runner, who has completed three marathons and numerous half marathons. She travels frequently, most recently to Toulouse and Bordeaux in France. She currently lives in Northern Virginia and is a certified public accountant.