Hudson Highlands State Park is one of the most amazing places I’ve had the pleasure of exploring near NYC and numerous times too at that. And in this post, I’d like to share 7 amazing things to do if you go there.
Quick info Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve:
- Name: Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve.
- Location: Upstate NY (2 hours from NYC).
- Things to do: Hiking, boating, castle explorations, swimming and much more.
- Family friendly? Yes, though not every activity on this list is good for everyone.
- Rating: 5 out of 5.
- Recommended? Yes! Hudson Highlands State Park is in my opinion one of the best places to visit in upstate NY.
Here are the 7 things to do at Hudson Highlands State Park (used to be 5):
- Do the Hudson Highlands scenic drive.
- Hike up Breakneck Ridge.
- Do the Bull Hill Loop trail.
- Explore Little Stony Point.
- Explore the Ruins (Cornish Estate Trail).
- Explore Bannerman Castle.
- Check out Castle Rock Park.
Even though Hudson Highlands State Park is pretty large, you can actually do all 7 of these activities in a single day there. It would certainly take a lot of physical endurance to do, especially with the Breakneck Ridge and Bull Hill Loop hikes, but there’s ways to tie these hikes in together and get the full experience of this park in one day.
Here is a Hudson Highlands State Park map:
1) Do the Hudson Highlands scenic drive (road 9D):
What is it?
A scenic drive that goes on the eastern end of the Hudson River and also passes through Hudson Highlands State Park and nearby areas.
Folks, I have to tell you, if you want to get beautiful views of the Hudson Valley which include the islands, the mountains there and so forth, then the scenic drive which is road 9D is where you want to go. I’m going to include it in my list of the most scenic drives in New York State. It takes you through Hudson Highlands State Park, but at the same time it also has you cross a number of awesome sights which include:
- A few towns in the region.
- Several castles (more details below).
- beautiful marinas where you can rent boats.
- The beautiful Bear Mountain Bridge which you can see above.
- Many golf courses.
- And also views of the mountains and islands in the area that are so beautiful that they compete against some of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and in completely different areas of North America, most notably Vancouver Island.
In fact, while you drive through this scenic road, you may find it hard to believe that you’re still in New York, but in reality you are and there’s a lot of beautiful little parks to stop at on this drive. At the very least, if you’re tight on time, do the drive in this region, you’ll love it.
Also worth noting, the mountain you see in this picture is also part of a popular hiking trail known as Anthony’s Nose. It’s OK for a hike, but the ones you’ll find in Hudson Highlands State Park are much more scenic and fun in my opinion.
2) Do the Breakneck Ridge hike (this is one of the most popular Hudson Highlands State Park trails):
What is it?
Breakneck Ridge is probably the most popular, difficult and crowded hiking trail in the entire Hudson Highlands State Park. It’s also one of the best hikes near NYC. While the hike is strenuous and challenging, there’s a lot of reward in hiking it, including seeing beautiful views, testing yourself and having a great workout.
The trailhead to Breakneck Ridge is is right off road 9D. I’ve done this hike at least 10 times now and I love it. If you can reach the end of the Breakneck Ridge hike (white trail), you will come upon one of the coolest Fire Towers in New York called Beacon Tower (5-6 miles from the parking lot).
3) Do the Bull Hill hike:
What is it?
This is one of the other popular Hudson Highlands State Park trails and it’s actually right next to Breakneck Ridge. There’s even connecting trails between these 2 hikes you can try. The trailhead to Bull Hill is easy to find off road 9D as well (it’s only 1 mile south from the Breakneck Ridge trailhead).
I have an interesting tale to share regarding this trail. I was planning to hike up Breakneck Ridge one day and right before my hike began, a massive thunderstorm hit with torrential rain. I sat in my car waiting for it to end, but looking at the radar, it showed no signs of stopping, and so I had 2 choices:
- Either go back home, which would lead to a lost day.
- Or explore other hikes near Breakneck Ridge.
I chose the latter and it turned out to be a wonderful choice as the Bull Hill Short Loop Trail (the full name of the trail) was right next to Breakneck Ridge. While it isn’t as difficult, I would actually say it’s more scenic, longer and for some people might be more fun to explore than Breakneck Ridge.
I decided to do this trail, quickly learned what to wear when hiking in the rain and despite having to do nearly the whole hike in bad weather, had a blast. This trail spans for over 3 miles (the short one) and I’ve left a link above to the full explanation of this trail so you can enjoy it.
Along the way, you will see amazing sights such as:
- A great view of Breakneck Ridge.
- Beautiful overlooks at the top of the mountain (islands and the Hudson Valley).
- An awesome “Ruins” section which I’ll talk about later.
Hiking this trail was an absolute treat and considering I was one of only 4 people there, I am happy the rain led me there. I would not be able to hike Breakneck Ridge in that environment (it would be too dangerous).
4) Check out Little Stony Point:
What is it?
A small but very scenic area along the Hudson River, right across from the Bull Hill trailhead. It has a few short trails, a swimming area and great views of the river.
I discovered and explored Little Stony point right after checking out the Bull Hill Loop Trail which conveniently was right across the road. It’s a great little park that just about anyone can check out. There are 2 very short hikes in the area, both of which I recommend.
5) Explore the Ruins (Cornish Estate Trail):
What is the Cornish Estate trail?
It’s one of the easiest trails in Hudson Highlands State Park that takes you to an old historic site known as “The Ruins”. On this trail, you’ll see an old mansion, pool, greenhouse and much more.
To get to the Cornish Estate Trail, simple do this:
- Park at the same Bull Hill trailhead.
- Take the blue trail (1/2 mile) until you reach the Ruins.
Just as well, if you do the Bull Hill Short Loop trail from earlier, it will take you to these same ruins too. You can even elect to do the loop trail that I did backwards, which will take you past the Ruins in less than a mile, but most people elect to do the loop trail the same way I did and finish with the Ruins instead.
For me, being the only person there and having the whole place to myself was an awesome treat and the blue trail as well as the ruins is very close to road 9D.
What is it?
It’s probably the most popular castle in the entire Hudson Highlands State Park area which is only accessible by boat and it’s very close to the Breakneck Ridge hike.
Every time I would explore hikes like Breakneck Ridge and summit it, I would look out into the Hudson River, enjoy the sights but notice a little island with a beautiful castle on it. I later learned this castle is known as Bannerman Castle and as it just so happens, you can visit it this place but only under the right conditions/quotas:
- You can take a ferry to it (private) at the Beacon train station.
- I was told it was possible to rent kayaks to visit it too.
- As for exploring the actual castle, there is a tour available but I believe it is private and possibly expensive too.
Either way, Bannerman Castle is an iconic part of Hudson Highlands State Park and if you do happen to go here, the sights of the surrounding Hudson River Valley area are absolutely amazing (the picture you see above is from the Ferry ride there). For costs, I believe it’s $30+ per person for the ferry.
7) Explore Castle Rock Park:
What is it?
Another awesome castle in the Hudson Highlands area which is easy to miss, but has hikes around it you can try.
As I mentioned before, there is more than one castle around the Hudson Highlands Park area and while most of them are easily seen off road 9D, Castle Rock Park is actually a bit more “hidden”. It’s about 20 minutes south from Bannerman Castle.
I used to see this amazing look castle from the 9D road as I was heading up to hike Breakneck Ridge and I always wondered if it was a private area or not. Well on my most recent trip up there, I found out a few things about this place that you may find interesting:
- You can find an official parking lot to Castle Rock which is pretty small.
- There is also a lot of private land around the area but the road you take to the parking lot is public. Just follow the signs to avoid driving/hiking onto the private land.
- You can’t actually get to the castle itself because it is on private land, but you can explore the hiking regions around it like Sugarloaf Mountain and there are some very nice trails and hikes in the area.
More things to see near Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve:
1) Storm King Mountain State Park. It is directly across the Hudson River from Hudson Highlands and has great views and hikes to check out.
2) Bear Mountain State Park which is about a 30 minute drive from Hudson Highland State Park. That park isn’t as interesting in my opinion but it does have more tourist attractions like a zoo and a lake to boat on (not the Hudson river).
3) Harriman State Park. I recommend this park for the scenic drives and more remote hiking trails which you shouldn’t do if you’re a beginner at hiking and are worried about getting lost in the woods.
4) Sam’s Point Preserve. About 30 minutes north of Hudson Highlands. Great, small park with caves, hikes and good experiences.
Here’s more Hudson Highlands State Park photos from my recent visits there:
Side note, if you like the above image of the Breakneck Ridge overlook and want to see more places like it, there’s one in Oregon known as Columbia River Gorge which looks very similar to it (and is much better in my opinion). Here’s comparison photos of these 2 parks:
More questions about Hudson Highlands State Park answered:
How to get to Hudson Highlands State Park from NYC?
You can either drive up to Hudson Highlands State Park which takes about an hour or take the Metro North Railroad to Beacon Station which also takes about 1 hour.
Are dogs allowed in Hudson Highlands State Park?
Yes, I have often seen people hiking with their dogs in Hudson Highlands State Park.
How worth is it to explore Hudson Highland State Park?
I’d say it’s very worth it. I’ve done many hikes and explorations in New York State and I have to say I’ve been underestimating this spot by a lot. Not only are there amazing hikes here, but it’s also a great place for day trips from NYC in general as there’s a lot of beautiful scenery, castles and historical areas to explore too. I love this park and on my list of the best state parks in NY, it’s in my top 10.
I certainly plan to come back at least a few more times to this area and explore even more areas there and if you have any suggestions of what else there is to see there, let me know! Just as well, check out these 10 awesome hikes on the Hudson River Valley. This region has a lot of hiking adventures to check out!