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Stairway to Heaven: Pochuck Valley to Pinwheel Vista

Pinwheel VistaAppalachian Trail

Summary: Gorgeous and diverse section of the Appalachian Trail through northern NJ… Hike boardwalks, a suspension bridge, hardwood forest, fields of wildflowers, train tracks, a cow pasture, a boulder field… before steeply climbing the “Stairway to Heaven” to one of the best viewpoints in NJ: Pinwheel Vista. The Kittatinny Mountains are visable in the distance, farms in the valley below, and on a clear day, High Point Monument.

Moderate. Trail surface ranges from super-duper-easy-peasy boardwalks to flat, hardpacked to dirt to serious rocky sections. The “Stairway to Heaven” is a series of rock slab steps switchbacking up Wawayanda Mountain.

  • 7.4 miles - The route we took, described below.
  • 2.0 miles – Super-duper easy – only walking the boardwalk section and back.
  • 2.5 miles, steep – Stairway to Heaven only. Start at the lot on Rt 94 instead.
  • Longer – The Appalachian trail continues in both directions for hundred of miles….

Note: This is a popular area – everything from people taking a casual stroll to AT thru-hikers – so don’t expect solitude. Most people were on the boardwalk section in the beginning, or on the section from the lot on 94 to Pinwheel Vista.

Map: #116 of the North Jersey Trails map set.

Books: Hiking New Jersey has a detailed description and a diagram of the 7.4 mile route. Hiking the Jersey Highlands has the popular short route (only 2.5m roundtrip) from Rt 94 parking up to Pinwheel.

Parking: N41 14.084 W74 28.852 [Pochuck parking]

Rt 287N to exit 52B for Rt. 23 Butler. Follow 23 for awhile to 515N. Left onto 644 (Vernon Crossing). Right on 517. There will be a sign with hiker symbol on it, then another to denote the parking.

Parking is on the right side of 517, just before you reach Carol Drive, along the road. Parking room is limited – somewhere between 10-12 cars perhaps.

There is a slight path along the road, follow that to a trail kiosk and turn right onto the start of the boardwalk.

Route 94 Parking lot, closer to vista: N41 13.169 W74 27.305

Restrooms: None. Gas stations in Butler, or in Vernon.

Hike Directions: Overview: AT (WHITE) – BLUE spur trail – then backtrack.

0.0 – Follow the WHITE blazes of the Appalachian trail this entire route. It is well marked and there are few other unmarked trails to trip you up.

The first mile is on a boardwalk through a marshy area. Be sure to look for turtles in the large green pool of muck you cross on a little bridge.

A little further, cross Pochuck Creek on the Pochuck Suspension Bridge.

1.0 Boardwalk ends, start walking in forest.

1.4 – Come out onto a woods road which is a bicycle path. On maps it may be marked “Canal Road”. Make a RIGHT, go over a bridge then turn LEFT through a gate.

Continue through a mix of forest and fields with tall grass. Some areas are on plank walkways, and there is a fence to cross on a stile (steps over a fence).

2.2 Wawayanda Mountain – which you are going to hike up – is in front of you. Climb over a stile, immediately walk across the railroad tracks, then another stile into a cow pasture which you walk across on wooden planking.

We were disappointed the cows were off in the shade the day we hiked, it would have made for an interesting photo hiking through a herd. At any rate, be nice to them if they are there and watch where you step!

2.4 - Cross another stile (careful as you go over, you are practically standing in the road on the other side). Cross busy Rt 94 into the hiker’s parking lot.

Trail is easy until you reach the woods. Shortly after that, pass through a large boulder field and the trail becomes very rocky.

The trail starts to climb steeply up and you’ll notice slabs of rock placed as steps along the way, this is the “Stairway to Heaven”.

3.2 - Work your way through the branches of a fallen tree overhanging the trail. “Annie’s Bluff” – a limited viewpoint.

3.6 – Turn LEFT onto the BLUE spur trail, marked with BLUE blazes, a huge pile of rocks, and a “Lookout 100ft” sign. This spur trail can be easy to miss. [updated 10/18/12 to add sign, via Myke]

3.7 – Follow BLUE to a rock outcrop, this is Pinwheel Vista. There are several places to sit and take in the view of the mountains and the valley below. When done, retrace your steps back to the lot on Rt. 517.

Hiked: 7/31/10. Trail Blog: “Stairway to Heaven: Pochuck Valley to Pinwheel Vista

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