Stairway to Heaven: Pochuck Valley to Pinwheel Vista

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Stairway to Heaven: Pochuck Valley to Pinwheel Vista

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’s Vista.

The Kittatinny Mountains are visible in the distance, farms in the valley below, and on a clear day, High Point Monument.

Miles: 7.3 total, round trip. Trail surface ranges from super-duper-easy-peasy boardwalks to flat, hard packed to dirt to serious rocky sections.

The “Stairway to Heaven” is a series of rock slab steps steeply switch-backing up Wawayanda Mountain.

Nearby: Cedar Swamp and Lake Lookout; Lake Loop and Twin Bridges; Hoeferlin, Cedar Swamp, Red DotIron Mountain and Hoeferlin LoopWallkill River NWRWawayanda Lake via Kayak.

Note: There are three popular hikes on the Appalachian Trail in this area:

  1. Stairway to Heaven: Pochuck Valley to Pinwheel Vista – This hike.
  2. Pochuck Boardwalk – Appalachian Trail – 2.0 miles, also from this parking area.
  3. Stairway to Heaven NJ – 2.6 miles.
Where to park for Stairway to Heaven NJ and Pochuck Boardwalk

Our two cents:

This is a popular area – everything from people taking a casual stroll to Appalachian Trail 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’s 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.

50 Hikes in New Jersey and Hiking the Jersey Highlands has the popular short route (only 2.5m round trip) from the Rt 94 parking up to Pinwheel.


Restrooms:

Porta-johns at the trailhead on Rt 517, as of 11/2019 (They may be seasonal). Gas stations and fast food in Butler (more options), or in Vernon.


Parking:

41.234733, -74.480867 [Rt 517 Parking SEE NOTES]

893 County Rd 517, Vernon, NJ 07418. Rt 287 to Rt. 23. Follow 23 to the exit for 515N. Left onto 644 (Vernon Crossing). Right on 517.

There is a sign with a hiker symbol, then another to denote the parking. Parking is on the right side of 517, along the shoulder.

Room is limited – somewhere between 10-12 cars perhaps. 

–Alternate lot for boardwalk: 41.231694, -74.462111 [Canal Road North]
23 Canal Rd, Vernon Township, NJ 07462 – Should take you to the intersection of Canal Road and Bucky Lane. Small lot is on Canal Rd.

Follow the path until it intersects with the Appalachian Trail. Turn RIGHT onto that. It’s a footpath for a bit before meeting up with the boardwalk.


**NOTE** This trailhead is in a residential area that is experiencing issues with the parking situation.

Please be respectful of the residents and their property. As always, Leave No Trace – trash or otherwise. Parking illegally in the area may generate a ticket.

Weekends/Holidays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. NO PARKING is in effect on Carol Drive, Meadowlark Drive, Ann Place, Cove Court, Vlietstra Drive, Thistle Avenue, Ivy Place and Old Glenwood Circle. Parking on these streets is permit-only for residents. 

If parking along Route 517, obey all posted signage and utilize the striped parking spaces.

Info: Parking Restrictions By Pochuck BoardwalkVernon Police Press Release and “Vernon puts parking restrictions on roads near Appalachian Trail“.


Hike Directions:

Overview: Appalachian Trail (WHITE) – BLUE spur trail – then backtrack.

Follow the WHITE blazes of the Appalachian trail for the entire route, except for the BLUE side trail to the vista.

0.0 – From parking on the side of Rt. 517, follow a slight path along the road to a trail kiosk and turn onto the start of the boardwalk. 

Boardwalk through Pochuck Valley

There may be turtles in the large green pool of muck crossed on a wooden bridge.

Bridge on Pochuck Boardwalk

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

Pochuck Suspension Bridge
Crossing the Pochuck Suspension Bridge
Crossing the Pochuck Suspension Bridge

1.0 – Boardwalk ends, start walking in a forest.

Appalachian Trail

1.3 – Walk through an opening in a wooden fence to a wide woods road. (The woods road is a bicycle path, look left and there is a sign. On maps, the path may be marked “Canal Road”.)

Turn RIGHT down the woods road. Cross a bridge, then quickly turn LEFT to continue on the Appalachian Trail. [The woods road continues straight]

Bridge over the creek
Lovers Bridge

Continue through a mix of forest and fields with tall grass.

Hike through fields with Wawayanda Mountain coming in view.

Some areas are on plank walkways, and there is a wire fence to cross on a stile (steps over a fence). However, the last time we hiked this the fence was down.

Stile to cross a wire fence

2.2 – Climb over or around a stile and immediately walk across railroad tracks.

Another stile when approaching the train tracks
Cross over train tracks.

Then climb another stile and enter a cow pasture that is crossed on wooden planking. Wawayanda Mountain – which you are going to hike up – is in front of you.

Cross a pasture on wooden planking.

There may be cows in the pasture so be nice to them if they are there and watch where you step! Farm and fields on both sides.

Pretty farm
Farm field

2.3 – 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.

Climb a stile before crossing Rt 94

The trail is easy until the woods. Shortly after that, pass through a large boulder field and then the trail becomes very rocky and starts to climb steeply. 

3.1 – “Annie’s Bluff” – a limited viewpoint, near a large rock after a bit of a steep climb. Easy to miss.

Annie's Bluff

The trail starts getting rockier and rockier.

Appalachian Trail on the way to Stairway to Heaven
Rocky trail

Notice that slabs of rock have been placed as steps along the way – the “Stairway to Heaven”.

Stairway to Heaven in New Jersey
Climbing the Stairway to Heaven

3.6 – Turn LEFT and follow the BLUE spur trail. This is marked by BLUE blazes and a very large cairn (hiker’s term for pile-o-rocks used as a trail marker).

Sometimes there is a sign for the vista. This side trail can be easy to miss, look for the rocks.

(If you arrive at a mailbox with an Appalachian Trail log book in it, you’ve missed the turn.)

Rock Cairn to Pinwheel Vista

Follow BLUE to a rock outcrop called Pinwheel’s Vista. There are several places to sit and take in the view of the mountains and the valley below.

View from Pinwheel Vista
Pinwheel Vista

On a clear day, High Point Monument may be visible.

High Point Monument seen from Pinwheel Vista

When done, retrace your steps back to the lot on Rt. 517.

// Optional extension: To get in a little more mileage (adds 1.3 miles round trip)… After Pinwheel, walk back to the pile of rocks and turn LEFT instead.

Follow the Appalachian Trail (WHITE) up a rock-studded hill to a mailbox attached to a tree and marked “Old AT Vista .8 mile”. The mailbox contains an Appalachian Trail log book for thru-hikers to sign.

Turn RIGHT and follow the unmarked and slightly faint trail to an old viewpoint. It’s partially obscured.

Retrace steps back. You aren’t missing much if you skip it, but is good for those who want a little longer hike and the mailbox makes for a nice photo.


Hiked 10/17/15.
Hiked: 7/31/10. Trail Blog: “Stairway to Heaven: Appalachian Trail and Pinwheel Vista


Updates: 9/2019 – Added parking overview map. 6/2018 – Added parking info for an alternate lot; 10/20/15 – Re-hiked, description updated, new fall foliage photos, GPX added.