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 visible in the distance, farms in the valley below, and on a clear day, High Point Monument.
7.3 miles – 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 steeply switch-backing up Wawayanda Mountain.
- Super Short: 2.0 miles – Super-duper easy – only walking the boardwalk section and back.
- Short-n-steep: 2.5 miles – Stairway to Heaven only. Start at the lot on Rt 94 instead.
- Longer – The Appalachian trail continues in both directions for hundred of miles….
Our two cents: 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.
Updated 10/20/15 – Description updated, new fall foliage photos, GPX added.
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 round trip) from Rt 94 parking up to Pinwheel.
Parking: N41 14.084 W74 28.852 [Pochuck parking SEE NOTES]
Rt 287N to exit 52B for Rt. 23 Butler. Follow 23 for awhile to 515N. Left onto 644 (Vernon Crossing). Right on 517.
There is a sign with 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. Follow a slight path along the road to a trail kiosk and turn onto the start of 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.
As of 2/20/17 – 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, as well as specifically marked sections of County Route 517. Info: Vernon Police Press Release and “Vernon puts parking restrictions on roads near Appalachian Trail“.
Route 94 Parking lot, closer to Pinwheel Vista: N41 13.169 W74 27.305
Restrooms: None. Gas stations and fast food in Butler (more options), or in Vernon.
Hike Directions: Overview: AT (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 – The first mile is easy hiking on a boardwalk through a marshy area. There may be turtles in the large green pool of muck crossed on a wooden bridge.
A little further, cross Pochuck Creek on the very large Pochuck Suspension Bridge.
1.0 – Boardwalk ends, start walking in forest.
Continue through a mix of forest and fields with tall grass. 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.
2.2 – Climb over or around a stile, immediately walk across railroad 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.
There may be cows in the pasture so be nice to them if they are there and watch where you step!
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.
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. Notice that slabs of rock placed as steps along the way – the “Stairway to Heaven”.
3.1 – “Annie’s Bluff” – a limited viewpoint, near a large rock after a bit of a steep climb. Easy to miss.
3.6 – At the HUGE pile of rocks (HUGE!!) turn LEFT and follow the BLUE spur trail. It’s marked with BLUE blazes that are not obvious. This side trail can be easy to miss, look for the rocks. [There was a sign for the lookout at one point, and maybe there will be again…]
Follow BLUE and to a rock outcrop called Pinwheel Vista. There are several places to sit and take in the view of the mountains and the valley below. On a clear day High Point Monument may be visible. 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 RT, waypoints included in GPX file)… After Pinwheel, walk back to the pile of rocks and turn LEFT instead. Follow the AT 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: 7/31/10. Trail Blog: “Stairway to Heaven: Pochuck Valley to Pinwheel Vista“