You might be forgiven for thinking the words “hiking” and “New Jersey” don’t exactly go together. Jersey is the most densely populated state, and part of the largest metropolitan area in the country. While hardly any of the state is “remote” or “rugged,” that doesn’t mean there isn’t great hiking to be found. In fact, over 70 miles of the world-famous Appalachian trail runs through the northwest corner of the state. New Jersey’s proximity to major cities and highways make this portion of the Appalachian Trail and perfect for day hikers. Explore the Garden State and learn about hiking the Stairway to Heaven and Pochuck Boardwalk trails.
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What is the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, or “AT,” is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. This world-famous hike stretches 2,190 miles long from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katadhin, Maine. Over 3,000 people attempt to “thru-hike” the trek every year, walking the entire length of the trail from start to finish for 6 months (on average only 1 in 4 make it).
How do you know you’re on the AT? Look for the signature white blazes that mark the trail from Georgia to Maine.
What is a blaze? A blaze is a painted shape – usually a vertical rectangle – painted on trees, rocks, and posts to identify the route. White blazes mark the traditional route of the Appalachian trail. Blue Blazes mark side trails and trails that connect to the AT.
The Appalachian Trail in New Jersey
In New Jersey, the Appalachlain Trail runs for 72.4 miles through the northwest corner of the state. Crossing from Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in Pennsylvania, the trail travels along the Kittatinny ridge and Pochuck valley before heading into New York. The trail passes through several state parks and forests, including Wawayanda and High Point State parks, and Hewitt and Stokes State Forest.
Here, the AT wanders through pastoral farmland, wetlands, pine forests, villages and towns, and up mountain ridges. The huge variety of terrain, and easy accessibility makes New Jersey the perfect state to start exploring day hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
Hiking Stairway to Heaven and Pochuck Boardwalk
Beautiful boardwalks, an insta-worthy suspension bridge, marshlands, pine forests, cow pastures, boulder fields, and one of the best viewpoints in New Jersey: Pinwheel Vista. No matter what you’re in the mood for, this section of the AT has got it.
The Pochuck Boardwalk and Stairway to Heaven can be tackled individually or combined into one longer day hike:
- Looking for an easy and interesting family-friendly hike under 1 hour? Check out the Pochuck Boardwalk.
- In the mood for an intense butt-burning workout with great views? Try the Stairway to Heaven.
- If you have half a day or more and want a challenge, hike the 7.5 mile combined Pochuck Valley to Pinwheel Vista section, and see it all!
The Pochuck Boardwalk
3 miles / Easy / 1 Hour / Kid-Friendly
The Pochuck Boardwalk is a 1.5 mile wooden boardwalk constructed over what was once a prehistoric lake in in the Pochuck Valley. Before completion of the boardwalk in 2002, AT hikers had to walk an extra 2 miles on the side of Route 517 to get around Pochuck Creek and the 3,000 foot wide wetlands that surround it. The boardwalk was built and maintained by volunteers of the NY-NJ Trail Alliance and Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Now a haven for joggers, birdwatchers, and day hikers, the Pochuck Boardwalk is an easy stroll through this unique ecosystem. Keep an eye out for endangered and threatened birds who make this area home. And you can usually spot turtles in the marshy water near the boardwalk.
Parking for the Pochuck Boardwalk
Like many popular hiking trails in the area, parking spots fill quickly for the Pochuck Boardwalk and Stairway to Heaven hikes. Plan to arrive early, before 9 AM, on weekends and holidays.
Parking for the Pochuck Boardwalk is available on Route 517, past Meadowlark Drive. Look for the hiker trailhead sign and park in designated areas on the side of the road. Parking is very limited on Rote 517, the southern entrance to the Pochuck Boardwalk. Pay attention to posted signs and only park in designated areas, otherwise you risk a ticket!
If parking at Route 517 is full, try parking at Route 94, the entrance to the Stairway to Heaven hike. Park and walk south, across the street from the parking lot. Follow the white Appalachian Trail blazes across the cow pasture and train tracks. Access the Pochuck Boardwalk after walking 1.5 easy miles across farmland and forest.
Hiking the Pochuck Boardwalk
The hike begins with an easy stroll along the well-maintained wooden boardwalk. The marshland under your feet can be flooded or dry, depending on the season.
The trail passes occasionally through a small forest as you approach the Pochuck Creek.
The 110-foot Pochuck Quagmire Suspension Bridge over Pochuck Creek is the highlight of the boardwalk. Take a second to enjoy the view of Wawayanda Mountain to the east. If you’re planning on continuing on to the Stairway to Heaven portion – that’s where you’re headed!
After crossing several more streams and creeks, the Boardwalk rises slightly out of the marshland and into meandering pine forest.
Follow the white blazed trail for approximately 1 mile before crossing the railroad tracks and into a short stretch of farmland. You’re more than likely to see a few cows enjoying the grass on the side of the trail.
The trail ends at Route 94 on the far side of the cow pasture. Turn around and return to your car the way you came, or better yet, turn left at the highway and walk a short distance to Heaven Hill Farm for a mid-hike donut or scoop of ice cream.
If you’re only hiking the Pochuck Boardwalk section, head back to your car using the same trail. If you want to explore another one of the best Appalachian trail hikes in New Jersey, head to the Stairway to Heaven trail. Carefully cross Route 94, and follow the white AT blazes to find the Stairway to Heaven entrance.
Hiking Stairway to Heaven to Pinwheel Vista
2.6 miles / Moderate / 2 Hours
Rising 900 feet above the trailhead, the Stairway to Heaven trail summits Wawayanda Mountain and leads to a viewpoint known as Pinwheel Vista. This hike is one of the most popular trails in New Jersey – and for good reason!
From the top you can see clear across the Vernon and Pochuck valley, the Kittatinny Ridge, and on clear days all the way to High Point, New Jersey and the southern end of the Shawangunk and Catskills mountains.
Parking for the Stairway to Heaven
GPS: 41.219548757786946, -74.4550581801882
Parking is limited at this very popular trailhead. Arrive early, before 9 AM on weekends and holidays, to snag one of the 15 spots available off Route 94.
Hiking the Stairway to Heaven
From the parking area, follow the stairs towards the kiosk and look for the white Appalachian trail blazes.
The first 0.5 miles of the trail lead gently through evergreens and scenic views of the Wawayanda Plateau, the steep ridge that rises in front of you. Enjoy the easy walking during this first part of the hike, you’re headed to the very top of that ridge via some serious elevation gain.
At 0.5 miles, the trail turns right into the boulder field at the base of Wawayanda Mountain. Watch your step as you cross through this tricky area. You can easily sprain or injure an ankle tripping and slipping over the trail here. In fact, I seriously sprained my ankle during a similar hike on another portion of the AT last year.
After navigating the base of the ridge, at you reach a daunting set of stone stairs and steep switchbacks to ascend the Wawayanda plateau. Welcome to the Stairway to Heaven!
Over the next 0.6 miles you will climb almost 700 vertical feet of elevation. Don’t be surprised to find yourself out of breath. Take frequent breaks and be sure to stay hydrated, especially when hiking during the humid summer months.
After the stairs and switchbacks end, follow the blue-blazed trail signs and turn left towards Pinwheel Vista.
Follow the short blue-blazed trail to the lookout and enjoy your hard-earned view with some water and a picnic lunch. Below you stretches the Pochuck and Vernon Township valleys, including the Pochuck Boardwalk. In the distance is the Kittatinny Ridge, and on a clear day, the Catskills and Shawanagunk Mountains.
When you’re ready, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
See them Both! Pochuck Boardwalk to Pinwheel Vista
7.5 Miles / Moderate / 3.5 – 5 Hours
From the Pochuck Boardwalk all the way to Pinwheel vista, this hike is a perfect taste of everything the Appalachian trail has to offer in the Garden State.
Follow the directions to park at the entrance to the Pochuck Boardwalk. Start by hiking the 1.5 mile Boardwalk section and continue on the trail, following the white blazes through forest and farmland for approximately 1 mile. After the cow pasture, cross Route 94 to start hiking Stairway to Heaven, ascending to Pinwheel Vista.
After relaxing at Pinwheel Vista, return back to your car the way you came.
If you plan on doing the entire hike in one day, I recommend allowing 4-5 hours to enjoy the views, savor a leisurely lunch at Pinwheel Vista, and don’t forget to get some well-earned ice cream at Heaven Hill Farm, on Route 94, on your way back down.
What to Pack for Your Appalachian Trail Day Hike
Hiking Shoes and Socks: While the Pochuck Boardwalk trail can be done with a pair of sturdy sneakers, I strongly recommend the extra support and traction of a proper hiking shoe or boot if you are attempting the Stairway to Heaven hike.The Merrell Moab 2 is an excellent all-around pick, available as both a hiking boot and hiking shoe. If you’re looking to upgrade to a more hardcore boot, I love my Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid boot.
Remember, the best hiking shoes are only as good as the socks you wear. Darn Tough socks come in a variety of fun colors and have never let me down! Trust me, these bad boys are worth it to avoid blisters and comfortably break in any boot.
Hiking Tops: No matter the weather, choose tops that are quick-drying and moisture wicking. Avoid cotton, especially in the winter as it stays wet and can cause hypothermia.ry the Patagonia Capilene Cool tanks and shirts, or check out more women’s performance tops on Backcountry.com.
Hiking Backpack: Your backpack should be lightweight with enough support to carry a full day’s worth of supplies without hurting your back and shoulders.I use the Osprey Sirrus 24 daypack which has plenty of storage and space for a 2L hydration reservoir.
Water and Snacks: Dehydration is probably the number one safety issue beginner hikers experience. Wondering how much to bring? Pack at least 0.5 liters for every hour of moderate activity – more in the hot and humid summer. If you plan to be out for more than an hour, pack energizing snacks, like protein bars, nut butters, or fruit.
Sun Protection: Take care to protect your skin no matter how far you hike. I recommend at least 50 SPF plus a hat and sunglasses.
As a reminder: This post does contain some affiliate links, which means if you buy something, my blog will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will never recommend products or links on this blog that I have not personally used or fully endorse.
Want More Appalachain Trail Hikes in New Jersey?
The Pochuck Boardwalk and Stairway to Heaven are two of the best Appalachian Trail hikes in New Jersey. If you loved exploring these trails, and want to find other great hikes in the area, check out my Trail Guides page.
Want to learn more about the Appalachian Trail? For maps and trail information, visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.