Stairway to Heaven is one of the most fulfilling hikes you are likely to take in northern New Jersey. The westward view, without any doubt the best you can get on a hike in this area, is the prefect reward for a relatively difficult climb. Combine that with a very varied scenery, and you'll get one of the best hiking experiences you'll ever get. I rank this hike among my five most favorite, for a good reason.
The false impression you get will only be enhanced when you enter the forest. The trail slopes down gently, among tall trees and virtually no undergrowth. This park-like environment abruptly ends by a huge outcropping of rocks, and the trail turns sharp right. In this area, the markers are sometimes hidden behind rocks and trees, but the trail is relatively well visible, as it starts traversing up the ridge.
The first half of the traverse is relatively gentle. You will gradually climb up, with the slope to your left side. Later on, however, as the trail slowly turns left, it starts to climb more rapidly. You will come to a relatively empty area, with lots of tall trees but little undergrowth and only a few rocks. In this section, the usually well-defined trail loses this quality, and you'll have to follow the markers more closely.
After a lengthy and relatively steep climb, the trail turns right and levels up. Soon, you will come to a rock wall. The trail traverses up this rock wall, and once it reaches the top, it levels up. After another right turn, you may notice a blue-marked trail leaving the main trail to the left. This leads to a small stone ridge, with quite an impressive view. The rocks form a sort of a balcony, which is often visited by families and less-experienced hikers, who don't feel like climbing any higher. You can stop here and enjoy the view, before you go on with your climb.
Don't worry; the rest of the climb is relatively short and uneventful. As soon as you leave the blue trail, the area opens into a small valley, and the Appalachian Trail turns right. Watch out for the markers in this area; some hikers tend to go straight. You will know that you reached the top of your hike once you see a small mailbox. In there, you can find a guest book. You can sign it if you want. Here, you will leave the Appalachian Trail and turn right, onto a blue-marked trail.
The Blue trail will lead you along the top of the ridge to the south. After a series of gentle ups and downs, the trail turns slightly left and descends into a valley. Here, the trail crosses an old stone wall and turns sharply right. Once again, watch for the markers, as the turn is not properly indicated. This section has its own magic. The trail leads you between the stone wall on your right and a swamp to your left. Tall trees, clear of any undergrowth grow here, while leaves cover the ground. I am not into tree-hugging, but if I ever started, it would be here.
The trail soon starts a relatively steep climb, which can be difficult when it's wet. Once on the top of the rocks, the trail turns right, following the ridge. To your right, you can spy out views of the surrounding area, while to your left the ridge falls steeply down into a small valley with the swamp. After 10 to 15 minutes, you will come to a large grassy area to your right. Climb down from the rocks (a small rocky wall, about five feet high) and walk across the grassy area. At the end, you will come to a large flat rocky overhang. Sit down and enjoy the best view of the northwestern New Jersey you will ever get.
On a clear day, you can see as far as the High Point Monument on the horizon, right in front of you. The mountain range in front of you is the Kittatinnies, reaching almost as far as the Delaware Water Gap (which you can still spy out with a telescope to your left). To your right, you'll see southern New York state, with the 4000+ feet tall Catskill Mountains. This spot is a favorite picnic spot for people, so you may want to come here in late fall if you want to be alone.
© Jozef Purdes, 2001