Stokes State Forest

Stony Lake can get quite crowded. Unless it is 7AM on a winter day...
Stokes State Forest is the hiker's paradise. While offering very little is the terms of sights, it features a large variety of trails of a total length of over 45 miles. While the trails are harder than the average New Jersey hiking trail, the variety will suit every hiker. Combine this with relatively few hikers, and you get an excellent place to work out.

Getting there
Take Exit 37 off I-80 and head north on Route 15. Route 15 later becomes Route 206. After the route passes a pair of lakes, look for a large sign announcing the forest. It is very hard to miss. The first building you'll see is the park office. Head here to pick up the map. For the purpose of this hike, follow the signs to Stony Lake and park the car on the large parking lot at the end of the road. Try to keep as close to the lake as possible.

This is one of the longest hikes you can find on this Web site. It is about 10 miles long, with the maximum elevation differential of 600 feet, but you will be climbing about twice as much. While the hike closely follows the one described in the book 50 Hikes in New Jersey (with one exception), the hike should take you about 5-6 hours, not seven as mentioned in the book.

The hike starts right next to the parking lot at the Stony Lake. The first time I was here I've had a little trouble to locate the trail head: if you stand at the edge of the parking lot looking at the lake, the trail starts left from you. For the first half of the hike, you will stay on the red-marked Swenson Trail. At the beginning, follow the various markings up the hill, but watch out for a sharp left turn where the Swenson Trail leaves the other trails, less than five minutes from the beginning.

View west from the Cartwright Trail.
Once you are on the Swenson Trail, the trail will level off and even lose some altitude. You will enter a quite wet area, which may be uncomfortable to cross after heavy rains. There are several streams you will have to cross. After about half an hour, the trail merges for a short distance with the yellow-marked Tinsley Trail. Follow the red markers down an impressive rocky ravine. After this potentially hard part (once I was here the rocks were covered with ice), the trail climbs a little, gets much more narrow and rocky and later levels off. After an additional 20 minutes of hiking, the trail widens again and descends slightly to the Spring Brook Cabin, which you can rent. Keep on the Swenson Trail for 10 more minutes. You will cross another wet section with a few streams and arrive at a crossroads, marked with a small cross.

At this point, you will leave the Swenson Trail and turn right onto the Cartwright Trail, marked with red/brown markers. This is where the climb begins in earnest. Follow the markers closely, and don't get fooled with what appears to be the trail; in fact, that is a streambed. The trail leads right of this streambed most of the time, but has several sharp turns that you should have no serious problems with. After about ten minutes the trail levels off and leads you into a relatively open forest. From here, you can watch the approach to the Sunrise Mountain, which looks even more impressive if you realize that in another 30 minutes you will stand at the top of it. When the trail comes to what appears to be a fork, turn right, and in a few minutes you will arrive to a road.

50 Hikes in New Jersey wants you to turn left here, walk on the road for a few minutes and then turn right onto another trail. This hike, while not as steep, is longer and offers less scenic sights than the one I will recommend. Simply cross the road and stay on the Cartwright Trail. Recently, the trail markers were replaced here, making the orientation very easy. Simply follow them, first traversing a slope, then cutting straight up across a huge stone slab. Be careful here, the stone can be very slippery when wet.

The shelter at Sunrise Mountain.
After a short climb the mountainside, you will come across a large flat rock. The trail leaves the rock on its right side, but you are free to choose any way up you want. Actually, the top left side of the rock offers a quite impressive view to the west, partially obstructed by large pine trees. It can get quite windy here, but very few places I know of offer the same level of rough nature views than this one. Once you are back on the trail, hack you way through thick undergrowth, and try to follow the markers as well as you can. This section of the trail seems to have been abandoned by the forest service, even though the markers seem to be quite new, and soon you will loose your way. Simply go up the hill until you reach the top. Now you have two choices: you can either save yourself some climbing and turn right on the ridge, or you can go on down the hill until you hit the Appalachian Trail, marked by while blazes, where you turn right. Both ways will bring you to the parking lot at the top of the Sunrise Mountain.

The next part of the hike will take place on the Appalachian Trail, which is quite easy to follow. For the large part, the trail follows the mountain ridge. As you pass the parking lot, climb up the stony steps. Instead of continuing on the trail, turn left onto a small ridge with a bench. This spot offers you a very nice scenic view to the east. This is also the only scenic overlook on this hike that is relatively protected from the wind, so you may enjoy the moment for a while.

As you continue on the trail, you will arrive to a large bad weather shelter at the real top of the Sunrise Mountain. This spot offers you an excellent 360-degrees view, which includes the High Point Monument on the north and a fire-spotting tower south. The tower looks small and very distant. Trust me, it is, and you will walk all the way there. Your current location, however, is quite exposed to the wind, and may become uncomfortable soon, so head down a little. The trail leaves to the southeast of the shelter on a series of steep stony steps. It enters a forest again and leads you through a series of gentle ups and downs with another hour or so. I am ashamed to admit that I remember very little of this part of the trail; it looks so standard and unexciting that I always get lost in thought and forget to pay attention to where I walk through.

And another view west, this time from the fire tower.
After about an hour, you will come across the brown-marked Stony Brook Trail. You can take this trail if you want to save yourself about half an hour of hiking and some more climbing. On the other hand, you will miss the view from the fire tower.

If you decide to continue on the Appalachian Trail, you are up for some ascent again, this time on a much rockier surface. Thick young forest will create a tunnel vision for most of the 30 minutes it will take you to reach the fire tower. This spot is a favorite destination of many hikers, so you may expect more people here than you met on the whole previous hike. The tower is manned during the fire season, but otherwise nothing prevents you from climbing up and enjoying the view. You can see the Delaware Water Gap on the far south and the High Point Monument on the north. The oblong lake to your south is the Kittatinny Lake, the larger lake to southeast is the Culvers Lake that you passed on the way to the forest.

Leave the fire tower on the blue-marked Tower Trail. The first section of the trail is very steep, and you should pay extra attention climbing down, especially after rains or snow melts. I personally would hate to fall down here. Once the trail levels and crosses a road, it becomes flat and wet on places. Simply follow the markers until they merge with other trail markers and you arrive back on the parking lot. The last section from the fire tower to the parking lot should take you about 30 minutes.

Trail update (October 27, 2002)
Trail markers were recently replaced in several sections. This has caused enough changes that I have rewritten the affected sections of the hike description. In addition, I would really recommend you go to Stokes State Forest just before the leaves are peaking in fall. The golden colors are a sight to behold...

Difficulty: 8 out of 10. Long with several ups and downs.
Orientation: 8 out of 10. Recently replaced trail makers make the orientation much easier.
Beauty: 7 out of 10. Depends when you go here. The leaves are spectacular here in fall.

Additional resources
Official site
Park profile at New Jersey Skylands
Park reviews at Epinions
Forest profile at LocalHikes
Sunrise Mountain profile at LocalHikes

Time table
Net time Total time Notes
60 - 120 min 60 - 120 min Swenson trail is relatively flat, with few gentle ups and downs. However, the length (over 3 miles) and rugged terrain are the main factors to be taken into consideration.
30 - 90 min 90 - 210 min While the Catwright Trail's markers have been largely replaced, making the orientation much easier, the trail still features a challenging climb up Sunrise Mountain.
75 - 150 min 165 - 360 min The Appalachian Trail section is the longest on this hike, with almost four miles. Several ups and downs and rugged terrain make the trail moderately difficult.
45 - 90 min 210 - 450 min The Tower trail is very steep at the beginning, and features largely rugged terrain and a potentially difficult stream crossing. Don't let the short length fool you - this trail is really challenging.
Methodology: The lower number is how long it took me to finish each part. While I'm in mid 20s and in a relatively good shape, I tend to stop often to take pictures or simply enjoy the view. It is very likely that your time will be close to mine. The upper limit is my time adjusted to the difficulty of the trail and various distractions. I assumed a family with children in my calculation. I believe that the upper limit is rather extreme. I have not taken into account the time spent for an extended break.

© Jozef Purdes, 2001-2002

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