Worthington State Forest / Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area – Raccoon Ridge

[I took a picture of the trail kiosk, but for some reason it wasn’t saved.]

Park Site

Trail Map:  here, but I used map 120 from this set.

Hike Distance:  12.1 miles

Trails:  Garvey Springs (orange), Appalachian (White), Buckwood (turquoise), Coppermine (red), Kaiser Spur (blue/red), Kaiser (blue)

Mountains:  Mount Mohican

My map:

Rain was supposed to come in later in the day (it didn’t) so I thought I would try and beat the rain, knowing I probably won’t get out next week.  There were a couple of times that dark clouds hung around for a few minutes, but I didn’t get wet.  And it was an otherwise perfect day with temperatures in the high 70s with low humidity.

To get to my starting point, take the last exit in New Jersey on Route 80 (heading west), and wait at the light.  It’s a long one, as it controls the portion of Old Mine Road that is one lane.  Incidentally, as I drove by the Mt. Tammany lot, I could see that it was bedlam already just before 9:00 a.m.  I parked in the Douglas lot, which is after the driveway to the Worthington office – about four miles from the light on Old Mine Road.

To get up on the ridge I took the Garvey Springs trail which is short (1.2 miles) but steep; only leveling out where it joins the Rockcores trail briefly.  As the trail climbs there is a nice creek to your right.

It rained the night before, so I would see all kinds of mushrooms and flora.

Once Garvey Springs junctions with the Appalachian Trail, I took a right to head to Sunfish Pond, which I hadn’t been to in about 30 years.  I took the Buckwood trail to a rock outcropping that had great views of the pond – and you could see where people had walked down to the pond to swim.  After climbing Garvey Springs, it certainly would have been refreshing to jump in.

I rested there for a good twenty minutes.  It was back to the AT to head towards Raccoon Ridge.

Typical AT

Both sides of the trail were lined with all kinds of berry bushes.  I admit, I helped myself to some big fat blueberries.

Bolette

You get an idea of the quantity of berries in this picture:

Deerberries

Raccoon Ridge had some great views, both north and south.  South overlooked the reservoirs, and north had distant views of the Delaware River.

After hiking off Raccoon Ridge you enter the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation area.  My plan was to reach Catfish Pond Gap (where I was two weeks ago) and take the Coppermine trail to make a loop.

As I mentioned, it was a great day, and I was passed by numerous through-hikers (some multiple times) as they made their way from Georgia to Maine.  They all commented on the great views, but all mentioned the rocks – all thinking they were done with the rocks after leaving Pennsylvania.

All the way to Catfish Pond Gap there were great views of Lower Yards Creek Reservoir.

The trail off the ridge was steep heading into the gap, and I was glad I was not coming back up this section of the trail.

I took a left onto the Coppermine trail.  After a little way I found the largest fungi I had ever seen.

Berkley’s Polypore

Right after the above picture was taken I was approached by a couple heading the opposite direction.  They asked how far I was going, because they had just seen three bears!  A mother and two cubs.  The bears immediately bolted into the woods.  They saw the bears beyond where I was turning, but now I kept my eyes open more than normal.  (Spoiler – I never did see them, it would have been cool.)

I took the Upper Kaiser Spur trail to connect from Coppermine to Kaiser (I would have come to the bear sighting location if I continued on Coppermine.  I thought about it, but my route was long to begin with.)  While the spur trail is short (less than a quarter of a mile) there were three stream crossings.  And the rhododendron were just starting to bloom.

The Kaiser trail is only about a mile (from this point – back to the AT) and mercifully is a long slow gradual incline; nothing steep like coming down the AT to the gap, or Garvey Spring.

Taking the AT back (towards Garvey Spring) you cross back into Worthington State Forest.

From there it was back to Garvey Spring and the descent down.  This was a long hike (longer than I normally do) and I was looking forward to getting back to the car.  The descent was grueling, especially late in the afternoon.

Garvey Spring is surreal as there are times you fell like you are in a sea of ferns.  Ferns as far as you can see.

This was a great hike, with a near miss on bears.  After having two successive trips in the Kittatinys, I’m ready for something a little different.

Ticks:  5  (There was lots of high grass.  Two ticks were found on my pack.)

Blazes:

Hiked:  7/4/2021

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area – Rattlesnake Swamp – Appalachian Trail

Park Site

Trail Map:  Here, but I used number 121 from the NY NJ Tail Conference

Hike Distance:  8.01 miles

Trails:  Appalachian (White), Rattlesnake Swamp (Orange)

Mountains:   Catfish Mountain

My Map:

It was supposed to rain later in the day, I was prepared for it.  It didn’t.  I wish it did.  It was oppressively hot and humid.  Heat and humidity lead to bad decision making, and I got greedy for miles.

Note:  I parked here, a pullout on Millbrook Road.  This was not the easiest to find, and bear in mind (with  Verizon) there is very little cell service in this area.  That’s kind of my point, I want to get away from civilization, but this was the first time that I had NO service.  There are a couple of pullouts on Millbrook Road, however, only the pullout for the Catfish Fire Tower has a gate (that I saw.)  If the pullout looks like the picture at the top, you’ll know you are at the coordinates I’ve linked to.  Google Maps in Satellite view shows the pullout, and some overflow pullouts.  (Don’t rely on your phone to look at the maps when driving around.) I was the second car at the trailhead, the first left as I was getting ready; and when I returned, there were two others.

This hike was classified Bon Jovi, it was Slippery When Wet.  Rain happened in early morning, and all rocks were extra slippery.  Fortunately there were no scrambles; there were plenty of steep sections, and it’s the AT, there are plenty of rocks.  I slipped more on this hike then ever before – I thanked my trekking poles and vowed to offer a sacrifice later.

From the pullout, walk down the woods road.  You’ll come to where the Appalachian Trail goes left (and to the tower.)  I continued a little further to reach the Rattlesnake Swamp Trail.

This is a great trail that skirts the edge of Rattlesnake Swamp.  The swamp will be on your right, the ridge that the AT follows will be on your left.  This trail is mostly dirt and roots, with some rocks.  Mountain Laurel was out, and there are a significant number of Rhododendron tunnels.  It will be another month for those blooms though.

Just one of the Rhododendron tunnels

Lots of Mountain Laurel in bloom.

The moist ground made for a lot of mushrooms, these were hard to photograph due to the humidity.

Mushrooms in the Pinwheel family

Ghost Pipes

While walking along, I startled this guy and he dove under a leaf.

Look in the center of this picture for yet another frog.

Before ascending the ridge to the Appalachian Trail, I took a little spur trail to the AMC Mohican Outdoor Center, a camping spot on the AT for through-hikers.  This looked pretty cool, and I wanted to cut through to see Catfish Pond up close, but there was a group of people in a class by the pond access.  I regret not getting a picture of the pond, it looked like a really nice spot.  The spur trail was all boards.

From there it was back to the Rattlesnake Swamp trail and a big climb to get up on the ridge.

As I got near the top, I thought I saw a limited viewpoint.

But

BOOM

20 Feet further down the trail:

Amazing views.  Fortunately it was a great day for views.  I’m not sure how I would feel with snow and ice at this location as it was a sheer drop off at the cliff’s edge.

It’s also here where I got greedy for miles.  The sensible thing to do would have been to make a left and head to the fire tower and my car for a nice loop.  However, I made a right and headed for Catfish Pond Gap along the Appalachian Trail.  This was a nice walk, except I had to descend into the gap.  That also meant, I had to climb back up to head back to the junction on the AT.  Brutal.

In the gap there was a nice stream to sit by, which was cool and shady – and it allowed me contemplate my last decision.  There were plenty of cars here, and I passed numerous people as I was descending; many of whom I caught up with on my way back.

Getting back up on the ridge was murder in the heat and humidity.  Once up on the ridge, it’s a pleasant walk.  There are some great views to your right as you head to the fire tower.  It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts as the walk it relatively flat.  Yes, there are plenty of rocks, but it’s the AT, and that comes with the territory.

On one such rock (which by this time had dried out) I went to step, heard a loud hiss, and used a pole to vault off the rock.

Not a rattler, and the jury is out on if it was a Copperhead.  The colors are right, but the markings are not.  I took a bunch of pictures, but let him be.  And I was certainly more aware of the rocks.

Eventually, I reached the Catfish Fire Tower.  Again, I didn’t climb.  There was a group of 8 or so that were at the picnic table – they all climbed.  And with some hilarity as well.

That’s 60 feet tall.  Supposedly, the views are awesome from the top.  I’ll take everyone’s word for it.

Deptford Pink

I’m really enjoying the various sections of the AT that I’ve been hiking.  Rattlesnake Swamp is a great trail that is quite different from the AT.  I saw a couple of big groups of people, but for the most part it was quiet and empty.  This is definitely an area worth checking out even if it is pretty remote.

Ticks:  0

Blazes:

Hiked:  6/19/2021

 

Stokes State Forest – Culver’s Gap to Sunrise Mountain

Park Site

Trail Map:  park map, and NY/NJ Trail Conference map

Hike Distance:  10.68 miles

Trails:  Appalachian

My Map:

The day before this hike we received a storm that was biblical in nature.  It wasn’t long, but it was hard with lots of cloud to ground lightning.  I didn’t think much of it until I got to the trailhead parking, and wondered if I was going to be in for a lot of mud.  I needn’t have worried; while there were a couple of spots that were muddy, it was mostly soft dirt – which made walking extremely pleasant.  Rocks were wet; but with temperatures reaching into the 90s, by lunchtime most everything was dry.

This picture doesn’t really capture what the forest looked like.  It was early in the morning, with the sun out, the leaves were still wet, and it sparkled everywhere.

From the Culver’s Gap trailhead parking lot, there is a steep climb to get up onto the ridge.

Wild Geranium

There were lots of these guys scampering around, apparently enjoying the moist forest floor.  Once I reached the ridge, I saw less and less of them.

Red Eft

More Mountain Laurel was blooming.

Once on the ridge there is a great view southwest.

The ridge is pleasant, with a few ascents and descents, but nothing serious until you come to Sunrise Mountain.  Note,  Sunrise Mountain  is the second highest mountain in New Jersey.  (Sort by elevation.)   The Appalachian trail on the ridge makes for a great walk; I did see a bunch of section hikers during this time.

The first point of interest you will come to is the Culver’s Gap Lookout Tower, originally known as the Normanook Fire Tower.  You can climb the stairs, but unless it’s manned you can’t get into the top.  I didn’t even consider it.

There’s a great view out towards Blue Mountain.

There are three trail junctions before Sunrise Mountain, and plenty of views, some probably better after the foliage has fallen.  There are a couple of streams to rock hop, and at least one section with small boardwalks.

Throughout the whole trail I encountered lots of millipedes; way more than I am accustomed to seeing.

Wood Ear

After a small rock scramble you will come to the top of Sunrise Mountain.  A small concrete cairn holds the summit disc.

Here’s a shot looking south:

It was hot at this time, and I had lunch on a bench in the pavilion.

While there, I met a section hiker who was hiking the Appalachian trail in New Jersey.  He mentioned that he was in a shelter the night before when the storm hit, but he heard from hikers that were still on the ridge.  They said it was more than frightening.

The walk back was pretty uneventful other than it was oppressively hot.

Puddingstone – I didn’t expect to see this

As this was an out and back, I was essentially retracing my steps.  On the way TO Sunrise Mountain I passed a small spur trail, but I couldn’t see where it led.  On the way back, I decided to investigate.  It looked like it led to a viewpoint on the NY/NJ Trail conference map.  Sure enough, it did.  Probably the best view of the day.  I apologize for the picture, it was in the 90s at the time, and I was beat.

I hadn’t been in Stokes State Forest before, and I think the next time I come I may hike south on the Appalachian Trail.  Or, I may backpack to the shelter for a short trip.  The lot was packed when I arrived at 8:45, though there were still spots available.  When I returned to my car, the lot was fairly empty.

Ticks: 0

Blazes:

You only need to know one

Hiked:  6/5/2021

Harriman State Park – the Lemon Squeezer

Park Site

Trail Map – I used these.  And they are EXCELLENT.

Hike Distance:  7.8 miles

Mountains:  Island Pond Mountain, Surebridge Mountain, Hogencamp Mountain

Trails:  Appalachian, Arden-Surebridge, Lichen, Ramapo-Dundberg, White Bar, Dunning, Stahahe Brook

My Map:

Two weekends of hockey trips, a short work week, but it felt like two weeks of work, and I was ready to get back on the trails.  This trip, as fun and as awesome as it was, was more about getting out, recharging, and finding some quiet.  All of those boxes were ticked.

The last time I hiked Harriman State Park had to be in the middle to late 80s with my scout troop.  I have no idea where we hiked; I remember a winter hike to one of the shelters, but I couldn’t tell you which shelter – it was a long time ago.  The park is huge.

I left at my usual time, traffic was light; I was headed for the Elk Pen lot – which I later read was used to house Elk from Yellowstone at one point.  I missed the turn for Arden Valley Road, GPS took me to Arden Road – which is NOT what you want.  Arriving at the lot, I found it FULL, and this was before 8:30.  I couldn’t believe it – though fortunately, someone was leaving; so I waited five minutes and took their spot.  At the end of the day, cars were parked on both sides of the road to the lot, AND on the road TO the lot.  Get there early.  And, note to self, start getting up even earlier.

In this case there were at least TWO large groups of hikers, which I would see numerous times throughout the park.

I jumped on the Appalachian trail and was off.

It’s not long before I came to the first junction.

For the most part (in this section) trails were nice and flat, dirt, with only nominal amounts of rocks and roots.  Obviously, that would change.

The first stop was Island Pond.  This is no ordinary pond, to me it seemed much bigger than a pond, more of a lake.  This seemed bigger than  Surprise Lake or Terrace Pond.  Because it was warm, with no wind, I could have stayed at this spot for quite a while.  But, I had places to be, with things to do.

Right after the pond I crossed a spillway which was built for an unfinished dam.

Soon enough, I encountered the Lemon Squeezer.

This was a lot of fun and an interesting workout.  Upon going through the opening, you’re greeted with:

I really had to shimmy through there to get through.  Completing that, you are presented with a scramble up a good-sized rock.  There is a route around it, if you so choose, but I came here to at least give it a try.  I had read that it was pretty difficult, but I found a foot hold, pulled myself up, then realized it wasn’t as bad as I had read.

I went back downhill, around the Lemon Squeezer to jump on the Arden-Surebridge trail.

This, I took to the Lichen Trail, which I had read is one of the under-rated trails in the area.  This climbs to the top of Hogencamp mountain and has some amazing views.

Looking back towards Island Pond

Heading towards the junction on top of Hogencamp, I came across these Half Scented ferns.

At the top of Hogencamp, I looked for Ship Rock, and it wasn’t hard to find.

On the Ramapo-Dundenberg, there was an interesting water crossing.

All along the trail were lots and lots of blueberry bushes.  It was a little early in the season, so nothing worth eating.  I’m sure the bears have a field day.

Violet

Coming down the Dunning trail I came across the Boston Mine.  This was a really neat site, though not easily explored.  You can see in the first picture that there is easily six inches (maybe more) of mud in the entrance.  Fortunately (for me) someone had laid branches and rocks along the left side of the entrance in order to peek in.  The mud was deeper the farther you went in, with full on water of an undetermined depth.  I could hear water dripping, but I couldn’t tell you from where.

Wintergreen

Right after the mine I came across Green Pond, which is a pond in all senses of the word.  I couldn’t find access to it, but the sky clouded up (for a few minutes) and I didn’t want to stick around and test the weather.

Around this area the Dunning and Nuran trail intersect at times.  I don’t think I followed Dunning to the proper end, I think I jumped on Nuran early.  It’s not hard to figure out why.

This doesn’t help

I noticed many blowdowns on this hike.

While coming down the Nuran, and descending some rocks, I almost stepped on this guy.  Fortunately (for me) he got out of the way quickly.  I’d guess he was about three feet long.

Black Rat Snake (zoomed in)

Next, I descended Nuran farther into the Valley of Boulders.

Just before getting back onto the Arden-Surebridge trail, there was a watercrossing at a cascade.

After that, it was smooth sailing back to the parking lot.

False Turkey Tail

Harriman is huge.  I did a real small section.  I plan on coming back for more.  Due to the number of blowdowns, the Nuran and Dunning trails get confusing.  And the junction of the Ramapo-Dunderberg and Dunning trail is very difficult to find.  I got lucky and happened to spot a marker.  I came across two other hikers that were looking for it, and they totally missed it.  I had read that there was to be a cairn at this intersection, but I did not see one.

Ticks: 0

Blazes:

Hiked: 5/15/2021

Mt. Tammany

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance:  3.77 Miles

Trails:  Red Dot (Mt. Tammany), Blue (Pahaquarry), Green (Dunfield Creek), White (Appalachian)

My Map:

Nothing says Fall like driving north on Routes 31 and 46 north of Route 78.  The colors, the farmstands, the cool air; it’s all there.  This was not my intended destination, but I figured I would give it a whirl since my initial destination was before this, and I figured if the lots were full I could go back to where I initially intended to go.  I got lucky.

It was in the 40s when I left, and it was probably 50 when I got back to my car after the hike.  The top of Mt. Tammany was definitely cooler.

Be warned.  The lots fill up fast on a weekend. I just missed getting into the lot by the trailhead by one car.  So, it was down to exit one, go under 80, and back to the visitor’s center; which, by my arrival had plenty of spots left.  However, I had a good half-mile walk to the trailhead.  Do not park on 80.

I have fond memories of hiking Mt. Tammany (and Mt. Minsi) back when I was much younger, but it had been a long long time since I was last here.  The visitor’s center seemed very different (it wasn’t open for obvious reasons) from when I was here last.

Even though I was early (9:00 a.m.) the Red Dot trail was crowded going up.  That’s an understatement.  I felt like I was in a conga line and I thought back to Stairway to Heaven a couple of weeks ago.  So, you won’t see many pictures of the way up.  In fact, I wore a mask almost the entirety of the ascent.  You will see all types of people heading up.

The overlook on the shoulder still afforded a great picture.

As I mentioned, it has been a long time since I was last here.  While there was lots of scrambling on the way up, there was a particular rock I remembered, and the trail turned left just before that rock.  I feel like the trail has been re-routed.  What seemed new to me was a real long scramble to a rock-strewn trail to the top.  I have vague recollections of a forest walk before coming to the top that I did not pass through.

Honey Mushroom

It took me about an hour to reach the top, due mainly to having to stop and wait for the line in front of me to make it up the rocks.  Once to the top, you can’t help but take the iconic picture:

Mt. Minsi

It was very crowded at the top, and much colder.  I stayed to eat a little (it was only 10:00) and enjoy the view.  Then it was off before the rest of the crowd got there.

I took the Blue trail back down, and for the most part the trail was exactly as I remembered it.  Fortunately, I had the trail mostly to myself, which allowed me to grab some pictures.

The ridge walk is pleasant, before it heads downhill.

And then, it’s all downhill from there.  Welcome to New Jersey trails:

Eastern Teaberry

I stepped off the trail to let some hikers ascend, and found the following off trail:

I have no idea what this is
Wintergreen

On the way down I came to a section where all the leaves were down.  This area is about a week ahead of where I live in terms of colors and leaves on the trees.

Stump puffballs

Eventually, I merged with the Green (Dunfield Creek) trail.  I’ve always liked hiking by Dunfield Creek. It’s a little darker, as the sun is blocked, and the sounds of the creek follow you in either direction.  Plus, the trail is much flatter, with less rocks.

Looking up the bluffs on the other side of the creek
Bracket Fungus

Just before the parking lot, there was a grove of brightly-colored trees.

This is a fun hike, the view is definitely worth it.  I could do without the crowds, and have only myself to blame; as I called an audible to come in the first place.  Make sure you either arrive early or come on a weekday.  When I got back to the visitor’s center, every space was full, including along the visitor’s center road (this was around noon.)

Ticks: 0

Blazes:

Hiked:  10/25/2020

Bearfort Ridge

Park Site

Trail Map

But also look here and here for improvements and changes.

Hike Distance 7.7 Miles

Trails:  Bearfort Ridge, Ernest Walter, Appalachian, State Line

Note on trails:  See the extra maps above.  What was known as the Quail Trial/Jimmy Glick trail appears to have been renamed to make up the Bearfort Ridge Loop.  Also, as of now (September 2020) The Bearfort Ridge Loop trail has been reblazed a lime green color.  It looks like there will be a new trail as well.  Bearfort Ridge used to be white.

My Map:

I was blessed with another perfect day to go out, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky all day.  It was in the low 50s when I left home, yet high 40s when I got to the trailhead.  As I might not be able to hike for a couple of weeks, this was a great way to go out.  This route has been on my list for a while as it is described in 50 Hikes in New Jersey; the next time I go, I may try Terrace Pond to the south.

This was a long day though; I was not prepared for the amount of scrambling I would be doing.  when I come back, I may just do the loop for the views.  However I highly recommend this hike.

Starting out, the trails are fairly wide, and soft dirt.  It wouldn’t be north Jersey without rocks.  And lots of rocks.  There were lots of trees down, but the trail is well maintained.

Eastern Hemlock Varnish Shelf mushroom

I went left when the Bearfort Ridge trail split as I wanted to head up to the Appalachian trail before I got to Surprise Lake.  The trail heads up steeply, then sort of levels out as you near the ridge.  I felt like walking on the ridge was like walking on someone’s spine.  There were plenty of rock scrambles, each affording it’s own view.

Right near the top of the ascent, I noticed a big rock to my left and scrambled up that for a great view to the south / southwest.  Coming down that I was faced with:

I was glad to have to go up that, and not down.  However, there was more to come.  This was a good scramble, and with a crazy good view as the payoff.

New York City

It seemed every scramble had a view, and I was blessed with great weather.  Walking northwards on the ridge was pleasant with multiple scrambles and rocks to walk along.

I came to a swamp with a large rock that seems to have been detached from the rest of the rock.

When the Bearfort Ridge trail junctioned with the Ernest Walter trail, I went left, through a small field, then to some large rocks.  Fortunately, I was going down.  Here’s a shot looking back up.

Just beyond, I ran into a group of three, and warned them of what they were going to have to go up.  They mentioned that I had a big rock in store for me that they just came up.  I didn’t think I would have anything more difficult than the above.  They were right.  I don’t have any pictures (I didn’t want to stick around) but I basically came to a twelve foot cliff that had two spots that sort of looked like steps.  After not finding a way around this, I chucked my trekking poles down, slid out on the ledge, kind of twisted over and lowered myself down.  I regret not getting a picture, but I was more content on getting out of that spot.

Eventually, I junctioned with the Appalachain trail, and saw one thru/section hiker going by.  While waiting for a large-ish group of hikers to come scrambling down some rocks, I found a pretty cool looking web.

Scrambling up wasn’t too bad, though the rocks were in the sun and I thought about snakes sunbathing on top.  I figured the snakes would be gone after the group I waited for had left.

I met up with the State Line trail.  However, I wanted to see how far New York was up the Appalachian Trail.  It was much shorter than I expected.

Standing in two states at once

The State Line trail mostly descended until it junctioned back up with the Ernest Walter trail. Then it was a mad climb back up the Ernest Walter.  Again the payoff would be worth it as there expansive views of Greenwood Lake.  My pictures cannot do it justice.  There was a long walk on a large rock and view kept getting better and better as I climbed.  Stitch these next two pictures together.

It would be easy to sit on the rock and look at the view, but I was hungry and wanted to eat at Surprise Lake, a glacial lake.

And then it was down on the old Quail Trail, now part of the Bearfort Ridge Loop.

Orange Mycena

Many of the rocks were covered with Smooth Rock Tripe.  It was all over the place.

False Death Cap

There were a couple of water crossings, mostly dried up, a few with trickling water.  This would probably be much more interesting in the Spring after the rains.

Finally, it was back to where the connector trail led to the parking lot.

This was an awesome hike; it didn’t hurt that I had absolutely phenomenal weather.  I highly recommend this; though if you are going to do the Ernest Walter trail be prepared for some big scrambles.  It seemed that every facet of the this trail was awesome, there were no dull parts.  And for the most part, it is one big view.

Ticks:  0

Blazes:

Hiked:  9/19/2020

Stairway to Heaven

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance:  7.7 miles

Trails:  Appalachian, blue

My Map:

(a note on my map, I forgot to un-pause GPS after sitting, but I essentially retraced my steps.)

There’s a lady who’s sure
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to Heaven
When she gets there she knows
If the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
Oh oh oh oh and she’s buying a stairway to Heaven

Like the famous song, this hike is usually listed in the top three hikes of New Jersey.  The scenery is gorgeous.  The boardwalks and suspension bridge are great.  The “Stairway to Heaven” portion of the the Appalachian Trail is steep and rugged, but the payoff is totally worth it.

This had been on my to do list for a long time; but since I knew it was such popular hike I had to find the right time to do it.  The Sunday of Labor Day seemed as good as any.  Be warned, parking is crazy:  lots are small, the parking on the road in the Pochuk Valley is limited, and the local towns are fierce with their ticketing.  I left the house at 6:00 in the morning, figuring if I got there “too early” I could nap.  I was the 5th car by the boardwalks, arriving at 8:00.  But, I couldn’t nap, so I headed out.

This hike is an out an back.  From Pinwheel Vista at the top of Wawayanda Mountain, retrace your steps.  I’ve divided this hike up into three sections:  The Pochuck Valley boardwalk, the middle, and Stairway to Heaven, with the terminus at Pinwheel Vista.

There’s a sign on the wall
But she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by the brook
There’s a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving

The first section contains the boardwalks of Pochuck Valley, and there were plenty of people just walking the boards.  It was 59 degrees when I started, and the temps were only supposed to get into the low 70s.  Boardwalks are easy going, and I made the best time here.  But the scenery is incredible; lots of wild flowers.  There were tons of crickets, making a symphony of noise.   Bozza’s Aria it wasn’t.

One of the neatest features is the suspension bridge over Pochuck Creek.

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

The next section I deemed the middle, and it roughly started at the bike path at Canal Road.  It was here that the boardwalk ended, and I moved into the woods; hard-packed dirt and a wide trail.  Due to the constant shade, it was noticeably cooler on this section.

Also, there were a handful of stiles to go over the fences; though some of the fences were missing.  (I still went over the stiles when I could.)

The stile above deposited you into a farm where there were cows (not until my way back.)  And yes, you had to watch where you walked.

And yes, that’s Wawayanda Mountain in the background.  Imposing.

There’s a feeling I get
When I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving
In my thoughts I have seen
Rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who standing looking

Upon crossing the last stile you’re deposited in the roadway.  Be careful crossing, cars go flying by.  (There’s also a dairy farm a short trip up the road, I didn’t stop, it was too crowded.)  Here, for a small lot, there were a ton of cars.  All of these people were just climbing the mountain to head to Pinwheel Vista.  I apologize, there are not too many pictures of the climb up….you’ll understand in a minute.

These pictures don’t do it justice.  And really, there are a lot of “stairs.”  A.  LOT.  Plus, in some sections it gets pretty steep.  I didn’t break out the poles because there were sections where you needed at least one hand in addition to your feet to climb. Looking at my split times, this section had the slowest time.  Parts of it were brutal.  And it was slow going with the number of people out today.

And it’s whispered that soon, If we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn
For those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter

You’ll know you’ve reached the top when you reach the humongous pile of rocks.  Head to the left to get to Pinwheel Vista.

I, however, wanted to see the mailbox for AT thru hikers, which was less than a half-mile down the path.

Coming back from the mailbox, make a right at the pile of rocks and head to Pinwheel Vista.  It is easy to see why this trail ranks so highly, the views are definitely worth it.

It was so clear I could see the High Point monument directly across from me (way in the distance.)  And you could just barely see Mt. Tammany in the Water Gap.  I sat for quite a while, as it was an exhausting climb and I needed water and something to eat.

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow
Don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on
And it makes me wonder

To get back, retrace your steps.  I left Pinwheel Vista at the perfect time, a little before noon.  There was an endless stream of people coming up – switchbacks were jammed up, basically with traffic jams.  And I saw people on those rocks with flipflops and crocs and no water or anything to eat.  I tried to keep a good pace going down, but didn’t want to overtake the family in front of me.  Two little girls were bounding on the rocks until one pulled up sharply and shrieked.

A New Jersey Black Rat snake.  I got a good picture and high tailed it out of there.

I think I stopped counting around 300 people that I passed, and it surely had to be more.

Your head is humming and it won’t go
In case you don’t know
The piper’s calling you to join him
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow?
And did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?

On the way back down I was able to stop at Annie’s Bluff, which was packed with people when I was climbing.  It was a limited view, but nice none-the-less.

Upon reaching the bottom it was a relatively flat return to the car.  However, the cows were out.

And I spotted this guy basking in the sun.

There were tons of people on the boardwalk and I got back to my car around 1:00.  The road was packed and there were people still showing up, I suspect many were only walking the boardwalk.

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll
And she’s buying a stairway to Heaven

All in all, this was a great hike; it’s easy to see why this hike ranks so highly in polls.  The Pochuck Valley and middle sections are easy enough, you will work hard on “the Stairs.”  But the payoff is worth it.  The trail is super easy to follow, it’s the Appalachian Trail.  Supposedly the trail to the vista is blazed blue, but I didn’t see any blazes.

My only concern is the amount of litter on the trail, presumably a factor of the amount of people. I saw masks, paper towels, tissues, etc.  In fact, I kept my mask on from the time I left the Vista until I reached my car due to the number of people.  If you can do this hike mid-week or in sub optimal weather, do it.  I had no solitude today.

Ticks:  0

Blazes:

You only need to know one….

Hiked: 9/6/2020

Thanks to Robert, Jimmy, John, and John for allowing me this cliche comparison.

High Point State Park

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance:  7.5 miles

Trails:  Iris, Appalachian, Monument/Shawangunk Ridge, Cedar Swamp

My Map:

This would be some hike.  I believe that this would be the furthest I drive for a hike in New Jersey as this was a long drive; but a really nice day.  I had never been to High Point or the monument even though it is widely known.  The monument is not open due to the pandemic, it is unlikely that I would have climbed it even if it was open.  Forget the fact that I would have just come up a steep section of the Monument/Shawangunk Ridge trail, I’m not sure I could do the steps.

I started this hike at the Appalachian Trail pull off lot, which was good-sized and empty by the time I got there.  I took the connector to the Iris trail, which is part of the Appalachian Trail until Route 23 and the park office.  I was a little disoriented when I came to Route 23 as I knew I had to cross the road, but I wasn’t sure where the trail picked up.  It became very obvious.

The next section on the Appalachian Trail was pretty strenuous, and I was beginning to think of the other week at Apshawa.  Lots and lots of rocks.  And some pretty steep sections as well.  I usually hike in long pants to keep the ticks/bugs off me.  They are the pants that zip off above the knees to convert to shorts.  It was pretty warm, around 85, and somewhat humid; I considered zipping them off when I got to the monument for some relief.  I found the observation deck on the AT and rested a moment before the next leg – which consisted of a descent into a small valley, then a hike uphill to the monument.

The Appalachian Trail will meet the Monument/Shawangunk Ridge Trail, and that’s where I left the Appalachian.  There is one section of this trail that runs straight uphill to the back of the monument.  The rest at the top was totally worth it.  It was here that I thought I would convert my pants to shorts, but after sitting for a few minutes I started to realize it was a little chilly.  It’s a perfect spot for a snack and by the time I had finished eating, people watching, wandering around the monument I was cooled off.  I took a picture looking back at the observation deck.

Be advised that there is a parking lot about 100 yards from the monument and it gets crowded.  I know I got some looks from people as I emerged from the trail dripping with sweat and probably looking like I would collapse.

Here’s where it got interesting for me.  I wanted to continue on the Monument/Shawangunk Ridge trail to find the Cedar Swamp trail.  Monument/Shawangunk Ridge continues on the other side of the parking lot.  While crossing the parking lot I felt something flapping on my left boot.  I took a look and I could see where the boot was separating from the sole.  Sigh.  Now what?  I’m a little under two miles in.  It has gotten partly cloudy, to the point that rain may be arriving.  And I have a boot that may be failing.  Looking at the topo map I saw that there wasn’t too much elevation change.  My questions would be a) what if really started raining? and b) could I make it back over the AT if I needed to?

I decided to press on.

Not a bad decision.  I just had to manage that left boot.  Which held up pretty well.  At a break, I looked at the right boot, and I could see where it too was starting to fail.  Granted, these boots were almost 20 years old, but only used heavily the last five years.

I found the Cedar Swamp trail and completed that circuit.  Backwards I found out.  Typically that trail starts from the parking lot east of Lake Marcia.  The park has set the trail direction as clockwise.  I entered the trail from the Monument/Shawangunk Ridge trail, didn’t see signs, and walked counter-clockwise.  Fortunately, I didn’t see many people, but wondered why I got funny looks from the people I did pass.  When I got to the trail “start” I saw the signs for the temporary directions.  The Cedar Swamp trail was nice, cool, relatively level, and very different from the surrounding terrain.

I finished the loop and got back on the Monument/Shawangunk Ridge trail to complete my loop back towards the AT.  Where the Shawangunk Ridge trails bears right to New York I stopped to take a picture at one of the view points.  I believe that’s Port Jervis in the distance.

I’m pretty sure that’s New York state in the distance.

I continued on the Monument Trail.  After a little bit I noticed some good elevation changes, one of which became pretty rocky.  And, my left boot was becoming worse.  I quickly realized I was going to have to make some decisions soon.  Coming out of the woods, I followed the trail down to Marcia Lake.  The sun was out, it was a little warmer so I stopped to eat and rest again. There’s a beach at the far end, and it was packed with people; some swimming in the lake.

Looking at my boot I realized I would not make it back over the AT.  I decided to road walk the rest of the way back.  And honestly, even without the boot problem, this might have been the better decision as the walk around the lake was extremely pleasant, albeit warmer.

After exiting the park I had a short road walk on Route 23 south, probably a quarter mile or so.  About 300 yards from the AT parking lot, the boot and sole separated.  I am extremely thankful it happened here, rather than on the trail somewhere.  Big lesson learned – I’m now carrying a small role of duct tape for these kinds of situations.

I really enjoyed this hike, I’d like to come back and hike some of the southern area from the parking lot.  The mental stress of the hike was certainly a distraction, but being better prepared on my part would alleviate that.  The AT parking lot was not full when I returned and is a great place to park if you don’t want to pay the fees and/or don’t mind the the extra walk.

Ticks:  0

Blazes:

Cedar Swamp marker

Hiked:  7/3/2020

Bear Mountain State Park – Major Welch Trail and the Appalachian Trail

Park Site

Trail Map

Distance:  3.6 Miles

Trails – Major Welch going up, Appalachian Trail coming down

Map:

This hike has been on my list for a while.  What’s interesting is that I remember going by the park when I was little when we would visit my grandparents.  We would take the Palisades Parkway to the Bear Mountain bridge, cross, and take 9D up.  But, it’s been a long long time since I had been up this way.  Leaving the house a little after 8:00, skies were clear, the sun was out, and it was the middle 70s.  When I got to the park, it was already in the middle 80s.  My plan of attack was to go up the Major Welch as I had heard that there was some rock scrambling on the way up.  Oh, there was.  Just look at the map:  after you go by the lake, and turn off the paved trail, you can see how many contour lines I crossed in a short amount of time.

A little foreshadowing:

I’m pretty sure this guy was circling overhead when I was part way through the rocks.  I think he was just getting a count of how many walked by so he could triage lunch.

Some shots of walking by Hessian Lake:

It was walking on pavement around the lake.  Make sure the lake is immediately to your right – the trail head isn’t the most intuitive.

Here’s where the trail leaves the pavement and the lake.  Read the sign.  That’s the longest 1.5 miles I think I’ve ever walked.  Of course, I started to blow through the rocks when I left the pavement – it wasn’t that bad.

There were some (short) sections that were pretty flat.

There were lots and lots of those stairs.  And yes, they took a toll.

After an immediate left turn, the fun began.  I like rock scrambling as much as the next guy; but wow, this went on for a while – or so it seemed/felt.  These next pictures just don’t do it justice.  There were multiple sections of these immense boulders to scramble up.  And in the heat, it got tiring.

I only managed two pictures.  There were more sections.  At this point there were three or four groups of us leap frogging each other as we passed through the scrambles.  At one point, though, a young woman came RUNNING by us.  She blew by us like we were standing still (we were.)  Just before the top, the trail crosses Perkins Drive, and it’s a nice place to stop and get a drink.  The groups I was with all commented on how someone was RUNNING up that trail.

After crossing the road, and one more scramble, the trail flattens for a bit.

Don’t be surprised at the top, Perkins  Drive stops at the fire tower for people to picnic.  The looks I got when I came out of the woods were priceless.  Probably the best part, there was a soda machine selling  Powerade, maybe the best $3 I have ever spent.  I had plenty of water, but I needed something else.

I looked at the fire tower for a good ten minutes.  After coming up that grueling trail, did I really want to climb the steps to the top to see the view?  No.  But when was I coming back – so of course I climbed.  And I’ll admit, the view was nice.  Supposedly, you could see four states from the top.  But I needed to eat, and finish that Powerade.

My eating rock:

After a good long rest, it was down the Appalachian Trail.

Don’t kid yourself.  Yes, it’s crushed gravel, all the way down – a welcome respite from what I climbed going up.  However, there are a ton of stairs cut out of rock – which I really appreciate – but takes its toll on the way down.

There were a couple of viewpoints on the way down:

To give you an idea on the stairs, I took this picture looking back:

It’s really impressive how this portion of the Appalachian Trail was built.  And, when you reach the bottom, there are interpretive displays on building the trail, and some of the features that make up a trail.  I highly recommend stopping to see the displays.

Another great hike, though if I were to plan it again, I would wait until the temperatures have dropped a bit.  Be prepared when doing this hike.  Bring plenty of water (though there are vending machines at the top.)  And know that the rock scrambling truly is strenuous.  My final verdict:  I loved it, I’ll pay the price tomorrow, but it will be worth it.  One final note: the park was PACKED with people, so get there early.  I didn’t have a problem at 10:00 when I arrived, but I suspect parking would be a premium much after that.  (Side note, it was $10 to get in the park.)

Ticks: 0

(A new feature I’ll add going forward)

Blazes:

Major Welch:

Appalachian Trail:

(Missing:  the piece of the trail at the top, around the fire tower.  Markers had the Major Welch red circle above the AT white blaze.)

Hiked:  7/28/2019