Ascending the Stairway to Heaven

Worldwide, only a few landscapes boast a 2,166-mile trail that millions of adventure junkies navigate each year. Rolling through breathtaking vistas, meandering alongside winding rivers, and providing a new perspective on valleys, mountains, and everything in between, the Appalachian Trail is truly a geological marvel. The AT spans across fourteen states and provides endless opportunities for adventure.

What to Expect

     There are two options to consider before starting the Stairway to Heaven Trail. The first option is whether or not you’re up for a more challenging and scenic adventure traversing the entire trail beginning from the boardwalk and ending at the summit of Wawayanda Mountain (about 7.4 miles round trip). The second option cuts out the boardwalk altogether and allows you to start right off of Route 94 at the base of the mountain up to the summit (about 2.5 miles round trip). For the sake of reviewing the entire trail, I’ll explain what to expect beginning from the boardwalk

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Trail-head for the boardwalk portion

     Right off the bat,the boardwalk begins with a trail-head sign explaining the hike and the wildlife you may see along the journey. For the first 20 minutes or so the wooded path is very flat as it winds its way through a marshy grassland. Jack and I were pleasantly
surprised at how calm and re
laxing this portion of the hike was – there is no difficult terrain or hills to climb. At about a mile in, a suspension bridge guided us across a small river and then back down along the trail. Following the white trail marker, the path led us through the woods, onto a smaller boardwalk, and eventually across a railroad. On the other side of the railroad, two narrow wooden planks allowed us to cross through a cow pasture (pet at your own risk) right up to route 94, concluding the easier portion of the trail

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Trail-marker for the Stairway to Heaven Trail

     Once you cross route 94, the trial begins the climb up Wawayanda Mountain; this may be where you want to turn back if you have small children or are unsure if you will be able to make a tiresome ascent. About ten minutes into this portion of the hike, a large area covered in rocks marks the beginning of the steep inclination up the side of the mountain. This is where we began to sweat (a lot). Still following the white trail marker, numerous switchbacks led us for about 45 minutes up the mountain. About two miles in, you will encounter a very large pile of rocks, walk to the left and you have made it to the Stairway to Heaven Lookout. Spend some time marveling in one of the best views in New Jersey. Once you are ready, descend the trail the same way you came. The trail can be very steep so we advise taking your time when making your way back down the mountain.

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A view well worth the climb

Round-Up

If you elect to hike the entire trail, it will be about 7.4 miles round trip – the hike took Jack and I about six hours to complete (including the abundance of time we took at the summit taking pictures). The boardwalk portion was more crowded with families and people out for a stroll with their dogs since it is a more calm and gentle walk. The climb up Wawayanda Mountain had more adult and experienced hikers. Bring plenty of water, the hike up the mountain required numerous breaks (even for in-shape high school students like Jack and I). Be weary of completing the hike on a sunny day, the boardwalk has little to no shade and hiking up the mountain can be very difficult if you are overheated, sweaty, and dehydrated.

Parking

There are two parking options depending on which hike you decide to pursue. If you are starting at the boardwalk, drive along Vernon Crossing for about a mile and a half – there are signs that indicate where parking is permitted on the right side of the road (there are limited parking spots so be weary of illegal parking). If you opted on hiking the mountain only, drive along Route 93 and on the right side (across from a cow pasture), right before an intersection, there will be a small parking lot with a kiosk in the back.

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