Tom Quinn is in his 27th year as a geometry and calculus teacher at Northern Valley/Old Tappan High School. He was the Golden Knights’ girls soccer coach for 23 years and is in his ninth season as the boys golf coach. Looking to fill some time after leaving the soccer sidelines where he compiled a 271-162-24 career record, he took his first steps on the Appalachian Trail on January 1, 2019.
Quinn has now completed 173 miles from Fox Gap, PA to Gaylordsville, CT. He has walked the entire New Jersey and New York sections of the AT and will share some of his experiences, tips and tricks in our semi-regular Down The Trail feature.
The Pochuck Boardwalk is the gateway to one of the best views on the entire New Jersey portion of the Appalachian Trail.
If you have an interest in seeing a part of NJ that you might not even have known existed, I recommend this Appalachian Trail (AT) hike for the whole family. The hike is a one-car, approximately 7-mile out-and-back hike filled with variety and, arguably, the best view on the AT in NJ. If I had a vote, I would choose this vista.
Park on County Road 517 in Sussex County (coordinated N 41 14.139 W 74 28.828), this is in Vernon, NJ. Although there is no “easy” way to get here, the best way to go is Route 94N, left turn on Maple Grange Rd and a right turn on Rt. 517 North. Parking can be difficult here as this is a prime location for day hikers. Park on the right side of the road (facing north). Entrance to the AT is on both sides of this road, but you want to go right (North on the AT).
The first part of the hike takes you over the Pochuck Boardwalk; a one mile plank thoroughfare through a wildlife preservation that is fantastic! Easy walking, places to sit; it’s a walk I am sure the locals do all of the time. I highly recommend this boardwalk part of the AT.
After the boardwalk, it’s a nice, flat walk through the woods. Eventually, you will cross railroad tracks, climb over a little ladder, then walk through someone’s farm field (yes, this is part of the AT). A lot of variety in a short period of time. As you walk through the farm field, you will clearly see what awaits; the climb up Wawayanda Mountain to one of the best views in the state.
Google “Stairway to Heaven, Pinwheel Vista” if you wish; after you cross Rt. 94, you will start your climb to the top of Wawayanda Mountain. It’s about a 35-40 minute climb to the top; after a nice quarter mile flat walk, you will start to climb over rock steps and make your way up the mountain. Pay extra care to looking for the white markings as you go. This is a gradual climb, steep at times, and not at all easy at other times. The trail has a couple of long switchbacks to the top. My opinion: if you can do this climb, you can do any part of the AT in NJ.
When you near the top of the mountain, you will pass a pile of rocks. Look for a blue trail and a sign that reads “Pinwheel Vista”. It’s a slight left turn, but you should not miss it. Take the two minute walk on this blue trail to another great view:
On a clear day, you can see High Point Monument to the west, the Delaware Water Gap to the Southwest, and the Catskill Mountains to the Northwest. I don’t know if this hike is the Stairway to Heaven, but it’s an awesome view and certainly worth the difficult hike that preceded it!
Retrace your steps down the mountain and South on the AT back to your car. Should you wish to stop for ice cream, vegetables or something else, Heaven Hill Farm is at the base of the mountain on Rt. 94. If you want to get a hot dog and a drink, stop at “Mitch’s Roadside Stand” also close to Heaven Hill Farm. His jokes aren’t great, but the food is good.
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