Break out those expensive hiking shoes, this is one hike you’ll be glad you have them. The Stairway to Heaven Trail leading to Pinwheel Vista begins where the Pochuck Boardwalk trail ends. The hike is about two and a half miles long, starting at the trail base on Vernon Warwick Road. Its stunning views and satisfying challenge makes this one of The Best NJ Hiking Trails.
The trail starts off pretty flat and easy for average hikers, however, it does get harder along the way. A lot of it is wooded and, at times, opens up to great views of the Wawayanda Mountain. But further into the woods, the trail gets very rocky; though the incline gets steep pretty quickly, there are areas of level paths along the way. In fact, some rocks form natural steps to help alleviate the incline’s intensity at various points. (Just be careful of the thick tree roots that like to trip people.)
The entrance to the Stairway to Heaven Trail is within walking distance of Heaven Hill Farm in Vernon, Sussex County. Once you make it to the trail base, you’ll want to follow the white trail markers. (I didn’t see too many of them along the way, but the trail itself is well defined.)
About a half mile up the trail is Annie’s Bluff. This overlook gives a small view of Vernon beyond the trees and brush. Of course, this is just a small sampling of what Pinwheel Vista has to offer.
From Annie’s Bluff, the Stairway to Heaven heads up the mountain for about two full miles. You’ll need two hands free at times, but if all you have is a water bottle, don’t worry; you shouldn’t have much trouble getting up the trail. With this in mind, backpacks are a great resource and really come in handy for a hike like this one. For instance, they are useful if you pack snacks, which I highly recommend for this trek.
The Final Ascent
As you approach Pinwheel Vista, you’ll come to a more level surface. This trail will lead you to a large pile of rocks. (Believe me, you won’t miss it.) When you get to this point, simply turn left at that mound; because if you continue straight, you’ll pass right by the viewpoint. When you turn left, this new trail follows blue markers. But don’t worry, you won’t travel far, because Pinwheel Vista is very close by.
Once you hoist yourself up the outcrop, you’ll have a remarkable view of Vernon and beyond. Meanwhile, right in front of you will be an open field where you can see tiny cows grazing. Then, beyond that, are the Kittatiny Mountains, and you’ll notice the High Point Monument of Wantage, Sussex County.
Pinwheel Vista provides one of the most breathtaking views in the Garden State. The Stairway to Heaven trail is tough for new hikers, but the reward is worth the challenge. Of course, this is a well known trail, so you’ll likely see many other people making the same trip. For an even longer trek that’s great for seasoned hikers, you can combine this trail with the Pochuck Boardwalk trail.
Before You Hike the Stairway to Heaven
You can find parking near the base of the Stairway to Heaven Trail. There are a couple gravel lots right on New Jersey Route 94. I didn’t see any porta-potties around, though, so you’ll have to travel to the Pochuck Boardwalk trailhead for those. Otherwise, you can inquire within the nearest establishments.
The Stairway to Heaven Trail is a rewarding hike; though the view from Pinwheel Vista is spectacular all year round, foot traffic peaks in autumn. No matter when you go, you’ll want to pace yourself and drink plenty of water; likewise, it’s a good idea to have a hearty meal before you even head out.
If you’re new to hiking, be sure to check out The Best Safety Tips for Hiking in NJ.
All Photos: © Patrick Lombardi / Best of NJ