Overview: New Jersey’s best boardwalk is nowhere near the ocean. This easy stroll in Vernon is one of New Jersey’s hidden gems and one of the most unique sections of the Appalachian Trail. It’s also great to do with kids. Pochuck Boardwalk is a mile-long stretch of the AT through sensitive wetlands full of wildflowers and wildlife, including plenty of turtles. The boardwalk and a 110 ft suspension bridge were built by volunteers.
This short hike can be extended an extra 1.5 miles to a farm with ice cream, or even further by climbing the more challenging Stairway to Heaven.
Hike Length: 1.8 mile round trip (just the boardwalk = yellow on map).
Longer version: Boardwalk plus trail east to Rt. 94 (yellow + green on map): 4.5 miles round trip.
Elevation Gain: 25 feet (or 400 feet for longer version)
Location: Vernon, NJ, Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Parking: There are three primary options:
- Along the shoulder of Rt 517 near the intersection with the AT. This puts you at the start of the boardwalk. Park only where indicated by signs. Vehicles may be ticketed if parked anywhere else.
- Canal Road parking lot with parking for up to 15 cars. You will need to walk a short distance through the woods to reach the boardwalk. Coordinates = [41.22668,-74.46895]
- Small shoulder/lot on Rt. 94 with parking for up to 15 cars. Near Heaven Hill Farm, but a ~1.5 mile walk along the AT to reach the boardwalk. Coordinates = [41.21935,-74.45509]
- Appalachian Trail – Pochuck Boardwalk by NY-NJ Trail conference
Pochuck Swamp: Also known as the “Pochuck Quagmire.” In 2002, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and Appalachian Trail Conservancy opened a boardwalk and bridge over the nearly mile-wide swamp area – one of the most complicated and expensive construction projects in A.T. history and one that took more than seven years to complete. The relocation eliminated a long walk on roads through the Vernon Valley. The 3,950 feet of boardwalk, built on thin piling bored deep into the swampy ground, was designed to permit passage of water even during periodic waist-deep floods.
Suspension Bridge: The 146-foot Pochuck Creek Bridge was completed in 1996, at a cost of $30,000, not including thousands of volunteer hours. Because of changing water levels in the area, its foundation essentially “floats.” The walkway is 14 feet high, which is five feet above the 100-year flood level, and should permit the bridge to withstand floods that send logs and debris down the creek.The Appalacian Trail Guide to New York-New Jersey
Shortest hike [yellow section on map]: Walk 0.9 miles along the boardwalk until it ends, then turn around. This section is nearly flat and should be easy enough for almost all kids.
Park on the shoulder of Rt 517. As you step away from the road, you’ll immediately step onto the boardwalk. You’ll follow a 2,000 foot long stretch of boardwalk over Pochuck Swamp.
Briefly enter a wooded and then reemerge.
Next you’ll cross another 1,100 foot-long stretch of boardwalk over Pochuck Swamp. You’ll pass ponds full of turtles and other wildlife.
Next, you’ll reach a suspension bridge over Pochuck Creek.
Finally, you’ll cross another 850 foot stretch of boardwalk.
For a longer, still relatively flat hike [green section on map]: Continue along the white-blazed Appalachian Trail as it enters a forest and crosses bogs on puncheon.
Soon, the trail crosses a railroad track.
Immediately after crossing the tracks, you’ll cross an active cow pasture – just watch your step!
You’ll go up a total of about 200 feet – nothing too steep. When you reach Rt. 94, turn left and walk a short distance to Heaven Hill Farm`. This is a great place to treat the kids (and let’s be honest, adults too) to ice cream before turning around and retracing your steps back to the car.
For an even longer, more strenuous hike: Cross Rt. 94 and continue on the AT. You are now at the base of the Stairway to Heaven climb.
Similar hikes can be planned by parking at the Canal Road lot or on the shoulder of Rt. 94.
Dogs: Keep on a 6-foot leash.
Kids: No leash required. The boardwalk section is as flat and easy as it gets. The additional section to Heaven Hill Farm is also not too difficult, but use your judgement. The Stairway to Heaven is steep and not suitable for very young children unless they have sufficient experience.