Stairway to Heaven Hike – Wawayanda State Park

Stairway to Heaven Hike Overview

The Stairway to Heaven hike is a 1.3 mile section of the Appalachian Trail in Wawayanda State Park that climbs Wawayanda Mountain and leads to the Pinwheel’s Vista viewpoint of the Vernon Valley, the Kittatinny Ridge, and even the Shawangunk and Castkills. 

This is one of the most well-known and popular hikes in New Jersey, so expect crowds. This trail has become too popular for its own good, with many people cutting switchbacks and leaving litter behind. If you visit, please practice Leave No Trace – stay on trail and take home all your garbage.

Trail History

This section of the Appalachian Trail was constructed about 1990 by New York-New Jersey Trail Conference volunteers and rehabilitated between 2016 and 2019 by the West Jersey Trail Crew.

Pinwheel’s Vista”

The Stairway to Heaven leads to Pinwheel’s Vista, a spectacular viewpoint over the Vernon Valley. “Pinwheel” was the nickname of Paul DeCoste, a volunteer who helped build this section of trail.

Photo of volunteers of the Pochuck Quagmire Suspension Bridge. Paul DeCoste (“Pinwheel”) is third from the left in front row.

Wawayanda? Wawayanda was the name the Lenape Indians gave to a creek they called “water on the mountain.”

Hike length: 2.6 miles round trip. 

For a longer trip, this hike can be easily extended to the west by crossing NJ-94, a cow pasture, forested area, and wetlands along the Pochuck Boardwalk. See the 2nd map below for an overview.

Elevation gain: 900 feet

Stairway to Heaven elevation profile
Stairway to Heaven elevation profile

Location: Wawayanda State Park, Appalachian Trail, Vernon, NJ

Stairway to Heaven Parking

parking lot that fits about a few dozen cars is available on the side of NJ-94 in Vernon, just south of Heaven Hill Farm and Rt 515.

Stairway to Heaven parking area
Stairway to Heaven trailhead and parking area

Arrive early or on off-hours because this is a popular trails and the lot fills up. If this small lot is full, there is a larger lot immediately to the north, and signs indicate it requires paying for parking via the ParkMobile app.

Stairway to Heaven Trail Maps

Stairway to Heaven Trail Description

This trail follow the white-blazed Appalachian Trail up 1.3 miles to the short blue-blazed spur trail to Pinwheel’s Vista.

Stairway to Heaven parking area
Stairway to Heaven parking area

0.0 miles: From the parking lot on NJ-94, go up the stairs where a kiosk stands.

The trail leads up through evergreens.

The trail then crosses under a power line.

Power line cut

The trail then passes several open areas with views of Wawayanda Mountain. This is what we’ll be climbing in the mile ahead.

Enter the Woods

0.4 miles: The trail enters the hardwoods.

Stairway to Heaven

This trail is extremely popular and gets hiked by less experienced hikers who may not know how to read blazes to follow a trail or be familiar with Leave No Trace principles. As a result, the area around the trail has had significant damage and there is often significant litter, unfortunately. Ropes and signs have been posted to help keep hikers on trail. Please remember to follow the white blazes and stay on the trail and not take shortcuts, which kill plans and causes erosion. Please also remember to carry out all your garbage and not litter. 

0.5 miles: The trail swings right (southwest) at the base of the escarpment and edges along the rock talus.

0.6 miles: The trail passes big boulders that have fallen down the mountain.

Trail going through big boulders

After the last major boulder, the trail swings left (south) and begins to ascend the Wawayanda Plateau via stone stairs and a series of switchbacks.

Annie’s Bluff

0.7 miles: Following a steep switchback, reach Annie’s Bluff, a view over Vernon Valley (more open in the winter).

This prominent point is named for Anne Lutkenhouse, the long-time Projects Director for the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, who served for 14 years until 2001.

The trail continues to ascend along the side of the ridge.

Steep switchback before Annie's Bluff
Steep switchback before Annie’s Bluff
View from Annie’s Bluff with Heaven Hill Farm and Pochuck Mountain visible

1.0 miles: Pass two massive oak trees known as Proudsman’s Tree House, trees left standing when all others fed the iron furnaces. Alongside the trail within the boulders trickles a seasonal spring.

Stairway to Heaven Steps

1.1 miles: Before a boulder field the trail swings right (south-southwest) and climbs up through the rocks, where the trail turns left, running along a narrow ledge on the side of the mountain. Next, the trail turns right and steeply climbs rock stairs. These are the steps nicknamed “Stairway to Heaven” which the hike gets its name from.

Blue Side Trail

1.2 miles: After ascending a series of steep switchbacks, the trail runs in a “trough.” A large rock cairn at a curve marks the start of the blue-blazed side trail to Pinwheel’s Vista.

Junction to Pinwheel's Vista
Rock pile marks the junction with the start of the blue trail to Pinwheel’s Vista

Pinwheel’s Vista

1.3 miles: Turn left onto the blue-blazed side trail (The white-blazed Appalachian Trail continues to the right). Follow the blue blazes a short distance. You’ll soon see the trail lead to an opening at rock outcrop.

Blue trail ending at Pinwheel’s Vista

Climb up onto this rock outcrop and viewpoint called Pinwheel’s Vista. From here you have a clear view of the Vernon Valley below with Pochuck Mountain behind and the Kittatiny Ridge further in the distance. To your left (southwest) is the Mountain Creek Resort. In the winter, you may notice the snow-covered ski slopes. On a clear day, you may be able to see the Shawangunk Ridge and Castkills to the north. 

This is a great place to enjoy the view, take a break, and have a snack.

When you’re done enjoying the view, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

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