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Kittatinny Ridge and Appalachian Trail in Stokes State Forest
This loop hike follows a woods road through an attractive forest, climbs to the Kittatinny Ridge, and proceeds south on the Appalachian Trail along the ridge, with many fine views.
Moderate to Strenuous
Allowed on leash
Take Interstate Route 80 to Exit 34B and continue north on NJ 15 for about 17 miles. When NJ 15 ends, continue ahead on US 206 North for 6.5 miles, and turn right at a sign for Stokes State Forest. After passing the park office (where a park map may be obtained), you'll reach a kiosk where a seasonal parking fee is charged ($5 weekdays, $10 weekends). Continue ahead on the main park road for 1.8 miles, following signs to the Stony Lake day-use area. When you reach a T-intersection, turn right, and continue ahead for another 0.2 mile to the parking area at Stony Lake.
Near the bulletin board in the center of the parking area, you'll notice a post that marks the start of the Station Trail. Proceed ahead on this trail, which follows a woods road. You're actually following five co-aligned trails here. In 300 feet, turn left at a signpost for the Swenson Trail. This red-blazed trail climbs gradually on a rocky woods road through an attractive mixed deciduous and evergreen forest. Upon reaching the top of a rise, it descends slightly and levels off, now passing through a largely deciduous forest, with an understory of mountain laurel and blueberry.
About a mile from the start, the trail crosses a stream on rocks, climbs briefly, and again levels off. Then, in another mile, you'll reach a T-intersection. Here, the yellow-blazed Tinsley Trail comes in from the right. You should turn left here, following both yellow and red blazes along a woods road that descends rather steeply. Watch carefully for a turn in only about 500 feet, where the red blazes leave to the right. Turn right here, and follow the red-blazed Swenson Trail as it descends rather steeply on a very rocky footpath.
Soon, you'll reach a clearing with a cabin on the left. This is a good place to take a break (there is a picnic table alongside the cabin). When you're ready to continue, bear right and proceed ahead on the Swenson Trail, marked by a signpost beyond the cabin. The trail now once again follows a relatively level woods road - a welcome respite from the rocky footpath. In about half a mile, it crosses several branches of a stream on rocks.
Just beyond the last branch of the stream, you'll notice a sign marking the start of the Cartwright Trail (brown/red blazed). Turn right and follow this trail uphill. At first, it runs along a wet, rocky area that resembles a minor stream. Soon, the trail bears right onto a somewhat drier, less eroded footpath. The trail in this area is not well defined, but it is reasonably well blazed. Watch carefully as the blazes bear left, briefly run alongside a stream, then turn left and cross the stream.
The trail now levels off on a well-defined path. However, in another quarter of a mile - just past another stream crossing - a blowdown has obscured the trail. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that the trail here is blazed primarily in the opposite direction. With care, however, the trail route can be ascertained (look back for the blazes in the reverse direction), and soon the blazing improves and the trail widens to a woods road.
About a mile from its start, the Cartwright Trail crosses paved Sunrise Mountain Road and begins a steady climb. It comes out on an open conglomerate rock slab amid pitch pines, with views westward over the Delaware River valley and the Pocono Mountains. The grade now moderates somewhat, and after a brief level section, the Cartwright Trail ends at a junction with the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).
Turn right and follow the white-blazed A.T., which heads uphill on a wide, clearly defined path. Soon, you'll notice a parking area on the right side of the trail. A short distance beyond, a path to the right leads to the southern end of the parking area, and the A.T. climbs stone steps. At the top of the steps, a side trail leads left to a panoramic east-facing viewpoint over the Kittatinny Valley from a rock ledge. A bench has been placed here, making it a good spot to take a break.
A short distance ahead, the A.T. reaches a pavilion with stone columns, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937. Here, there are views both east and west, but the viewpoint you just passed offers a more pristine setting. The A.T. continues from the southeast corner of the pavilion and begins to descend. After a short level stretch, the trail climbs over a rise and descends to an area with low vegetation, with scrub oak and mountain laurel predominating.
Soon, the A.T. comes out onto a grassy clearing, where the yellow-blazed Tinsley Trail leaves to the right. You should continue ahead on the A.T., which climbs steadily for the next 0.1 mile. At the top of the climb, amid a cluster of pines, a short side trail to the right leads to a viewpoint from a rock ledge over the Pocono Mountains to the west.
For the next mile or so, the A.T. follows a rather level footpath along the west side of the ridge, traversing a deciduous forest with an understory of mountain laurel and blueberry. After passing a large vernal pool to the left, the trail crosses a wet area on puncheons (bog bridging) and reaches a junction with the brown-blazed Stony Brook Trail and with a short blue-blazed trail that leads to the Gren Anderson Shelter. Continue ahead on the A.T., which crosses Stony Brook in another 500 feet. After another level stretch, the trail begins to climb, and about a mile from Stony Brook, it reaches a junction with the dark-green-blazed Tower Trail at a west-facing viewpoint studded with pitch pines.
The Tower Trail will be your return route, but you may wish to proceed ahead a short distance on the A.T. to the Culver Fire Tower, which may be open to the public when a fire observer is present. There are panoramic views from the top of the tower, but excellent views can also be obtained from its base, where there is a large picnic table. After enjoying the views, return to the Tower Trail and follow it down the mountain, back to the parking area where you started the hike. The first part of the descent is rather steep, but the grade soon moderates. On the way, you'll cross Sunrise Mountain Road. After a mile and a half, the trail crosses Stony Brook and turns left on a woods road. Make sure to follow the main woods road and the dark green blazes where the road makes a sharp turn to the right after 0.2 mile.