August 13, 2022 – Sandyston, NJ
Length: Approximately 5 miles
Max elevation: 1,568 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 700 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Free Map: Stokes State Forest North 2018
Trailhead parking: Stony Lake Day Use Area – Sandyston, NJ 07826
Open daily from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. – Full service restrooms on site
Entrance Fee: Free entry for the 2022 season
Stokes State Forest is located in the Townships of Sandyston, Montague and Frankford in Sussex County, New Jersey. Stokes is comprised of 16,447 acres of mountainous woods in the Kittatinny Mountains, extending from the southern boundary of High Point State Park southwestward to the eastern boundary of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The park is operated and maintained by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry.
The Stony Lake Day Use Area has 45 picnic tables with adjacent grills located next to the eight-acre Stony Lake. Picnic tables and grills are available on a first come-first serve basis. A bathroom with flushing toilets is located on site. Currently, swimming is not permitted at Stony Lake, or any of the lakes in Stokes State Forest. Entrance fees are charged from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.
A view of the entire Stokes State Forest may be had from the Culver Fire Tower which is situated on Culver Ridge, formerly known as Normanook, located in the heart of the Kittatinny Mountains, about one mile northeast of Culver Gap. The broad Wallkill and Paulins Kill Valleys, the major part of the forested Kittatinny Mountains from the Delaware Water Gap to High Point, and stretches of Pike County, Pennsylvania and Orange County, NY, may be seen from this vantage point.
Stokes State Forest was named after Edward C. Stokes, governor of New Jersey from 1905 to 1908, who personally donated the first 500 acres to the state to establish the park. The forest started with 5,932 acres after the State of New Jersey purchased another 5,432 acres in the Kittatinny Mountains. Additional acquisitions over the years by the State of New Jersey, have brought the forest to its current size of 16,447 acres.
Stokes State Forest was home to two Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps during the 1930’s, Camp S-57 and Camp S-71. From 1933 to 1942, the CCC men of Stokes built Sunrise Mountain Road, built a lot of the forest’s extensive trail system, erected the pavilions, lean-tos, and cabins, dammed streams to create Lake Ocquittunk and Skellinger Lake, and planted hundreds of trees throughout the forest. The New Jersey School of Conservation now occupies the sites of the abandoned CCC camps. Pictured below are members of the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp S-51 in September of 1933 in Stokes State Forest.
Culvers Station Lookout was originally established in 1908 and the site was first known as the Normanook Fire Tower. In 1918, a steel tower was constructed and was staffed by a state observer. The present Aermotor 47′ tower, with a 7’x7′ cab, was erected in 1933 and sits at an elevation of approximately 1,509 feet above sea level. The lookout is located in the Appalachian Trail corridor on Culver Ridge in Stokes State Forest, Sussex County, New Jersey. Culvers Station recently received a new coat of paint in 2022. It was placed on the National Historic Lookout Register on August 1, 1992.
The Gren Anderson Shelter was built in 1958 by members of the New York Section of the Green Mountain Club in memory of their president, 1956-57, under the sponsorship of the NY– NJ Trail Conference.
A 12.5-mile-long section of the Appalachian Trail follows the Kittatinny Mountain Ridge through Stokes State Forest. In addition to the Appalachian Trail, there are more than 63 miles of marked trails within Stokes State Forest in addition to the 17-mile-long Blue Mountain Loop Trail. Trails vary in length from one half mile to four miles, and over terrains ranging from flat lowlands to rocky mountains. Many of the trails connect, offering the hiker a variety of trips from an hour to a full day.
Trails used on this hike:
Stony Brook Trail (brown blazes – 1.6 miles) ~ Starts out heading northeast on a woods road that ascends very gradually. After about 0.8 mile, the brown-blazed trail turns right and heads in a southerly direction as it ascends more steeply on a rocky path. After 1.6 miles and an elevation gain of about 458 feet, it ends at a T-intersection with the Appalachian Trail at the forested ridge.
Appalachian Trail (white blazes – 1.1 mile) ~ Heads south along the forested ridge for just over a mile, gaining about 160 feet of elevation upon arriving at the Culvers Station Lookout Tower.
Tower Trail (green blazes – 1.1 mile) ~ Descends the ridge steeply at first, requiring the use of both hands and feet in certain places for the first several hundred yards or so. After crossing Sunrise Mountain Road, the trail descends much more gradually, but remains an ankle breaker type trail. The trail loses about 525 feet of elevation in 1.1 miles up to the junction with the Stony Brook Trail. The Tower Trail is co-aligned with the Stony Brook Trail for the last 1/2 mile along an easy walking woods road until it reaches the parking lot.
All the trails are well marked and well maintained. The only foot traffic that we saw was on the AT near the fire tower and a couple pairs of hikers on the Tower Trail.
The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference calls this “one of the most popular circuit hikes in Northwest New Jersey.” I am not sure about that as we didn’t see too many people on the trails or cars in the large parking lot. Nevertheless, it is a very nice hike in a scenic area with multiple points of interest.
Appalachian Trail, a lookout tower and panoramic views, you really can’t go wrong with this hike. Throw in lightly trafficked trails, a historic Appalachian Trail shelter, plenty of parking, full service restrooms at the trailhead and free admission and you have yourself a good day on the trails. The only negative thing that I can say is that all the streams were dry when we did this hike. Other than that it was a really good hike. Except for the area surrounding the fire tower, the trails were well shaded. The moderate elevation gain makes this a good hike for those warm summer days. In hindsight, I would have done this loop counterclockwise, ascending on the Tower Trail which is slightly more difficult and descending on the Stony Brook Trail which would have been a much easier downhill when I was a little tired.
Please Note: I wouldn’t recommend doing the Tower Trail if the ground is wet or icy. A sturdy pair of hiking boots with good ankle support is advisable for this hike.
Upon arriving at the Stony Brook Day Use Area after a 1-1/2-hour drive, we took a walk to check out Stony Lake and at 8:45am, there was no one else around. The large parking lot was nearly empty.
The water level was a little low on the day that we visited.
The restrooms were clean with running water and flush toilets. More than enough stalls in both the Men’s and Ladies rooms with plenty of toilet paper, full soap dispensers and air hand dryers.
This clockwise lollipop loop begins and ends at the Stony Lake Day Use Area. Ascending on the Stony Brook Trail and descending on the Tower Trail.
The ascent to the ridge is a longer, but more gradual climb to the fire tower. Descending on the Tower Trail is somewhat steeper on an extremely rocky trail.
The hike begins at a gated woods road to the left of the large kiosk, just feet from the parking lot. This is the route of three separate trails – the Blue Mountain Loop Trail (blue blazes), the Tower Trail (green blazes) and the Stony Brook Trail (brown blazes). You will be following the brown-blazed Stony Brook Trail for the first 1.6 miles of the hike so pay attention to the brown blazes. Follow the woods road as it gradually heads uphill in an easterly direction. In about 530 feet, The blue-blazed Blue Mountain Loop Trail leaves to the left, but you should continue ahead, following the brown-blazed Stony Brook Trail.
In another 200 yards or so, the Stony Brook Trail turns left at a junction with the Coursen Trail which begins on the right. Then in about 460 yards from the junction with the Coursen Trail, the green-blazed Tower Trail leaves to the right. This will be your return route, but for now, continue ahead following the brown-blazed Stony Brook Trail. The trail soon narrows in places and the trail surface becomes quite rocky. In about 0.8 miles from the trailhead, the Stony Brook Trail turns sharp right, crossing a wet area and begins to ascend a little more steeply with Stony Brook (dry when we visited) to the right of the trail.
When the trail reaches Sunrise Mountain Road, it turns left and runs along the paved road for about 100 feet, turns right and reenters the woods, now climbing more steeply. In about 0.2 mile, a blue-blazed side trail (scarcely blazed) appears on the left. The Gren Andersen Shelter (with water and latrine) is just a short distance down this trail. You may want to take a short detour to check out the shelter which is used by thru-hikers and backpackers.
The open front lean-to was built in 1958 of oak logs cut from standing trees at the site. The Green Mountain Club contributed all other materials and labor, but upon completion the shelter would be the property and responsibility of Stokes State forest. The name “Gren Anderson Shelter” was selected as a tribute to their president who had died the year before, while still in office. A fund-raising campaign raised about 260 dollars, which proved to be an adequate sum to meet all expenses.
When you are done checking out the Gren Anderson Shelter, retrace your steps to the Stony Brook Trail and continue ahead. In another 150 feet, the Stony Brook Trail ends at a T-intersection with the Appalachian Trail (AT). Turn right at this junction and follow the white blazes of the AT southwest along the forested ridge. There are no views on this section of the AT. The trail, although rocky, is not as bad as some other sections of the AT in this area.
In about a mile, the green-blazed Tower Trail begins on the right. You will return to this spot to continue the loop, but for now, proceed ahead on the AT for about another 250 feet to the site of the Culvers Station Lookout Tower.
There is a picnic table by a rock outcrop with a west-facing view that makes for a good spot to take a break.
A Black Vulture soaring above the ridge.
Culvers Station Lookout Tower, which is still in use for spotting forest fires, was erected in 1933. When it is manned, you can climb up the 47′ tower and go inside the 7’x7′ cab.
The New Jersey Forest Fire Service maintains a system of 21 fire towers at strategic locations throughout the state. These towers are staffed with fire observers who monitor for smoke in their geographic region, communicating with other nearby towers to pinpoint the location of smoke. At least one tower in each division is operated whenever the woods are dry enough to burn and all towers are staffed during the months of March, April, May, October and November.
The images below were taken from just below the cab. It certainly is worth it to climb the tower at least part way to enjoy these fabulous views that stretch all the way into New York and Pennsylvania.
High Point, the highest elevation in the State of New Jersey, is 13.5 miles away if you follow the Appalachian Trail (AT) north. The AT passes near the base of the monument.
Stony Lake is visible below, the starting and ending point of this hike.
When you are done enjoying the 360° views from the tower, retrace your steps on the AT to the junction with the green-blazed Tower Trail. Turn left and follow the green blazes to a rock outcrop with more west-facing views. Just to the right, the trail descends steeply over rock slabs for several hunred yards. You may have to use both your hands and feet to tackle this section of trail. It’s probably not a good idea to hike this section of the trail in wet or icy conditions.
Once past the initial steep section, the grade moderates as it descends on an extremely rocky footpath. Careful attention should be paid to avoid twisting an ankle or tripping.
In about 0.4 mile, the Tower Trail crosses Sunrise Mountain Road diagonally to the right. The trail now descends even more moderately, but the rough rocky trail remains an ankle breaker.
In about 0.7 mile from the junction with the AT, the Tower Trail crosses a wooden footbridge over Stony Brook built by the volunteers of the West Jersey Trail Crew in 2019. A short distance beyond, you’ll reach the junction with the brown-blazed Stony Brook Trail. Turn left and retrace your steps about a 1/2 mile, back to the parking lot, where the hike began.
A really good hike in an area that doesn’t seem to get much foot traffic. The parking lot at the end of the hike was as empty as when we began the hike. The views from the fire tower are the highlight of the hike, but the tranquil surroundings make this trek worthwhile. We drove 1-1/2 hours to do this hike and it was worth the drive. On the way back we stopped to pick up some fresh corn, Jersey Tomatoes and a Cherry-Peach Pie which were all delicious. As stated previously, I would do this hike in reverse, ascending on the Tower Trail and descending on the more knee friendly Stony Brook Trail.
Culvers Station Lookout, panoramic views, lightly trafficked trails, well marked and maintained trails, scenic landscape.
Rocky ankle-breaker type trails.
Take a hike!
- New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
- Stokes State Forest
- Gren Anderson Shelter Project
- New Jersey Forest Fire Service
- National Historic Lookout Register
- Forest Fire Lookout Association
- Culver Ridge
- CCC Camps New Jersey
- New Jersey School of Conservation
- The Civilian Conservation Corps: A Legacy Lives On In New Jersey’s State Parks