Kittatinny Ridge

The Kittatiny Ridge hike is tucked away between better-known parts of the Appalachian Trail system. Just south, you have the Delaware Water Gap, while to the north is Stokes State Forest and behind it High Point. It would be unwise to ignore the ridge, though. It offers great variety - from swampy areas, through open forest, to one of the best eastwards views in the New Jersey portion of the Appalachian Trail. It also offers lots of wildlife: spotting a black bear or deer in the morning is not unusual, and rattlesnakes and copperheads like to catch some sun in the afternoons. It also offers great workout for beginning hikers. With the exception of one steep but very short climb, the hike is relatively level.

Getting there

One of the better views at Catfish Pond.
Take the I-80 West to Exit 12. Take Route 521 North all the way to its end, where it hits Route 94. Turn left on Route 94 and on the lights turn right. This crossing is a tricky one. Don't turn sharp right, but follow the road that leads to the church. You are up for some steep ascend. Follow the road up and turn sharp right for some more ascend. As you pass the church, turn left, and you should be on Route 602. Take this route for about 6 miles (watch out for cops and deer; both are plentiful here). Just as you pass the 6th mile marker, look for a small gravel opening to your left, enough to accomodate three or four cars. You want to park your car as close as possible to the ramp blocking a gravel road, as that's where the hike starts. If there's no space available, almost immediatelly there's aother small gravel parking place for another four cars, and a few yards further there's a small, hidden open space to your right.

You start out on the Appalachian Trail. For the first couple of minutes, you will wind your way through open meadows and small campsites. In summer days, these are full of butterflies, dragonflies and quite possibly every single stinging, biting and bloodsucking insect on this side of the Delaware River. Spotting a deer here even during a day is common, and if you are extra early, you may even see a black bear.

The view from the ridge can be breathtaking.
As the trail turns right and the surface changes from gravel to dirt, notice the Appalachian Trail leaving to your left. You will take the trail on your return trip. For now, go straight on the road until it turns left, and a orange-blazed trail, marked as the Rattlesnake Swamp Trail leaves to the right. Take this trail.

For the first half an hour, you will be walking next to a swampy area. If you thought that the mosquitoes were bothering you before, you will be now glad that you packed something stronger than Off! with you (you did, didn't you?). The trail is very narrow; just enough for one person, but not wide enough to use a walking stick. It is also very rocky, so pay attention where you step. However, the trail is very well defined among the fern and rhododendrons, so you will not need the relatively scarce and worn out orange markings, save for one spot where the trail suddenly turns uphill to get around a particularly wet area.

After about half an hour, you will leave the swampy area behind and gain a little altitude. The trail becomes a little wider and more pleasant to step on. The forest opens out, and fern completely replaces rhododendrons. In fall, this portion of the hike begs you to slow down and take a leisurely stroll. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, however, the surroundings change again, as you descend towards the Catfish Pond. You will actually never reach the shore, but you will be able to see the water (and the occasional fisherman) through the bushes. Late spring and early summer is particularly pretty here, as all the water lilies are in full bloom.

Soon, you will reach another gravel road. Here, you need to turn sharply left and start climbing up. Some describe this climb as very difficult, but that is not entirely true. If you acquired a good walking rhythm at the first portion of the hike, you will be on the top in no time, and even a beginning hiker will be able to make it on the top with no particular difficulty.

Looking north from the top of the firetower reveals a clearly defined ridge.

The trail turns rocky again. In fact, it will appear as if you were walking in a dried-out riverbed for a while. After the trail levels out, you'll see the real climb right in front of you. It looks quite imposing, but it is surprisingly short, and the large boulders will offer enough support. After reaching the top, you'll walk for a short while on a level terrain, and then climb again. Rinse and repeat one more time, and you are on the top. Here, the trail veers slightly to the left, then turns right and ends on the ridge, where it merges with the Appalachian Trail.

The boulders on the ridge form a long bench, and the seating is quite comfortable. Over 500 feet above the surrounding area, you will be treated to one of the best eastwards views from the New Jersey portion of the Appalachian Trail. Raptors will circle overhead almost all year long, endless forests will stretch in front of you and if you are lucky, clouds will peacefully move across the sky. No matter how often I come here, I feel at peace.

When you decide to go further, turn left (north) onto the Appalachian Trail and follow the ridge. This portion of the trail is quite unusual, in New Jersey standards. It is not as rocky as other portions of the trail; in fact, it winds its way through tall grass n a gentle slope. Once again, you may want to slow down and just leisurely walk across the top of the ridge until you reach the fire tower.

Rattlesnake Swamp lives up to its name.

Normally, I would tell you not to cross into restricted areas, but this time I need to make an exception. The view from the fire tower is simply too breathtaking to pass on. When there is a fire marshal on duty, it's a hit-or-miss. Once, I got yelled at when I tried to climb up. Another time, I came up and chatted for the next half an hour. When the tower is closed, you will still be able to climb up right underneath the station and enjoy the view. What you will see is the full extent of the Kittatinnies stretching south and north from your observation post. Especially when the sun is low, the shadows will add lots of plasticity to the mountain range, and you'll gain a whole new respect for these hills.

When you had enough of this view and feel refreshed enough to go on (there are benches near the tower), continue on the Appalachian Trail. You will soon have the choice to go on the gravel road, which is longer, but less steep and rocky or the Appalachian Trail, which cuts a more direct, steep and rocky route. The gravel road is also known for snakes in mid-afternoon, so watch your step. If you opt for the Appalachian Trail, in ten to fifteen minutes you'll join the gravel road at the spot where you followed it to reach the Rattlesnake Swamp Trail, and in a few more minutes you'll be back at where you left your car.

Difficulty: 3 out of 10, due to one steep climb and some rocky terrain.
Orientation: 7 out of 10; very easy orientation in the woods, but hard to find.
Beauty: 6 out of 10; the view is awesome, but there's little else.

Final words: If you are lucky and get a nice sunny weather in late summer, you will love it here. I could spend hours on the ridge, just looking at the clouds passing by and their shades racing across the land below. And if you want to have a date in the wilderness, this spot is perfect.

Time table
Net time Total time Notes
45 - 90 min 45 - 90 min Whether you virtually fly through the first part of the hike from your car to the Catfish Pond or whether you take a leisurely stroll depends on the amount of mosquitos chasing you.
15 - 30 min 60 - 120 min The climb to the ridge is the most difficult part of the hike. Once you are on the top, you'll be surprised how easy it actually was.
15 - 30 min 75 - 150 min You can take another slow walk or you can jog on the Appalachian Trail to the fire tower. The trail will allow you to do both...
15 - 30 min 90 - 180 min The last section will see you descending either on the gravel road or the Appalachian Trail back to your car.
Methodology: The lower number is how long it took me to finish each part. While I'm in mid 20s and in a relatively good shape, I tend to stop often to take pictures or simply enjoy the view. It is very likely that your time will be close to mine. The upper limit is my time adjusted to the difficulty of the trail and various distractions. I assumed a family with children in my calculation. I believe that the upper limit is rather extreme. I have not taken into account the time spent for an extended break.

© Jozef Purdes, 2001-2003

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