Go Poconos


Stairway Ridge


Where: East of Milford, Pa., 708-acre Stairway Ridge is part of Delaware State Forest, adjoining Pennsylvania State Game Lands 209.

Two trailheads are on Bluestone Boulevard in Westfall Township. From Milford, take Route 6 east for 2.7 miles to Cummins Hill Road (unmarked, on the left). Take Cummins Hill Road under Route 84 – 4 miles to Bluestone Boulevard (also unmarked). Go right on Bluestone six-tenths of a mile for the more challenging hike to parking on the left; or go 1.1 miles for the easier hike, also on left.


Trail information: Trails are blazed in blue. Trails have roots and rocks. The more difficult hike, which is 3.5 miles, requires crossing wetlands and small creeks on makeshift crossings. Sturdy, appropriate footwear is essential. A walking stick is helpful. The easier hike is 3.25 miles, round trip.

GPS coordinates:
First trailhead 41 24’ 3” N 74 46’ 47”W
Second trailhead 41 24’ 16” N 74 46’ 30”W (easier hike)

Stairway Lake

Feeder creek on Stairway Ridge


• Acquired with public and private funds, land is owned and maintained by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
• No motorized vehicles on these trails.
• No facilities. Pack out whatever you pack in.
• Leashed dogs are welcome; owners must pick up and carry out waste.
• Hike with a buddy and make sure someone knows when you leave and when you will return. Take water and a map.
• Up to two-night camping requires no permit in Delaware State Forest.



Stairway Ridge: The wilderness next door

By Carol Hillestad


Winding up Cummins Hill Road east of Milford, sheer drops and steep ravines off the right side explain why this area is called Stairway Ridge. But there are dozens of houses – even developments – here, too. Surrounded by and mixed in with state game lands and Delaware State Forest, this is truly a neighborhood where wilderness is right next door.

I was meeting wildlife photographer Nancy Hopping to get photos of a hike to Stairway Lake, high in the state forest. But the hike I had planned for that day wasn’t working out — trailhead parking for the route I knew was full. I’d heard that another route to the lake was a little rougher, a little rockier, and a lot wetter – which sounded like fun!

Parking was available there, and Nancy’s pup, Little Bear, led the way. He promptly met up with two campers on their way back to civilization from a night in the woods. It was Memorial Day weekend, and over the next two hours, we ran into 19 campers and day-trippers heading to or from Stairway Lake.

The trail was rough, with roots, rocks and lots of wet patches. We were walking along the uphill edge of the swamps that give rise to an unnamed tributary of the Bush Kill. The water running at our feet ultimately joins the mighty Delaware River. Designated one of the “Great Waters” of America, the Delaware provides drinking water for millions of people on its way to the Atlantic.

But right that minute, nothing beyond this forest mattered — time slowed, and these mossy-green seeps and clear rivulets filled our senses and quieted our minds.

We heard songs of ovenbird, yellow throat and veery and the hammering of a pileated woodpecker as we crossed and re-crossed waterways on makeshift spans of rocks and logs. Seedling sassafras, waist-high cinnamon fern, blueberries and wild geranium crowded the trail. Some invasive plants like barberry grow here, but also native witch hazel and healthy young hemlocks and white pine.

The trail rose, and without warning we landed on a grassy, well-traveled forestry road. A sign told us we were six-tenths of a mile from Stairway Lake. The walking was easy then, and, as we ascended, the woods dried out and opened up. Intriguing side trails, small meadows and rock outcroppings suggested explorations for another day, but for the moment, we were on a mission to reach the lake.

One more short, steep stretch, and the lake’s spillway came into view — with a 6-inch-high twiggy addition, courtesy of the resident beavers. From the spillway, a sparkling unnamed tributary cascades steeply down to the upper Delaware, where a river outfitter runs a brisk business in kayak, canoe and tube rides in the clear, pure water.

Blue-flag iris was in bloom at the water’s edge, and the smooth surface of the lake reflected a brilliant sky and billowy clouds. Half a dozen overnight campers were having a late breakfast outside their tents, gathered near a fire pit, right at the edge of the ridge.

If finding beavers in residence at a lake 1,100 feet in elevation wasn’t reward enough, the view sure was. New York State and a long meander of the Delaware River were just in sight, and across the steep valley below, to the Pennsylvania shore of the Delaware, the soft round heights of the Poconos wore their full summer green.

The world at my feet — not bad for a hike that “wasn’t working out”!

Carol Hillestad is a hike leader and writer for Get Outdoors Poconos, a grant-funded series administered by Brodhead Watershed Association.


Photos and videos by Nancy J. Hopping


Wildflowers decorate Stairway Ridge. Campsites are available for up to two nights for those without a permit.  


Choose your hike on Stairway Ridge. Big ferns wave in the breeze for avid hikers.


A pumpkinseed bluegill guards its bed. Look closely to find millipedes.


Beavers have made their presence known at Stairway Lake.    


When you reach the top of Stairway Ridge, you'll be rewarded with a miles-long view of the Delaware River and beyond.  



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