Park Highlight: Welcome to Stokes State Forest in New Jersey

Way back when I was in grade school, students in my school system were invited out to Stokes State Forest twice a year (in the spring and winter) for a multi-day stay. Of course, my extended field trip happened to take place in the wintertime.

Despite that it was freezing cold, I have fond childhood memories of the campground. I think if you decide to take a visit (although maybe not in the middle of the winter like I did), you’ll feel the same.

What Are the Campgrounds Like?

Stokes State Forest is another New Jersey gem, much like Allaire State Park. It expands across three townships in Sussex County: Frankford Township, Montague Township, and Sandyston Township. With its desirable spot nestled among the Kittatinny Mountains, it’s not too far from either the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and High Point State Park. Hey, if you’re doing a New Jersey campground tour this fall, you might as well hit all three!

Not only that, but you can check out nearby Sunrise Mountain. This area of the Kittatinny Mountains crosses from the Delaware Water Gap to the New York State Line. There’s pavilions and paths, but arguably the best part about Sunrise Mountain is its hiking. Since the mountains exceed sea level by 1,653 feet, there’s only a single other place in New Jersey that’s taller (the aptly-named High Point State Park). There’s also a rock that’s shaped like the humble state, so keep an eye out for it!

Getting back to the park, it’s 16,447 acres total. Most of that is woods and mountainous terrain. Stokes State Forest has a history dating back to 1907. It was that year that Edward Stokes, its namesake and then-New Jersey governor, bought a part of Kittatinny Mountains land, 500 acres. He also lent his name to the state park.

During that time, New Jersey State owned 5,432 acres of campground. With Stokes’ donation, the total was now 5,932 acres. As the 1900s went on, more and more land was bought up until we got to the generous 16,000+ acres that comprises Stokes State Forest today.

White pine trees began sprouting up around the 1930s. This was also the same time the Civilian Conservation Corps developed walking trails. Stokes was at one point highly sought-after for all its lumber and farming space, but the practice of cutting down its trees soon stopped. The land is now preserved.

You can visit Stokes State Forest anytime from April 15th through December 15th; the park is closed in the months in between for most use. The park will also close if there are weather-related issues on Struble Road, Crigger Road, Grau Road, and Sunrise Mountain Road, all of which lead in and out of the park.

If you have questions about the park being open, call 973-948-3820 anytime on weekdays from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Those are also the general office hours of the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, the organization that owns and manages the park. The mailing address is 1 Coursen Road, Branchville, New Jersey, 07826.

When Stokes State Forest is open, you can visit from sunrise until sunset. There are entrance fees during the most popular times of the year, which is Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, so the summertime. If it’s a weekday, you’ll pay $5 as a New Jersey resident and $10 as a non-resident. If it’s a weekend, it’s $20 for non-residents and $10 for residents. There’s also a fee for bringing motorcycles on the campground, $10 for non-residents and $5 for residents.

Are They RV-Friendly? What about Campers and Travel Trailers?

If you’re planning on staying at Stokes State Forest for a night or two, you should know that the park is especially great for campers and travel trailers. While there’s no specific mention on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) website pertaining to RVs, I’m sure they’re allowed, too. You might want to call ahead using the number in the last section just to double-check.

What kinds of amenities are available for those who plan on spending the night? There are plenty of campsites. All ban alcohol, but some allow pets (specifically campsites #101 through #137). You will have to pay $5 on top of the nightly fee as a reservation.

Standard Campsites

There are 82 trailer and tent sites scattered throughout Stokes State Forest. Each of these campgrounds include picnic tables and fire rings. Most are closed from December to April, but a few are available throughout the year.

Each campsite can comfortably house six friends or family members, even children. Of course, these are not free. You’ll pay $20 each night as a New Jersey resident. If you’re a non-resident, then it’s $25.

Group Campsites

If by chance those campsites fill up, you can always stay at a group campsite. There are nine of these and they also include picnic tables and fire rings. For your convenience, they are named Campsites A through F. There’s also Campsites H and I; H only has room for 10, but I makes up for that with room for 45 adults or children. Campsites A through F can fit 30.

The group campsites have different availabilities than the rest of Stokes; you can only stay at a group site from April 1st through October 31st. There are horseshoe pits but no spikes or horseshoes are provided.

If you’re lodging at Campsites A through F, then you’ll pay $120 as a non-resident and $60 as a resident nightly. If you room at Campsite H, it’s $40 for non-residents and $20 for residents. Lastly, if you stay at Campsite I, it’s $180 for non-residents and $90 for residents.

Steam Mill Camping Area

Yet another place to camp out with your trailer is the Steam Mill Camping Area. This includes pop-up camper and tent sites, 27 of them in all. Amenities are lantern hooks, fire rings, a picnic table, pit toilets, and an artisan well. You’ll pay $25 nightly as a non-resident or $20 as a state resident.

Cabins

You always have the option to take advantage of Stokes State Park’s beautiful cabins During my school trip, this is where I stayed when I visited. The cabins have everything you need, including:

  • Electric lights
  • Sink and toilet
  • Half-bath
  • Electric stove
  • Refrigerator
  • Hot and cold running water
  • Kitchen
  • A double-decker bunk bed
  • Two single beds
  • Wood stove

You can take in the view of the lovely Lake Ocquittunk during your stay with four friends or family members. It is possible to increase that number to six, but you’ll have to contact the park first. The cabins are only available from April to December.

If you have more people than that, look into staying at Cabin 7 or Cabin 12. These can fit eight guests. You also get a wood stove or fireplace, cold and hot running water, and a shower. The other amenities are also present.

There’s also Cabin 13, which has the most room (for 12 visitors). In addition to the amenities mentioned above, you get a fireplace, two bathrooms, and two extra sleeping areas. These are only available from April 1st until November 30th.

If you want wood for a fire, you’ll have to purchase it yourself. It’s available at the office near the cabins. A bag of wood costs $7, which isn’t terrible. While there’s a charcoal pit, fire ring, and a picnic table per cabin, you do not get a microwave, toaster, coffee maker, cooking utensils, towels, and sheets. Plan accordingly and bring this gear yourself.

Cabins are admittedly not cheap. If you’re staying at Cabin 7 or Cabin 12, you’ll pay $110 nightly as a non-resident or $770 for a week. As a resident, you’ll pay $100 nightly or $700 for a week. If you’re rooming at Cabin 13, prepare to pay $150 nightly as a non-resident, or $1,050 for a week. Residents pay less, $140 nightly or $980 for a whole week.

For all other cabins, it’s $65 nightly for non-residents or $455 for a week. For New Jersey residents, you’d shell out $55 nightly or $385 for a week.

Make sure you reserve your cabin early, especially around the summertime, because they fill up fast!

Lean-Tos

There are also lean-tos at Stokes State Forest, nine in all. They have picnic tables and fire rings. You can stay at a lean-to anytime, even if the rest of the park is closed. Each lean-to measures 10×12 and can fit six adults (or children). You get a wood stove to stay warm. These are cheap accommodations, as non-residents pay $40 nightly and residents only $35.

Things to See and Do

Of course, there’s so much more than just lodging at Stokes State Forest. Whether you plan spending one day here or several, you’ll find plenty of ways to fill your hours with fun, memorable activities.

Trails

While there are a wealth of trails at Stokes, by far the most noteworthy is the Appalachian Trail. This is a long one, so make sure you have hiking experience as well as comfortable shoes on. The trail extends for 12.5 miles.

Along the way, you’ll pass through the Kittatinny Mountain Ridge. As you can imagine, the path can get quite rocky. If you do have to take a break and spend the night, you have two overnight shelters to choose from. These are the Gren Anderson Shelter and the Brink Road Shelter. Both have room for 10 hikers.

There are springs for freshwater outside of the shelters, but these aren’t always running. That’s why it’s recommended you bring your own water. If you do use the trail’s water, make sure you spend five minutes boiling or chemically treating it.

Pets are welcome, but bears can sometimes be an issue. You’ll find bear boxes in both shelters. You’re not allowed to start a fire and you must remove all your trash when you leave per the park’s rules.

The rest of the trails at Stokes are smaller but all-encompassing. You could walk over 33 miles in all. Some of those trails are:

  • Tower Trail: This harder trail is 1.6 miles long. The trailhead begins at the Stony Lake parking area through Sunrise Mountain Road near Route 206. The hike is steep as you go past Sunrise Mountain Road and reach the Culver Fire Tower by the Appalachian Trail. Other landmarks are the Kittatinny Lake, Culvers Lake, Stony Lake, and Culvers Lookout Tower. You can even see parts of Pennsylvania and New York!
  • Tinsley Trail: For an easier experience, the two-mile Tinsley Trail cuts right through the middle of Stokes State Forest. You’ll get to see the Kittatinny Glacial Geology Trail as you walk. Interpretative trail guides are available to teach you more about the many geological features. As you continue along, be on the lookout for the Appalachian Trail, Lake Ocquittunk, and the Blue Mountain Trail.
  • Tillman Ravine Trail: One of the more exciting hiking trails is the Tillman Ravine Trail. This is named such because you will walk through a creek ravine on this 1.5-mile trail. The ravine includes hemlock trees, a sandstone gorge, and narrow red shales. If you have a green thumb, make sure you don’t miss the adjoining ferns, rhododendrons, tulip poplars, and hemlock.
  • Swenson Trail: Another great trail for forest lovers is the Swenson. This is a longer path, almost four miles, but you can see time and forestry in action here. Since the Swenson Trail’s trees were cut, the ones that have regrown are at various stages. Some species of trees you might spot are sugar maples, beeches, hickories, white oaks, and tulip poplars. There’s also mixed herbaceous plants, grasses, mosses, and lichens.
  • Stony Lake Trail: If you want a looped trail that won’t take too much time, try out Stony Lake Trail. This extends for 0.7 miles and passes through Stoney Lake Beach and a playground.
  • Stony Brook Trail: Not to be confused with the Stony Lake Trail, the Stony Brook Trail is much longer, 2.8 miles. It will go through Stony Lake as well as Tower Trail, the Kittle Field picnic area, and a ravine. Salamanders will appear if it’s recently rained; they’re typically red in color. Stepping Stone Falls, which includes flows and drops through water, is an optional activity, but be careful if you do it!
  • Lead Mine Trail: Perfect for beginners, the Lead Mine Trail is flat, short, and only 0.7 miles. It does have some rocky areas, but the path is about two feet wide, so there’s practically no risk of slipping and falling. During your adventures, you should spot growing trees (including hardwoods and ferns), Stony Lake, and the Blue Mountain Trail.
  • Geology Trail: Sometimes called the Kittatinny Glacial Geology Trail, this decently difficult one-mile trail adjoins with Sunrise Mountain Road and the Tinsley Trail. Remember to find an interpretative guide to make the most of your time here!
  • Criss Trail: This mixed terrain trail is a little over two miles long. The Criss Trial has a trailhead at Grau Road, where there are dual access points. You’ll begin on a sloping path that curves through the drainage at Criss Brook, the trail’s namesake. You’ll walk right through the Deep Root Trail, Degroat Road, Forked Brook, and then back to Grau Road.
  • Blue Mountain Trail: The biggest trail at Stokes is the Blue Mountain Trail. This is also the longest trails available at the state park, as it’s 17.3 miles total. It winds through the middle of the park and lets you drink in the beauty of nature in its many forms. You’ll busily and merrily experience mountainous terrain (courtesy of the Kittatinny Ridge), streams, lakes, wetlands, marshes, and forests in one afternoon.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is available on the abovementioned trails. You cannot drive to all the trails, so plan your day accordingly. You will also have to yield to pedestrians as you ride. It’s recommended you wear a helmet.

Horseback Riding

Another activity you can do throughout Stokes State Forest is go horseback riding. There’s little information about the logistics on the NJDEP website, so you should definitely get in touch with them before you plan for a day of riding. You might want to ask questions pertaining to where you can ride, for how long, and if there are any fees associated with doing so.

Winter Sports

Remember, Stokes is still open in November and part of December, so why not take advantage of the colder winter weather with some seasonal sports? The state forest has the facilities for activities like ice fishing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.

Swimming

One of the most popular time to visit Stokes is during the summer months. If you want to cool off from the unforgiving heat, you can take a dip at Stony Lake. There’s a bathhouse available for getting changed.

You’re only allowed to swim at Stony Lake if there’s a lifeguard present. Do keep in mind that this year, Stony Lake was largely closed for swimming. That didn’t mean you couldn’t swim at Stokes; you were just rerouted to High Point State Park. The reason for the swimming closure had nothing to do with the condition of Stony Lake itself and seemed to be due to a lack of available lifeguards.

Before you get prepared for a day of swimming, be sure to check the swimming schedule.

Canoeing and Boating

Lake Ocquittunk is a gorgeous place to go canoeing and boating. While it does lack a boating ramp, once you’re out on the water, you won’t want to leave. You must follow all New Jersey boating laws to avoid fines or other legal trouble. Boats must have electric motors and are restricted by size, with only small boats allowed.

Paddleboarding/Kayaking

If you want to spend the afternoon paddleboarding or kayaking, you can rent boats by calling ahead or stopping by the Lake Ashroe Recreation Area. Rentals are only available on weekends.

Picnicking

Roll out a picnic blanket and have a nice lunch amongst nature at Kittle Field or Stony Lake. Both spots have beautiful picnic areas. Kittle Field allows for large groups of up to 100. There’s playground equipment and playfields for kids as well as shelter if it rains. There’s also sanitary facilities, a sports field, and grills.

While you can reserve the picnic area at Kittle Field, since there’s 45 tables total, you can’t use all the facilities yourself exclusively. A reservation just guarantees you a spot at the field. If you plan on making a reservation, call five days ahead of time.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you’ll pay $65 daily as a non-resident and $55 as a New Jersey resident. This excludes parking fees. If you cancel, you’ll have to pay half the charge. 

Hunting

You can hunt in almost all areas of Stokes State Forest.

Fishing

If fishing is more your thing, you can fish up trout at Stony Lake, Lake Ocquittunk, and Big Flatbrook. The Division of Fish & Wildlife adds fish each year for beginner and experienced fishermen alike.

Other Helpful Info

Many reviews of Stokes State Forest are positive, with plenty of people lauding the park for its seclusion.

My only warning would be to prepare financially. A lot of activities and lodging aren’t free, and the prices can be quite steep. Since the park is such a popular place, I’d also advise you to book anything as far ahead as you can. This way, you can guarantee your spot.

Conclusion

If you want a wondrous park in New Jersey to take in the upcoming fall colors, few options are better than Stokes State Forest. Residents and non-residents alike love it, and you have tons of lodging options. You can sleep in your camper or take advantage of the multitude of campgrounds onsite. Some even have beautiful, rustic cabins!

With a whole myriad of activities, people of all ages shouldn’t once be bored. Overall, Stokes State Park is a great place to tune out technology and tune into the beauty of nature.

About the Author

Nicole Malczan

Nicole Malczan is a content marketing writer and freelancer. She's applied her knowledge of marketing and SEO to many clients over the years, ranging from foodservice to facilities management and currency exchange. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, baking, and music.

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