Stokes State Forest

Stokes State Forest Waterfall near Stony Lake—Nikon D5100 + 11-16 mm f/2.8 @ 16 mm, f/22

Two weekends ago I visited the Stokes State Forest a New Jersey state park in Sandyston, Montague, and Frankford in Sussex County. My friends Chris and Walt were separately camped out near Sandyston, so I called them and organised a photo hike. It was initially five of us, but two others dropped out the day before. The report called for sporadic but heavy rain all weekend, and after briefly introducing Walt and Chris, we proceeded into the forest.

While we photographing one of the smaller waterfalls we got caught out in the middle of a torrential downpour with our cameras, tripods and camera bag. We packed up our gear and rushed as quickly as we could to get back to the cars. However, we had hiked quite a distance and we were drenched by the time we made it back to the vehicles. A little while after the rain stopped, we exited the cars and Walt discovered that his Nikon D800 was displaying errors. He removed and replaced the battery but something was clearly wrong. We waited with our friend and about 30 minutes later his camera started working again.

We then drove to another section of the park in search of waterfalls.

Stokes State Forest Moss—Stokes State Forest—Nikon D5100 + 11-16 mm f/2.8 @ 16 mm, f/4.5

The forest is impressive. I have never seen so much green. The sweet dampness of the air added to the overall experience. I felt like a kid in a candy store; green trees were everywhere. Oaks, hickories, maples, as well as birch, chestnuts, beech, sycamore, cherry, walnut, ash, elm, and other hardwood tree species. I am allergic to most if not all of those trees, but because of the rain, I had nothing to worry about. Moss and lichen grow for about a foot up from the base of almost every tree I saw.

Stokes State Forest Waterfalls at Tillman Ravine—Nikon D5100 + 11-16 mm f/2.8 @ 16 mm, f/10

We were in search of waterfalls, so we hiked up through the Tilman Ravine Trail, not a long-distance but the trail had alternating peaks and troughs. Once we found the waterfal, there were so many possibilities that I couldn’t decide where to set up. I stood there taking it all in trying to decide on the best composition.

I think places like these are places I need to visit more than once. There is so much one can do. With the threat of rain and very slippery rocks, I picked a spot and started shooting.

Stokes State Forest bottom of Buttermilk Falls—Nikon D5100 + 11-16 mm f/2.8 @ 16 mm, f/9.0

After hiking around Tillman Ravine, with the risk of another downpour clouding our decisions, we decided to drive to Buttermilk Falls. It was a very bumpy ride in the car. The road was full of potholes. I took some shots at the base while my friend’s daughter climbed around. The change in light between the bottom and the top of the waterfall made this a challenging exposure for me. There was a lot of patient re-shooting and Adobe Lightroom work to get this one image.

Stokes State Forest—Nikon D5100 + 11-16 mm f/2.8 @ 16 mm, f/16

Finally, we climbed the very steep stairs to the top of Buttermilk Falls. I at once realised how out of shape I am. And it didn’t help that I was carrying a tripod and a camera bag full of gear and water.

I didn’t get as many images as I wanted and since I was working with a new lens, a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro DX-II for Nikon DX, my setup and composition for each shot took longer than I expected. Plus hiking to each spot took some time. But I had fun, and now I know what it’s like to hike through a forest during a torrential downpour carrying tripods and camera bags.


  1. It rained Friday evening, and all of Saturday and many of the local roads and bridges were underwater. I was bored and feeling anxious about being cooped up inside the house all weekend. Sunday after the cloud parted and the sun radiation some rays of warmth. When Bhavna woke up, I suggested we make the best of the day and go out for a hike. She expected that the trails would be muddy and reluctantly agreed to come with me if I first took her car to the car wash.
    I learned about Buttermilk Falls from a link shared by NJ Spots. Located in Washington Valley Park, The “falls” are humanmade with the overflow from a damn pouring onto the rocks below. I did not know this before we set off on our adventure. Buttermilk Falls must be a popular name for waterfalls in the USA. I have visited Buttermilk Falls in Ithaca, New York, Buttermilk Falls in the Delaware Water Gap near Stokes State Forest, New Jersey .
    We had some challenges finding the proper path to the waterfall. The information provided by NJ Spots is incomplete, with no information on where to park or which trail would help us approach the falls from the right direction. I parked in Chimney Rock Park near the football field, and Bhavna and I scrolled through Google Maps looking for an access point to the falls. We saw a few trails on the map and noticed a marked parking spot on Gilbride Road. A few minutes later, we were parked and took the first trail we found, which after a few minutes of slipping and sliding in the mud, we realized was the wrong trail. Back out to Gilbride Road, and we found a new trailhead. We knew we were on the right path since we met and asked a couple of hikers who were exiting the trail.
    We used Google Maps to navigate the path. This was the first time using Google Maps in this way. Google Maps told us to follow the yellow marked trail, calling which way to go when we met a fork in the trail.
    The trail was filled with small and large rounds, surrounded on both sides by a steep terrain. The lower terrain followed a rocky and soggy embankment down to the water.
    I saw many felled trees, large and small, many of which looked like they had perished in a forest fire.
    There were large green hues boulders above and below the trail some of which were still covered in snow.
    As we approached the f,alls we met other people on the trail path who were hiking in the same direction. I was disappointed when I get to the waterfall.
    First, the waterfall is man made and I found the fencing around the dammed area distracting. Second, there was no safe way to get a good angle for a photographically please point of view of the waterfall. I was also concerned about the number of people walking past me, jostling to stand above the water. Third, I had only my iPhone 11 Pro, which, though a good camera, I t,hink lacks the image quality I thing is necessary to capture the scene.
    Bhavna and I moved further up the trail and found a less crowded area among the large boulders and trees to get a better view of the falls.
    I wish I had my tripod with me. It was challenging to get long exposure shots while trying to steady the iPhone agains rocks and twigs.
    The best part of the hike was the hike back to the car. Bhavna and I got to chat about our plans for adventures after the kids are back to college for the winter/spring semester.
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back camera 1.54mm f/2.4 | f/2.4
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back camera 1.54mm f/2.4 | f/2.4
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back camera 1.54mm f/2.4 | f/2.4
    Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back camera 6mm f/2 | f/2.0
    I think there was a fire here some time ago. | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back camera 1.54mm f/2.4 | f/2.4
    The Great Ice Melt | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back camera 1.54mm f/2.4 | f/2.4
    I love this patterned piece of wood. | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back camera 6mm f/2 | f/2.0
    Buttermilk Falls, Washington Valley Park, East Branch, Somerset County | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back camera 1.54mm f/2.4 | f/2.4
    Buttermilk Falls, Washington Valley Park, East Branch, Somerset County | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back camera 6mm f/2 | f/2.0
    Bhavna and me | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro front camera 2.71mm f/2.2 | f/2.2
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  2. WOW, stunning photographs… I love the one that was photographed at the bottom of Buttermilk Falls.. Absolutely beautiful xx thank you ver entering.

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