We've done some bouldering and similar rock assaults as this one, but never over such a prolonged distance or precariously close to sheer drop offs - some w/vertigo-inducing distances to the rocks below or the river's edge.
One must truly walk ON the boulders and not step in-between where, in many cases, you can see daylight or gaping slits of bottomless darkness. If you carry poles, either lash them to your packs; keep straps secured around wrists or (as I did) at least shorten them. Most times I just used my hands to maneuver up, down and over the huge bouldered trail. But on several occasions my poles were a significant asset in preserving my balance or aiding me to position my legs at angles legs were not normally meant to be angled.
We basically followed Daniela Wagstaff's hike, parking at the Palisades Interstate Police Headquarters and starting on The Aqua Trail 100yds or so down the road from there. We included sections of both the Shore & the Upper Trail, reaching the southerly end of The Stairs in about 3 miles. After the challenging Stairs we continued on the trail to make an off-trail pit stop at the State Park Lookout. We then picked up the Aqua Trail again and included several side trails to scenic overlooks before getting back to our car at the police HQ.
Total distance was around 8-1/2 miles. Daniela's was 9. So your mileage may vary. Timewise? Much depends on how well you fare the Stairs. Also, the day of the week and the time of day are a big factor. We had no choice but to go on a Saturday, which we knew from the git go would mean crowds. If you can manage a weekday…do it!!! Oh, and before it gets too hot and you also have to share the trail with rattlesnakes basking amongst the heated boulders. We left police HQ around 9:15am and got to the Stairs about 10:30 (I think). Approx. 1/3 of the way on The Stairs, we started picking up more people. Hikers and 'strollers', including families w/kids, boisterous teens and idiots w/small unleashed dogs. Trying to focus all my attention on not falling and yet still enjoying myself, I would have preferred if those incoming crowds included a few more 'serious' hikers.
**Minor rant here**
**Unfortunately, too many kids don't know the meaning of stepping off trail for someone coming the other way, so I automatically just do it myself w/o any expectations of reciprocation. But on this trail, there's very little - if any - room Off Trail. Running, jumping, reckless & inconsiderate kids can make an already intense experience quite nerve wracking for anyone else in the vicinity. After dashing past us, one such boisterous lad summarily fell not 15 feet ahead. At first we thought he was by himself. Before we could get to him, all of a sudden Dad & Mom & two other youngsters (who had been no where in sight up till then), appeared w/Dad holding a tiny Chihuahua in one arm! We had to scramble up a large boulder and balance ourselves against it for the duration to let them all pass to reach the boy. There was no way where they were that any other hiker could maneuver around them as Dad placed the tiny dog on the rocks and applied some triage to the now-sobbing youth. (Why he didn't hand the miniature dog - who was small enough to slip through a crack in the boulders - off to his wife I haven't a clue.) So a mini-traffic jam ensued behind us while we all waited for them. After about 10 or 15 minutes they finally moved on w/the bandaged boy continuing to hippity-hop from boulder to boulder as Mom & /Dad once again nonchalantly lagged behind.
While accidents, of course, can happen to any of us, and I felt sorry for the boy especially when I heard him crying, his tears and the jam up may very well have been avoided if (a) he was warned to walk and did just that because (b) Mom & Dad were close enough to watch & remind him of that. If for nothing else, his behavior put others in jeopardy as well.
As for that myriad of other little and/or unleashed dogs???? Let's just say that I didn't know there were so many ways to be told to mind my own business. Gee, I wonder how severely I would've been told off if I'd expressed equal concern for their kids??? **
Aside from that, it was a wonderful experience and one that, IMO, every hiker should share. The views from atop the cliffs were spectacular as were the unbelievable numbers of raptors skirting the thermals up and down the cliffs and over the river.
This time of year the trails were alive w/spring blooms, too. Native columbines, species geranium, trillium, fields of periwinkle, phlox, huge clusters of daffodils, dogwoods, some redbuds and an enormous bank of blooming mock orange on a side trail near an old concrete bridge about .75m before the end of the hike.