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Browns Hollow - New Market Gap, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
11.7 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
5.5 hours plus a half hour for lunch
2,395 ft
George Washington National Forest
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New Market Weather Forecast
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Park at the old Welcome Center. 38.64278, -78.61138

The Browns Hollow hike is the big brother to the Emerald Pond circuit, adding 3.5 miles with the addition of the Browns Hollow and Roaring Run Trails. This 11.7 mile hike has 3 great features: 1. The climb through the gorge on Browns Run, with small pools and waterfalls. 2. Emerald Pond, with its spring fed swimming hole nestled in a small hollow off the Bird Knob Trail. The water has exceptional clarity, and in the summer months is surprisingly warm for a mountain pond. And 3. A spectacular vista to the west of New Market from the Massanutten South Trail.

There are several secluded campsites along Browns Run, including one just above a set of falls halfway up the gorge. On the west side of Big Mountain the best camping is right on the banks of Emerald Pond. Also, if you travel west homeward, make sure to stop at Pack's Custard Stand on US211 in New Market for some of the best frozen custard around!

  • Mile 0.0 - Start the hike near the front of the parking area on the white blazed Wildflower Trail, DO NOT go down the paved Nature Trail at the end of the parking area. Follow the white blazed Wildflower Trail downhill for 0.3 miles to the intersection of the orange blazed Massanutten South Trail.
  • Mile 0.3 - Stay straight continuing downhill on the now white and orange blazed Wildflower/Massanutten South Trail for 0.2 miles to a four way intersection at the old picnic ground. On the opposite side of the intersection is a shelter with multiple picnic tables.
  • Mile 0.6 - At the four way intersection turn right on the orange blazed Massanutten South Trail that now uses a section of the picnic ground loop road. In 375 feet stay on the orange blazed Massanutten South Trail by turning right off the loop road onto an old logging road. Follow the trail for 400 feet to an intersection where the orange blazed Massanutten South Trail turns left, and the pink blazed Browns Hollow Trail stays straight on the old logging road.
  • Mile 0.8 - Stay straight on the pink blazed Browns Hollow Trail to the next intersection in 0.5 miles
  • Mile 1.3 - Stay left on the now narrower pink blazed Browns Hollow Trail as the old logging road continues straight. Follow the trail as it winds around the ridge, then descends to Browns Run. Just before crossing Browns Run there is a campsite and small steam that falls of Big Mountain.
  • Mile 1.8 - Cross Browns Run and now start the ascent of the gorge. The trail gradually increases in incline and passes a small waterfall and several campsites. The last 1.2 miles to the saddle between Short Horse Mountain and Big Mountain becomes quite steep.
  • Mile 4.5 - At the saddle there is a campsite suitable for two tents on the right. The pink blazed Browns Hollow Trail now descends for 0.7 miles into Roaring Run Gap, then ends at the intersection of the Roaring Run Trail.
  • Mile 5.2 - Turn right uphill on the purple blazed Roaring Run Gap Trail. The trail steeply ascends to the ridge on Big Mountain with several switchbacks. At the ridge is a small campsite on the right. Descend Big Mountain for 0.4 miles where the Roaring Run trail ends at the Massanutten South Trail and Forestry Road.
  • Mile 6.2 - Turn right uphill on the orange blazed Forestry Road for 0.4 miles to a closed gate and the white blazed Bird Knob Trail.
  • Mile 6.7 - Turn left passing the gate onto the white blazed Bird Knob trail and follow it for 0.1 miles to a spilt in the old logging road. Take the unmarked road to the right for 0.1 miles then arrive at Emerald Pond. Pass along the left side of the pond following a small trail to a campsite on the opposite bank.
  • Mile 6.8 - Return to the white blazed Bird Knob Trail, turn right, and climb to a clearing near Bird Knob. Pass along the right side of the clearing where the Bird Knob Trail reenters the forest on the ridge of Massanutten Mountain. The Bird Knob Trail will gently climb, then descend past two unmaintained trails before ending at the intersection of the orange blazed Massanutten South Trail 1.8 miles from the clearing.
  • Mile 9.2 - Stay left on the orange blazed Massanutten South Trail for 0.8 miles to the panoramic vista west towards New Market.
  • Mile 10.0 - From the vista descend steeply for 0.4 miles where the trail passes through a rocky area on the west side of the mountain. From this point the trail is less steep, and turns back the east side of the mountain descending back to the intersection to the Wildflower Trail.
  • Mile 11.4 - Turn left upward on the white blazed Wildflower Trail for the reaming 0.3 miles back to the parking area.
  • Mile 11.7 - Arrive back at the old Visitor Center and parking area.
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Hiker Reviews For The Browns Hollow Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the Browns Hollow hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: Schnitzel Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, February 24, 2017
Drawn by Emerald Lake and distance, my good friend (Pennzoil) and I decided to spend a few days taking our time along this trail. Two nights sounded great to us, as some suggested in previous posts, and we arrived midday on a Friday to find the parking lot largely empty. We chose the route as suggested (clockwise) and found the trail pleasant if a bit slippery due to leaves covering rocks and holes. The first campsite was amazing with the creek next to it where we resupplied our water (Mile 1.3), while we continued up the trail looking for a good first campsite.

The trail continued to rise leaving us guessing that just like the second (still too early to camp) there would be water - not the case. We realized that we had ventured close to where the trail turns (about 5 miles) when the trail descended unto Roaring Run Gap. So note: the campsites (after waterfall site which is the second one on the map) do not have water access until you arrive at Emerald Lake. We debated staying at the campsite (noted at Mile 4.5) but it again had no water and no fire ring - in fact the area looked like a fantastic place for a bear with the type of thick overgrowth and what looked like game trails running through that campsite.

We decided to camp in the Gap which had a trickle of water running, but not nearly enough to feel comfortable with filling up our reserves entirely. The next morning had us finding the ridge line campsite at Mile 5.2 (beautiful spot if the weather cooperates) and eventually our second campsite at Emerald Lake.

Emerald Lake is as described and looks in the pictures. An idyllic spot for resting with just a couple (or three) campsites unless you're hammocking. We arrived early, had the best spot for relaxing and had a warm fire for later that evening. Thunderstorms were forecasted, however none materialized while the back clouds raced past us overhead. We were grateful that we weren't camping on the previously mentioned campsite on the ridge as we heard roaring wind coming over the mountains all night. The last day had us continuing up through the meadow (several campsites were seen although no one else was camping) and once at the top, the trail continues along the ridge (read: gratefully easy) until we quickly arrived at the vista toward New Market - a great view looking west toward I-81 and beyond.

The rest of the trail then descends STEEPLY and we were grateful we hadn't taken the counter-clockwise route as we would have certainly been second guessing ourselves on the rationality of two older fellas going backpacking for a few days (Noted on Mile 10 notes).

A great three days in the woods (the second being embarrassingly short but restful) with a wild turkey, lots of horse-apples on the trail (specifically on the switchbacks on the purple blazed Roaring Run Gap Trail) which had us pitying the animal required to venture up this narrow trail, and a dedicated trail runner who looked to finish the entire trail in hours which took us days to enjoy - ahhh youth.

Should you camp in the warmer months at Emerald Lake, there is little question that you'll have lots of local company as it looked to be an ideal spot for rebel-rousing and noise-makers by the number of fire-circles and trash seen around the lake. I expected to see more trash from reading previous comments about this hike, yet am still disappointed by the lack of leave-no-trace principles adhered to. I expect this is a direct result of the presence of the road so close to the lake that allows people to arrive by car and multiple six-packs of beverages in tow.

Great trail if a little confusing at first with the number of roads / trails that bisect the first few miles - be sure to bring the trail directions with you.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, December 13, 2016
I hiked the trail as described except for an accidental detour. I carelessly went left where the pink and purple blazed trails intersect. It was a tiring 3 mile mistake to get back on-track! Camping at Emerald Pond was gorgeous. The location of the pond helped buffer some of the wind and the water is crystal clear. Overall, the hiking involves serious ascending and descending portions and it can be tiring. It's a fairly rocky at times, too. The fall/winter leaves hid a lot of rocks and I slipped a couple times. The only real views you'll get are of the pond and at the New Market overlook. However, if it isn't too cold or windy (I wasn't so lucky), you would be hard pressed to find a nicer swimming hole.

By: DougT Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 22, 2016
This hike presented me with a challenge on how to rate it. We did this hike as a two day hike camping at emerald pond. We did it in the opposite direction as what is listed on this site. The views to the west were beautiful with very clear skies as a front was passing through. The wind, however, was very strong which forced us to take the views in fairly quickly. Emerald pond was a nice place to camp. We shared the area with another group who camped across the pond from us. The scene around the pond of trees during the day and the stars at night was something to behold. The next day we left the pond and proceeded with the remainder of the hike through the Browns hollow portion. This area was quite secluded as described but provided little in the way of differing views. As my wife described this portion as “being miles with little reward” I feel was quite accurate. There were a lot of rocks to negotiate which really worked on my knees. One word of caution on navigating the trail, the intersection between the Browns hollow trail and the roaring run trail is not marked except for a tree with both orange and pink blazes. We missed this intersection, but fortunately as we headed down hill something didn’t feel right and a check of the GPS proved we had indeed missed the turn off.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 15, 2016
This had been on my list "to hike" so decided to do it today. Just like the previous reviewer mentioned, there is no sign to the parking lot from the road, so make sure you pay attention to your gps. I started my hike at about 9:15 am and hiked non-stop to reach the emerald pond at around 11:45 am, just in time for lunch where I spent about 10-12 minutes. The trees along the pond's bank had started to change color and with the clear skies and sunlight, I was able to capture some amazing photos. The water is impressively clear and since I was the only one there, I was able to enjoy my break very peacefully. Resuming my hike, my next stop was the vista where I spent another 15 minutes. The view is just mesmerizing! I had to force myself to leave and got back to the parking lot at around 2 pm (about 5 hours including 30 min break). My pedometer recorded 10.8 miles for this hike. I saw bear scats on several areas of the trail, and being alone, I was kind of scared since most of the hike is deep in the forest. Luckily I didn't encounter any wild animals or any other hikers. Overall I would give this hike a rating of 3 or 3.5 max for difficulty. I chose to give it 4 stars because there is only 1 vista point, which is however absolutely incredible.

By: Denis Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, August 03, 2016
Firstly a sincere thanks for the directions and maps on this site- downloaded before setting off and would have been lost without them. Today was a perfect day for hiking- overcast with a little breeze on the tops but dry. I only had today so started at 10am and did it in one big gulp- tough going but definitely feasible if you're used to hiking. First surprise was that there is absolutely no indication from the highway that the start of this hike is anywhere near. The first section is quite steep and you don't see much from the first summits as you are still in deep forest. The swimming lake is superb and makes a good stopping point- I got there in perfect time for lunch. The lookout towards New Market is the highlight- I saw many birds of prey roosting up there and got quite close- the views are superb. The last bit is quite steep downhill at a time when you are tiring so be careful. As an added bonus I didn't see a single person on the trail all day. A most enjoyable experience.

    View all 16 reviews for the Browns Hollow hike
Emerald Pond Panorama
Vista on Massanutten South Trail
360° Vista on Massanutten South Trail
Mid June
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