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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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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: Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, October 13, 2017
Quite the challenge on the suggested route - be aware that after the second campsite on the map's suggested path, there is no easy access to water for campsites 3 and 4 (unless you are feeling up to a ravine scramble like me). Also, a previous commenter was quite prescient in their prediction of the saddle camp site (4) being a good place for a bear a black bear took a look at us and barreled down the trail after we made camp there around 5pm.

By: kk4288 Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, August 17, 2017
Have done this hike twice now with my dog and enjoyed it both times. The one vista really is spectacular and makes the rather long haul through some dense forest beforehand (should you go the recommended way round) worth it.

By: KevinG Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, May 26, 2017
This was a great weekend hike. My wife and I and our 1 1/2 year old daughter did the recommended loop over three days and two nights. We got to the trailhead a little later than we were hoping on the first night, but were able to pack up quick and hike into the first campsite (which luckily was open, because it was bedtime for one of us). The first campsite was really nice, and easily large enough for three tents. The second day was definitely a tough one. We tried to get an early start because we were shooting to get to the pond before naptime. It was a lot of uphill though and took us a little longer than we had hoped. However, we did end up making it to the pond around 1:00, had a nice lunch and afternoon nap. I took a dip in the pond, it was very refreshing (aka chilly), but very clear. The pond is definitely a well frequented spot for the locals (some of them more sober than others). We were hoping for a little more solitude, but after about 7:00 it was just us. The campsite at the pond was not the cleanest, we found a good bit of broken glass, cans and bottles, and there really was only room for 1 tent (or maybe 2 small tents). Besides those couple annoyances, the second campsite was very beautiful. The last day hiking the ridgeline was our favorite. A thick fog sat on the ridge all morning, which made hiking through the pines really pretty. Unfortunately, that fog also obscured our view from the lookout, but that's okay. The last section is definitely pretty steep and rocky (had to be extra careful with the kiddo on my back), but fun. We made really great time back to the car and got back just as the first couple raindrops started to fall. Overall, we really enjoyed the hike and will probably do it again.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, April 29, 2017
Did this with a friend as a two-nighter (camping Friday and Saturday night). Friday night we set up shop at the first campsite which I have at ~1.7 miles into the trail (roughly 40 minutes). It's a great campsite with water access and room for three tents or more. Saturday we underestimated the difficulty of the five mile hike to the pond. It's 1500 total feet of elevation gain. Be warned! The pond was still very cold (I jumped in). There are about 3 campsites around the pond with another about 200' away in a clearing. Sunday we decided to take the orange trail instead of the white Bird Knob as it was the shorter route (3.8 miles to the parking lot, ~90 minutes). Personally I like hiking on ridge lines, so the 1/2 mile or so of this hike near the overlook was pretty cool. Overlook is at 38.6333571,-78.6182322 which makes it about 1.25 miles from the parking area. Also saw a buttload of wildlife on this hike including frogs, toads, turtles, a woodpecker, fish, tons of flowers, and even heard a turkey.

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.

    View all 20 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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