Emerald Pond is a beautiful 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. It practically begs you to jump in! But that's not the only feature on this circuit, just 1.5 miles into the hike on the Massanutten South Trail on Big Mountain is a spectacular vista to the west of the Harrisonburg Valley. Want to make this hike a little longer? Then try the Browns Hollow Hike that adds the Browns Hollow and Roaring Run Trails to make for a 11.5 mile circuit.
When backpacking there is a nice campsite right on the banks of Emerald Pond. Also if you travel west homeward towards I81, 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 - Turn right uphill on the orange blazed trail for the steepest section of the hike. Wind around the mountain and climb through a bolder field before arriving at the lower ridgeline in 1.0 miles. Continue uphill for 0.4 miles to the first of two great vistas. This section of the hike is where you are most likely to run into other hikers, as many hikers do not do the entire Emerald Pond circuit, but instead do the much shorter out/back to the overlook.
Mile 1.7 - Continue on the Massanutten South Trail for 0.8 miles to the intersection of the white blazed Bird Knob Trail.
Mile 1.5 - Veer right on the now white blazed Bird Knob Trail, then shortly pass an unmaintained trail on the left. In another 0.7 miles stay right as you pass another unblazed trail that connects from the left. From this point it is 0.8 miles to a large clearing near Bird Knob. Bird Knob does not have an overlook as you may expect by the name. Stay left downhill on the Bird Knob Trail as it descends through the hollow to the intersection of an old logging road.
Mile 3.3 - Turn left on the old logging road for 0.1 miles and arrive at Emerald Pond. Pass along the left side of the pond following a small trail to a campsite on the opposite bank.
Mile 3.5 - Return to the white blazed Bird Knob Trail, turn left, then in 0.5 miles pass a closed gate.
Mile 4.0 - Turn left onto a Forestry Service road that is also the orange blazed Massanutten south Trail for 0.4 miles to the point where the road makes a hairpin turn to the right.
Mile 4.4 - Stay straight passing a closed gate and continuing on the orange blazed Massanutten South Trail. In 0.6 miles from the Forestry Service road arrive at an unmarked intersection, stay right remaining on the orange blazed trail, then in 0.8 miles pass through a small clearing and arrive back at the Bird Knob Trail intersection.
Mile 5.8 - Turn right orange blazed Massanutten South Trail retracing your route back past the two vistas, then descending to the white blazed Wildflower Trail.
Mile 8.0 - Turn left on the white blazed Wildflower Trail for the remaining 0.3 miles back to the parking area and now closed Visitor Center.
Emerald Pond Panorama
Vista on Massanutten South Trail
360° Vista on Massanutten South Trail
Yellow Rock Cliff Video
Emerald Pond Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Saturday, April 27, 2019
Very enjoyable hike. Perhaps it was the low humidity and clear skies, but I felt like I was in the Rockies: path of pine needles and crushed rock once we got up on the ridge line, smells of pine, and strong updrafts with hawks circling. Emerald Pond is pretty as promised, and the ridge line portion of the walk is simple. The rhododendrons weren't blooming yet, but I can imagine that in about two weeks, they'll be out, and they're everywhere along the trail. The climbs up and down are not too challenging but steady for about mile each way: some mud from springs here and there that were slippery, and lots of rocks. I appreciated having my hiking pole for the downhill as my knees are not in the greatest shape. Some of the mileage descriptions didn't jive completely with our GPS, and total hike clocked out at 8.3 miles. I would describe the section of Bird Knob trail after the meadow as old forest road, not white blazed trail, so the description of meeting a forest road is a little confusing when two forest roads meet. There's a portion of the hike after Emerald Pond that is an active Forest Service road (a truck passed asking for directions), and that's kind of unpleasant, but it is only about a half mile, so it's over quickly.
Date of Hike: Sunday, April 14, 2019
I was looking for a good long hike after a stressful week. I really enjoyed this one. As others have mentioned, it's easy to miss the parking lot because the visitor's center looked like an abandoned shack or someone's run-down home, so at first I thought it was a private driveway. But my GPS said I had arrived, so I turned around and drove in. There's a small parking lot, which this day had only one other car, and they were clearly wrapping up their hike.
I found the instructions to be clear, the blazes easy to find. The first part of this hike is mainly uphill, which I don't mind but as it was my first longer hike of the season, I was huffing and puffing. Thank goodness for trekking poles! There are several nice campsites to pass if you want to do an overnight (which I would have done had it not been predicted to rain heavily). There are some great views once you finish the ascent, plus a couple of dry camps near the vistas (I would not relish carrying my water up there, but it could make for a lovely view).
Emerald Pond was really, really pretty. I will certainly consider parking on the access road on a nicer day and bringing my boyfriend there for a little camping retreat, though as others note, it is clear this is used as a retreat for locals. I probably wouldn't want to do it on a weekend. There was so much trash, and I cursed myself for not bringing a trashbag with me. Also obvious that these folks chop down smaller trees for fire, which I always hate to see. But it really is a pretty pond.
The rest of the hike is relatively flat and straightforward. The last part described is mainly downhill. I tend to dislike going down more than going up because of my knees, but it was also nice not to feel so winded at the end.
But aside from the other hiker finishing up, I saw no one. Though this was on a rainy day. Overall, I liked this hike and will add it to my go-to list. I don't think I would do it in one day again, unless I could get someone to do the drive home for me! That was honestly the most difficult part at the end of a long day -- making the drive home.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 7, 2018
This was an awesome hike! A bit muddy near the beginning and quite steep but we got through that without much trouble, and the two overlooks are really beautiful. There were hardly any other people out there at the same time as us (we started at ~10 AM on a Saturday and there were maybe 3 or 4 other cars in the parking lot). We stopped to eat lunch at the pond, it was the perfect break, picturesque and cool in the shade. We did the loop on the gravel road and the Massanutten trail, and did wonder a lot about the piles of sand - it was really cool to read the reviews here later saying that they were built by ants! I've never seen anything like it. I'd hike this again, maybe in the fall to see how it changes with the seasons. I'd also agree with an earlier reviewer who said they thought it was more like 10 miles - that's what both my friend's and my fitbits said. It took us about 5.5 hours with a 30 minute-ish stop for lunch.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 8, 2017
Terrible. Complete waste of time. Nothing but an ugly dried up mud hole. I would recommend driving on up to Skyline Drive.
Date of Hike: Monday, July 3, 2017
I enjoyed this hike a lot. I expected it to be very busy considering it looks beautiful. The beginning of the trail was the hard part and after that it was easy
Date of Hike: Friday, October 21, 2016
I hiked this as described, starting at the creepy abandoned visitors center (would be good in a Stephen King movie). The first mile or so is a challenge as you can see from the elevation profile, but taking a few breaks I made it to the top. The trails vary from very rocky to smooth gravel road. The pond is nice and I sat there for a while. There is a tremendous amount of litter at and near a gate close to the pond, and broken beer bottles at the pond -- apparently roads near the pond are accessible to the public and it ends up being a sort of hillbilly retreat. I picked up some trash but it needs a more extensive cleanup. Along one stretch on the way back from the pond there are many mounds produced by the Allegheny mound ant, which is unusual. They can bite so keep your distance.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Parked at the gate near the pond. This took the majority of elevation gain out and made the hike a little over 6 miles. We went counter clock wise to the the view point and enjoyed a nice break there. We then hike to Bird Knob and over to the pond for a lunch break at the end of a 4 hour nice walk in the woods. The trail is reasonably flat except for the initial uphill on the road from our parking spot. The pond had washed out a bit of the berm at the road and required high stepping to keep our boots dry. A lot of trees have been cut down on the dam side of the pond making walking tricky to get to the rock area on the far side where there are rocks for sitting and just taking a break. A nice hike and not strenuous at all if you're not looking for a tough workout but want to enjoy the view and the pond of clear water at the end.
Date of Hike: Monday, October 12, 2015
Park at he Massanutten Visitor Center, which looks a lot like someone's run down house that they stopped caring for in the 90s but there is a parking lot and two trail heads. The initial trail can be kind of swampy, so bug spray may be desired for the first mile or so. After that you enter the rock zone of this hike... Not quite a scramble, but lots of rocks to step on, over, and around. The entire rock section was just awesome and reminiscent of Frodo climbing Weathertop, lots of fun. The rock field ends just at the first vista which was crazy good. Totally worth the up hill slog.
After the vista things are mostly easy. When you reach the meadow, cross it along the left and follow the road out. stay on the road until you get another road to the left and follow that to the pond. Was beautiful with the fall colors and completely deserted. We had a lovely lunch at the campsite, just us and the dragonflies.
The return trip from the pond up the Massanutten South Trail was far less interesting than the way in. A lot of it is gravel road with little shade and not much excitement. Consider going back the way you came in. If you do take the Massanutten South Trail back make sure to stop and notice the giant ant hills that pop up every so often. Some of the largest I have ever seen in my life. Otherwise completely forgettable.
Finally you will retrace all that uphill work through the rock section, so take your time and be careful with your footing.
Distances described in here are misleading and don't match the posted signs. I would estimate this more at ten miles than eight, but that is just my personal guess.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 10, 2015
We missed the parking lot at the Old Visitor Center and parked about 2 miles up the road past Dan's Steak House. Hiked 2 miles before we got to the intended start point. We've done a good bit of hiking and there was some impressive climbing to this one. It was steep and rocky for over a mile and we were getting a little winded until we got to the first of two vistas. It made it all worth it. We continued on not knowing how far the pond was and came up on several bear hunters (very friendly). Found out that the pond was at least another 1 1/2 miles and we were concerned about light and whether or not to turn back. Seeing a rather large pile of bear poop on the trail sealed the deal and we made the decision to turn back and got back to the parking lot before 6. Hate we missed the pond but there is always next time! p.s. the Old Visitor Center is marked with a Civil War marker and is beside the Park Rangers house. If you get to Dan's Steak House you've gone too far.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Started about 8:30 after driving by the parking area which has no signs that I could see. The climb after the wildflower trail is a good workout with rocky sections. The views are great looking west and the rest of the Bird Knob trail is a nice hike. The pond is very nice and so unexpected in a high location. The camping area is limited and the area is very rocky. The return trail goes from a walk on the road to a nice soft bed of pine. There are many large ant mounds along this section so be careful where you stop. The downhill at the end is a knee buster and made more difficult by being at the end of the hike. I think it would be good to try it starting from the road near the pond and end with a swim and the views more at the halfway point.