Four miles east of New Market, Virginia is Big Mountain, and our destination for our weekend backpacking trip to Emerald Pond, one of the only spring-fed swimming holes in Virginia. A little less than a two hour drive from Northern Virginia (depending on where in Northern Virginia). We decided to bring our dog, Reagan, as well, as she is very energetic and the exercise is good for her.
We parked at the old Welcome Center off Lee Highway in Stanley, Virginia (38.64278, -78.61138). We strapped on our boots, and loaded Reagan’s pack with her food and water; she carries her own because she is boss and because it takes some weight out of our backpacks.
We decided to take the longer route to Emerald pond, which is known as the Browns Hollow Hike. Once we were loaded up and ready to go, we started down the White Blazed Wildflower Trail, near the front of the parking lot. There is another paved trail at the back of the lot, don’t take that one. We started on the white blazed trail, which turns in to the white and orange blazed Wildflower / Massanutten South Trail. Eventually we made a right onto orange blazed Massanutten South Trail.
At this point we had not seen too much, but we came to an intersection where the orange trail trailed off to the left and the pink trail was now ahead of us. We continued on the pink blazed Browns Hallow Trail. We stayed on this trail for a while (until about mile 5.2).
As we began our ascent, right after crossing Browns Run, we stopped at a little waterfall to take a few pictures.
We then began a steep 1.2 mile climb to what is known as the saddle, where there is a campsite, at mile 4.5.
We finally started to descend once more until we made a right turn (but stayed on purple blazed Roaring Run Gap Trail) and started uphill, which had many switchbacks, when we reached the top and a small campsite. A half a mile later we reached the intersection of Massanutten South Trail and Forestry Road. We continued up orange blazed Forestry Road for about another half mile until we reach a gate and white blazed Bird Knob Trail. A tenth of a mile later we arrived at Emerald Pond!!! (6.8 mile hike in)
The campsites on the left side of the pond were taken, but we were able to find a more secluded campsite on the right side, which was fine by me because it meant more privacy. We started to unpack and set up camp, as well as small fire to keep warm. Reagan did not like all the smoke from the fire, so she spent her time in the tent, nice and cozy.
We made ourselves some dinner on our little MSR Pocket Rocket Canister Stove that we normally take with us backpacking because it is light and easy to use and clean up. The stove heats up water really quick as well which can save time if you are stopping to eat in the middle of your hike.
We brought some Mountain House Meals (as usual) because they are light to carry and also easy to clean up. They are also some of the best freeze dried foods out there. Jake and I usually buy the two serving bags and just alternate eating out of the bags as to not have to use dishes to clean up. After dinner, Jake lit a cigar he had brought to wind down for the night before we hit the hay.
Unfortunately, Jake and I did not account for how cold it was going to be that night, so Reagan ended up sleeping in Jake’s bag and I had to put a fleece liner in mine to stay warm.
In the middle of the night both Jake and Reagan woke up to a pack of coyotes running not too far from the campsite, chasing something, probably a deer. One thing that we always carry with us, unless not allowed by a state park, is a pistol, just in the case. At one point, Reagan woke up and started growling at something outside the tent. Luckily it was probably only a deer, but having the pistol gave us a little bit of protection.
The next morning was cold as all get out. We bundled up, started packing up our gear, and ate some breakfast before heading out around 8am.
Once we were packed and ready to go, we filled our water bottles with water from the pond that we filtered. It was some of the best tasting water we have ever had for sure. The hike out was a little bit easier than the hike in, as a majority of it was downhill. We left Emerald pond and returned to the white blazed Bird Knob Trail and continued right up an old logging road to a clearing, where it was clear many people had camped before. At this point we were pretty much at the top of the mountain, there was a slight incline before we started a slight downhill walk for a total of about 1.8 miles. This ended at the orange blazed Massanutten South Trail intersection.
We stayed left and came to a great view (or vista) of Western Virginia (New Market area). We took a few pictures here; it was a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky so the view was magnificent.
For the next mile and a half (1.4 technically), we climbed down a steep slope made up of rocks and boulders. I would not recommend this hike to those that have knee or hip issues because of the part of the trail, it was rough on my knees for sure. Reagan seemed to enjoy herself as she pounced down the rocks, but Jake and I were happy we didn’t chose to hike in this route.
After all the rocks and boulders, we reached the Wildflower Trail intersection, where we made a left for the last quarter mile back to the visitor center. I was so happy to take off my shoes after all the “climbing” we did. Reagan passed out in the back seat once we were on the road, which I was very thankful for.
All in all, this was an excellent two days, one night backpacking trip, aside from how cold it got at night, which we should have known it being February and all. We definitely are looking forward to taking this hike again next Spring, maybe in April when it’s not so cold at night.