Emerald Pond

  • Highlights: Great views, mountain pond, Massanutten ridge, fire ant mounds
  • Distance: 8.5 miles out and back
  • Elevation Change: 1,630 feet
  • Trail Surface: Very rocky
  • Difficulty Level: Strenuous (rocky surface, distance, and elevation gain) 
  • Trailhead Parking: Wildflower Trailhead at the site of the former Massanutten Visitor Center, US route 211, 5 miles east of New Market
  • Website: AllTrails and HikingUpward
  • Beer Pairings: Pale Fire Brewing—Parklife IPA & Arrant IPA

The Hike:

This hike has a lot going for it: great views, the ridge of Massanutten, and a rare mountain pond. The hike is located within the George Washington National Forest and is well marked and well maintained. The hike begins at a small parking area near the site of the former Massanutten Visitor Center on US 211. Part of this hike passes beside 10-15 large fire ant mounds—some are over 3 feet tall. These critters have a painful sting and if you are hiking with dogs or kids, you may want to turn around after the pond.

Several trailheads are located here. Locate the picnic table on the north side of the parking area next to a sign for the Wildflower Trail. The white-blazed Wildflower Trail quickly descends into the forest. Pink Lady Slippers are typically found in this area in early May. Reach a trail junction at .4 miles and bear right on the orange-blazed Massanutten South Trail.

The trail climbs steadily for the next mile as you crest the ridge. The path is often rocky and is steep in some sections. At .8 miles pass a huge boulder and then a mini rock scramble as you continue to climb. Follow the orange blazes through the rocks and at 1.5 miles the trail levels out as you reach the ridge with expansive views to the west.

Mountain laurel line much of the trail and in early June they were in full bloom. The autumn foliage is equally spectacular. At 2.2 miles reach a junction with the white-blazed Bird Knob Trail. The path to the left will be the return for this hike. Bear right here and continue along the ridge to a small meadow at 4 miles. Follow the trail to the left of the clearing where the path becomes an old logging road.

An unmarked (but obvious) left turn at 4.2 miles on a short spur trail leads to Emerald Pond. The pond lives up to its name as the water has a bright greenish-blue color. The pond is fed by underground springs and is a popular swimming hole in warmer months. A path on the left leads around to the rear of the pond and the rocks here are a great lunch spot. 

Return to the spur trail ago the junction with the white-blazed Bird Knob Trail. If you are hiking with dogs or small kids, you may want to turn right here and retrace your steps to avoid the fire ants. If you want to see the ants, turn left here and in a few hundred yards, reach a gate and a gravel forest access road. 

Turn left here and follow the orange-blazed forest road as it climbs for the next half mile. At 5 miles, the forest road turns sharply to the right and to the left is a gate. Pass through the gate and continue on the orange-blazed Massanutten South Trail. The fire ant mounds begin around 5.2 miles. You will see large red ants on the trail before you reach the mounds. 

Walk quickly through this area as pausing to admire the ants will result in multiple ant stings. Reach the junction at 6.5 miles and bear right continuing on the orange-blazed trail. Pass the overlooks on your left and descend through the rocky trail sections. Turn left on the white-blazed Wildflower trail to return to the parking area.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing: 

Pale Fire Brewing Co. is located about 30 minutes from the trailhead in Harrisonburg. Located in a renovated ice warehouse, they have indoor and outdoor seating and 12 taps with a nice variety of craft beer. Pizza is available at the brewery and other food options are located in the adjacent Ice House complex. They are dog friendly inside and out and one of the few breweries with a little free library. https://littlefreelibrary.org

Pale Fire beers are available throughout Virginia so we had enjoyed some of their beer before our visit. Kathy went with an old favorite: Arrant IPA (7.5% ABV & 85 IBUs) is their flagship IPA. Brewed with Citra hops this is everything a good IPA should be. Pete was in the mood for something new. Parklife IPA (7.4% ABV & 60 IBUs) is nicely hopped and brewed with botanicals. Good beer in a fun location. As Arnold would say, we’ll be back.

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe, be responsible, and leave no trace.

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