Just two hours outside DC, this hike has it all: climbing, views, and the perfect swimming hole.

Bird Knob trail and aptly-named Emerald Pond are a not-so-well-kept secret worth sharing. Located just two hours away from Washington DC, this hike has everything: bouldering, views, and the perfect swimming hole.  Even the drive to reach the hike is scenic and enjoyable with mountain views and farmers markets along the route. 

The Bird Knob and Emerald Pond loop is actually comprised of a few trails: Wildflower Trail, Massanutten South Trail, and Bird Knob Trail. The hike begins on Wildflower Trail at the parking lot of the defunct Massanutten Visitors Center. After about a quarter mile, the trail intersects with Massanutten South Trail. 

While the overall difficulty of the overall hike is intermediate, the initial mile will put your quads to the test. A gradual incline becomes a steep uphill climb which becomes scrambling over rocks. Don't be shocked if you need to take several rest breaks, and be sure to bring plenty of water! However, just when you think you can't climb any further, the trail levels out and follows the ridge for the remainder of the hike. 

Roughly two miles into the hike, you'll come upon two stunning vistas of the Harrisonburg Valley. Because of the trail's initial difficulty and relative anonymity, you may have these overlooks to yourself. Nearby lay a few pine-needle-strewn camping sites for backpackers. Some people choose to turn around at the overlook, but pressing onward has its own reward.

After turning onto the white-blazed Bird Knob Trail, the hike leads you to Emerald Pond, a crystalline mountain spring that just begs you to jump in. It's the perfect solution for tired muscles. The pristine azure water has stunning visibility even in the pond's very center. Definitely take the opportunity to relax here for a while. We packed a lunch and ate beside the pond after taking a quick swim. 

Finally, the trail returns via a forest service road before reconnecting with Massanutten South Trail. It's hard to believe that a place so pristine and wild could exist so close to a busy city like Washington DC.  

Pack List

  • Water
  • Snacks or lunch 
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RT Distance 8.5 Miles
Elevation Gain 1300 Feet
Activities Swimming, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Wildlife
Swimming Hole

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

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