Trout Pond WV
Trout Pond - Rockcliff Lake
My personal favorite for nearby recreation is Trout Pond, WV. I feel like somewhat of an expert on Trout Pond because my family goes back at least a dozen times a summer. It’s about 25 miles from Bergton, making it the closest lake available for all water activities. Kimsey Run Lake is just a bit closer, but that would be only for boating/fishing. At Trout Pond you can camp, swim, bike, boat, tube, paddleboard, kayak, hike, picnic and fish.
The big (17-acre) lake is actually called Rockcliff Lake (there are some rock cliffs at the bottom), but everyone just calls the entire place Trout Pond. Trout Pond is actually a smaller (and sometimes dry) natural lake a quick walk close by. Trout Pond (the old and maybe dry lake) is supposed to be the only natural lake in West Virginia. At the larger lake there is a nice beach area and a bathroom/bathhouse. There used to be a larger bathhouse with showers on the site, but it was replaced a few years ago. You can change your clothes in the stalls at the bathroom, but it might be a bit of a squeeze. There is a large area for camping at Trout Pond, WV and those sites do have a central bathroom with warm showers.
This place gets fairly crowded in the summer with several hundred visitors a day. We have been coming to Trout Pond since we were kids at church camping, and now we still continue because we love it! We often go a little later in the afternoon. The swimming area clears out by 4:00 or 5:00, but the water is just as warm. You’ve got a little more freedom to move around without bumping into anyone.
Trout Pond is my favorite place to swim! At Rockcliff Lake you can sun yourself on the grass or sandy mountain beach or crawl under the trees and stay in the shade. The beach area is perfect for small children to build sandcastles or splash in the water. The designated swimming area gradually goes out to a water depth of about seven feet. I would guess it’s about 75 yards wide at the deepest part. A few courageous fish might share the swimming area on the day you visit.
I like to pretend that I’m in the South Pacific or Hawaii or the Caribbean and bring my snorkel gear. Depending on the day, the water can be pretty clear. I can regularly swim in schools of small fish who don’t seem that concerned with my presence. Or may even be curious and approach and touch me. Recently I took my snorkel and saw a very large catfish sitting on the bottom of the lake. I would guess somewhere 2-3 feet long. He was very content to sit there as I floated overhead, until I splashed and he shot into deeper water. After that I saw something sparkling and found a piece of jewelry in the sand. Later I swam with three fish who appeared to be about a foot long and nearly a foot tall. Not a fish expert, but they sort of looked like a pampano sea fish. Once I was snorkeling and saw thousands of tiny fresh water lake jellyfish. I didn’t even know it was a thing until I saw them. Totally harmless, just out in the deep doing their thing. Fascinating.
Swimming outside the designated area is not permitted, although it is done almost every time I have visited Rockcliff Lake. People retrieve a beach ball or quickly swim across the lake to the nearby side. A few years ago I saw a hippie swim the entire length of the lake and back. He just started swimming sort of a lazy modified breaststroke, swam around the corner and out of sight, and an hour later he came swimming back. He didn’t appear to be an expert swimmer. He just took his time and swam the entire lake. That would have been over half a mile – not super far, but still a pretty good swim. The park rangers will tell you to stay inside the ropes, and if you do not comply, you will be dismissed from Trout Pond and fined. I called the main Lee Ranger District office to verify this. It is safer to stay inside the proper swimming area. If you run into trouble there, it is just a few short strokes to the beach where you can stand.
One of the dangers of lake swimming in general, is that the bottom is unfamiliar. In a river you have a solid rock bottom. In the ocean you have a sand bottom. In a lake you really have a mud bottom. This mud might be quite deep. I guess it is possible that you could get stuck in it. It certainly is enough to give you a bit of a surprising jolt. You expect something solid, and instead you end up sinking into the mud. It might be enough to cause some panic, and that’s never good. Even very experienced swimmers have incidents of panic. But if you swim inside the designated area, the bottom is all sand, so it is exactly as you expect. So be safe and have fun!
Kayaking / Paddle Boarding
If you don’t want to be in the water, you can be on it, fishing in a canoe or taking a slow kayak trip around the lake. I have kayaked around the lake many, many times. Just a leisurely trip for me, watching for the fishermen also in boats or kayaks or canoes. The lake is stocked with trout and there are usually fishermen along the comfortable walking trail around Trout Pond.
Stand up Paddle Boarding is also quite popular at Trout Pond. According to someone at the Lee Ranger District, officially it is not allowed, however, I have never seen this rule enforced. Evidently, it is because of the frequency of falling off the board – possibly in the deep water. I notice that there is a sign on the boat ramp that life jackets are required, and I assume this is the same for paddle boards.
I have explored some of the area underwater where you might boat, kayak or paddleboard. There are a few hazards that you should be aware of if you tip over. if possible, go feet or hands/arms first. Never dive leading with your head. There are some large concrete blocks scattered around the lake bottom. I can stand on some of them and my head is out of the water, so they are not that deep. There are a couple of large ones around the swimming area that I guess used to anchor the ropes. I recall that one has a large eye-bolt sticking out the side. There are other blocks that I suppose used to anchor small boats or maybe kayaks. Just be aware that there might be solid concrete blocks scattered in the boating, kayaking or stand up paddleboard areas – especially if you are around the swimming area or near the edge of the lake.
You can recreationally bike at Trout Pond, although the area is a little hilly. There are paved roads that run around the entire camping area and of course the road into Trout Pond, so there are plenty of places to ride if you bring your bike. Recently I saw about a dozen people of all ages riding together, so some people come with the intent of making it a bike riding vacation. You can definitely get a good workout biking.
If you are an experienced mountain biker, you probably already know that this part of the country (VA/WV) has some of the best mountain biking trails on the East Coast. You could camp at Trout Pond and enjoy some of the trails in Hardy and other nearby counties. I don’t get the feeling that hard-core mountain bikers are staying at Trout Pond, but there’s really no reason you couldn’t. Maybe they should direct more marketing to that group.
It’s probably more popular to hike. There are a number of trails that go around the lake or through the recreation area. It’s just great to be out in the woods for a little forest therapy. It makes you feel great to breathe in that fresh mountain air. I suppose I do more hiking in the fall when it’s too cool to swim outside and the leaves are changing. The road to Trout Pond has a gate that gets closed in the fall, but the trails are all accessible and you can walk right in. (See the information on hiking trails below – the trails right around Trout Pond and the Great North Mountain Trails.)
Trout Pond - The Negatives
The big negative thing about Trout Pond that I can see is that they allow smoking on the beach area. Kids can be playing beside chain smokers. Smoking (and secondhand smoke) is clearly harmful to your health and an outdoor recreation area should be a place that promotes healthy activity, especially for kids. If you are sensitive to smoke, then you might have to move around a time or two during the day depending on the other guests and the wind direction. If you are a smoker – fine and that is your business, but please don’t drop yourself down next to a kid building a sandcastle.
Another potential challenge is fishermen bringing their gear to the beach area. There are signs posted around the beach, but it still happens occasionally. The problem is that tiny sharp objects – like fish hooks – sometimes drop in the area where people are walking barefoot. It seems like common sense not to bring your poles and equipment onto the beach and lawn area, but it still happens. Most of the time it is just carelessness from kids who are not seasoned veterans at fishing. They just do it without thinking. I have seen rangers stop people from bringing their gear on the beach, but the signs are sometimes ignored.
An occasionally ignored sign is the “no dogs on the beach” sign. Dogs are very welcome at Trout Pond and there are designated areas for getting your dog into the water. But a lot of people want their dog splashing in the water with them on the beach. There are a lot of other great places where you can splash with dogs including the boat ramp. The boat ramp is an excellent spot for letting your dog swim. It is just outside the beach area, and there is easy access to the water. You have a lot more room there, your dog can swim or use the bathroom in peace, and it’s a lot more fun.
Trout Pond is Fantastic Overall
Overall, Trout Pond WV is just a wonderful place to spend an afternoon, a day, a weekend, a week or longer. It is my favorite place locally, and I try to go as often as I can. It has a recreation area for activities for about three seasons – excluding winter. I’m not sure if they would have facilities for cross-country skiing if you were especially adventurous. I do know that the gates are closed to the area in the winter, but of course all the trails are open year round. I’ve wondered about living a little closer so that I could easily visit every day. I think I would like it.
Trout Pond Campground
When you enter the recreation area, there may or may not be a ranger there to take your money and check you in for the day or longer in Trout Pond Campground. If no ranger or volunteer is on duty, you are responsible for checking yourself in. After checking in, either the ranger will hand you a guide or you can grab one under a rock at the self check-in station. These guides are pretty helpful. I have not found them online, so I took a photo of each of the pages of the “Camping and Hiking Guide to Trout Pond Recreation Area.” This is not my work. I am just taking an image of the government document. I don’t know if they are public domain, but I’m going to assume they are. If they are not, please let me know, and I will remove the images downloads from this page.
Camping and Hiking Guide to Trout Pond Recreation Area Page 1 and Page 12. This has the cover page to the guide on the first page. It has directions to Trout Pond Recreation Area on Page 12. Directions are from Strasburg, Virginia and from Broadway, Virginia. Page 12 also has contact information phone number and website address.
Camping and Hiking Guide to Trout Pond Recreation Area Page 2 and Page 11. Page 2 has a welcome, info on reservations, the Trout Pond campground, the group picnic site, the day use area, and fishing – including the type of fish in the lake. Page 11 has the Spanish language version for the Recreation Area Fees and Boat Use and Storage.
Camping and Hiking Guide to Trout Pond Recreation Area Page 3 and Page 10. Page 3 has the Recreation Area Fees and Boat Use and Storage. Page 10 has the Spanish language version of the welcome, info on reservations, the family campground, the picnic site, the day use area and fishing.
Camping and Hiking Guide to Trout Pond Recreation Area Page 4 and Page 9. Page 4 has the Rules and Regulations for Trout Pond Recreation Area – General Rules, Trout Pond Group Shelter, Picnic Area and Restrooms. Page 9 has information on Snakes (Copperhead and Rattlesnake) and Poison Ivy identification and treatment.
Camping and Hiking Guide to Trout Pond Recreation Area Page 5 and Page 8. Page 5 has the Trout Pond Campground Map. There are about 50 camping sites. Page 8 includes information on Personal Safety – including Sinkholes (stay away), Ticks and Disease, and Lyme Disease.
Camping and Hiking Guide to Trout Pond Recreation Area Page 6 and Page 7. Pages 6 and 7 are the middle, and they include one large map of the Trout Pond Recreation Area. This map shows the Rockcliff Lake Train, the Chimney Rock Trail, Fisherman Trail, Trout Pond Trail and the Long Mountain Trail.
Great North Mountain Trails
Another guide that you will be given when you check in to Trout Pond is the Great North Mountain Trails guide. Again, this is not something that I put together, I just took a photo of the handout. And again, I assume this guide is a government publication in the public domain. But I have not found it online, so I’m offering it here.
Great North Mountain Trail Guide Part 1. This includes the cover, the trails on the map (Wilson/Vances Cove, Big Schloss, Halfmoon, and Laurel Run Areas), contact information, checklist of items to take hiking, a bear warning, and Leave No Trace practices.
Great North Mountain Trail Guide Part 2. This part has all of the trail information. There are about 30 trails in total from the Halfmoon Group, the Wilson/Vances Cove Area, the Tuscarora Trail Sections, the Big Schloss Group, the Trout Pond Group and the Laurel Run Group. Information on the Trail #, Mileage and Blaze Color are given for each trail. This page also suggests getting the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map #792 or Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Map F.
Great North Mountain Trail Guide Part 3. This is the map of the Great North Mountain Trails From Vances Cove to Laurel Run.
Trout Pond Fishing
Fishing is permitted in Rockcliff Lake, and I do see a fair number of good-sized fish come out of there.
Rockcliff Lake Stocking Schedule – one stocking after April 1, one in February, one every two weeks in March – May, and once each week after Columbus Day. The Rockcliff Lake Stocking Schedule below is a photo from a sign at Trout Pond.
All state fishing laws must be obeyed, of course. You must have a West Virginia fishing license, a Conservation Enforcement Stamp and a National Forest Stamp. And as I understand it, you also have to have a Trout Stamp if you are catching trout.
If you are under 15, no license is needed, but you have to be with an adult who has a license.
If you only want to fish, nearby Kimsey Run Lake is also an excellent option.
What Kind of Fish are in Trout Pond WV?
According to the Camping and Hiking Guide to Trout Pond Recreation Area, the fish found in Rockcliff Lake include Sunfish, Crappie, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Brook Trout, Rainbow Trout, Bluegill, and Catfish.
There is a big old catfish that hangs out by the swimming area. He is there every year. I have seen people feed him, and that’s why he probably stays in that part of the lake. If you catch him, please release him. He’s a bit of a mascot for Trout Pond and his meat probably wouldn’t be very good anyway, considering the type of junk food I have seen him eat.
Where is Trout Pond West Virginia?
Trout Pond West Virginia is in Hardy County. It’s close to Lost River, Baker and Wardensville.
If you are coming from Rockingham County, VA (Harrisonburg, Broadway, Fulks Run) just stay on Rt. 259 toward West Virginia. You will pass the Capon Springs General Store in Bergton, then Highland Retreat and then cross the WV line. Drive for about 10 miles. You will pass through Mathias and Lost City. You are getting close when you pass the Lost River Grill. The turn off to Trout Pond is about a mile after the Lost River Grill. It’s on the right and called Mill Gap Road. There should be a government sign there. Then follow the From Mill Gap Road directions below.
If you are coming from further North in Virginia like from Winchester or Strasburg or Woodstock, I’ll give you the better option that is easy with straight roads. Especially if you or your kids get car-sick / motion sickness and do not like twisty roads – take Rt 48 all the way over to Baker. This was is a bit longer, but the roads are straighter. At Baker take 259 South for about ten miles maybe. The road to Trout Pond will be on your left. It is easy to miss coming this way and there’s not a lot of landmarks to guide you, but you will pass Kimsey Run Road on your right immediately before Mill Gap Road (which takes you to Trout Pond). If you pass the Lost River Grill on the left, you have gone a bit too far. Follow the Mill Gap Road instructions below.
From Mill Gap Road: Mill Gap Road is Rt. 16 and it goes all the way to Wardensville. Anyway, Rt. 16 is narrow and twisty and there are a lot of deer, so be cautious. Sometimes the road is only about wide enough for one car. You may have to really, really slow down if you meet another car in these sections. Stay on Rt. 16 about 5 or maybe 6 miles or so, and there will be a big Trout Pond Recreation Area sign on the right. (There are a couple of small signs that sort of look like they might be Trout Pond signs, but they are decoys designed to confuse you. Do not go on these roads.) When you see the big sign, you will know it for sure. Go about a mile or two on this road and you will be at Trout Pond. Welcome!
There are other directions to Trout Pond in the Camping and Hiking Guide to Trout Pond Recreation Area. Maybe you will find these directions from the Lee Ranger District more straightforward.
How Big is the Trout Pond in West Virginia?
Trout Pond WV is about 17 acres. When most people say “Trout Pond” they are actually talking about “Rockcliff Lake.” Trout Pond is the name of the old lake that is almost dry. It is West Virginia’s only natural lake, but it is pretty small and depending on the weather may be almost entirely dry. As I recall, you are not really encouraged to hang around this “Old Trout Pond.” The last time I saw it, it was not much larger than a pond on a typical livestock farm. What people usually mean when they ask “how big is Trout Pond” is how big is Rockcliff Lake? But I have never heard a single person ever refer to the large lake as Rockcliff Lake. It is always called Trout Pond. Rockcliff Lake is pretty big – about 17 acres. There is a path that runs around it that is nearly a mile long.