Sky Meadows State Park is an 1,860-acre park in the Virginia State Park system, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just outside of Paris, Virginia. It’s about an hour outside of the Washington, D.C. metro region, just off I-66 or Route 50, making it popular among Northern Virginia residents.
The easy drive helps, but it certainly isn’t what beckons people to explore the 22-plus miles of mostly interconnected hiking trails: that would be the views. Featuring a variety of ecological zones, including meadows, forest, streams, scrub, and grazed fields, hikers can take in awe-inspiring mountain vistas and endless views of Virginia’s horse country.
The name Sky Meadows came from former owner, Sir Robert Hadow, who named the property “Skye Farm” after the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
The park itself sits in a valley between the foothills and the Blue Ridge Mountains, and its meadows and forests stretch up the ridge of the mountain and across the Appalachian Trail (AT), which is accessible through the park.
The park’s main entrance is on State Route 710, and can be found at 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane, Virginia 20144-0710. Latitude, 38.988703. Longitude, -77.968913.
It’s open from 8:00 a.m. to dusk, and admission is $10 USD per passenger vehicle.
When you arrive at the entrance, you’ll find a small booth and a collection of yellow envelopes. Put your $10 cash in the envelope, seal it, tear off the tag (which you’ll later hang from your windscreen mirror, after punching out the day of the week you’re visiting), and slip the envelope into a sealed box for the park staff to collect.
Then you’ll continue driving straight on, which will take you to a small parking lot, just outside the visitor centre at Mount Bleak-Skye Farm. The lot does tend to fill quickly on weekends and holidays, especially when the weather is particularly warm and sunny, so it’s best to arrive early.
At the visitor centre you’ll find indoor toilets, and a water bottle filling station, as well as locked rubbish bins. I recommend using the facilities before you set out on your adventure.
Sky Meadows Loop – 24 December, 2021
From either the visitor centre or the parking lot, the entrance to the trail system is easy to spot. My friends and I decided to walk the Sky Meadows Loop, a moderately rated, 6.8-mile loop used primarily for hiking. There are several ways to add a bit of extra distance to this hike, but I always suggest people take the trail counterclockwise, which is what we did.
The views are best on the way back down the mountain, and it’s nice to get the 1,300+ foot climb out of the way up front.
The loop is dog friendly, though the park requests you keep your canine companion(s) on lead. When there aren’t many folks about, however, it’s not uncommon to see dogs off lead, and it really does come down to using a bit of common sense.
When you reach the first signpost on Boston Mill Road, take a left to get started. You’ll soon come to an offshoot on your right that leads to the South Ridge Trail. This trail is the one on which you’ll gain nearly all your elevation in rather short order.
The Climb Up
The South Ridge Trail is a bit rocky, and you certainly will need to watch your feet a bit to avoid stumbling over a tricky tree root or stone in your path, but it’s clear overall. That said, we did have to climb over a couple of felled trees that haven’t yet been cut by park personnel. It’s a bit of fun—nature’s parkour, if you will—amid an otherwise straight forward uphill climb; even Gretchen, my friend’s dog, seemed to enjoy the hop.
As you continue up the hill, you’ll spot the odd outcropping containing a heavy wooden bench, for those who wish to rest or take in the views. We passed them all as the crew I was with are all rather experienced walkers and hikers, but it’s nice to know they exist in case you or someone you are with needs to take a break.
Eventually, the South Ridge Trail meets the North Ridge Trail which you’ll continue taking the remainder of the way up. Once you reach the top of the trail, you’ll take a right to join the AT, which cuts through the park. It won’t be long, however, before you’re hopping off the main AT to join the Old Trail, which is where you’ll spend much of your time going across the mountain.
Journey on the Old Trail
The Old Trail is quite beautiful in the winter. In the warmer months, it can become a little overgrown, but this isn’t a problem when all the foliage is on the ground, instead of in your face! Because the trail is covered in leaves at this time of year, however, and the terrain is quite rocky, you’ll want to ensure careful footing so that you don’t trip any more than necessary.
It’s a peaceful jaunt, and we encountered just a couple of other folks passing through with their pups, who we stopped briefly to chat with.
Continuing, you’ll follow the Old Trail until you meet up with the AT again. At this point you’ll want to veer right (versus left, which would also put you on the AT, but headed toward Harper’s Ferry, which is the wrong direction for this excursion).
Stay on the AT until you reach the Ambassador White House Trail which will send you through the breath-taking meadow and out to the Whitehouse Overlook, which yields some of the most gorgeous views of the valley below. I have yet to experience this idyllic landscape in the spring, when all the wildflowers are in bloom, but I certainly look forward to adding another season to my experiences in the coming year.
Views for Miles
By now, you’ve begun your decent down the mountain, and from the Ambassador White House Trail, you’ll veer left to the Piedmont Overlook Trail which offers still more gorgeous views of the seemingly endless valley below.
The terrain can be a little challenging on the way down; not particularly arduous, but rocky and entwined with enough tree roots that you’ll want to take your time, especially as you reach the final descent, which will eventually lead you through a cattle gate and down a small set of stairs back onto Boston Mill Road.
If, like us, you want to add a bit of extra distance, you can take the slightly longer route, which veers to the right, to see more of the area where the park’s cattle – yes, Sky Meadows has about 200 beef cattle who call the area home – have been known to graze.
Eventually you’ll still find your way to another small set of stairs that will still place you on Boston Mill Road, where it’s an easy walk back to the parking lot or visitor centre.
A Few More Surprises
Sky Meadows offers new sights to behold no matter the season. The panoramic views never cease to impress, and the bird watching is a special treat. It’s known for a colony of red-headed woodpeckers, as well as six other species of woodpecker: hairy, downy, red-bellied, yellow-bellied sapsucker, northern flicker, and pileated. Sky Meadows also became an International Dark Sky Park in May 2021.
Its staff offers programming in line with the park’s efforts to promote conservation of the night sky, while educating the public on responsible lighting practices and the effects of light pollution.
Stargazers and aspiring astronomers can visit the park for one of their Dark Sky Programs, offered a few times each month. Visit Sky Meadows State Park for more information or to plan your visit.