With a large picnic area and many interconnecting trails, including the newer James Ball, Corporal Morgan, and Hadows trails, Sky Meadows Park has become a popular destination for families and more experienced hikers alike. The lower trials pass through rolling fields and cross babbling brooks, with the upper trails above Bleak House providing spectacular views of the Piedmont.
The 7.1 mile circuit hike we describe here takes you through the lower trails and pastures along several creeks, then heads uphill on the South Ridge to the North Ridge Trail and Appalachian Trail (AT). The meadows in this section of the circuit are similar to the high meadows found on Cold Mountain in the southwestern part of Virginia. Finally descend back towards the parking area and pass the Piedmont Overlook, the best vista of the circuit.
Also make sure to check out the many events the park has to offer. From astronomy, to hikes and camp outs, Sky Meadows has something for everyone!
Mile 0.25 - Continue on the James Ball Trails passing a view of one of the valley ponds near Paris, then climb a small rise through the trees and emerge in another field. The trail will now descend before passing through the main picnic area at Sky Meadows Park. The picnic area has many picnic tables and charcoal barbecues that are available on a first come first served basis. The shelter barbecue area needs to be reserved. Stay to the left of the picnic area passing a pine tree stand where the James Ball trail continues on the opposite side of the service road. Continue on the pink blazed James ball Trail for another 0.1 miles where the trail terminates with the brown blazed Corporal Morgan Trail.
Mile 2.4 - Turn left uphill on the yellow blazed South
Ridge Trail passing an overlook. In 0.1 miles pass homestead ruins where the trail becomes steeper before arriving at a clearing and another overlook. Continue
uphill into a more heavily wooded area on the South Ridge Trail, then in 1.0 miles
reach the intersection of the North Ridge trail.
Mile 4.0 - Turn left uphill on the blue blazed North Ridge Trail for 0.3 miles to the ridge and intersection of the white blazed Appalachian Trail (AT).
Mile 4.3 - Turn right north on the AT and and pass the intersection of the purple blazed Old Trail. Stay straight on the AT, cross a pipeline clear cut then pass through a livestock gate. The AT will now gently descend to the intersection of the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail and arrive at the mountain meadows.
Mile 5.1 - Stay right on to the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail as it descends through the meadows, then renters the forest in 0.8 miles. Pass through a wooded area, cross the pipeline clear cut where the trail turns right, then descend steeply for 0.1 miles to the intersection of the North Ridge Trail.
Mile 6.2 - Turn left on the North Ridge Trail for 75 yards to the intersection of the Piedmont Overlook Trail. Turn left on the Piedmont Overlook Trail for 0.1 miles yards then cross a fence stile into an open field with a panoramic view of the Piedmont Valley. Continue down the trail
for the remaining 0.8 miles back to Boston Mill Road, then turn left following the short distance back to Mount Bleak House and the parking area.
Mile 7.1 - Arrive back a the parking area.
Virginia State Parks, Sky Meadows State Park Guide:
In 1731, James Ball purchased from Lord Fairfax a 7,883-acre tract on the east side of the Blue Ridge, south of Ashby’s Gap. Ball died in 1754, and his land was divided among his daughter and five grandsons. John Edmonds purchased James Ball’s land from one of Ball’s grandsons in 1780. Edmonds then built a 1 1/2. story house, which still stands. He died in 1798, and his land was divided among his five children. Sons Elias and George sold most of their inherited land to Isaac Settle, respected postmaster and tavern-keeper in the nearby village of Paris. In 1812, Isaac Settle built a large brick house and named it “Belle Grove” (located just south of the park) where he and his wife Mary raised three children. In 1842, he sold the Belle Grove farm to his son-in-law Lewis Edmonds, who, a year later, sold 148 acres to Isaac’s son Abner Settle. On his new farm, Abner built the stone portion of what is now the "Mount Bleak” house. By 1850, he had added the frame portion of the house to accommodate himself, wife Mary, their six children, and his father. By 1862, five more children were born to the Settles.
In 1866, because of declining health, Abner Settle sold the Mount Bleak farm to Thomas Glascock. Glascock sold the property in 1868 to George M. Slater, who had been a member of Mosby’s Rangers during the Civil War. Slater and his son owned the farm until they both died in 1923. During the following decades, the land changed hands several times. In 1966 a housing development was planned and the property was divided into 50-acre lots. This scenic area was saved through the actions of Paul Mellon. Virginia State Parks received the 1,132-acre farm as a gift from Mr. Mellon in 1975. After building facilities to accommodate the public, the Commonwealth opened Sky Meadows State Park in 1983.
A 248-acre corridor between the park and U.S. Route 50 containing three miles of the Appalachian Trail was added in 1987.
In 1991, Paul Mellon presented an additional 462-acre tract of land as a gift to the park. The Virginia Outdoor Foundation was active in the acquisition process. The tract, the Lost Mountain Bridle Trail area, contains a parcel of land that was purchased from Lord Fairfax by George Washington. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the land had been farmed by several local families.
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Reviews For The Sky Meadows Hike (5 Most Recent)
The first 1.5 miles or so miles were deceivingly flat and easy. After that the unexpected upward ascension (around 2.5 miles of trail) seemed to never end. I did have issues with the instructions for Mile 4.0. I did turn left at the blue North Ridge Trail and went until I saw the Yellow trail. Appears something was not right so I turned back and went the opposite direction on the blue North Ridge Trail. It is very likely I read the instructions or markings incorrectly. Going down the North Ridge Trail had lots of rocks and some winding until you get past the livestock gate (a set of wooden stairs). After the gate it is downhill and that is when you start to see people once again. I started around 8:20 am and finished it in 3 hours with a few breaks. I did enjoy the views and the quietness (certain sections you can still hear a bit of road noise). The trails are well marked and maintained. It seemed most people started in the opposite direction in which I traveled. I liked the physical portion (the exercise) of the hike. I did not like that I did not feel secluded and on my own since at most points you can see the main park area.
Date of Hike: Friday, December 23, 2016
Would have rated this hike higher except for the unpleasant surprise of getting a parking ticket, despite the fact no one was manning the parking kiosk and the visitors center was closed so I had no way of breaking a $20. Had a lovely hike, despite the muddy trails, but definitely didn't appreciate getting hit with a $25 ticket for something I had no control over.
Steve from Winchester
Date of Hike: Thursday, December 22, 2016
This is one of my favorite hikes in the northern VA region. Given all the interconnected trails in Sky Meadows, you can extend or shorten the described hike. I like to extend the hike by taking the Old Trail for ~1.8 miles until it reconnects with the AT, then head south on the AT until it connects with the Ambassador Trail and then follow the described hike back to the parking lot. The trail is a little muddy this time of year given the night time freezing and daylight thaw cycles. Great views and well worth the time!
Date of Hike: Thursday, November 17, 2016
Second time going here in a week and although the majority of the trees had lost all their leaves there was still some color to see (especially from on top of the hill). Many different trail options depending upon what type of hike you are wanting to do. We started going up the big hill on the Piedmont Overlook trail which gets you right into some of the more strenuous stretches of the trails, but it's nice and wide open and fairly short so not bad at all. You quickly get into the woods on some fairly narrow trails with lots of stones and roots so you do have to watch your footing in the Fall as the trails can become covered with leaves. Once you get up the highest overlook the hike opens up into some wide open meadows on top of the mountain as you head towards the Appalachian Trail. You can do a good long loop or backtrack from there back down to the parking area while taking any number of routes. What we like about Sky Meadows is you can get there very easily from Northern VA and lots of parking with facilities and you can have some short intense hiking options or some longer more casual ones (or any combination). The views are great all over the park and the trails, some of the best in the local DC area without having to drive out towards 81. Great place to take dogs too as it is never too steep to do with dogs and you will often run into so many other dogs (as well as horses, cows, deer, etc.) along your hike.
Date of Hike: Friday, October 28, 2016
Loved it! Not too difficult...varied landscapes and 360 degree views of the valley...but wouldn't do it in summer. Our day was perfect weather