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)
I choose a slightly different route than the one featured here but hit most of the same trails. It was a beautiful day for a hike. I got there right around 8:15 am and started on the Piedmont Trail. For the first 2 hrs I was completely alone. I would stop, take some photos, and no one was behind me or in front of me. I think I liked the Ambassador Whitehead trail the best. I was tempted to go north on the Appalachian Trail but knew I'd just want to keep going and then be made at myself when I had to turn back.
I completed almost 6 miles and can't wait to come back to Sky Meadows.
Date of Hike: Sunday, October 25, 2015
This is a fantastic fall hike, just beautiful...I hiked early Sunday morning starting at 10:00, I had the trails almost to myself! I am coming off an injury and this is exactly what I needed! Also, there has been a lot of trail work in the park and the trails are in excellent condition.
Date of Hike: Sunday, September 06, 2015
Nice hike, would rate this 3.5 stars if I could. We hiked it on a beautiful Sunday morning. When we arrived at 9 am, the parking lot by the old house was already full, and we met some big groups of hikers on the trail after a couple of miles. Still, it was less crowded than I would have expected, and a lot less busy than e.g. the Billy Goat Trail on a nice weekend day. The hike felt a bit on the short side, so we did an extra little jaunt on the AT, where we met a hiker who had just seen a mama bear and cub. The views in the open sections are beautiful, particularly on the Ambassador Whitehouse trail, but rating it "6" for views seems a bit too generous to me. Overall, though, this is a good hike that wins points for being so close to the metro area (took us about an hour from DC with very light traffic). It's not strenuous, but it feels like more than just a 'walk', so would be good for a mixed-ability group. We followed Joe's advice and wore long pants to avoid ticks. The trail was well maintained and the grass kept short on the meadow sections.
Date of Hike: Sunday, June 07, 2015
Nice hike overall. The first few miles seem a bit lame, as they're mostly on mowed grass near parking areas, but the hike gets better gradually as you move into the woods towards the AT and do a bit of climbing. It wasn't much of a workout for an avid hiker, but it's not too short or easy, either. The view was pretty nice, and it was easy to navigate. My main tip: Use bug spray and wear long pants, 'cause I was picking ticks off myself like crazy.
Date of Hike: Saturday, March 07, 2015
Three of us departed from Tysons Corner to Sky Meadows State Park around 9AM on a Saturday morning. Weather was beautiful, with clear skies and temps in the 40s-50s. Lots of snow was leftover from a heavier snowfall that hit the region earlier in the week and it was turning slushier starting to melt. Paid a $5 due to enter, arrived at the parking area, used the convenient restrooms near the gift shop before embarking, and set off. Had a lot of fun early on playing in the somewhat deep snow that covered the entire length of the trails. Later this caused some mild discomfort with wet/cold feet but it was enjoyable overall. Got slightly lost at the point of arriving at the main picnic area and looking for the 'brown blaze', which is actually wood posts. SMH. Slushed and had fun in the snow taking pictures and taking in the beautiful day and scenery, stopping at the overlooks and views. Cool moments at the top of the hill and in the tree-less gap. At the top of the most 'sky-meadow' portion, we stopped and brought out camp stoves at the picnic table there and enjoyed cooking some cheap pad thai (ramen, PB, and sriracha) along with some chai tea and a ton of cocktail wienies. Working our way down the final open snowy hill we rolled snow boulders at each other and, having had our fill of fun, made it back to the parking area. Had a great time 'exploring' this park and it was mostly an easygoing, fun hike that was more enjoyable and less crowded because of the snow. Not too far away from the DC area as well which is a big plus not having to drive all the way out to Shenandoah or GW National Forest.