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)
Just note that there is a visitor center lot and also a park office. The trails are right by the Park office just down the road from the visitor center. It took me longer than it should have to find the trails, but found the trails were very clearly marked the entire hike. The first couple miles follow the 5k route which is clearly marked and a very easy, level walk. Once you hit the South Ridge trail prepare for some fun. The trail is all uphill, but there are a few wonderful overlooks to catch your breath. Once you merge and hit the last 0.3 of the North Ridge trail, it all is pretty much downhill from there.
I arrived right as the park opened and only saw a few people until the last mile or so of the hike. Swarms of people on the Piedmont Overlook Trail which also had amazing views. I'm glad I got in and out when I did. This hike, aside from the end, was much more peaceful than similar parks.
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 17, 2016
My wife and I went for our anniversary and stayed in the campsites for the weekend. This place was amazing. The amount of hiking available will keep you entertained the entire weekend. The views were worth every second of the fairly easy hike up and extreme rewarding. all trails are extremely easy to find and well marked. it can get busy for those coming up for a day hike but the only crowded part is the parking lot, other then that you almost have the back trails to yourself.
The camping sites were really nice as well. you hike in about 1mile and set up camp in pre designated areas of your choosing. Non potable water is available and is very clean looking and smelling. They have pit toilets that are well maintained but please remember like all pit toilets that heat is your worse enemy ), so go early in the day. the camp sites for the most part are well spaced out and they even allow you to rent a giant wheelbarrow to hike in your cooler and stuff for $10. if you are camping you park in an overnight lot after checking in at the main visitor center. they state they provide water sanitation tabs at the gift shop, but they don't so please be prepared. We hiked in our water the first night and I realized that I wasn't doing that again so we drover to Wal-mart in Port Royal the next day which was only a 20 min drive.
if you are going for just the day or for the weekend this place is perfect for all experiences.
Date of Hike: Thursday, September 15, 2016
This hike is a collection of shorter trails strung together. The trails are in good condition and take you through varied terrain -- flat and steeper, meadow and forest, some grassy areas, a short stretch on the Appalachian Trail. A previous reviewer called it easy -- I would not. I paused a couple times on the steepest portion to catch my breath, but it's not bad. There is water and restrooms at the visitor center. Near the visitor center in one of the storage sheds is a Pepsi machine and an array of brochures with other information about the parks' trees, butterflies, plants, etc. A gem of a park a little more than an hour from DC.
Date of Hike: Sunday, July 03, 2016
I always enjoy visiting Sky Meadows. Sunday we did the clockwise circuit hike which was about the easiest seven miles I have ever walked. Since I was there last, the trail signposts and blazes have all been re-done and the trails are extremely well marked. You would have to work really hard to get lost here. All the hikes pretty much originate directly in front of the park office which is an easy 100 yards due west from the parking area.
I really enjoyed the varied experiences in each of the different habitats from picking wineberries along the pastures, to listening to the bullfrogs call in the ponds, to the open woods full of red-headed woodpeckers (I saw 11), to the lowland habitat and paw paws along the creeks, to the upland wildflowers along the South Ridge Trail, to the balds up on the AT and the Ambassador Whitehouse trail, to the fields of wildflowers everywhere. It's hard to imagine another location where you can take in so much varied terrain in such a short distance.
Be forewarned that this park is very popular, easily accessible, and offers easy hiking, some of the easiest anywhere. You will have company especially up on the hills towards the Piedmont Overlook and that company will include a lot of kids and dogs. If solitude is your thing, avoid the weekends.
This is a gem of a small park. It's not "serious hiking" but it is a lot of fun.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 02, 2016
I had a hard time finding the trailheads I wanted I wish they would have had clear signs near the visitior center as to where each hike started. My map was no help. I drove from the visitor's center back toward the enterance since I couldn't find what I was looking for near the buildings, parked on the left side, and hopped on the Corporal Morgan Trail and some of the offshoots to go down to the pond and back. Once I got to the trailhead, the trails were clear and well marked/ maintained and easy to follow. I lost my map right before I got to the actual trailhead, and had wished the trailhead I started at had more. There were some when I got to the pond. The trails I went on were relatively level and not difficult. It was a bit warmish without any tree cover, but it was a meadow so I expected that. I felt like the trails were something my parents could do with minimal difficulty, though there weren't a ton of resting benches along the way so it may be a bit too much for them. The view was nice upon arrival, but the trails were not so scenic, which again I expected for a meadow, so it was fine. I saw a few butterflies and insects and flowers, which is really about all I expect at a meadow. That said, I'm not itching to come back any time soon... My poor (tick and flea treated 2 weeks ago) dog has never had so many ticks in her life. She had 10-15 and I'm still finding ones crawling on her the next day that were hiding. It was awful. I didn't let her into the meadow weeds- all she did was smell along the edge of it, but she still managed to gather a gaggle of ticks. I sprayed myself with high level Deet to avoid it and I think I'm okay, but who knows- those little buggers hide themselves very well.