With a picnic area, many interconnecting trails including the new Ambassador Whitehouse Trail that winds through the high meadows, as well as the Snowden Interpretative
Trail close to Bleak House, Sky Meadows has become a popular destination for families and more experienced hikers alike.
Most of the hiking traffic is on the lower Piedmont Overlook and Snowden Interpretative
Trails. The 8.4 mile circuit hike we have described here takes you over the ridge onto the infrequently used Old Trail, that once was part of the Appalachian Trail (AT), then down the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail. The meadows in this section of the circuit are similar to the high meadows found on Cold Mountain in the southwestern part of Virginia.
From the parking area start down the path
that is flanked on either side by trees. The green blazed Snowden Interpretative
Trail circuit starts where the path gets more narrow and starts back uphill. This is a nice loop of about 1.0 miles offering
several benches and wildlife informational plaques. If you are going
on a short excursion with young children, or are just looking
for a nice walk after a picnic lunch, taking the Snowden
Interpretive Trail is a great option.
After completing the Snowden Interpretative
Trail, make a left uphill onto the Gap Run Trail. Just 40 yards after passing through the
field, turn left on the yellow blazed South Ridge Trail.
However, if you continue straight for another 0.3 miles on the Gap Run Trail, you
arrive at a camping area, equipped with 12 pad sites for tents.
After having turned left uphill on the yellow blazed South
Ridge Trail soon pass an overlook,
and in another 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, and in 1.0 miles
reach the intersection of the North Ridge trail.
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). Turn right north for 100 yards on the AT to the intersection of the purple blazed Old Trail. Turn left on the Old Trail as it descends the ridge on the western side of the mountain. In 0.1 miles the trail will turn right joining an old forestry road and crossing a pipeline clear cut before continuing downhill. From this point the trail will wind around the western side of the ridge for 1.0 miles then turn sharply right again joining a forestry road. In 0.2 miles turn left remaining on the the purple blazed trail, then arrive at the junction of a private road in another 0.5 miles.
Turn right uphill on the purple trail and shortly reach the intersection of the white blazed AT where the purple blazed Old Trail ends. Turn right uphill on the AT shortly crossing a forestry road and in 0.1 miles the AT will enter the first of the high meadows. Continue through the meadows for 0.5 miles to the intersection of the blue blazed Ambassador Whitehouse Trail.
Turn left on to the Ambassador whitehouse Trail, now on the eastern side of the ridge, as the trail descends through the meadows then renters the forest in 0.8 miles. Pass through a wooded area, cross a pipeline clear cut where the trail turns right, then descend steeply for 0.1 miles to the intersection of the North Ridge Trail.
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 100 yards before crossing 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 Mount Bleak House and 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.
Interactive Hike Map BelowPrintable
Topo Hike Map (PDF)
Hike route in Drag the map with your mouse using the icon Zoom with the controls on the left Mouse-over icons in the map below for location shots
Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the Sky Meadows hike:
Reviews For The Sky Meadows Hike (5 Most Recent)
Skipped the Snowden loop and stuck to the AT rather than jumping off to the Old Trail. Went up the piedmont side first to whitehouse ambassador trail and back down the south ridge trail. This is a gorgeous area and would be near the top of my list on great hiking locations within an hour of DC. It is a popular destination-don't expect to have the place to yourself, especially on a nice weekend day. The high meadows, especially on the whitehouse ambassador side are really pleasant. The trails are extremely well groomed and would be an excellent place for a trail run. The back porch on the main historical home by the parking area is really peaceful with some rocking chairs looking south over the valley. It'd be a great place to unwind after the hike and watch a sunset. Definitely would recommend this hike for all levels and ages-really beautiful.
Date of Hike: Saturday, December 01, 2012
Great Hike today. We left the parking lot and headed up the red trail and then took the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail up to the AT. Stopped for lunch at the junction of those trails and then continued south on the AT until it meets up with the Blue Trail (North Ridge). We continued back down to the parking lot. It was a great day and not too crowded. The only downside was the haze/fog in the valley limited the spectacular views that are normally there.
Date of Hike: Saturday, November 03, 2012
I have been meaning to hike this park and boy it was really nice. The views are great when all the leaves are off the trees. This would be a good beginners hike because it was really easy. I would like to go back to the area to backpack.
Date of Hike: Friday, September 07, 2012
Not a bad hike - fairly easy, and saw four people on a Friday afternoon. I'd skip the Old Trail segment - all the views are on the other side, so I'd just just use the AT to complete the loop unless you're looking for more miles. Other than the initial climb, pretty easy overall. Hike through the high meadows and view of the Piedmont (looking east) are the clear highlights.
Date of Hike: Saturday, February 18, 2012
This was an ok hike was not amazing but also did not suck. It was a beautiful February day temperatures in the 60s so needed a great hike and we were not the only people who thought of this running into about 100 other hikers. The visitor center had some neat historical buildings and information, as well as clean restrooms. It was a great workout with 30 lb packs and we followed the map, versus the written instructions except for adding a little bit down the AT and followed the Iphone map for the Geocache down the fire lane, which we were not able to find Also, when you get to the privately owned Piedmont Memorial Overlook, we went through the gate and followed the path to a really neat handcrafted iron vine along the stairs. We finished at 9.65 Miles in 4.5 hours