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.
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)
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.
Date of Hike: Saturday, January 17, 2015
As avid hikers, my wife & I have put off this hike due to the low difficulty and solitude ratings. We headed out today thinking this would be a 'nice walk.' As soon as we started off walking through the meadow we said how nice it was to be walking in the meadow and how this a a bit different from walking the AT. Different in that you could look all around and see the distant landscapes. As we went on we were impressed by the total diversity of the hike meadows, woods, some decent inclines (and even a stint on the AT)and fabulous views all around. We will definitely go back in both the spring and fall to experience the seasonal changes.
Date of Hike: Sunday, May 25, 2014
Overall this was a nice hike with some nice views. The meadow trails go through the grass and were not always cut short. The start and end run through cow pastures and the amount of ticks our dog picked up ranged on the order of 40 and he was kept to the trail. I found no ticks on myself but this is not a trail I would revisit as a result.
Date of Hike: Saturday, February 15, 2014
I did a two-day/one night here at Sky Meadows. You will hike in between .75 and 1.25 miles to the campsites. Overnighters park in a different area of the park near the entrance. You will hike in on Gap Run Trail to the camping area. Sky Meadows says they have primitive camping only. I would hardly call Sky Meadows primitive. They provide cut fire wood for 5 dollars (honor system) at different locations thought the campsites, non-potable well water (you will need a filtration system - its slightly brown coloring should be a clue), tent flats are in great condition with small pebbles, even a bag hang is provided. Picnic tables are provided at each site as well. There is very little animal activity in the camp area. There are some signs that there may be some coyote in the area but no howling at dusk or dawn. Sky Meadows seems like a busy place. I was camping in 30 degree weather and I had at least four other campers near by. Bathrooms are actual cinderblock buildings with doors and toilet paper provided (well maintained). NOTE: you are not allowed fires until after 4PM.
As for the hiking its a really pretty trail. I hiked out to the Snowden ruins, then on to the south trail then looped back though on the both trail back to the campsites. All in all I would guess it is a 6-7 mile hike. After about 10 minutes on the trail you forget how close you are to civilization. The north trail is beautiful. I would strongly suggest looping from the south trail and back on the north trail. The north trail is rated as strenuous but is fairly easy when headed down hill. Careful some areas are rocky and there are a few stream crossings. These are well maintained and you should have to wade though any water.
Over all the trip was worth it. It would be a great starter location for people who are beginning backpackers. Iím am considering coming back with my wife who doesnít care for backcountry camping. This is a great compromise.
I have a video review here:
Date of Hike: Sunday, November 24, 2013
Great Hike, nice mix of woodland and meadows. Loved the views. We did get a little mixed up with directions though, where the Old Trail (purple) meets up with the AT:"...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." The Old Trail seems to come to an end at this forestry road. We looked around and didn't see any other purple blazes, so we thought we were to turn right to join back up with the AT. Checking my GPS tracker after a bit I could see that we actually were to turn left onto the forestry road which further down does have a few blazes on it. Then you will see the right uphill to join up with the AT again. From then it's pretty well marked. Don't be tempted to skip the Peidmont Trail, the views from here were the best!