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Sky Meadows Loop

May 6, 2011

This 5.5 mile loop through Sky Meadows State Park offers spectacular valley views and the opportunity to hike in high, open meadows.

Adam Takes in the View from the Piedmont Overlook

Adam takes in the view from the Piedmont Overlook. Below: Mt. Bleak House was built in 1843 and is open for tours; An Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker makes his way down the trail (he is in the far left of the photo, beyond the dogwood trees); A cute village in the valley below.

Mt. Bleak House AT Thruhiker Cute Town in the Valley Below

Adam Says…

This hike was amazing!  I can’t believe that we had never been to Sky Meadows State Park until now.  Each year, Christine and I pull a list of hikes together that we want to try and cover.  When I was looking through the Falcon Guide Hiking Virginia book, they mentioned under “other hikes” to try the Sky Meadows State Park.  I am shocked that the authors didn’t feature a trail through this area rather than leaving it as a footnote.  I think this is one of the best hikes in Virginia for views.  I would liken the scenery and open views to those you would find at Cole Mountain or Grayson Highlands/Mount Rogers.  Put this on your list of “must hikes” – you won’t regret it!

Pick up a trail map at the park entrance or download one.  Across from the Visitor Center, you will see the Park Office on the hillside.  Walk past the large board showing the map of hiking trails and walk up the gravel path that leads into the woods.  Once you reach the fork, take a left and continue down the gravel Boston Mill road.  Continue on this road, passing by the junction with the Gap Run trail, until you come to the junction with the South Ridge trail at .45 miles.

The Chimney at the Snowden Ruins

The Snowden House ruins. Below: We crossed this small stream early in the hike. It's probably dry most of the year; Adam makes his way up the South Ridge Trail; Adam reads information about Snowden; Dogwoods were at their peak.

Stream South Ridge Trail Snowden Ruins Sign Big Dogwood

Take a right on to the yellow-blazed South Ridge Trail.  The trail begins to quickly climb up the steep hillside.  At .5 miles, there is a short spur trail to a nice view.  At .58 miles, you will come to the Snowden Ruins.  You’ll see the foundation of the old homestead along with what is left of a stone chimney.  Further up the trail, you will come to the South Ridge overlook which sits under a dogwood tree.  Continue along the trail which tends to ascend most of the way.  At 2.2 miles, you will reach a junction with the North Ridge trail.  Take a left up the blue-blazed North Ridge Trail.  At 2.6 miles, you will reach a junction with the white-blazed Appalachian trail.  Take a right, heading north on the Appalachian Trail.  At 3.5 miles, you will come to a fork.

Take a right at the fork to go on to the light blue-blazed Ambassador Whitehouse trail.  At 3.9 miles, you will come to the Paris overlook viewpoint, which also provides gorgeous panoramic views.  After this viewpoint, the trail descends back through the woods.  At 4.53 take a left back on to the North Ridge trail, but in just a few feet you will take a left up the red Piedmont Overlook trail.

Adam under the Dogwoods

Adam under the Dogwoods. Below: Hepatica; Tiger Swallowtail; Mayapple Flower

Hepatica Tiger Swallowtail Mayapple

The trail ascends through a steep section here, but you will climb up a few stairs and then reach a wider trail that leads to a few benches and the Upper Piedmont Overlook.  Enjoy the views here and as you climb down to the Lower Piedmont Overlook.  After passing by an old farm building, you will climb over a few stairs and then down until you come back to the Boston Mill Road at mile 5.1.   Take a left on the road and you should be making your way back to your vehicle and the Visitor Center.

The land that became Sky Meadows State Park was donated by Paul Mellon (son of Andrew Mellon – U.S. Secretary of State from 1921-1932), a famous philanthropist, art collector, and Kentucky Derby-winning horse owner.   He donated 1132 acres of the land in 1975 and later more donations (including the land for the Appalachian Trail) have taken it up to the current 1862 acres.  The history of the land also dates back to Lord Fairfax and previous owners had ties to Belle Grove.

This really was a perfect day to do this hike!  We started off the day with a trip through Shenandoah National Park to view some early morning wildlife and to take in some breakfast at Skyland.  We then made our way to Front Royal and headed to Sky Meadows State Park.  The weather was perfect for hiking with highs in the 70s and a breeze throughout.  The sky was very clear with a few clouds, but no threat of rain.  The views were extraordinary and I can’t wait to come back some time.

Adam find the Hiking Upward Cache

Adam find the Hiking Upward Cache. Below: Lunch on the trail; Turning onto the AT; Making our way across the high meadows.

Lunch High Meadows

If you are interested in geocaching, there are several geocaches to find on this loop:

Christine Says…

Last Saturday was a perfect spring day.  We got up before sunrise and drove through the central and north districts of Shenandoah National park en route to Sky Meadows State Park for a day of hiking. (Passing through Shenandoah, we saw a bear and had a good breakfast at Skyland!)

Sky Meadows was established in the early 1980s and is home to a beautiful restored Civil-war era farm and twelve miles of hiking trails – including a little snip of the Appalachian Trail.  Sky Meadows is unique in that its campground has no car access.  Anyone wishing to stay overnight has to hike in to their campsite.

We parked at Mt. Bleak House.  From there, we hiked down a gravel path leading to the park’s network of trails.  Finding the trail we wanted to start on was a little tricky, because park maps were not to scale.  After a little fumbling around, we were on our way up the South Ridge Trail.  The trail climbed slowly and steadily uphill, past the ruins of Snowden – another old farm within the park’s boundary.  All that’s left standing of Snowden is a crumbling chimney and a number of foundations from outbuildings.  The site has a plaque describing the house and the people that lived there many years ago.

From Snowden, the path ascended continually passing through open meadows and pretty forest.  The dogwoods and redbuds were all near their peak of spring glory.  The flowers on the trees were truly spectacular against the perfect blue sky.  The breeze kept bugs (and sweating) at bay!  It really was ideal weather to be outdoors.

Leaning Redbud

A Beautiful Redbud along the trail. Below: A view into the valley from the Piedmont Overlook; More Views; A spectacular dogwood.

Piedmont Overlooks Piedmont Overlook Beautiful Dogwood

For a while, the trail was pretty level as it passed through thicker woods.  We startled a turkey and watched it fly off, chortling and gobbling in dismay at being disturbed.  I must say… turkeys look really funny in flight.  The trail in this area was lined with lots of tiny wildflowers – mostly violets and hepatica.

Eventually, we started climbing again and came to the junction of the North Ridge and South Ridge trails.  We contemplated stopping for lunch at this point, but decided to press on, following the North Ridge trail to where it meets Appalachian Trail.  Another nice thing about Sky Meadows… there are benches at most trail junctions and overlooks.  It’s nice to have a comfortable place to sit and eat lunch – away from ticks, poison ivy and other crawly things.  We ended up using the bench along the Appalachian Trail for our picnic spot.

For lunch, we feasted on sandwiches, brownies, grapes and cheese.   Adam was eating his cheese and looking especially contemplative, when he turned and asked me “What kind of cheese is this?”  I responded “It’s mozzarella and cheddar twisted together.  You don’t like it?”  He said “No, it’s really GOOD… it sort of tastes like lobster dipped in melted butter!”  It’s weird, but he was actually kind of right – something about the texture of warmish mozzarella blended with the flavor of sharper cheddar ended up tasting remarkably like lobster. We’ve taken to calling this particular cheese snack ‘Lobster Cheese’.

While we ate lunch, we watched several other groups of hikers pass by.  No one really seemed to know where they were going.  Someone asked us if Harper’s Ferry was where the Appalachian Trail began.  Someone asked if they were already in Shenandoah National Park.  Two guys with cigarettes, sodas and no hiking gear contemplated aloud to one another “Should we go to Shenandoah or Harper’s Ferry?” (they were 20+ miles from either destination.)

After lunch, we headed north along the Appalachian Trail for a short while.  Along the ridge, the forest completely opened up to high meadows with amazing views into the valley below.  We were walking along the trail, chatting, when a fast hiker snuck up and passed us from behind.  He turned out to be the first AT thru-hiker we’ve seen in Virginia this year.   He’s definitely ahead of the pack!

Old Barn

We passed this old farm building on the hike down the Piedmont Overlook Trail. Below: A pretty lone tree; Adam stands in the middle of a huge four-trunked tree.

Lone Tree  Giant Four Trunk Tree

We really enjoyed walking across the open meadow terrain.  Most hikes we do are through thick forest, so this was a welcome change of pace.

At the junction of the Ambassador House Trail, the Appalachian Trail continued north and we turned right to make our way across more meadows and downhill to the Piedmont Overlook Trail.  We dipped back into forested area and passed a really cool four-trunked tree.  It was big enough for Adam to stand inside between all the trunks.

We took the optional arm of the trail uphill to get to the actual Piedmont Overlook, which was beautiful!  I loved seeing all the little houses and farms below in the valley.  From the overlook, the remainder of the hike was steeply downhill across open meadow.

Mt. Bleak House Grounds

Mt. Bleak House Grounds. Below: A couple other shots from the Mt. Bleak grounds.

Summer Kitchen Barn on Mt. Bleak Farm

We arrived back on the gravel road and made our way back to the Mt. Bleak House area.  We stopped in the gift shop and chatted with the ranger.  We overheard her asking everyone walking in “Did you hike today?” and pretty much everyone answered “No – we’re just here to picnic!”  So, I made a point to tell her that we had hiked, had a great time and thought the park’s trail system was fantastic and very nicely maintained.  Adam got his passport book stamped and got credit for finding the state park’s official geocache.  We took a few minutes to poke around the farm and talk to two historical interpreters – one of them in a wonderful Zouave uniform.

We enjoyed our day in Sky Meadows very much.  It’s definitely a park we’ll visit again.

On our way home, we stopped briefly in Linden, Va to buy apple butter-cinnamon donuts from the Apple House.  If you’re in the area – you should do the same – they’re delicious!

Trail Notes

  • Distance5.5 miles.
  • Elevation Change – 1100 feet with one large climb in the beginning of the hike.  It’s mostly downhill or flat afterwards.
  • Difficulty –2.5. The beginning section is the toughest and is not for every person, but if you take it slow most people will be fine.
  • Trail Conditions – 4. It is very well-maintained.  The only rocky section was the .3 mile section on the North Ridge Trail.  The trail is wide in most places for two people to walk side-by-side.  Some sections you are even walking on soft grass.
  • Views5. You have lots of views along this hike of the valley and farm below.  On a clear day, you can see for miles!
  • Waterfalls/streams – 1. You cross one small stream in the beginning. It’s probably dry most of the year.
  • Wildlife – 2. We only saw one wild turkey and some other birds (there are bluebird boxes along the road).  They have spotted golden eagles in the area recently.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3. There are many options and junctions with other trails and the trails are not that well marked along the way.  While I don’t think a lot of people get lost up here, I do think some people take wrong turns before deciding they may have not gone the best way.  Take a trail map!
  • Solitude – 2. You will likely see people along the trail.  However, I think most of these people will be within a mile of the visitor’s center.  While we did see several people, you should be able to find your peace along the trail to soak in the views.

Directions to trailhead: From Route 17, turn on to Edmonds Lane as you see the sign for Sky Meadows State Park.  Follow this road until you reach the parking lot in front of Mt. Bleak House.  Park your car here and then walk past the large billboard with hiking trails on the small gravel path near the Park Office House.  All of the hiking trails start once you reach the junction on the edge of the woods.  Take a left to start your hike.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Kat permalink
    September 25, 2014 2:34 pm

    Thanks so much for the detailed review! We’re planning on using your guide for our hike next month.

  2. Ken permalink
    September 3, 2014 4:02 pm

    I am a hike leader for a local Washington D.C. hiking group and the drive out to Sky Meadows is well worth the trip. Although it has some moderate hill climbing, once you reach the plateau and cross the beautiful mountain meadows with fantastic vistas, it is well worth the effort. I do this hike several times a year and never get tired of it.

  3. Janelle Anderson permalink
    June 23, 2014 2:56 am

    We did the 1.1 mile easy Snowden loop this past Friday. Coming back towards the park office on the gravel road we ran into the park staff trying to herd an escaped cow back inside the fence. This might have been a scary situation if the park staff and the ranchers had not found the cow first.

    • June 24, 2014 8:40 am

      Thanks for the visit, Janelle! A cow would be an unusual wildlife sighting. I’m glad they were able to round her up! :-)

  4. Stephania Andrade permalink
    May 26, 2011 2:23 pm

    How often do you go on hiking adventures?
    Gorgeous photos by the way!

  5. May 6, 2011 10:15 pm

    We’re definitely going to have to check this place out. It sounds perfect for Spring hiking!

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