Get your last look at summer in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
If you’re anything like me, you probably got sick of walking in circles around your neighborhood three months ago and are ready for some new places to explore. If so, Sky Meadows State Park can fit the needs of outdoor enthusiasts from beginner to experienced. Although there are closer parks to D.C. proper, Sky Meadows, located in Delaplane, Virginia, is less crowded, beautifully maintained, clearly marked, and feels like a more authentic natural getaway.
Lovers of colonial history will enjoy peering into the historical farmhouses on display near the Visitor Center. Plus, the park offers children’s activities, camping, and a wide variety of hiking trails. As an added bonus, you could easily combine your trip with a visit to one of many local wineries. It would take multiple visits to explore the myriad of possible trail combinations, but here is a quick and dirty run-down of my personal favorites.
Sky Meadows State Park Trail Guide, courtesty of dcr.virginia.gov
For a more leisurely stroll, perhaps accompanied by young children, Hadow Trail is a great choice. It will take you along a positively bucolic babbling brook that borders tall, grassy fields before intersecting the Corporal Morgan Trail to form a short loop specifically designated for children. The loop also passes by the Children’s Discovery Area, where younger lovers of the outdoors can explore play stations. The children’s loop and play area can most easily be accessed by parking near the picnic area.
If you are visiting Sky Meadows for the first time, I urge you to prioritize its must-sees: the Piedmont Overlook and the meadows that give the park its namesake. Emerging onto the meadows is like entering a dreamscape of butterfly fields at the top of a mountain. Seriously, the number of butterflies will astound you.
According to the trail guide, all the trails that lead to these areas are rated at least moderately difficult. However, don't let the difficulty rating discourage you. Lots of people make the trek, with their babies and pets in tow, no less, so it can be done. If your goal is simply to see the views without hiking too long or too rigorously, you should park near the Visitor Center, then take the Piedmont Overlook Trail directly to the view. It's an uphill climb that will burn, but on the bright side, it's short. For a greater challenge, I also enjoy the South Ridge Trail. It loops around to the same area with the added perk of taking you past the ruins of Snowden Manor, which once stood on what is now park land.
Appalachian Trail Section through Sky Meadows
In my opinion, the North Ridge Trail is the hardest one in the park. It is two miles of straight uphill climb, and it will give even the most experienced hiker a run for their money. I personally love it, though, for the soothing stream crossing at the bottom of the hill, not to mention the sense of accomplishment when I reach the top. It also connects to the Appalachian Trail, and although I myself have never through-hiked, it's inspiring to walk the trail that is such a famous destination for hikers all over the world.
If you are seeking solitude on your hike, it is best to visit on a weekday, or between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on a weekend. I always bring water and snacks, wear SPF, and stretch before and after. I recommend wearing an insect (and also ideally tick) repellent, since there are lots of tall grasses along the paths. Appropriate footwear is a must. Boots are ideal, but running shoes will do. There is a parking fee ($7 on weekdays, $10 on weekends), but I have never minded contributing a few dollars to help maintain this special place. Sky Meadows has offered me solace in the time of quarantine, and I hope it will help you, too, to experience a sense of magic and wonder.
Have you visited Sky Meadows State Park? What trails would you recommend to visitors? Let us know in the comments!