Sky Meadows State Park: 8-Mile Loop From Visitor Center (Dec. 21)

Hiking in Sky Meadows

Hiking in Sky Meadows

I’m not sure where I got the idea to hike in Sky Meadows State Park.  With the exception of the AT Roller Coaster and perhaps a few hundred yards of the Tuscarora Trail, we’ve pretty much stayed in Maryland and West Virginia.  I can recall seeing the park signs along Routes 50 and 17 near Paris, Virginia, and the rolling hills of Faquier County always seemed to be very alluring.  First appearances, in this case, weren’t deceptive: upon entering the park there is something appealing to the eye in every direction.  Nevertheless, the loop we wanted to hike consists of a number of trails, so we consulted the ranger in the visitor center and devised a game plan for the day.  There was also an ulterior motive:  I think our little group has developed into pretty good hikers, but we also give the word tourist a bad name.  We have a collection of pins from many of our locations decorating our backpacks, and finding a new one at Sky Meadows was pretty easy.  This is probably the best visitor center I’ve ever been in.  Candee even picked up a stuffed black bear toy she calls Karma, aptly named because of our horrible luck in regard to seeing a bear in the wild.  Maybe he will change that!

Everything you need to know on one pole!

Everything you need to know on one pole!

The hike started at Boston Mill Road, and we opted to take a 1.14 mile warm-up lap on Snowden Trail.  Eventually, the high temperature would reach fifty degrees, but the morning air had a chill to it and getting acclimated before starting a moderately difficult climb on the South Ridge Trail seemed like a good idea.  Looking at the profile, we were about 1.8 miles in as we exited Snowden onto South Ridge, and that steep but well-maintained trail took us to about the 3.4 mile mark. Here we found one of the park’s many benches at the junction of the South Ridge and North Ridge Trails, and taking a break before heading left onto North Ridge was a good idea, as this half-mile rocky climb to the top of the mountain was the most difficult part of our circuit.

What came first, the pileated woodpecker hole or the blaze?

What came first, the pileated woodpecker hole or the blaze?

The end of North Ridge Trail led us to an old friend and familiar sight–the white blaze of the Appalachian Trail.  However, we had very little interest in hiking on the AT and opted to go a bit deeper into the woods on the purple-blazed Old Trail.  At some point in the past, the “OT” was part of the Appalachian Trail, and our AT experiences told us that any path it deserted for greener pastures had to be pretty bad.  I can’t speak for anybody else, but as I hiked the 1.8 miles of the   Old Trail I kept expecting a mad boulder scramble or heart-pounding uphill, but it never happened.  After a sharp right off of an old roadway, we came back to the AT and were shortly on the edge of a huge high meadow.

AT, heading north--> and south <--

AT, heading north–> and south <–

After leaving the AT, we made a sharp left on the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail, and anybody who loves extensive, wide-open vistas would be amazed by the views from the top of the mountain.  I do enjoy hiking along the Potomac or under the countless trees along our favorite trails, but this part of Sky Meadows holds an equal–but different–appeal.  I’m sure it would be amazing to see Autumn’s colors from this vantage point, but the golden, dead grass of the Winter solstice and unobstructed landscape didn’t leave too much to be desired.

Winter view

Winter view.  Ambassador Whitehouse Trail

The Ambassador Whitehouse Trail (at least in Winter) is a well-mowed and trampled path that winds its way through the high meadows toward the Paris Overlook.  From there, it takes a sharp right before entering the woods and eventually merging with the North Ridge Trail.  By this time, we were ready for the 700′ drop that occurs between miles seven and eight.  Another option would be to take the uphill stretch on the Piedmont Overlook Trail and an even sharper descent back toward the visitor center parking lot.

Heading downward toward visitor center, barn, main house, etc.

Heading downward toward visitor center, barn, main house, etc.

All told, visiting Sky Meadows turned out to be a good choice for what appears to be the final hike of 2014.  Heading back sometime in 2015 is a distinct possibility because the more challenging trails are on the other side of Route 17.  There doesn’t seem to be anything scientific about our choice of hikes lately.  In fact, it’s been about one step short of taping a map to the wall and throwing a dart.  The funny thing is that our many excursions in 2014 took us to places like Grrenbrier State Park, the AT, Catoctin Mountain Park, Cunningham Falls, Harpers Ferry, Sleepy Creek WMA, etc., and every trail had its merits.  I can’t even begin to pick my favorite hike of the year–unless it’s something on the C&O Canal west of Hancock, but judging from the name of the website, I am a little bit biased!

Fence crossing in cattle country.  From what I've read, such structures are fairly common on the AT in Virginia.  This one is on the North Ridge Trail in Sky Meadows

Fence crossing in cattle country. From what I’ve read, such structures are fairly common on the AT in Virginia. This one is on the North Ridge Trail in Sky Meadows



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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jamie on December 28, 2014 at 8:06 am

    It is now your turn to stir memories in me.

    One story I wanted my father to read over and over to me when I was a young boy was “The Old Woman and Her Pig.” It is a cumulative tale and at the end of every little verse, the woman would say: “Piggy won’t get over the stile, and I shan’t get home tonight.”

    Your picture of the stile brought it all back. And what is more, you posted this on the weekend my father, if he were still alive, would have celebrated his 88th birthday.


    Sky Meadows seems like an appropriate name for the park based on your pictures. I also liked the trail pole — don’t know if I have ever seen one with as much information!


    • Posted by LevelWalker on December 28, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      Candee–being a reading specialist–would say that having a father who reads to his kids is a wonderful thing. I agree. Plus, I’m always happy to pick up a new word. Turnstile is an obvious variation, but I had no idea what the fence crossing was called.

      My parents, plus a lot of others, have passed, and I always view the holidays with a bit of trepidation. Candee’s hikes have a way of making things better. Also, a sign on the gift shop at Sky Meadows promised all kinds of stocking stuffers. They weren’t kidding!

      I saw the Christmas greeting on your site. I had a feeling that Santa takes a breather at on of the lockhouses every year. Thanks for the confirmation!


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