Sky Meadows State Park: happy trails lead to historic past

With its incredible vistas and views, Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, Va., can feel a world away from the hectic pace of city life, yet is only an hour from Washington, D.C. We took the scenic route and drove over Mount Weather, but it’s easily accessible from Interstate 66 and U.S. Route 50.

The minute I got out of my car, I was enchanted. Three yellow finches darted past me, a nearby tree was heavy with apples, and the view was spectacular. Nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains, it felt like I could reach out and touch the sky.

Keven Bowman, chief ranger for visitor experience, said the park is a “blend of history and nature.” The park includes a historic area with a 19th-century farmhouse, Mount Bleak House, as well as a visitor center and outbuildings. It also has an active farm that includes cattle, a garden, and some very friendly chickens.

Area hikers rave about the park’s well-maintained and well-marked trails and the woodlands with beautiful views. The park has 24 miles of hiking trails, 10.5 miles of bridle trails, and 9 miles of biking trails, ranging from easy to difficult. If hiking just part of the Appalachian Trail is on your bucket list, you can do it here. It’s best to bring along sturdy shoes, sunscreen, bug spray, and a hat.

The Sky Meadows naturalist is often near the trailhead on weekends and offers tips for hikers. Don’t miss the red-headed woodpeckers — the largest breeding colony in Virginia lives here. 

Insider tip: Try the wooded area on the right just before you reach the historic area. 

Delve into history

Mount Bleak House was built in the 1840s and we were able to tour the house. It was like we had gone back in time to peer into the lives of a middle-class family, just before the start of the Civil War, who had stepped out to tend to their farm. Three sons in the Settle family served with the Confederacy during the Civil War, and the house hosted both Union and Confederate soldiers. 

The park also is home to a log cabin from the late 1700s — where hearth cooking demonstrations are offered periodically — a 19th-century wash house, and an ice house. A dairy barn is nearby, and the carriage house offers blacksmith demonstrations once a month.

Families will love the outdoor children’s discovery area near the picnic area. It’s an outdoor laboratory with stations that let children explore building, music-making, art, writing, digging, and even hiking on a less-than-a-mile trail.

If you want to have a family picnic with a lot of people, the park has two large sites for rent. The day we visited, there was a huge family group in the large picnic pavilion. There also are plenty of single family tables, which are free with park admission and offer amazing views and easy car pull-ups.

At the visitor center

The visitor center gift shop carries a delightful selection of children’s toys, books, period items, and even honey from the park’s apiary. I picked up a copy of a Civil War-era diary written by a relative of the family that lived in Mount Bleak. The Friends of Sky Meadows manage a garden in the historic area and sell the produce at the shop. 

At the visitor center, I enjoyed hearing about the park’s butterfly project, which raises monarchs for release in October. We also enjoyed the park’s wildlife displays.

Interpretive programs, campfires, and community festivals are offered year-round. Fishing from the shoreline is allowed at the park’s 3-acre Turner Pond. If you are up for an overnight adventure, the park offers primitive camping, but you do have to carry your gear a distance from the parking area.

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