Last week I traveled to Delaplane, Virginia, to visit Sky Meadows State Park, a sprawling 1600-acres rich in history and surrounded by the wildlife of the Appalachian Mountains. There is plenty to do in this back-country park, from hiking to equestrian trails to fishing. And for you history buffs (such as myself), you can tour the Mount Bleak estate and learn a bit about Antebellum living in Appalachia. The park itself is split into two areas: Blue Ridge Back Country Park, which also contains the Historic Area, and Lost Mountain. Lost Mountain is a smaller portion of the park, but still has plenty to see; however, I did spend most of my time at the Back Country Park during my visit.
Sky Meadows lies in what is known as The Crooked Run Valley. This massive 5.3 million-acre tract of land was purchased by Lord Fairfax in 1719 and later parceled off as settlers expanded West. Captain James Ball acquired 7,883 acres from Fairfax in 1731. After his death in 1754, the land was split into 2000-acre tracts, one of which was purchased by John Edmonds in 1780. Edmonds built a cabin on the property (which still stands today) and established a blacksmith shop nearby. After Edmonds's death in 1798, the land was acquired by Isaac Settle, postmaster and tavern-owner from the nearby town of Paris.
Settle built his first estate known as 'Belle Grove' in 1812, which lies outside of the present-day boundaries of the park. However, his son Abner's estate, Mount Bleak, is a focal point of the park today. The homestead was constructed during the 1840s and 50s. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Abner's son, Thomas Lee, joined the 7th VA Cavalry as a surgeon. Two of his other sons, Isaac and Abner Jr, joined Mosby's Rangers, under the command of the Grey Ghost himself, John Mosby. All three sons would return home safely at the end of the war.
After the war, the land's ownership changed multiple times before it was donated to the Virginia State Park Service in 1975. The park was finally opened in 1983 and expanded nearly 500 acres in 1991. Today, the park contains nearly 24 miles of trails, plenty of recreational facilities, and hosts numerous community events.
During my visit, I hiked from the Historic Area on the North Ridge Trail. This trail is rated as difficult, and rightly so. It's pretty steep for most of the way up the ridge. Also, the beginning portion of the trail is through a field, so there is no shade for nearly 1/3 of a mile uphill. It didn't help that it was 90 degrees the day I went. It was also quite muggy, so when i did reach tree cover, it acted like a sauna. By the end of the 1.5 mile stretch of trail, my shirt was a different color than when I started. The North Ridge Trail connects with the Appalachian Trail, which i walked on for about a half mile until I turned onto the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail. This 1.1-mile trail took me to the Piedmont Overlook, which is quite beautiful, and back to the Historic Area. In total, I walked close to 4 miles, which took nearly two hours. And these are only two of the nineteen trails at Sky Meadows. You could easily spend an entire day there just hiking. However, I would suggest hiking this place during early Fall through late Spring, not during Summer. The trails themselves weren't physically-taxing, but the heat and humidity took a lot out of me. If you do decide to hike during the Summer months, be sure to bring plenty of water, bug spray, and perhaps a change of clothing. All in all, I really enjoyed my time at Sky Meadows. If you are ever in Fauquier County or near Upperville/Middleburg, VA, be sure to give this place a look.
For more information of Sky Meadows, visit http://www.skymeadows.info/bleak1 or the Virginia State Park website
Additionally, here's a PDF map showing the park's trails and attractions