Updated on July 28, 2021
Winter Hiking at Sky Meadows State Park, Virginia
Mid February, 2021, the last of the season’s snow fell in the mid-Atlantic region. I’d seen quite enough snow this winter, but since it’s weekend, I still decided to take on some hiking in the wild. This time, I picked Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia.
Unlike previous excursions this winter, I did this hike in wintery mix of freezing rain and snow. While the weather forecast indicated precipitation would start giving way to cloudy skies Saturday morning, I headed out at noon on February 13, with snowflaking still flying in the skies. While both Maryland and Virginia were promptly treating Interstate 495, the same couldn’t be said once I got onto US50, with portions of the road covered by black ice requiring very careful driving. Nonetheless, I made it to the park at 2pm and started my hike.
A brief note about Sky Meadows State Park, it’s mostly private farmland before being donated to the State in the 1970s to 90s. The mixture of landscape from forests along Appalachian Trail to meadows at its foothills was hard to find elsewhere around Washington DC.
Today, I would be hiking Whitehouse/Piedmont Overlook Loop Trail, the most popular in the park, located towards the west of US17. The park charged a $10-per-car fee for entry.
I opted to take the trail counter-clockwise, visiting the scenic overlooks first. Soon after leaving park office, the wide-open trail made its way through former farmland up the hill.
Here’s GPS tracking:
Piedmont Overlook was only a short stroll away from trailhead, but it offered probably the best view of the day. It’s the place to soak in the breadth of the park, of its rolling meadows, once as farmland bordered by threads of trees, fading into distant horizon. The harsh winter cast down an achromatic landscape, hazed by the freezing rain that permeated the air. If not for the sound of distant traffic resonating through the depressingly low-lying clouds, the sight of such extensive but lifeless meadows would stir in me a sense of sorrow that I hadn’t felt for quite a long time.
After leaving Piedmont Overlook, the trail entered forests as it continued to climb uphill.
Not long after that I reached Whitehouse Overlook, named for Charles Whitehouse as US ambassador to Laos and Thailand. Despite it’s higher in elevation, views here were much more obscured than previously at Piedmont Overlook.
On another note, probably due to higher elevation, most trees here were wearing rime ice. Unlike snow, rim ice could form on the tiniest of branches, giving the entire tree a crystal-looking overcoat and an alluring sight.
Soon after that, the Appalachian Trail entered a smaller open field, where I was once again treated with the stunning sights of rime ice on trees.
Soon after that I left Appalachian Trail and followed the ridge trail downhill.
Along South Ridge Trail there’s an overlook. It’s just not the most exciting view of the day.
After leaving South Ridge Overlook, there’s a steep downhill section, the only part of today’s hike that required caution. Microspikes could come in handy here, but even without them I managed just fine.
With its farming history, some farm buildings were preserved at Sky Meadows State Park and visible along hiking trails (above). After getting back to my car, I paid them a quick visit.
Most houses were off public access, either due to COVID or winter or it nearing closing time. It seemed to me that the buildings were well-preserved, with exhibits around. One of them was converted to a decent public restroom, even with heating. (No reason to keep that closed though.)
This concluded my day of hiking at Sky Meadows State Park, and it’s the last major snow of the 2020-21 winter.