After exploring a variety of local parks in 2015, one of my favorites turned out to be Sky Meadows State Park. It is located off of Route 66, just before you would get on Skyline Drive to go to Shenandoah National Park. It consists of 1,862 acres and includes a portion of the Appalachian Trail.
There are a few reasons why I have liked Sky Meadows. First of all, the views from some of its trails are incredible. There is one in particular, the Piedmont Overlook Trail, which runs up the mountain. It offers two different spots to lookout, but the entire trail is open, which lets you see the vistas when you travel up or down.
We piled into the car just before 7am and hit Starbucks. “Batman”, AKA Tyrone, was of course already in the coffee shop in his usual spot. It was empty, which was to be expected at such an early time. I ordered a Grande Vanilla Latte, butter croissant (not warmed up), and a bottle of water so that we would have some more. The Sky Meadows 5-mile loop can be somewhat strenuous, so I wanted to ensure that we’d have enough water. I also topped up my Starbucks card with $10 (done with the $20 I took out of the ATM) so that I would have the proper amount to give to Sky Meadows. Once when I arrived before the workers, I had to give $20 because that’s all I had in my wallet.
The drive was uneventful. Kai passed out as she usually does to and from our adventures. I listened to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The Harry Potter series is entertaining and it provided good entertainment for our journey.
We arrived at Sky Meadows just after 8am, which was excellent. I love to get on the trail early. There are fewer people and beautiful vistas early in the morning. We were the third car to arrive. I parked and ran to the bathroom. I passed two middle-aged women - we exchanged pleasantries - and I went to the bathroom. I got back to the car and prepared my pack and Kai for the hike. She was incredibly excited. I got her out of the car and she was practically prancing she was so thrilled. In order to get to the trail, you have to pass large pastures that are populated with cattle. The time we were at Sky Meadows prior to this hike, there were lots of cows and Kai was very intrigued by them. No luck this morning, however, so we continued onto the trail. We immediately heard a loud gunshot. There is no hunting in Sky Meadows Park, but there is a wildlife management area nearby. I brought Kai’s orange vest, which alerts hunters that she’s not prey, with us but didn’t put it on her just yet. We had heard gunshots on our first hike and they stopped quickly. We saw a girl running with her chocolate lab but they ran in the opposite direction. Kai was disappointed.
We climbed the stairs which led us to the Piedmont Overlook Trail. We started climbing - I would periodically turn around to take in the magnificent vistas. I was waiting until we got to the lookout at the top to take photos. Kai was inquisitive as normal - she is always very slow for the first mile and then picks up the pace dramatically. I have been tracking our hikes with MapMyHike.com and Fitbit and it’s interesting to view the mile splits. They grow increasingly faster as the hikes go on. Kai is curious and slow at the beginning and just content to walk fast by the end. We made it to the top, where I took off my camera, filled up Kai’s water bowl, and smiled at how peaceful and serene it was. Kai sat down as well and looked around, hoping for any wildlife to slip up and reveal themselves. No such luck right now Kaikoura. I made Kai pose and took lots of photos because it’s just so gorgeous at the top. She acquiesced, but of course expected treats in return. Once we had spent enough time up at the top we moved on. We headed towards the North Ridge Trail, which would lead to the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail.
Not long after we had hit the trail, we heard gunshots again. I know they weren’t that close, but they sounded as if they were getting closer as we walked. Then I spotted three deer running wildly, no doubt scared by the gunshots that we just heard. It was after these incidents that I decided that Kai should be wearing her orange vest. She’s always on a leash, but just in case the worst happens - she somehow escapes from her harness and chases deer - I want to know that hunters are informed of her pet status. I put it on her and she didn’t seem to mind.
We started up the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail and I was very much looking forward to arriving at the Paris View, which is about a mile into the trail. The hike was uneventful yet peaceful and serene. Kai thought she saw some wild animals, but she was either mistaken or they escaped before she got to them. We arrived at the Paris View and took a short water break. Kai drank much more than she did at the last lookout, re-hydrating herself for the rest of the walk. We sat and enjoyed the sun, the quietness, and the feel of the wind.
From the Paris View we continued on to the backside of the park, which connects to the Appalachian Trail. There was hardly anyone else out hiking when we were there, so the quietness was palpable. It was amazing, peaceful, and yet eerie. I always prefer that there are a couple of other hikers out just in case we get into trouble.
We jogged a bit once we got to the Appalachian Trail. Eventually, we happened upon two other hikers, who promptly wished us a happy new year. The woman told me how much she appreciated that I had Kai leashed. She said that she has had bad experiences with other people allowing their untrained dogs off leash.
We reached the North Ridge and headed down towards the South Ridge. Usually we see quite a few other people on the North Ridge Trail, especially at the intersection of the North Ridge and the South Ridge Trails. Nobody was there today. We took another fast water break at the intersection and continued on to the South Ridge. I love the South Ridge Trail. It’s a beautiful, slow, winding trail that offers good views.
Again, we saw nobody else on the South Ridge Trail until we were close to the very end. We came upon a large group that was getting ready to head out on a long hike. Kai received a host of compliments, as per usual.