There are plenty of family campgrounds and recreational areas near DC, however if you are looking for something a bit more secluded look no further than Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, Virginia. At just an hour outside of DC, it is one of the best campgrounds in northern Virginia offering Appalachian views without having to travel as far as the Shenandoah mountains.
Sky Meadows State Park
Sky Meadows State Park is a 1,862-acre park located near the northwestern tip of Virginia. Unlike the mountainous campgrounds in the neighboring Shenandoah, the landscape of Sky Meadows is rather bucolic. The property is comprised of meadows, grazed fields, forests, and streams. Views from the top overlook farmland and the countryside.
The visitor’s center provides ample information about the farm’s history and remaining structures including the antebellum Timberlake farmstead, several barns, cottages, and the Federal-style Mount Bleak Mansion. Mt. Bleak-Sky Farm is a registered historic district within the park.
Sky Meadows Campground
Sky Meadows describes their campground as a “unique hike-in primitive backcountry camping experience”. Those looking to glamp or car camp may want to look for a family campground with more amenities like Pohick Bay in Lorton.
Camping at this park requires a 1-mile hike along Hadow Trail to reach the designated overnight areas. The trail is particularly beautiful during September and early October when the Virginia fall foliage shows through in bright shades of red, yellow, and orange.
In the past, they provided carts to aid guests in transporting their gear, however, they have stopped this service in order to encourage bringing in only food and items which are absolutely necessary.
The campground is accessible by bike and we have seen campers transport cargo using all-terrain wagons, however, we opted to pack all of our gear into our packs. Between Scott’s Osprey Kestrel 48 and my Osprey Sirrus 36, we were able to pack in our tent, sleeping bags, water, dehydrated meals, and the other essentials.
Hadow Trail is relatively flat so hiking poles are not needed, however, a good pair of hiking shoes is recommended.
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The Campsites at Sky Meadows
There are 18 color-coded campsites within the state park:
- Individual sites are marked by red signs. They accommodate up to six people. The camping fee includes parking for 2 vehicles.
- The Buddy site is marked by a blue sign. It is equipped with 2 tent pads and accommodates up to 12 people. The Buddy site is ideal for families wishing to camp together. The camping fee includes parking for 4 cars.
- Camp Slater is marked by a brown sign. This campsite is equipped with four tent pads and can accommodate up to 24 people. Camping fee includes parking for 6 cars.
- Camp Washington is marked by a green sign. This large campsite has six tent pads and can accommodate up to 36 people. The camping fee includes parking for 8 cars.
Individual sites are available by reservation or by walk-in for one night on the honors system. All group sites require a reservation by booking online or calling 1-800-933-PARK. The full campsite map is available on the Sky Meadows State Park website.
Campsites are well dispersed leaving plenty of room between them. They vary from streamside to heavily forested, from close proximity to the bathrooms to those which are far removed from the trailhead.
We decided on (and highly recommend should you visit) campsite #10 which is situated on a hillside. Following a private trail winding through the wooded area, we arrived at our spot for the night. The camp is terraced along the hill in three sections: the lower terrace is a flattened surface for pitching our tent, the second level is a picnic table area, and the top level overlooking the whole private campsite is a fire ring. Standing at the very top, I felt like a princess in an enchanted castle with this entire woodland kingdom to ourselves!
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Each campsite has a 16′ x 16′ tent pad, picnic table, bear-proof locker, lantern hook, and fire pit with grate. Individual campsites are equipped with hammock posts.
The campground area has vaulted toilets, a water pump for non-potable water, and a supply of chopped wood ($5 for a bundle of 10 on the honors system). There are bear-proof trash bins to properly dispose of trash, which you will definitely want to do. On that note, let’s talk about bears.
Camping in Bear Country
Black bears are commonly sighted along the Appalachian Trail and its neighboring campgrounds. While park rangers do their best to encourage the bears’ natural habits elsewhere, it is the responsibility of overnight guests to exercise responsible camping practices. This includes bringing in only necessary food, and storing it in a bear-proof container or hung from a branch (at least 10 ft. high and 4 ft. from the tree trunk).
These measures are not only to protect campers but also the bears. Wild animals naturally fear people, but when they get used to eating human food and garbage, they lose that fear and conflicts are not far behind. Such bears’ fate is often, sadly, euthanasia.
During our stay at Sky Meadows Campground, we woke up at 2:30 am to hear a group of people in the fair distance yelling, hollering, and howling. Had this been a “car camping” experience, I would have suspected there was some wild party we were missing out on. Because of our remote location, I have no doubt that this group had a friendly encounter with a resident bear.
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Things to do in and Around Sky Meadows State Park
Aside from camping, there are a number of things to do at the park.
- Hiking – There are 10.5 miles of bridle (horse) trails, 22 miles of hiking trails, and 9 miles of bike trails. A portion of the park also overlaps with the Appalachian Trail.
- Stargazing – Sky Meadows is on of 5 Virginia State Parks to receive an official designation by the International Dark-Sky Association as a Dark Sky Park. The park offers educational programs like “Astronomy for Everyone” to promote dark sky conservation.
- Fishing – Freshwater, shoreline fishing is available at Turner Pond. The 3-acre fishing hole is frequently stocked with fish including catfish, bluegill, and largemouth bass.
- Park-hosted activities – The park offers a number of activities including yoga at sunset, bird watching, and community bonfires. They also offer guided tours of the historic Mt. Bleak-Sky Farm.
- Wineries – Although not on the property itself, Sky Meadows State Park is surrounded by wineries, all within a 6-mile radius: Delaplane Cellars, Three Fox Vineyards, Aspendale Winery, Naked Mountain Vineyards, and more. Take your pick.
- Dining – The nearby towns of Marshall, Paris, and Middleburg have a number of dining options. If you like family-owned hidden gems. Marshall Diner has one of the best cheesesteaks I have ever tasted. It is simple, but moist and just oozing with flavor. Mmmm.
Frequently Asked Questions about Sky Meadows State Park
How much is Sky Meadows State Park?
Campsites at Sky Meadows State Park range from $20 for an individual primitive site to $105 for the large group campsite. Price for out-of-state visitors is slightly higher.
Did you know you can visit a Virginia State Park for free? In partnership with the Library of Virginia and the Science Museum of Virginia, Virginia State Parks has provided 135 libraries with “nature backpacks“. The goal of this campaign is to help families learn about nature in their backyard, in a local park, or one of Virginia’s 41 state parks. In addition to pocket guides, a magnifying glass, a dip net, and other goodies, each backpack comes with a parking pass that allows the visitor to visit a state park at no cost.
Are dogs allowed at Sky Meadows State Park
Pets are allowed on the campground and on most trails in the park. The exception are trails which are designated as equestrian trails.
What is the best trail in Sky Meadows?
The most popular trail in Sky Meadows is the 4.6 mile loop to Piedmont Overlook. The moderately challenging trail consists of hills, wooded segments, and a beautiful view of Virginia’s Piedmont region. There are several benches at the overlook providing a welcome respite for those who need it.
Camping at Sky Meadows State Park: Closing Notes
Sky Meadows Park has been one of my favorite camping experiences so far. The 1-mile hike to and from the campground with all your overnight gear in hand makes for a sweaty time. However, once you arrive at the site to catch your breath, there is a sense of increased relaxation knowing that you worked for that rest.
Sleeping at this site was incredible. Aside from the group of people hollering at a bear at 2:30 am, the campground was quiet. There was barely a rustle in the woods, no wandering lights from neighboring flashlights, no pitter-patter of feet looking for a bathroom. The only sounds were crickets and the wind in the trees.
I would wake up every now and then, but it wasn’t a startling jolt out of my sleeping bag. It was a gentle opening of my eyes to find the moon glowing overhead. Lying on my back and peeking through the transparent mesh of the tent, the complete night sky was in view. Feeling at complete peace, I would try to force my eyes to stay open just a little longer to take in the beauty of the stars and moon.
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