31 January 2017 — The Sneads Farm Trail is a fairly short (under five mile) walk with easy grades, suitable for families with young children and older hikers. It is also okay for leashed dogs.
However, it is a hidden trail, and perhaps for that reason it is less traveled than other Skyline trails. It starts just past mile post 5 on the north end of Skyline Drive, but if you look for it from the road all you will see is a dirt access road with a locked gate, that goes to an FAA robotic air traffic beacon on top of the ridge (more on that later). It has no parking, but since the gate is just past the Skyline Visitor Center and picnic area, hikers should park in the visitor parking lot, which is paved and has bathrooms that are open through the winter.
Take the marked path from the south end of the parking lot through the picnic area to the exit road. From there you can take a short informal dirt path that ends on the edge of the Parkway across from the access road.
Cross the parkway and walk about a quarter mile past where the Dickey Ridge Trail crosses it, and you will see a sign marking the head of the Sneads Farm Trail. The trail goes off straight and down a less traveled road while the service road takes a sharp right. After a short distance the trail branches off to the right from this fire road (which goes down the ridge) and parallels the ridge. It is still a one-lane dirt road that winds its way through the woods. This road is popular with equestrians, and you may see hoofprints in the dirt or encounter riders, particularly in summer months.
About a mile of easy walking takes you to the farm. The first sign of it is a white horse barn to the right above the road level. The remains of the farmstead is just past. All that is left are stone walls, a couple of ornamental trees, and the concrete front steps to what once was the house before the U.S. government bought the farm in the 1930s. The homestead is now a meadow.
The remains indicate a sturdy permanence. This was no cabin but a small house built on a concrete foundation. It is easy to imagine the family living here in a pleasant modern house for the time. What happened to the Sneads after the government took their property for the National Park? How did they feel about losing their ancestral farm? Were they set adrift to survive as best they could in the Great Depression or did they have relatives to take them in and help them build a new life? Shenandoah National Park continues to benefit large numbers of people, but it is important to remember that every change brings disruption and respect the sacrifices some families endured to make the park a reality.
The road ends at the homestead. However, the trail continues as a foot path through the woods from the bottom of the clearing and is well marked. This is an easy walk that continues for more than a mile on the east side of the ridge, which here is a steep rocky outcrop of greenstone to your right. Eventually the outcrop tapers down and disappears underground, and the trail turns right and ends on the Dickey Ridge Trail.
Turn right on Dickey Ridge Trail, which climbs the side of the ridgeline. This is the steepest climb on the trail and is not challenging. A short distance up the trail splits. The main trail takes a lower route, but choosing the narrower, right-hand path takes you higher on the ridge. The trail splits again and the right hand trail takes you to the top of the ridge and the edge of the parking area for the FAA installation (see photo below). From there you need to go back down the way you came and turn right to complete the detour, which takes you to a small meadow with a beautiful view of the valley below (see panorama above. Photo taken at 38° 49′ 56″, -78° -16′ -13″). That alone is well worth the extra climb.
From there the offshoot descends to rejoin the main trail. The trail gradually descends until it crosses the access road. Here you have a choice. You can turn left on the road and cross Skyline Drive where you came in. Or you can continue a short distance on the Dickey Ridge Trail until it intersects the start of the Fox Hollow Trail, named after another farming family who used to live on the ridge. Turning left takes you to the edge of Skyline Drive across the road from the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.
Alternately you can take the Fox Hollow Trail, a short loop walk that takes you past the remains of another hill farm. It is also an easy and much shorter trail. However, dogs are not allow on this trail.
The Snead Farm Trail took me about an hour to walk and is an easy, pleasant hike. In spring it is known for its wildflowers, but it is a quiet family walk at any time of year that does not require any equipment beyond a sturdy pair of walking shoes and a water bottle