Peaks of Otter: Hiking Sharp Top

Sharp Top

The Blue Ridge Parkway offers a multitude of amazing sights and recreational opportunities along its 469 mile length. At Milepost 86, the parkway passes through the Peaks of Otter, which raises the wow factor even higher, in more ways than one. Sharp Top, at an elevation of 3875 feet, is one of three mountain peaks towering over this region. Its pyramid shape makes it a distinctive landmark from many distant locations around Central Virginia. Once thought to be Virginia’s highest peak, at 3,862 feet, it dwarfs Flat Top by 132 feet. The third peak of the trio is Harkening Hill, at an elevation of 3364 feet. Each of the peaks have well-traveled hiking trails, but Sharp Top Trail is by far the most popular trail of the three.

The Peaks and Sharp Top Are Easy to Find

The Peaks of Otter and Sharp Top aren’t hard to find – just follow these directions . There are many photo opportunities on your drive to Sharp Top, so be sure to have your camera ready. It’s not uncommon to see deer feeding alongside the road, and they are usually more than willing to pose for pictures.

The Peaks of Otter Lodge, which is the center of attraction for thousands of visitors throughout the year, is an additional ¼ mile north on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Stop here for a restroom break before beginning your hike. If you need additional provisions, visit the Country Store. There’s also a Gift Shop if you’re looking for something to commemorate your visit.

Hike Sharp Top for Fantastic Views and a Great Workout

The Sharp Top trail, which starts at the intersection of Route 43 and the Parkway, is a a well-worn, 1 ½ miles long path, with several interesting rock formations. This strenuous hike will present some obstacles along the way, so be sure to wear comfortable, appropriate footwear. And, layering your clothing will keep you comfortable on the hike up, on your descent, and all the stops in between. Staying hydrated is, of course, important, so be sure to take plenty of water.

Allow two hours for the hike up the mountain and one hour for the hike down. The time required, of course, will depend on your fitness level and how many times you want to stop along the way. You can hike this trail all seasons, but hiking when snow and ice are on the trail is not recommended, because the rocks are slippery.

Side Trip to Buzzards Roost

When you reach the fork that leads to Buzzards Roost, you are 1900 feet from the top of Sharp Top. You can continue on the trail to Sharp Top, or take a 600 feet detour to Buzzards Roost, which is a collection of rock outcroppings that provide a panoramic view of the valley below. Buzzards have made this area their home, so you will see them in abundance, soaring high above the boulders.

Taking a Bus – At Least Most of the Way – Is an Option

If you don’t want to hike all the way, you can take a bus that will drop you off ¼ mile from the summit of Sharp Top. The last part of the hike is steep, so be prepared to do some climbing. Round-trip tickets for adults are $12, children (12 and under) are $8. A one-way ticket (up the mountain) is $10 for adults and $6 for children. Pricing, of course, is subject to change. Tickets are sold at the Sharp Top Store, located at the bottom of Sharp Top Trail, where the bus departs. The shuttle departs hourly on the following dates:

  • May 4-May 19, Sat/Sun, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
  • May 22-Oct 6, Wed-Sun, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
  • Oct 7-Nov 3, Daily, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Panoramic Views of the Blue Ridge

The last few hundred feet of the hike consists of stone steps leading to Sharp Top’s peak. Several large boulders and a platform built into the rocks provide a 360 degree view of the Blue Ridge. If it isn’t too crowded, you can climb up on one of the boulders for a must-needed rest. If you have drinks and snacks you can have a picnic and enjoy the stunning views – Flat Top and Abbott Lake to the north, the farmlands of Bedford, VA to the southeast, and the Shenandoah Valley to the west.

After experiencing the exhilaration of your first hike up Sharp Top, whether it was the 1 ½ mile hike or the ¼ mile hike from the bus stop, you won’t be able to resist a repeat visit. Once you get hooked, you will be returning year after year.