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Peaks of Otter

Peaks of Otter is a recreation area along the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile post 86 in Bedford and Botetourt Counties.  The nearest town is Bedford, VA.  The three prominent peaks are Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill.  Abbott Lake lies in the valley between the three peaks.  The recreation area includes several miles of hiking trails to the peaks, a developed campground, and a lodge and restaurant.

Directions:

Peaks of Otter is located about ten miles northwest of Bedford.  From Bedford, take VA-43 north for about ten miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The Peaks of Otter Visitor Center is right here at the intersection.  From I-81, take exit 162 for Buchanan and turn on US-11 north.  Go about 2.5 miles and turn right on State Road 625.  In 3.5 miles, turn right on VA-43 south.  Go about 3 miles and turn right to get on the Blue Ridge Parkway and drive 5 miles to the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center.

Map:


Peaks of Otter

Hiking:

Fallingwater Cascades Trail:

Length: 1.6 miles (loop)
Difficulty: Moderate

Fallingwater Cascades Trail is a 1.6-mile loop that provides access to Fallingwater Cascades.  The trail can be accessed from two pulloffs on the Blue Ridge Parkway between mile posts 83 and 84 - Flat Top Parking Area and Fallingwater Parking Area.  From Flat Top Parking Area, cross the parkway and almost immediately come to a split.  Bear right and you will pass the other parking area shortly.  The trail then heads down towards Fallingwater Creek and crosses on a footbridge at the top of the cascades.  The trail then heads downstream along the creek with a spot to see the waterfall from the base.  Continuing on, the trail will cross the creek again.  There was a bridge here, but when I visited in October 2014, it had washed out.  Even without the bridge, it was easy to cross the creek.  The trail then heads back up to the split.

Flat Top Trail:

Length: 4.4 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Strenuous

Flat Top Trail leads from the base of Flat Top Mountain near the picnic area along VA-43 up to the summit then back down the other side, ending at the Flat Top Parking area near mile post 83.4 along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  From the southern trailhead near the picnic area, the trail leads up to the summit of Flat Top over the course of about 1.8 miles.  This is a strenuous hike, gaining over 1500 feet of elevation from the base to the summit.  I haven't had the chance yet to hike the other half of the trail.  This trail, along with Fallingwater Cascades Trail, is part of the Flat Top-Fallingwater Cascades National Recreation Trail.


Sharp Top Trail:

Length: 1.5 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Strenuous

Sharp Top Trail leads from the Sharp Top Parking Area up to the summit.  Although the trail is relatively short, it gains around 1500 feet over its course with many stone stairs leading steeply up the mountain and so is a challenging hike.  1.3 miles from the start, a spur leads to Buzzard's Roost, a rocky outcrop near the summit.  Past this intersection, it's about another quarter-mile to the summit of Sharp Top.

Points of Interest:

Buzzard's Roost:

Buzzard's Roost is a rocky outcrop near the summit of Sharp Top Mountain with views of Sharp Top's summit and the surrounding countryside.  The outcrop is reached via the Sharp Top Trail.  Hike up the trail 1.3 miles from the base of the mountain to a signed intersection.  Turn right here and hike about one-eighth of a mile to reach Buzzard's Roost.  Although the spur trail is relatively flat compared to the main trail, it takes a little bit of rock scrambling to climb up on the outcrop.  The picture below is from a very foggy day with almost no visibility; I would imagine the views are a lot better on a clear day.

Fallingwater Cascades:

Fallingwater Cascades is a series of cascades and small waterfalls on Fallingwater Creek in Botetourt County.  The waterfall itself is located in Jefferson National Forest, but is accessed through Peaks of Otter.  The hike to see the falls is a 1.6-mile loop and can be accessed from two points on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  From the visitor center at Peaks of Otter, go about 3 miles north on the parkway to either the Flat Top Parking Area on the right or Fallingwater Parking Area on the left.

From the Flat Top Parking Area, cross the parkway and pick up the Fallingwater Cascades Trail.  The trail will almost immediately split and you can either way to reach the falls.  Bearing right at the junction, the trail will pass the Fallingwater Parking Area and then head down to Fallingwater Creek, crossing it on a footbridge above the cascades.  The trail then heads down to creek level at the base of the falls, where the picture below was taken from.  This picture was taken during a rainy weekend when the water level was up.  During dry periods, I don't think there would be much of a waterfall to see.

Flat Top Mountain:

Flat Top Mountain, at 3994 feet above sea level, is the highest of the three Peaks of Otter.  The summit is reached by hiking the Flat Top Trail.  Hikers can start at either end of the trail as the summit is roughly in the middle of the trail.  Flat Top's summit is forested but a few rocky outcrops near the summit provide good spots for views of the surrounding landscape.

Polly Woods Ordinary:

Polly Woods Ordinary is a 19th century inn, or "ordinary", that provided ordinary amenities to weary travelers, such as a warm bed, a hot meal, and a place to stable horses.  The historic building is located near Abbott Lake.

Sharp Top Mountain:

Sharp Top Mountain, at 3862 feet above sea level, was once believed to be the highest point in Virginia.  Virginia sent rocks from the peak for construction of the Washington Monument.  It is not, however, the highest peak in Virginia - that title belongs to Mount Rogers.  In fact, nearby Flat Top is even higher than Sharp Top.  The summit is reached by hiking the Sharp Top Trail from the Sharp Top Parking Area.  This is a strenuous trail that gains about 1500 vertical feet in 1.5 miles.  As such, it should only be attempted by those in good physical shape.  Alternately, there is a bus that takes visitors from the parking area up to near the summit, but it doesn't run all the time and there is a fee for the ride.  See the Peaks of Otter Lodge website for more information about the bus.

Camping & Lodging:

There is a developed campground run by the National Park Service at the base of Sharp Top Mountain.  There are 90 tent sites and 56 RV sites.  Amenities include potable water, flush toilets, and cold-water sinks, but no showers or hookups.  Some campsites take reservations and others are first-come first-served.  Reservations can be made at http://www.recreation.gov/.

For those looking for a less rugged experience, the Peaks of Otter Lodge provides more luxurious accommodations.  Visit http://www.peaksofotter.com for more information and reservations.  There is a restaurant at the lodge with views of Abbott Lake from the dining room.

Blog Entries:

External Links:

Peaks of Otter Lodge website: http://www.peaksofotter.com/

National Park Service website for Blue Ridge Parkway: http://www.nps.gov/blri/index.htm

Photos:

Peaks of Otter Photos



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