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A circle tour of the Peaks of Otter

Published On: Jul 19 2013 10:32:39 AM EDT   Updated On: Jul 19 2013 02:20:41 PM EDT
Sharp Top Mountain trail

Dan Dennison/WDBJ7

The trail up Sharp Top Mountain


Sharp Top and its somewhat lesser known sister, Flat Top are two of the most prominent peaks rising above the Roanoke Valley. With trails maintained and managed by the Blueridge Parkway unit of the National Park Service, Sharp Top is among the most popular climbs in the region. On any given summer day, lines of hikers of all ages make the one and a half mile, steep trudge to the top, where they enjoy 360 degree views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and valleys below.

Our circle tour of the Peaks of Otter is organized by the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club.  It hosts numerous hikes for all abilities and of all lengths most weekends throughout the year.  The hike from the park service visitor center and its neighboring nature center follows a well-marked trail and climbs steadily to the top.

On this particular hike, the 360 degree view is completely blocked by heavy fog.  Temperatures on top are well into the mid-70’s to low 80’s, so it looks cold, but it’s not.

At 3,875 feet above sea level, early explorers believed Sharp Top to be the Commonwealth’s highest, (Mt. Rogers in far southern Virginia is the tallest peak in the state).  The views from the shorter Sharp Top are certainly much better than from both Mt. Rogers and adjacent Flat Top Mountain, which explains its popularity with hikers then and now.

On this circle hike, the group from the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club doesn’t encounter any other hikers on the ascent of the mountain.  That’s unusual and is probably due to what appears to be rotten weather.  On the descent, with clearing weather and full sunshine, other hikers begin climbing the mountain by the dozens.

Click here to see more photos from the hike.

After the “steamy” three-mile roundtrip ascent and descent of Sharp Top, a walk around Abbott Lake at the base area of the Peaks of Otter is refreshing in its views.  On its shoreline is the recently reopened Peaks of Otter lodge, which has a full service restaurant and hotel rooms for rent.

With a total expected mileage of between 10 and 11 miles planned, it’s important for the group to refuel often.  A quick lunch stop along a creek, flowing out of Abbott Lake provides a chance to rest, refuel and recharge for what lies ahead…Flat Top Mountain.  The trail up Flat Top is less rocky than the one going up Sharp Top and with more than 10 inches of recent rain the experience is very much like hiking through a temperate rain forest.

On a clear day at a couple of spots along the Flat Top Trail hikers are rewarded with forest- framed views of neighboring Sharp Top.  National Park Service maps and signposts peg the roundtrip hike up Flat Top at about 4 and a half miles.  When reaching the summit, a sign proves it’s higher than neighboring Sharp Top, at slightly more than 4000 feet in elevation.  Don’t let the surrounding forest fool you.  Head to a rock outcropping to the left and you’ll get outstanding views of the entire Peaks of Otter region.

11 hikers made the circuit hike of the Peaks of Otter, ending with a mile and a half long roundtrip to a set of waterfalls for a quick, cooling, dip.

For more information about hikes in the Peaks of Otter area or across southwestern Virginia contact the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club at