The Blue Ridge Parkway offers a myriad 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. 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, stone from the summit was included in the Washington monument. The other two mountain peaks in this area are Flat Top, at an elevation of 4000 feet, and 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 more popular trail of the three.
It isn't Difficult to Find the Peaks and Sharp Top
This map provides directions to the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just zoom in and out by using the plus and minus signs at the left of the map to get the detail you need. The Peaks of Otter Restaurant (Lake View Restaurant ) and gift shop, which are the focal points for thousands of visitors throughout the year, is an additional ¼ mile north on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Stop there before starting your hike, because there won't be another restroom until you get back down Sharp Top. The trail begins at the Nature Center at the intersection of Route 43 and the Parkway.
There are many photo opportunities on your drive to Sharp Top, so be sure to have your camera ready. It is not uncommon to see deer feeding along the side of the road, and they are usually more than willing to pose for pictures. Click here for some unique pictures on the way to Sharp Top, taken while driving down Route 43.
Hike Sharp Top on the Blue Ridge Parkway for Fantastic Views and a Great Workout
The trail to the top of Sharp Top, which is 1 ½ miles in length, is a well-worn path, with several rock formations that help keep the hike interesting. Because sections of the path are rock-laden, wear comfortable, but appropriate footwear. Investing in a pair of hiking shoes will cushion your feet, give ankle support, and provide extra traction when needed. Wearing layered clothing is also highly recommended. As you are hiking up the mountain, you will more than likely need to shed some layers, but those extra layers will be welcomed when stopping and when hiking back down the mountain. Staying hydrated is also important, particularly if hiking during the summer months, so be sure to take plenty of water.
Sharp Top is an intermediate hike, which includes maneuvering both flat and elevated terrain. Therefore, the more accustomed you are to at least a moderate level of activity, the easier the hike will be for you. Regardless of your fitness level, though, you should listen to what your body is telling you. If you are getting too hot or your breathing is too labored, you should stop and rest periodically throughout the hike. You do not have to be an athlete to climb Sharp Top, but you should be aware that there are some strenuous stretches as you get closer to the top. 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 can become quite slippery.
Do it all - Take a Side Trip to Buzzards Roost
When you reach the sign for Buzzards Roost Trail, you are 1900 feet from Sharp Top's summit. You can choose to continue on Sharp Top Trail, or take a 600 feet detour to Buzzards Roost, a collection of rock outcroppings that provide a panoramic view of the valley below. As the name implies, buzzards have made this area their home, so you will see them in abundance, soaring high above the boulders.
You Can Take a Bus to Sharp Top - At Least Most of the Way
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 $8 and one-way (up the mountain) tickets for adults are $5. Pricing, of course, is subject to change. The tickets are sold at the Country Store, located beside the Visitor Center. One-way tickets down the mountain can be purchased from the bus driver. The bus runs every hour beginning at 10 am, and ending at 4 pm from May to October. However, if it is raining, call 540-586-1066 to make sure the bus is running. The bus departs from the Nature Center's parking lot.
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. There are a lot of photo opportunities, so have your camera ready.
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.