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Peaks of Otter - Bedford, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
3.6 mls N/A N/A
Sharp Top
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:

2.5 hrs plus a half hour for lunch
1,540 ft
6.2 mls N/A N/A
Flat Top
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:

3.5 hrs plus a half hour for lunch
1,640 ft
Jefferson National Forest
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e.g.. 12000 Government Center Parkway 22035 or Fairfax VA
Park at the Peaks Of Otter vistors center. 37.44539, -79.60967

We had heard of Peaks of Otter for years but had never visited it. There are multiple trails in the Peaks of Otter Recreation Area for all fitness levels but we decided to tackle the 2 toughest: Sharp Top and Flat Top. These can be done as separate hikes or combined to make a hike of 9.8 miles.

This link has additional information about the Peaks of Otter area and about halfway down has an interesting story about a WW2 B25 Mitchell Bomber that crashed into Sharp Top Mountain in 1943. We were able to find the B25 but out of respect to the airmen who died we will not publish directions/coordinates to the wreck site.

The views at the top of Sharp Top and Flat Top are unbelievable. Sharp Top is very popular and can get quite crowded due to its’ proximity to the Lodge and the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). In contrast, you will probably run into very few hikers on Flat Top. This would be a great place to spend the weekend either at the Lodge or the nearby Campground.

Note: Both hikes are out and back with the trails unblazed.

Sharp Top Hike: We parked and began the hike at the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center and crossed the BRP staying on the sidewalk for about 200 yards and then took a right across Route 43 heading to the Sharp Top parking area (you could also park here). Just after crossing Route 43 there is an intersection on the left that leads to the Lake Trail. You will use this route later if you decide to do the Flat Top hike. Stay on the sidewalk and the trail head is to the left of the Camp Store. The trail is un-blazed but is well worn.

For such a short trail to the peak, it will give you quite a workout with multiple series of steps throughout the hike. From the trail-head to the first good overlook is about 1 mile. Continue on the trail for about .3 of a mile and you will reach the Buzzard’s Roost Trail intersection. Bear left and go about 0.2 miles to the top (we did not go to Buzzard’s Roost but it is supposed to also have good views). There is a stone cottage at the peak. The summit offers an impressive 360-degree view of the Peaks of Otter area, The Piedmont to the East, and the Shenandoah Valley with the Allegheny Valley Mountains to the west. Retrace your steps to return to the Visitor Center for lunch/bathroom break or take a right at the Lake Trail to head towards the Flat Top trail head.

Flat Top Hike: From the Visitor Center cross back across the BRP and then Route 43 taking a left at the intersection with the sign to the Lake Trail. Go about 0.1 miles and take a left crossing Route 43 again heading towards the lake. Continue on the trail ignoring the next intersection, bear to the right at the next one heading across the earthen dam of Abbot Lake. At the end of the dam take a right going past Polly Wood’s Ordinary. The path ends up on an asphalt road which you will stay on for 0.3 mile until you reach the Falling Water/Flat Top trail head on the left (you could park here to save some time).

The next 1.4 miles is a constant up with not many switchbacks until you reach the first overlooks. You will pass through thickets of Mountain Laurel that will be absolutely beautiful when they bloom in the Spring. In another 0.6 miles you will come to the spur trail on the right for the Flat Top peak and some great views towards Bedford and the Bedford reservoir. If you know your WW2 history, Bedford lost 19 young men during the 1st phase of the D-Day landings in Normandy, more than any other city in the U.S.A. of a comparable size. A D-Day Memorial was established in 2001 in Bedford to commemorate this sacrifice.

The Flat Top Peak is the turn-around point of the hike unless you brought 2 cars and left one at the Flat Top Parking area in between BRP MP84 and MP83. From the Spur Trail take a left onto the Flat Top Trail and retrace your steps to return to the Visitor Center.

Continuation Route: From the Spur Trail take a right onto the Flat Top Trail, staying on the trail to the Flat Top Parking Area. There are a couple more overlooks, one called The Pinnacle and one called Cross Rock. Neither is as dramatic as the Flat Top peak but they are good. There are lots of switch backs on this part of the trail with the final leg being quite straight to the Parking area. This was a pleasant alternative route to the described out and back. My wife was gracious enough to meet me at the Flat Top parking area after hiking Sharp Top earlier in the day.

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Hiker Reviews For The Peaks of Otter Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the Peaks of Otter hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, May 05, 2015
I live fairly close to the Peaks and have been up Sharp Top numerous times. I try to get out and hike somewhere every Tuesday and have taken to speed hiking. Sharp Top is very challenging on the legs with numerous steps and higher rocks. Take care coming down as many twisted ankles have occured (one girl was airlifted today for a broken ankle) so foot placement is crucial. For a novice this hike can take anywhere from 1 1/2-2 hours up, less coming down. Experienced hikers can shave that down. Speed hiking up and running down can get it done in under an hour total (my personal record is 38 minutes up, 20 minutes down). I have not hiked Flat Top yet, but plan on doing this next week from the Parkway lot (the side with switchbacks).

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, March 22, 2015
I started at the Flat Top Overlook parking area and first hiked to Fallingwater Cascades. The water level was much higher than normal. This was my first visit to the falls but a photographer told me the falls are very low flow during the summer. Visit after a rain event and it will look great. The main drop is ~50 feet but it is a double slide and likely ~100 ft total, although you cannot see the upper portion from the base. The bridge at the lower crossing was washed away in 2012, but this should be a straightforward rock hop in everything but extremely high levels of water. Unlike the trailhead for Sharp Top, which was full with approximately 40 cars, there were only 3 cars parked at the Flat Top Overlook. The northern trailhead for Flat Top is longer in mileage but far easier on elevation gain. The trail switchbacks 2.1 miles on an easy grade until you get to Cross Rock. The rock is a very unusual formation but has no views and the short spur trail is very steep. The final half mile to Flat Top is a bit steeper but not a big deal. On the flat summit I found one set of boulders with open views west, and another set on the east side. I looked around for a prominent view of Sharp Top on the south side but didn't find one. My guide book said 0.1 mi down the trail but I didn't explore. On the return I bushwhacked through the mountain laurel to the top of The Pinnacle, I didn't see any signs of a side trail to these rocks. It offers identical views north and east, but at least you get a view south of Flat Top.

By: OBWAN KANOBIE Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, June 26, 2014
This hike ranks right up at the top with any hike I have ever been on, (which is a lot). The view is spectacular once you reach the summit, 360 degrees all around. Even though it was a beautiful day, there were not many other hikers on the trails...great overall day. Excellent cardiovascular workout to boot!!

By: Ann Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, October 07, 2013
This was awesome...we had the entire trail to ourselves due to the national parks shutdown.  The parking lot was open, so  we parked and hiked up to the top. It was a fairly easy hike until about midway-ish toward the summit, then lots of steps and watch your step- but still not too bad. The only other living souls we saw were wild turkey and deer...lots of them. I am certain based on the breathtaking views at the top that this would normally be a very packed trail, we lucked out having it to ourselves on an beautiful October day!!!

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, September 22, 2013
Made the hike with my girlfriend.  It was my first time to the top of Sharp Top in quite some time.  It was a gorgeous clear day.  We could even make out the "scab" and Snoflex landmarks in Lynchburg on Liberty Mountain!  Gorgeous views at the peak for roughly 270 degrees!  It was a bit cool on the way up because most of the hike on the way up is under tree cover.  Once to the peak, it was warmer in the sun, except there was a lot of wind on one side of the mountain (was kinda bizarre).  Right out the gate, we were probably going a bit too fast for the incline because we were out of breath about 30 minutes into the hike.  After that, and a brief break, we took our time a bit and it was more relaxing.  The trip back down was actually kinda difficult with some long steps down, but nothing too bad.  Overall, it was a nice trip and got my girlfriend and I interested in doing more hikes this fall.  See you all on the trails!

    View all 22 reviews for the Peaks of Otter hike
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