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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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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.

Early November
Peaks of Otter Hike Comments
Archived Comments

By: Spains Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 30, 2019
Intense elevation and many, many stairs. I dispise climbing down stairs. I saw them mentioned in the review, but I thought there were just a few. I was very mistaken. Except for a short ridgeline, the stairs continue throughout the 1,500 feet of elevation. If you dislike stairs and want to see the view, take the bus from the lodge to the top (in season). It's a pretty view, but there are better payoffs that aren't as crowded and don't have any stairs.

By: Scott Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, December 24, 2018
We did this as a sunrise hike this morning--what a great hike! It took our family of seven (youngest is twelve) about 50-60 min to summit from the trailhead and arrived at the top lookout just as the sun peeked over the horizon. With winds howling and temps in the 30's, the warmth worked up from the constant climb was easily lost at the top if not in the shelter of the rocks. The first half was accomplished using flashlights to avoid the various rocks and roots along the way. A very little bit of ice along the way with the major challenge simply being exposure at the top. No real mud to speak of. Great views as expected. Parking is closer if you park at Sharp Top parking lot rather than Visitors Center. Note: Visitors Center closed today due to gov't shutdown and Parkway access from north might be restricted as well. Might be closed more going forward so check Parkway website for info.

By: HR Bell Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, October 22, 2017
My husband and I went. We're both 31 and in reasonable shape. I run a few miles on the treadmill every day and he weightlifts. This was definitely different for us. However, we both really really enjoyed ourselves and the view from Sharp Top is so very worth it.

By: Jason_Viper Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 4, 2017
I like these hikes. They are short, but sweet, and by sweet I mean tough, about as tough mile for mile as you'll find anywhere in the state. I live close-by and head over to the Peaks whenever I fancy a quick workout.

I wanted to expand on Flat Top a bit. I had always done it from the Parkway, which is longer and not as steep as approaching the summit from Rt.43 I've found out. I finally had the opportunity to hit the trail from 43 a couple times recently, and let me tell you, it's legit! It doesn't really switchback, it kind of just meanders straight up the mountain in most parts. Tough climb and a great workout. Some pretty views up top and a couple rock outcroppings you can get on for views. You're looking at 1600' climb in 1.6 miles...that's steep!

By: Adine A Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, September 2, 2016
This was a hard trail. 53 year old, pack a day smoker. I took my time, stopped every 30-40 feet and totally enjoyed every moment. It's not about rushing to the destination, it's enjoying the trail as well. Beautiful. 1-2 water bottle hike. Go early to avoid the weekend crush of college kids.

By: Reed and Skyler Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, March 22, 2016
We started the sharp top hike around 10:50 and it was quite solitary. There was two or three other groups in the distance but otherwise we didn't have any issues at all with crowd. The hike wasn't especially difficult but it was challenging at times. We met a few groups on the way down that were only a 1/4 of the way to the top and hiking the easiest part and were already taking breaks and asked us if they were halfway there. So if you are in shape or pace yourself this is a beautiful and fun trail to hike, the summit offers spectacular views.

By: tamara Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
My intent was to hike FlatTop but decided to explore Cascade first. Approximately 200 ft into the hike, I encountered what I had surmised to be a gigantic black trash bag in the distance...until it stood up! We eyeballed each other, and he (or she) proceeded to scoop out lunch out of a tree stump. It was then I slowly backed away then ran (not smart, I know) faster than I ever had before in my life. Pretty darn amazing!!!

By: Paul Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, January 7, 2016
Tough workout but due to its length I would give the Sharp Top Hike 3 stars for difficulty...I would also have to lower Solitude to one star as there were dozens of people and dogs on the Sharp Top Trail today. And more on deck when I returned to the parking area. The place is closed in the winter so there are no bathrooms or least I could not find one. Views are magnificent though and definitely a must do for anyone hiking in the mid-Atlantic. I will certainly return for the other two peaks and farmer family remnants.

By: Ken D Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, August 29, 2015
Spectacular views! I was going to hike Flat Top/Falling Water with a "maybe" for Sharp Top, but I got there early (8:15) and figured I could avoid the crowds. I'm glad I did. The hike up is not too bad but there are some tough sections. The view from the top is well worth it and the view from Buzzard Rocks was pretty good as well. Once I was done I drove over to the Flat Top parking area and did the hike as described elsewhere on HU. Total distance was about 11.3 miles with an elevation gain of over 3000 feet. Tough workout with great payoffs on both mountains.

By: Sam & Susan Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, August 26, 2015
We stayed at the Lodge on our vacation and were very intrigued by the possibilities for adventure. We ran into a gentleman the day before our adventure up Sharp Top. He showed us a small plastic container behind a tree and under a rock behind the Polly Woods cabin to record our information and leave a message for others. He said that if we go to the Buzzards Roost trail, just a few feet inside the beginning of the spur to the left there was a little deer trail and if you follow it, you will find the plane wreckage from a B-25. We made our best attempt to follow this trail, only to find nothing. Who knows, maybe I was right there and didn't even have a clue? Other than that, the Sharp Top adventure was very exciting to experience. We are hiking novices, and it was a challenge, but not so much to deter our return to find that plane. Take plenty of water and some light weight snacks. Be sure to wear the proper footwear, ankle support will be a must because the trail is mixed with not so bad areas, and, some somewhat challenging spots to test your agility and stamina. Overall, a great way to spend part of the day and relax. We will be back.

    View all 32 archived reviews for the Peaks of Otter hike
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