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Best Hiking in Virginia: Sharp Top Mountain
Sharp Top Mountain is perhaps the most famous mountain peak in Virginia. Long thought to be the state’s highest peak, it not only enjoys the honor of being mentioned by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, but also a home at the Washington Monument where part of its’ stone lays for all to see. Though, since that time its status has changed several times over. It has went from the highest peak in the Americas to the highest peak in Virginia, to the second highest of Peaks of Otter, and currently to perhaps the one with best views of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. Though its status and grandeur may have changed over the years, its views, ease of access and accessibility have not. As popular today as ever, if you haven’t put this short hike on your list, you should.
Located directly off of the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 86, and directly behind the Peaks of Otter lodge, with the trail head just to the left of the nature center, this hike is one of the easiest to locate and experience for the views that await you. You don’t need to worry about old fire roads, parking off road or finding an unknown state route. You won’t have to worry about private land or getting lost on the trail with a lack of blazes, and you won’t need to worry about the general upkeep of the area. Being maintained by the National Park service and being one of the most popular hikes in Virginia has made this trail an absolute joy to find, hike and experience on a regular basis.
Sharp Top Mountain is the second highest of the Peaks of Otter. The three peaks that make up this area are Harkening hill, located directly behind the Visitors center, across the road from the Nature Center, and Flat Top mountain, directly across the road from the Sharp Top Trail head (also accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway for the opposite trail head for another out and back experience less than two miles away). With a total elevation at its peak of 3,849 feet, Sharp Top is not quite as high as it’s bigger brother Flat Top, but the views are second to none, and with an elevation gain just over 1,300 feet from the parking lot behind the nature center and the peak its self, you can bet that you’ll be challenged on the way up.
Starting from the nature center you will be greeted by one of the most well maintained trails in Virginia and off of the Blur Ridge Parkway. Special care has been given to this area. Its ease of access has ensured that over the years it receives a high level of traffic and the National park service has done a great job maintaining this area. From the trail head you’ll be treated to small glances of the surrounding peaks on the first mile up the trail; though the views will be very limited during the spring and summer months as the foliage is heavy all the way to the top. The incline is quite steep and much of trail is broken into sets of stone steps to be climbed. For such a short distance of just 1.6 miles to the peak, this hike can prove exhausting to even the most prepared.
Just under a mile into the trail, you’ll be surrounded by a boulder field for the first time on the hike, and you’ll have the opportunity to take a short detour off of the main trail to Buzzards Roost. While the views aren’t quite as good as the Peak of Sharp Top Mountain, it’s worth taking the 600 yard detour and will present the hiker with a small bit of rock scrambling to break up the hike. From there follow the trail back down to the intersection and continue up the last set of stone steps to a large stone building at the base of the peak. Here is a perfect place to take in lunch or take cover from a rainy day. From there simply continue up another thirty yards, and you’ll be greeted by one of the most beautiful places in Virginia.
The views at the top of Sharp Top are as panoramic as they come. A little maneuvering and you’ll have a complete 360 degree view of the surrounding areas including the rest of the Peaks of Otter, the town of Bedford, where the D-Day Memorial will be in plain view, and the surrounding Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. On a clear day, this peaks can stand against all the others in Virginia.
It should be noted that while the ease of access to Sharp Top Mountain presents the hiker with a great and short day hike with an amazing pay off, it has not gone unnoticed by others. The solitude of this hike is very low, and with regular visitors that choose to take a small bus line from the Peaks of Otter Lodge to a drop off just below the summit, it can become quite crowded at the Peaks on a clear fall day. If you’re looking to take the surrounding areas in, in solitude, it’s best to avoid peak seasons and weekends, or at least arrive early enough to avoid those going up by bus. But fear not, there is plenty of room at the summit to take in the views or scramble a little distance off to a solitary rock to enjoy the area in peace.
At a total out and back distance of 3.2 miles, Sharp Top Mountain is one of the shorter hikes for this type of view. However, with over 1300 feet of elevation gain in less than 1.5 miles the trek can be quite hard and strenuous at times. It does have the advantage of numerous and well dug stone steps along the way, and there are several good places to stop and take a break. Hiking boots are not a necessity for this hike, nor are trekking poles, but given the number of steps those with knee or ankle issues may find them quite helpful. Winter here can also make much of the area icy and treacherous, so caution and common sense should be your guide on this trail.
Directions: Perhaps the best part of this entire hike is the ease of access to its trailhead. Located just off of mile marker 86 on the Blue Ridge parkway, it’s impossible to miss this great hike.
Other Hikes in the Area: Located at the Peaks of Otter, Sharp Top is directly across from its big and little brothers, Flat Top and Harkening Hill, as well as a small out and back waterfall hike that’s less than two miles away on the Parkway. If you’re willing to make a long day of it, or are looking for a hike of greater distance, you will be less than an hour’s drive away from finding your way to McAfee’s Knob and Tinker Cliffs in the Roanoke Valley. Truly, you’re in the heart of Virginia’s hiking hub.