Peaks of Otter Campground
Carved gracefully into the mountainside on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Peaks of Otter campsites are both numerous and crowded together. (Expect no privacy on weekends.) On our Sunday overnighter, the campground was sparsely populated, even though it was peak fall season. Looking on the positive side of things, the campground makes for a convenient location to the area hikes. Sharp Top Trail is right next door. Be forewarned that the dated bathhouse offers no showers, hot water, or electricity (so bring a flashlight with you at night). Technically, two cars are permitted at each site, but most have room for only one vehicle.
To sweeten the camping experience, head over to the Peaks of Otter Historic Lodge (less than a mile) and bring back dessert. We chose their delicious chocolate bourbon chess pie, and with all our hiking, no calorie counting!
Peaks of Otter Historic Lodge
With views of Abbott Lake, the Peaks of Otter Historic Lodge is located at MP 85.6 along the Virginia section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. For those that aren't camping enthusiasts, the lodge offers 63 rooms as well as a full-service restaurant. Open seasonally (May through November).
Peaks of Otter Picnic Area
The Peaks of the Otter Picnic Area makes a relaxing stop for lunch where the kids can explore the refreshingly chilly Little Stony Creek. With 58 picnic tables, you you have the choice of small private ones nestled along the creek to ones located in the open meadow (perfect for field games). No covered shelters and the picnic area has seasonal hours (May through November), although roadside tables are available all year long.
- Two restrooms (cold water, flush toilets)
- On-site dumpsters
- Optional Trailhead: Abbott Lake Loop Trail
Peaks of Otter Hiking
Abbott Lake Loop Trail
Starting from Peaks of Otter Lodge, take a leisurely turn around the tranquil, 24-acre stocked Abbott Lake. If you have time, a small detour will bring you to the 1830s log cabin, Polly Woods Ordinary. It operated as the area's first lodging, catering to the needs of the "ordinary" traveler.
- Easy 1.0 mile paved loop (ADA-Accessible)
- Open for fishing with valid NC or VA license (see special requirements here)
- Trailhead at MP 85.6 Peaks of Otter Lodge (or from the Peaks of Otter Picnic Area)
Appalachian Trail (Harveys Knob Overlook to Montvale Overlook)
Although we connected these two overlooks, it involved walking across the Blue Ridge Parkway, so use caution. A safer alternative would be to start from the Montvale Overlook and head to Taylors Mountain Overlook. For us, this was a great stop to stretch our legs before dinner.
Bonus: If you have an avid birder in your party, Harveys Knob Overlook is a popular spot for spotting migratory hawks in the fall months.
- Harveys Knob Overlook: MP 95.3 to Montvale Overlook: MP 95.9
- Easy-moderate: 1.2 miles RT
Johnson Farm Loop Trail
A kid-friendly trail, the Johnson Farm Loop Trail culminates with a historic mountain farm at its midpoint. If starting from Peaks of Otter Lodge, you will pass through the tunnel under the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Along the route, you'll pass through an open field where the former resort Hotel Mons stood. The restored 1930's Johnson Farm property includes a farmhouse, gardens, and antique farm equipment. Check for seasonal living history programs.
- Moderate 1.75 or 2.1 mile loop (depending on starting location)
- Start from either Peaks of Otter Lodge (MP 85.6) or Peaks of Otter Visitor Center (MP 85.9)
Fallingwater Cascades Trail
Located north of Peaks of Otter Campground and along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Fallingwater Cascades Trail follows along the Fallingwater Creek, a lovely series of cascades over moss-covered boulders and logs, to the base of the 100-ft Fallingwater Cascades.
Be prepared for rock hopping across the creek if you plan on hiking the loop. Benches are located along the trail for the weary.
- Moderate 1.6 mile loop
- Trailhead Fallingwater Cascades Parking Area at MP 83.1
Sharp Top Trail with Buzzard Roost Spur
A heavily trafficked hike, especially on weekends, pick up the Sharp Top Trail at the camp store parking lot (or walk over from the Peaks of Otter Campground). Arrive early or be prepared for crowded conditions on the steep, rocky, and narrow path. Your perseverance will be rewarded with spectacular views. For those early risers, a sunrise hike is highly recommended!
If you are not too winded, the Buzzard's Roost Spur was worth the extra mileage (0.3 mile RT) for more amazing views and a bit of rock scrambling fun.
- Strenuous 3.0 miles RT (no water available at the top)
- Trailhead MP 85.6
- Allow 1.5-2 hours to hike up, depending on fitness and foot traffic and 1 hour for descent. It took us a little over 2 hours for our entire hike, including the spur.
- Sharp Top Mountain Shuttle: check website for seasonal shuttle schedule (fee$).
Apple Orchard Falls Trail
Pick up the Apple Orchard Falls Trail at the Sunset Field overlook off the Blue Ridge Parkway. A kiosk to the right of the parking area marks the beginning of the trail. With other trail options in the area, keep a sharp eye for wooden signs and the blue blazes to get to the waterfalls. As you near the Apple Orchard Falls, don't be fooled by a small waterfall near a footbridge - this isn't the waterfall you're looking for.
Continuing further down the trail, a steep set of stairs will lead you to a viewing area with bench seating. Relax and savor the gorgeous 200-ft waterfall, flowing in a series of cascades.
- Strenuous 2.4 mile RT (blue blaze)
- Trailhead Sunset Field Parking Area MP 78.4
Flat Top Trail
Another popular trail (but not as crowded as Sharp Top), Flat Top Trail consists of a series of switchbacks through a hardwood forest reaching an elevation of 4004 feet. The summit has numerous rock outcroppings and panoramic views. Allow 3-4 hours for your hike. The small parking area shared with hikers to Fallingwater Cascades Trail holds about a dozen cars.
- Strenuous 5.2 mile RT (from parking to summit and back); 1600 ft elevation gain.
- Trailhead Flat Top Parking Area MP 83.5