Sharptop Mountain | Peaks of Otter - December 2017
December 10, 2017 (Blog Post #2)
"Otari"  High Places
Last weekend I took my December photography trip to Peaks of Otter and was asked to write a blog post about the area for The Highlands Club. Below you will find that article along with some of my photography of the area over the past 12 months.
Located at mile marker 86 on the Blue Ridge Parkway is Peaks of Otter. Peaks consists of three mountains. The tallest is Flattop Mountain at 4,001 feet. The smallest is Harkening Hill at 3,372 feet. The most famous is Sharptop Mountain at 3,875 feet. Historic figures such as Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee both visited and wrote about Peaks of Otter. Jefferson once mistakenly wrote that "the mountains of the Blue Ridge, and of these the Peaks of Otter, are thought to be of a greater height, measured from their base, than any others in our country, and perhaps in North America."
No one knows why these mountains are called Peaks of Otter. However, there are a few leading theories: Two brothers, Charles and Robert Ewing, came from Scotland and settled near the Blue Ridge about 1700. They are believed to have named the mountains and streams after their native land that had several otter-themed places. Another theory is the name could have possibly came from the Cherokee word "Otari" meaning "high places”. No river otters lived in the area. However, it’s possible the mountains where simply named after nearby Otter creek.
When approaching Peaks of Otter from Roanoke, Virginia you will be greeted with one of the most spectator views on the Blue Ridge Parkway as Sharptop and Flattop come into view towering over the rest of the land. I suggest taking in the view at Pine Tree Overlook at mile marker 95.2 before going further, if approaching from the south. If approaching from the north make the stop at Thunder Ridge off the parkway on the Appalachian trail at mike marker 74. This overlook does not offer a view of Peaks of Otter but is one of the best overlooks in the area. It is especially good for sunset photography.  
Upon your arrival you will find that Peaks of Otter offers an array of activities in addition to hiking and photography. Your will find a small visitor center with exhibits, a small gift shop, an old bus stop that has recently been reopened that now offers snacks for hikers going up Sharptop mountain. There is even bus transportation that will take you near the top of Sharptop. If able I strongly encourage you to hike to the summit. Peaks of Otter lodge offers overnight accommodations, a restaurant, as well as Abbott Lake named after Stanley Abbott, the first Resident Landscape Architect of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Nearby you will find Johnson Farmers, an authentic period correct example of an Appalachian farm as it appeared in the 1930s. There is also a campground as well as picnic area. As with most attractions on the Parkway faculties are seasonal however the lodge and restaurant are both open year round but run on a restricted schedule in the winter months, visit:
History (timeline)
    •    Archaeological evidence indicates that Native Americans have been visiting Peaks or at least 8,000 years
    •    1766 Thomas Wood arrived from Pennsylvania and “settles” the area
    •    1834 the first local inn was created by Polly Wood (still stands today)
    •    1864 Hunter's Raid (Civil War)
    •    1870s The Mons Hotel opens.
    •    1930’s Watch tower is erected on Sharpton Mountain
    •    1937 United States of America receives deed for Peaks of Otter and the Mons Hotel Property
    •    1943 B-25 Crashes into Sharptop Mountain killing all on board.
    •    1958 Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center opens to the public
    •    1964 Current Lodge is opened.
Hiking | Photography Highlight  
Sharptop Mountain is the most famous mountain in Virginia and one of the most famous in all of the Blue Ridge. It’s my favorite mountain. The hike to the top is a beautiful yet strenuous 1.5 mile hike one way that offers spectacular 360° views. I prefer sunset here compared to sunrise for photography because the sunsets over near layered ridge lines and rises over flat land or a more distant ridge line. This makes for far more interesting photos at sunset. In summer months Sharptop casts a near perfect pyramid shadow across the flat lands all the way to the horizon in the evening. (Pro Tip: If planning a photography trip remember that Sharptop is one of the most famous mountains in the Blue Ridge. As a result sunrise can get crowded up at the summit. Arrive early and claim your spot. Sunrises tend to be far less crowded. October is a particularly busy month.  
Hiking Trails:
    •    Sharp Top Trail (1.5 miles) - Sharp Top Trail is the most popular trail and begins at the campstore across the Parkway from the Visitor Center.
    •    Buzzard Roost an additional trail found off the Sharptop Trail (separate cliff formation on the side of Sharp Top)
    •    Harkening Hill Loop Trail (3.3 miles) - Begins behind the Visitor Center and across from the amphitheater
    •    Johnson Farm Trail (2.0 miles)  Is a loop trail which follows a section of the Harkening Hill Loop Trail.
    •    Flat Top Trail (4.4-miles) - Milepost 83.5
    •    Fallingwater Cascades Trail (1.4 mile) - Mike Post 83.1
    •    Abbott Lake Trail (1.0 miles) -Starts at the Lodge
Overlooks of Interest in the general area
    •    Pine Tree Overlook 95.2
    •    Thunder Ridge Overlook on the Appalachian Trail parking area 74
    •    Campground: 82 tent sites, 59 RV sites, 62 picnic sites
    •    Fishing: Abbott Lake

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