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  • Writer's pictureVien R. Guenther

Sharp Top Mountain - Virginia, U.S.A

Updated: Jun 5, 2020


After hiking at Crab Tree Falls, we hiked the Sharp Top Mountain the next day. This trail is one of the three mountain peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains called the Peaks of Otter. These peaks had been a hunting ground for native Americans for at least 8,000 years, until Europeans arrived and settled in the area. There are three peaks: Flat Top (4,004 feet), Sharp Top (3,875 feet), and Harkening Hill (3,375 feet).

The Sharp Top Mountain is the most popular among the three peaks due to its spectacular 360-degree view at the summit. For some (i.e. non-hikers), this is not an easy hike. There are some very steep ascents in some parts with a long series of big steps in the last half mile or so.

Almost there

But don't despair, you have a choice, which you don't always get when trying to reach the top of a mountain. You can either hike the 1.5 miles (one way) all the way to the top or take a shuttle bus most of the way. Taking the bus, you will still need to walk the last quarter of a mile, the steepest part of the trail, to reach the summit, but you will be rewarded.

You will see vast mountains as far as the eye can see. There is the Piedmont to the east and the Shenandoah Valley and Allegheny Mountains to the west. From the top, the Abbot Lake and the Peaks of Otter Lodge can be seen below. See photo.

At the lower viewpoint with Abbot lake below

Just before reaching the summit, you will pass a stone building built in 1858, located just below the final steps to the top. The structure is big enough to shelter many hikers if they are stranded due to a storm, or other adverse weather conditions.

At the summit, there are three viewing areas surrounded by huge boulders. Not adequate enough though to shelter you from the cold wind. It was cold and windy when we were there. So we actually had to hike a little way back down to eat our lunch in a sheltered spot. The shallow cave by the trail only sheltered us from the wind but it was also warmer being in the sun.

At the middle viewpoint with my sister-in-law and her dog
Stairs to the uppermost viewpoint
Heading back down from the uppermost viewpoint


The original lodging house of Polly Wood

After we finished our hike, we had to explore the area at the base of the mountain. The Peaks of Otter became a popular destination in the 1830's. Polly Wood, a widower, established the first lodging for travelers in a simple family log cabin at the foot of the Peaks. It was called "Polly Wood's Ordinary" (ordinary is a British term similar to "inn" which means taking care of "ordinary" needs of travelers). This became the first "hotel" in the area.

Polly Wood closed the lodge for visitors due to old age and when the Otter Peaks Hotel was opened in 1857, which could accommodate fifty guests. It was later bought by the Peaks of Otter company in 1916. They built a new hotel - doubling the capacity of the old one - and called it Hotel Mons in 1920. This was shut down in 1936. The National Park Service bought the property in 1942 and tore down the old hotel. The Peaks of Otter Lodge was built in 1964. A year later, a dam was built, which formed the Abbot Lake which we see beside the lodge today.

The original simple log cabin was restored and moved to the northeast corner of the property near the lake. Not far from the present lodge and restaurant.

Partial view of the present lodge from the other side of the lake. (Photo by: Hermann Guenther))
View of Sharp Top Mountain from the lake

There is a nice walking trail around Abbot Lake. You don't have to be a guest of the lodge to walk around it. From the lake is a beautiful view of the Peaks of Otter. There are lounging chairs but no picnic tables.

I can understand why the area was a "summer landmark" from years past. It is a nice place to hang out and relax even without the presence of the lake, which did not exist back then. The lake is an extra bonus, and if you like fishing (with artificial lures only), there are catfish, small-mouth bass, golden shiners, sunfish and blue gill.

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