The short hike to the top of Sharp Top Mountain is steep and intense, but the amazing 360 degree mountain views make all the effort more than worth it.
The Peaks of Otter lie directly on the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Roanoke, VA. People have been coming to this area to get away from it all and experience the crisp, fresh mountain air since the 1800s.
The three peaks that make up the Peaks of Otter are Sharp Top Mountain, Flat Top Mountain, and Harkening Hill.
Of these three peaks, Sharp Top is by far the most iconic. It’s distinct pointed shape makes it easy to distinguish from the surrounding mountains and it was once believed to be the tallest mountain in Virginia.
What’s funny is not only is it not actually the tallest peak, it isn’t even as tall as neighboring Flat Top Mountain! It’s pointy top just makes it appear that way.
The trail to the top of Sharp Top is one of the most beloved hikes in the region because of the amazing views at the top.
Even though the trail up Sharp Top is short, it is not easy. This is one of the steeper trails in the area, it’s very rocky, and it has a lot of steps.
That being said, you don’t have to be in phenomenal physical shape to tackle this hike. Just take breaks as needed and you’ll be fine.
You will be so glad you did. When you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with amazing 360 views of the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains spreading out in all directions.
This hike is particularly spectacular at sunrise and it’s also a great place to catch a beautiful sunset.
And if you’d love to see those beautiful views but aren’t up for the steep hike, you also have the option of taking a shuttle bus most of the way there. (More info on that below).
Sharp Top Hike
Length: 3.3 miles round trip Difficulty: Strenuous Elevation Gain: 1253ft over 1.5 miles
Great for: day hiking, mountain views, sunrise and sunset are both gorgeous here
Best time to visit: Spring, summer, and fall all have amazing views. Avoid the exposed peak during storms.
General Location: Peaks of Otter, Blue Ridge Parkway near Bedford, VA
How we rate it: 5/5, for those amazing 360 degree mountain views
The Sharp Top trailhead is right along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Peaks of Otter. There isn’t a sign on the actual Parkway pointing to this hike, but it is easy to find. Just turn across from the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center and you will immediately see the parking lot on your right.
You can also access Peaks of Otter from Highway 43 coming from the small town of Bedford, VA.
Depending on where you are coming from, one way may be much faster than the other. But if you have the option to take the Parkway, I highly recommend it. It is an absolutely beautiful drive.
The Sharp Top parking lot is large with room for lots of cars, but even so, on busy weekends cars often end up parked all along the grass as well.
Sharp Top Store
There is a small store right next to the trailhead called the Sharp Top Store. The Sharp Top Store sells ready-to eat food, snacks, bottled water, and basic camping supplies. You can also buy tickets for the Sharp Top Shuttle here.
There’s also a nice patio behind the store with tables and chairs where you can rest up after your hike or enjoy your lunch.
The store is closed on Mondays, but is open every other day from 9-4:30.
If you happen to be hiking Sharp Top when the store is closed, there are bathrooms available across the street at the Visitors Center.
Taking the Shuttle to Sharp Top
If you aren’t up for the steep hike to the top of Sharp Top Mountain, there is a shuttle that runs from the store below up to a bus shelter near the peak.
This is an awesome option for anyone who wants to take in the amazing views without the tough hike.
Tickets for the shuttle can be purchased at the Sharp Top Store. You can purchase a round trip ticket and ride to the top and then back down.
Or you can purchase a one-way ticket so you can ride the shuttle up and hike back down the trail. This lets you experience the trail without all the steep climbing. Just be aware, the hike back down can be tough if you have any kind of knee issues.
Once you reach the bus shelter at the top, you still have a short walk to get to the lookout at the top of the peak. (Less than .25 miles.) And you will still need to climb a few steps at the top to reach the amazing views.
You can find the updated schedule and ticket prices for the shuttle at the official Peaks of Otter website.
And for those of you who are planning to hike on the trail, don’t worry. You won’t see the shuttle or the road at all on your hike. The only real sign of it you will see is the literal sign near the top that points toward the bus shelter.
Hitting the Trail
The trail up to Sharp Top is easy to find; it begins with a set of wide stone steps leading into the woods from the parking lot.
From here the trail begins with a gradual ascent on a dirt trail. There are lots of rocks and roots strewn throughout the trail, so watch your step.
As you continue to climb, you will come to many sets of stone steps. Most are neatly carved stone steps, but there are a few areas with more rugged stones to climb.
Around two thirds of the way to the top, you will come to a T intersection in the trail. There is a shorter trail to the right that goes to Buzzards Roost and a longer trail to the left that continues to Sharp Top.
Buzzards Roost is basically a huge rock that juts out from the side of the mountain. You can climb it for some nice mountain views or circle around beside it if climbing isn’t your thing.
While the views from here are nice, the views from Sharp Top are much better so you won’t miss much if you decide to skip Buzzard’s Roost.
Continuing to Sharp Top
From this point, the trail becomes much steeper and is made up of many, many stone steps. In fact, there may be more steps than actual trail in this section.
As you near the top, you can see glimpses of the beautiful mountain views through the trees but they are pretty obscured whenever the trees have their leaves.
Even though this is a short trail, climbing all the stairs near the top can be tiring. It often looks like you must be near the top of the mountain only to turn a corner and find yet more stairs.
Near the top, the trail intersects with a very short trail leading to the shuttle bus stop. Once you reach this point, you are nearly there.
When you finally emerge from the woods, you’ll see a set of stone steps leading up to the Sharp Top Shelter.
This stone building was originally built in the 1850s and has had many uses over the years. Rumor has it there was even a restaurant here in the 1950s.
Now it is an empty building that is open to the public. You aren’t allowed to camp here, but this is a nice spot to escape the wind on a cool day.
As you pass the Sharp Top Shelter, you’ll see your first real glimpse of the gorgeous mountain views to your left.
Continue up the stairs past the building to a series of stone platforms.
The platforms wind around with several sets of steps in between so you can see the entire gorgeous 360 view of the mountains.
As you come up the steps to take in the entire view, you will be completely surrounded by layers and layers of beautiful mountains, the farthest peaks fading into shades of blue.
There are stone railings all around along with markers giving you an idea of what you are seeing in each direction. There are also several tall boulders alongside the platforms that are easy to climb onto for even wider views.
You’ll be able to see the Blue Ridge Parkway winding over the mountains, Abbott lake and the Peaks of Otter lodge below, and dozens of nearby peaks.
Sometimes on a hazy or overcast day, the further mountains are very hard to see, though the view is still amazing. And on a clear day, you can see for a very long way in every direction.
One of the friends I was hiking with had the Peakfinder app which was awesome for identifying all the peaks we were seeing.
Just like the trail to the views is uphill the entire way, the trail back is completely downhill.
The trail back to the parking lot starts by descending the many, many steep stairs. Once you reach the Buzzards Roost intersection, it gets a lot less steep and much easier.
When we started up the trail, there were signs warning of bear activity in the area and we did see a small black bear cross the trail in front of us as we were heading back down.
But we kept a healthy distance and he paid us no mind and continued on his way.
After the Hike
When you’re finished with your hike, you might want to check out some of the other amazing hikes in the area. There are quite a few fantastic hikes right there at the Peaks of Otter including the beautiful (but also steep) hike to Apple Orchard Falls.
The nearby Peaks of Otter Lodge is a great place to grab lunch or you can head into the nearby town of Bedford which is full of cute local restaurants like Liberty Station where you’ll find delicious burgers and sandwiches in a restored train station.