By Adaline Bisese and Summer Williamson
3,862 feet above sea level atop the Virginian Blue Ridge Mountains towers the peaks of Sharp Top Mountain; one of the tallest mountains in Virginia. To access the peaks you have to hike the steep 1.5 mile long trail which begins at the basin of the mountain near the quaint Peaks of Otter Lodge, located right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Bedford County, Virginia.
The trail is a beautiful day hike that offers a slight challenge and highly rewarding views at the peak. It is moderately demanding and involves many staircases of rocky steps and precarious ledges adding a touch of danger. On average, the hike up takes 1 hour and 30 minutes to two hours -- a total of 3-4 hours both ways. If you are not in a rush I would recommend bringing some snacks to eat at the top as well as a camera to capture the breathtaking view from the summit.
The trail is pretty friendly to people of all fitness levels and offers rocks and resting places to sit on along the way. However, due to the stair-full, periodic sections of steep inclines, and rocky nature of the trail I do not suggest it for young children or the elderly.
For those who cannot necessarily travel the full length of the trail for any reason, there is a shuttle service controlled by the Peaks of Otter Lodge. Instead of traveling the full 1.5 miles on a moderately difficult trail, those who use the service will be within 1,500 feet of the peak of Sharp Top Mountain. Note that the remaining 1,500 feet are the toughest of the entire trail. On average, the bus runs hourly and ticket rates range from $8 to $12 depending on whether you have chosen a one-way trip or a round-trip. They run the shuttles fairly consistently from May till early November, but the trail stays open year round. More information on their schedules and prices can be found at their website.
It is strongly advised to avoid hiking the trail during inclement weather, in windy or cold conditions, or after a heavy rain. Gusts of winds can cause alarm while walking and grow stronger at the top. Heavy rain causes muddy and generally unsafe ground which in effect can cause accidents. Rocky cliffs + mud (+ wind) = one nasty hospital trip.
The trail can become pretty crowded during the summer, which can impose on the magnificence of the view at the top or can add to the group spirit (if you are into that kind of vibe). In my opinion, it is best to hike Sharp Top during a cool and clear spring or autumn day to avoid crowds and get the best views with the most amount of comfort temperature wise.
Upon nearing the top of the trail, you will find the option to head towards the summit of Sharp Top Mountain or head the opposite direction to Buzzard’s Roost, the second highest point of Sharp Top Mountain, that tends to be less crowded during the summer. Both choices offer great experiences and are worth traveling to during your hike.
At the peak of Sharp Top Mountain there are quite a few stone structures such as stairs and more impressively, a small stone shelter for overnight stays. The shelter is craftily nestled into the rocky features of the mountainside, which overlooks the Appalachian Mountains and its surrounding valleys. Built from local materials by the Peaks of Otter Lodge, It provides a good place for protection from the elements as it has a presumably functional chimney and dense shutters. It has a few minor flaws such as fly-away shingles, musty odor, and a small collection of debris in a corner, but it gets the job done. However, It should be noted that this shelter may not be suitable for people with allergies, asthma, or other mold related illnesses. The Peaks of Otter Lodge is attempting to raise money to fix some of the weathered sections of the shelter and their fundraising page can be accessed with this link.
There is a lesser known third option at the top of the mountain and that is the crash sight of a World War Two plane wreck. During a training mission, five airmen were killed when their B-25 Mitchell crashed into Sharp Top Mountain. Although it has been over seventy years since the initial crash, remnants of the plane are still present on the mountainside. Because of the rocky terrain of the mountain, the debris cannot be removed from the area. The definite cause of the crash is unclear, but it was suspected that an inexperienced crew and the hour at which the flight had taken place are believed to be factors. The trail towards the plane is not clearly defined and may require a little bit of searching. This one is definitely suggested for history buffs and anybody who would like to explore the history of the mountain or Blue Ridge area.
Sharp Top Mountain is a beautiful, scenic part of the Blue Ridge area. To any one considering a trip to the peak of Sharp Top, or Buzzards Roost, don’t hesitate. The activity does not cost anything, is open year round, and provides an experience worth sharing.