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Blue Ridge Parkway
Peaks of Otter
Sharp Top, Flat Top, Harkening Hill, Abbott Lake, Fallingwater Cascades, Johnson Farm, Elk Run Loop & Polly Wood's Ordinary
The 4200 acre Peaks of Otter Recreation Area is a popular destination for Blue Ridge Parkway visitors, whether to spend the day, stop for the night or enjoy a weekend. The Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant offers year round rustic accommodations and dining. Don't expect a phone or TV in your room. The lodge was built on 1964 and the boggy meadow near the lodge was turned into Abbott Lake.
The National Park Service offers a campground, picnic area, camp store, rest rooms, visitor center and a restored mountain farm that are usually opened from May to the end of October. The peak season is during the fall in mid to late October and in early June.
Folk lore says the name Peaks of Otter comes from the Cherokee word ottari, which means "high places". The "Peaks of Otter" are made up of Flat Top (4001 feet), Sharp Top (3875 feet) and Harkening Hill (3375 feet). The visitor center is at an elevation of 2545 feet. The area is almost completely surrounded by Jefferson National Forest, making the area secluded. However, it is easily accessed by VA 43 even during the winter.
The area was first cleared and settled in 1766 and by the 1830's an "ordinary" was established that offered dining as well as lodging to travelers crossing the Blue Ridge. You can check out Polly Wood's Ordinary near the Abbott Lake Trail and the Peaks of Otter Picnic Area. Early hotels opened in the area as early as 1857. The area was a popular tourist destination by the 1880's.
By 1930 a community of over twenty self reliant families populated the area, including the last of the Johnson family, whose farm is still here for visitors to enjoy. The Johnson farm dates back to 1852. A school and a church stood near the current site of the Peaks of Otter Lodge. Tourists visited the local hotel and the road up to the summit of Sharp Top supplied cash for locals.
The depression ended the lives as they knew it for the locals of this area. The government ened up purchasing the land for the parkway. The Johnson farm was sold in 1941, but eventually ended up in the hands of the National Park Service. The farm deteriorated until the 1950's, when it was stabilized. It was finally restored in 1968. The interpretive Johnson Farm Trail is a great place along the Parkway to learn about the lives of the people who lived in this area. From May until the end of October, this farm offers some of the most engaging and extensive living history programs anywhere along the parkway.
A very interesting story from this area is from 1820 when a group of rowdies spent a few days trying to roll one of Sharp Top's summit boulders into the valley. They finally succeeded in moving it off the summit with the help of some dynamite. When the Washington Monument was being built, locals took a chunk of that boulder in 1852 to be used in the monument. The chunk rests in the west wall at the twelfth stairway landing.
In 1943, a B25 bomber crashed at the Peaks of Otter on the side of Sharp Top Mountain. Most of the wreckage still remains where it came to rest some many years ago.
The Peaks of Otter Recreational Area offers visitors so many outdoor recreational activities. There are numerous hiking trails. A campground, picnic area, year round lodge and restaurant. There is even a bus that takes visitors almost to the summit of Sharp Top for a modest fee. Spend a few days and explore all the trails the Peaks of Otter area has to offer!
When we visited the area in 2007, we had the opportunity to watch a bear walk along the paved Abbott Lake Trail as we ate our dinner in the restaurant. This was the same path we took from our room in the lodge just 30 minutes earlier!
For more information on the Peaks of Otter as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway check out the following books, Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway, Best Easy Day Hikes of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Walking the Blue Ridge: A Guide to the Trails of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Blue Ridge Parkway Guide Volume 1: Rockfish Gap to Grandfather Mountain. Look above for other books.
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