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Sharp Top Mountain: A favorite for day hikers

Not all hikers have the time or desire to commit to a distance hike on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Coast Trail or Continental Divide Trail.

Sharp Top Mountain overlooks Abbott Lake at the Peaks of Otter. The Sharp Top Trail is a strenuous 3 mile out and back trail with 360-degree panorama views from the summit of Sharp Top.
Sharp Top Mountain overlooks Abbott Lake at the Peaks of Otter. The Sharp Top Trail is a strenuous 3 mile out and back trail with 360-degree panorama views from the summit of Sharp Top.
Sandy Wallace
Day hikers should allow 3 hours to hike Sharp Top Mountain
Sandy Wallace

Hiking the entire distance of all three of these trails, considered 'the big three' of U.S. distance hiking trails, will earn you the Triple Crown Award from the American Long Distance Hiking Association.

Hiking the Sharp Top Mountain Trail gives East Coast day hikers a little taste of the Appalachian Trail, which spans 2,180 miles from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Mountains.

You will find the Sharp Top Mountain trailhead at MP 86 off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the Peaks of Otter Lodge. The 3 mile out and back trail is rated as strenuous, but the 360-degree views at the top are worth the hike.

Day hikers should plan at least three hours to make the journey. Add an extra 30 minutes for a short detour and you can also hike to Buzzard's Roost, located 600 feet off the Sharp Top Trail.

Be sure to bring enough water since none is available on the trail. Those who are unable to manage the strenuous hike can take a bus from the camp store to within 1,500 feet of the summit in season.

The Sharp Top Trail is a favorite among day hikers and can be crowded, especially on warm weekends. Although less crowded during the week, sunny days always bring plenty of hikers to Sharp Top.

Sharp Top Mountain was climbed by Indians 8,000 years ago, according to the sign at the trailhead. Sharp Top, with an elevation of 3,875 feet, was once believed to be Virginia's highest point.

The journey begins with concrete steps, leading you to the dirt trail that meanders through the woods. The trail is muddy after it rains and very rocky in some places.

Snow and ice can be hazardous in winter. Large boulders and rocky sections also present a safety concern for some hikers. Using a hiking stick or trekking poles will provide support, balance and safety, especially when descending.

You will see a variety of wildflowers along the trail from early spring until late fall. In late spring and early summer, the Catawba Rhododendron are breathtaking.

The busiest season for hiking Sharp Top is autumn, when visitors from around the country enjoy the fall colors in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Winter hiking offers better views since many of the trees are bare. Whatever season you hike Sharp Top, you'll find beauty waiting around every curve.

The sun peeks through the trees as you round a turn and suddenly the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains fill the sky. You'll be glad you packed your camera as each view of the mountains seems more beautiful.

Kids of all ages love the giant boulders you'll encounter along the way. According to a sign near the summit, the boulders are formed by decomposition and loosening of the diorite rock masses.

When you see a handrail, it's a good idea to use it. The path is narrow and steep in some places and the steps are often steep.

When you come to the junction with the Buzzard's Roost Spur Trail, you can turn right and you'll be at Buzzard's Roost in 600 feet or turn left and you'll reach the summit of Sharp Top in 1,900 feet.

When you see the metal railing, you're almost there. When you look up and all you see is sky, be prepared for some of the best views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley.

You'll pass a day shelter just below the summit. The stone building, once used as a concession stand, now offers shelter from wind, rain and sun to day hikers.

It's very windy at the summit of Sharp Top and you can see forever. Be sure to allow extra time to take in the views. You will see the Peaks of Otter and Abbott Lake way down below.

You'll also see Flat Top Mountain, slightly higher than Sharp Top at 4,001 feet to the north. Some hikers start the day very early to watch the sunrise from the summit.

Morning, afternoon or evening, there's no more beautiful day hike in central Virginia than Sharp Top Mountain. If you still want to take on the Appalachian Trail, check out the video for tips to prepare for a distance hike.