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Old 12-10-2021, 03:46 PM   #1
DSettahr's Avatar
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 5,468
Virginia Explorations: Sharp Top, Fallingwaters Creek, & the Dragon's Tooth 11/14/21

I'm spending my winter working in Virginia, which means taking advantage of the opportunity to explore new areas. Below are some short writeups of a number of day hikes I undertook on my first day off after arriving in the state.

My first destination for the day was Sharp Top Mountain, one of the three Peaks of Otter (along with Flat Top Mountain and Harkening Hill). Once thought to be among the highest peaks in Virginia (and perhaps even North America), the Peaks of Otter are some of the more prominent mountains of the Blue Ridge and they dominate the horizon from many vantage points of the Piedmont region of Virginia. Due to their prominence, they are perhaps some of Virginia's most readily identifiable peaks from a distance.

During the summer season there is a shuttle bus that takes visitors most of the way to the summit in addition to the hiking trail, but as my visit occurred later in the season the shuttle bus was not running. The hike begins at a trailhead adjacent to the Peaks of Otter Campground, which itself is located across Abbott Lake from the Peaks of Otter Lodge, a rustic resort open in season for visitors looking for a less primitive experience.

The trail itself was generally well built, with lots of improvements including sidehilling and staircases. Not far below the summit there were even some stretches where asphalt had been used to stabilize the tread... a significant departure from the natural state to be sure, but I'm sure given the high levels of use and impact this trail gets, the alternative is worse.

Cool autumn temperatures also meant that there was a fair amount of ice in the form of frost heave and icicles alongside the trail in spots. For the most part, however, the trail itself was ice free and I had no difficulty with traction.

Not far from the summit, a short side trail also provides access to a rocky outcrop known as Buzzard's Roost, which provides excellent views in its own right.

The ascent was moderately physically demanding but not long, and just shy of an hour of steady hiking found me arriving at the summit of Sharp Top. There is a stone shelter atop the peak; naturally it clearly receives regular use as a trashcan by less-conscientious visitors to the peak.

But the views from the summit were absolutely phenomenal and well worth the effort of the climb.

The hike down went quickly and easily, and along the way I passed quite a few groups headed up. I can imagine that especially when the shuttle bus is running, the summit can get quite crowded at times. I was lucky with my late season (and early in the morning ascent) to have had the summit mostly to myself.

My second destination for the day was Fallingwaters Creek, also in the Peaks of Otter. Here, a 1.3 mile loop trail provides access to a scenic section of the aptly-named Fallingwaters Creek, complete with many scenic cascades and waterfalls. There's two trailheads on the Blue Ridge Parkway that provide access to the loop- the Flat Top Mountain trailhead, and the Fallingwaters trailhead. I selected the latter as the start of my hike.

Both trailheads are actually higher in elevation than the creek, so no matter where you start (or which direction you hike the loop), there is a necessary descent down to the creek itself. I chose to hike the loop clockwise, so I'd be climbing along the creek itself.

The trail crosses the creek twice, and I first arrived at the downstream crossing. There was clearly once a footbridge here, as evidenced by the stone foundations, but it was long gone. The creek was easily rock hopped across during my visit, but I imagine that this can be a challenging crossing during high water.

Again, Fallingwaters Creek is well-named. I was treated to numerous pleasant views of cascades and waterfalls as I climbed hiked upstream alongside the creek, even though the water was running a bit low during my visit. I imagine that after it rains, the stream becomes even more scenic.

There is a bridge in place at the upstream crossing, so perhaps during periods of high water it is best to turn the hike into an out and back from the upper side of the loop.

From the upper crossing, it was a gentle and easy climb back up to the Fallingwaters trailhead, and then from there more easy hiking back to the Flat Top trailhead. This would definitely be a good hike to bring young kids one (with some added care and attention near the ledges that form that cascades), and indeed, I encountered a number of families out hiking during my visit.

Continued in next post…
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