Tucked off Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway, The Peaks of Otter has been a refuge of wonder for generations…a place to relax and explore.
The Native Americans lived in the area for centuries, before the land was settled by early pioneers. President Thomas Jefferson climbed Sharptop (the tallest Peak of Otter) and recounted his findings in his journal. Click here to learn more. At the time, Jefferson proposed that the Peaks of Otter could be the highest in all of North America…of course that was quickly disproven…but shows the impact of the place.
I’ve been visiting the Peaks of Otter for the past five years on and off with family and friends. It has become a go to destination for a relaxing mountain weekend.
Located only three hours from Raleigh, NC near Lynchburg/Roanoke area – The Peaks is truly a place of seclusion and exploration.
What: The Peaks of Otter is the name of three tall mountains off the VA portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Roanake and Buena Vista. It became a popular vacation spot in nineteenth century, starting with:
- In 1834, a local inn or ‘Ordinary’ was opened by Polly Wood. Settlers could stay the night in her cabin and get a warm mill. You can still tour ‘Polly Wood’s Ordinary.’ I would love to learn more about this enterprising lady, who no doubt put life and limb on the line to run a frontier business.
- By the 1870s, The Peaks was quickly becoming a popular vacation spot to escape hot summer months. Benjamin Wilkes, opened the renowned Mons Hotel and the Peaks of Otter became a community of over twenty families, including a school, church and the hotel.
- The Johnson Family lived in the Peaks area for 3 generations until the 1930s. Tourists can now learn the living history of farmlife in nineteenth and early twentieth century VA at the Johnson Homestead.
- In the 1960s, the NPS developed The Peaks of Otter Lodge and Abbott Lake to provide accommodation for parkway travelers
Check into the rustic solitude of the Peaks of Otter Lodge, which has been welcoming guests for nearly sixty years. Run by concessionaire Delaware North, the cozy accommodations feature picture window views of the ‘Peaks of Otter’ and Abbott Lake. The rooms include a TV and coffee maker and updated decor.
Wifi is limited at The Peaks and cell service is non-existent…if you need to make a phone call you’ll need to use one of the pay phones – yes they still exist.
I am a person who always ends up working when I’m on vacation, so I enjoy NOT having great reception at The Peaks because it forces me to really relax and turn off my work worries.
The Main Lodge:
The Main Lodge is the perfect spot to hang out for a board game, read a great book and enjoy a cup of fresh roasted coffee…
The Peaks Bar and Lounge offers stunning views of the lake (you might spy an Otter along the shores), while you sip on local Virginia wines or indulge in one of the Peaks famous cocktails.
What’s for dinner?
The Peaks of Otter Lodge Dining Room serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner for guests. You’ll enjoy friendly service and delicious food from the peaks’ chef.
I typically eat all my meals at the lodge, which is within walking distance of the rooms because they have a diverse menu with lots of good gluten free options…however…
I recommend you pack a cooler of drinks (La Croix and Ginger Beer are my faves) and snacks for your room.
You can also drive to Bedford (about fifteen miles away) – which has several local eateries, as well as grocery stores…
What to do:
Normally when I visit The Blue Ridge Parkway, I usually spend the day driving on the parkway and enjoying the bends in the road, but with Peaks of Otter – you won’t have to drive far to experience the majesty of the Blue Ridge.
Peaks of Otter is a haven for hikers – the area has dozens of miles of hiking trails from the easy Abbott Lake Loop to the strenous Sharp Top trail.
I recommend hiking Sharp Top, but not the entire trail – it is strenuous, even for experienced hikers…instead you can take the shuttle to the top and hike the rest of the distance to the summit. This is still a lot of steps and you’ll get a great workout, but the view is worth it.
I love the Abbot Lake Loop and hike it several times a day…it takes you right by The Polly Woods Ordinary and connects with the nearby Peaks of Otter Campground (if you prefer to pitch a tent over a hotel room).
You can also walk to the Johnson Farm and learn about life in The Blue Ridge.
As for scenic driving – you are at the doorstep of The Blue Ridge Parkway…I recommend driving north towards The James River area. This scenic walking bridge takes you back in time to the frontier life, when the James River was the artery that brought trade from the James River on the eastern shores of the Atlantic (near Williamsburg VA) inland to the high hills of the western Appalachia.
You can sign up for a river boat tour (kayak, canoe or boat ride) from several area vendors in Lynchburg VA.
At night, my favorite thing to do at Peaks of Otter is to sit by the fire pit and enjoy looking at the stars. You might see the Milky Way
Afterwards enjoy a board game or my personal card favorite – S’Mores, with a drink and good friend.
Peaks of Otter is open through the fall season and reopens in the spring.
If you don’t have time to spend the night at The Peaks, make sure to stop off at this exit on your own Blue Ridge Adventure – it is a good place to walk around, grab a bite to eat and breahe in the mountain air.
In the area:
And while in the area you can also explore:
Bedford: The National D-Day Memorial is here. Bedford gave more men per capita on D-Day than any other town in America. You can also check out their local museum, shops and dining options.
Lynchburg: Lots of history in this historic mountain city. Visit Thomas Jefferson’s second home, Poplar Forest or take the city’s strollable downtown. Learn more here.
Roanoke: I usually take the parkway south through Roanoke from The Peaks of Otter (although this section of road is being repaired in 2022) – Roanoke has a lot of great outdoor access, good restaurants and is home to theVirginia’s Explore Park Zoo
Natural Bridge State Park – visited by Presidents and frontiersman…the Natural Bridge does not disappoint. A family favorite for generations.