“The lowliest of the three Peaks of Otter, Harkening Hill is the only one with a loop trail that swings by the top.”
— Roanoke Outside
Features: Birding — Fall Colors — Views
This route leads to the most modest of the Peaks of Otter. A gain of just under 1000 feet from the parking lot makes it a decent hike still, and it's not for the faint of heart even if it is the smallest! Harkening Hill is a less crowded option, especially than the popular Sharp Top. Because fewer feet tread this trail, you'll likely find it to be in better shape than others in the area. If you're a budding geologist, keep an eye out for granite formations along the trail! Many boulders can be observed on Harkening Hill.
Directions to Trailhead
• From Interstate 81 take exit 162 (from the South) or 167 (from the North)
• Take Rt. 11 into the town of Buchanan
• Turn South onto Rt 43
• Turn North onto the Blue Ridge Parkway
• The visitor center is at mile marker 86
The 3.3 mile loop trail that includes the summit of Harkening Hill starts immediately behind the visitor center and is well signed. There is a park map on display outside the visitor center. Side trips from the 3.3 mile loop include a trip to “Balance Rock” which is an impressive granite boulder balanced on a smaller one (This was a good formation, but there are much bigger boulders balanced much more precariously on both Flat Top and Sharp Top) and a trip to Johnson Farm which will provide a glimpse of the agricultural history of the area.
If you park somewhere centrally at Peaks of Otter (For instance, at the visitor center or at the Sharp Top parking lot), you can hike the Harkening Hill loop and then link the out-and-back routes that lead up Flat Top and Sharp Top for a total of about 12 miles.