A Sharp Top elopement isn’t for the faint of heart. To get there in time for sunrise you have to climb more than 1,200 feet over the course of a mile a half. But the payoff is absolutely worth it: 360 degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and an abundance of rocks you can scramble over to get away from the crowds. This is a 10/10 location for anyone wanting a beautiful spot for their elopement, engagement session or couples photographs.
Sharp Top is the most popular of several hikes that originate at the Peaks of Otter Lodge off the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia. The lodge is about 50 miles northeast of Roanoke, 45 minutes south of Lexington and 50 minutes west of Lynchburg.
The trailhead originates behind the nature center. Note the bathrooms at the nature center are not open unless the store is open. Don’t ask me why because they have separate entrances. In any case, if you are doing a sunrise hike, stop at the visitors center across the road before beginning your trek.
The trailhead is obvious – even in the dark. Simply follow the well-worn path up. About a quarter of a mile in, you’ll cross a paved road. That’s the shuttle bus road. In the summer, a shuttle takes tourists within a quarter of a mile to the summit. It is forbidden to walk on the shuttle road.
The hike is listed as “moderate” on alltrails. But some reviewers dispute that rating.
“Lol, if you’re in shape then this is “moderate”. Get ready for what is essentially 2 hours on the stair master,” wrote one visitor in July 2022.
“Moderate my a**. Not the best in shape but definitely an avid hiker and this trail is very difficult. Mileage isn’t bad but extremely steep and basically uphill the entire time. Some parts you feel like you’re rock climbing. But if [you’re] used to that and are extremely in shape everything else about the trail was great,” wrote another reviewer.
My assessment is more in line with this review:
“Fun trail, pretty short but all uphill and a ton of steps and loose rocks. Not super difficult if you’re in shape but definitely not for everyone. Saw a lot of tourists who clearly underestimated the difficulty and were struggling.”
So this is definitely a “know thyself” situation. But the payoff for getting to the top is probably one of the best in Virginia. In fact, I’ve shot something like 50+ elopements in Shenandoah National Park and on the Blue Ridge Parkway and if I had to recommend just one spot for epic photos, this would be it.
It’s hard to know if we just lucked out and got a super epic sunrise the day I photographed Faith and Stephen, or if the view is always that incredible at that time of day. I am finding mornings in southwestern Virginia seem to have a greater chance of being a complete whiteout than mornings in Shenandoah National Park.
But one reviewer on a different site characterized this hike as “agonizingly crowded” in the evenings so I knew it would be worth risking fog for fewer visitors.
Part of the reason this hike is so popular is because it is one of the most developed summits in Virginia. There are three manmade viewing platforms at the top as well as a large shelter. The shuttle (which runs during daytime hours) further exacerbates traffic.
To avoid the crowds, choose sunrise on a weekday if possible. We opted for a Sunday due to work schedules. While there were probably 15 other people there, it’s a big enough space to not feel crowded.
The day was cool after all night rains. Some recent visitors have complained of bad horse flies (highly recommend bug spray for this location). But they were nonexistent for us, perhaps because of the persistent, moderate wind at the summit.
The views are absolutely incredible, stretching over the Peaks of Otter, the Piedmont and the Shenandoah Valley. We moved counterclockwise around the summit. First watching the sun rise in a perfect orb to the east, then climbing up some rocks to the west and letting the sun warm our skin. Finally, we followed a trail into some wildflowers to end.
One of the things I love about this spot is you can actually get environmental portraits from every angle. By that I mean I can get “tiny people, big world” photographs like this from all four directions – east, west, north and south. That’s really unusual. Normally, there’s a main summit that we work off of and the rest are kind of secondary. This one is like 360 degrees of perfectly photographable landscape.
Here’s the nitty gritty:
Any wedding or elopement on the Blue Ridge Parkway, including Sharp Top Mountain, requires a “special use permit.” To apply for a permit email BLRI_Permits@nps.gov.
The Blue Ridge Parkway requires at least a 30 day notice for all wedding/elopement/vow exchange permit applications. Note that the parkway does not issue permits for holidays or for the entire month of October.
Specifically, permits for Sharp Top Pinnacle (the summit) are issued for a maximum of 15 people. That number includes photographer and officiant.
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