Peaks of Otter
Finding a little respite in a Blue Mountain Lodge
By Katie Souris
When I was a little girl, I had good parents. On family vacations, more often than not, we’d go camping in North Georgia or stay in a little one room cabin at a State Park and I would tromp around hunting for salamanders and playing on a freshwater sand bank.
One year we decided to take a big trip. We loaded up the Pontiac with hiking boots, maps, a camera, a basket and tarp for rugged picnics, and a cooler full of yoo-hoo’s and deli meats. We were headed on a Southeastern road trip up the Parkway from North Georgia into Virginia.
I still love the Blue Ridge Parkway and dream of the times we had back when I was seven years old. One place we stopped to rest was Mt. Pisgah, another was Doughton Park. Both of these hiking hubs are marked by iconic lodges (or were, in the case of sold Bluffs Lodge) where travelers could stay a night or two, get a gourmet meal, and have the chance to get lost in the scene of the Blue Ridge without pitching a tent.
We didn’t make it to Peaks of Otter on that trip, although my mother wanted to. She loved Doughton Park because of the herds of deer and the quite misty mornings. She loved Mt. Pisgah for the skunks that visited the grass in front of the rooms in the night (my mother loves atypical things, which is a blessing). So this year, on her 69th birthday, we made it up to Virginia once again via interstate for most of the way and then weaved back South on the Parkway 80 miles from Charlottesville to the lodge nestled between two peaks in the valley of Otter Creek.
The main building contains a dining room, gift-shop, and the ‘Bear Claw Lounge’, which sells coffee and confections. There are three units that house guests, each two-storied and every room with an uninterrupted view of the expansive Abbott Lake that captures Sharp Top Mountain’s reflection, this time in brilliant autumn golds. In the rooms there are water saving tips and socially conscious reminders, like the program Peaks of Otter participates in by collecting leftover soap to be recycled, made new, and sent to communities in need around the world. In the shower, a waterproof stop-watch challenges guests to use less than the average 12 gallons of water per shower. I hit 11 gallons before realizing I’d been clean for at least the last 4.
Although typically guests book rooms for two evenings, we called and were able to stay for just Saturday. The winding expanse of hiking trails that leave directly from the lodge and lead to old settlements like Johnson Farm and geographic wonders like Balance Rock, made us wish we had more time. We did a short 1.8 mile loop trail Sunday morning, passing under a stone bridge and climbing gently across a soft green meadow and into a golden forest of flaming Hickory, Tulip Poplar, and Maple trees. At Johnson Farm the trail was marked with a few wooden placards that explained the history of what was once a thriving community nestled into the rugged mountains, and had a view of the lake and peaks below that made me long to stay awhile.
At the dining room the night before we had watched out the window as the day turned to dusk and the sun played its sharp rays of light off the mountains. The colors dimmed into muted orange and purple while we feasted on pecan encrusted trout and prime rib. Ducks bobbed up and down in the chilly water, searching for dinner. Walking back to our room that evening, a streak of tan caught my eye as one deer led the charge, joined by six or seven others: grazing and watching, grazing and watching, on the other side of a wooden plank fence.
Many lodges and bed and breakfasts close during the off-season, but Peaks of Otter will stay open on weekends during the winter and will serve a Thanksgiving Day buffet. Whether you stop by for a night’s rest, a meal, or a reverent walk around Abbott Lake, Peaks of Otter is a place to, “Come to unplug,” as guests are encouraged to do, and enjoy the panoramic accommodations of planet Earth.