This family-friendly, 3.5-mile loop off the Blue Ridge Parkway climbs to the top of Harkening Hill, one of three prominent peaks that form the Peaks of Otter. Although Harkening Hill is not as tall as its neighbors Sharp Top and Flat Top, the peak’s striking geological formations and abundant wildlife make it a memorable dayhike. In the parking lot, Civil War buffs can check out the marker describing Hunter’s Raid, a memorable Union march through the area in 1864.
The hike begins with a switchback ascent to a ridge south of Harkening Hill’s summit. Views of Sharp Top (visible through leafless trees in winter) offer a welcome distraction during the climb. After 1.4 miles, scramble up ridge-hugging boulders for views of the Parkway’s mountains further south. The trail then bends north along the ridge and reaches the 3,364-foot summit at 1.7 miles. Climb the rock just beyond the marker for the best views. A spur trail 700 feet past the summit leads to a precisely perched boulder: Balance Rock.
Past Balance Rock, the trail travels past bold chipmunks, curious deer, and whistling birds. At mile 2.1, hike through a small glade to an unmarked fork. Turn left and merge onto the Johnson Farm Trail, a wide, grassy path that visits the Johnson Farm, a living history museum open to visitors in the summer. From the farm, continue down a rutted lane then turn right, passing the site of an old hotel. Roughly 500 feet later, go straight at the junction of Johnson Farm and Harkening Hill loops to return to the parking lot.
-Mapped by Amy C. Balfour