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The Peaks of Otter is one of the most iconic views in central and south Virginia. At its foothill is where Emerson Creek Pottery is headquartered. The Peaks of Otter, which consists of Sharp Top and Flat Top mountains and Harkening Hill, have been well-loved for hundreds of years. In fact, Thomas Jefferson was convinced that Sharp Top, which is 3,862 feet high, was the tallest mountain in the United States.

Even though Jefferson was wrong about Sharp Top being the tallest mountain in the United States (in fact, it’s not even the tallest in Virginia!), he was right about one thing. Jefferson wrote that the trek through the Blue Ridge Mountains by the Peaks of Otter is  “one of the most interesting lines of country in this state.”

The Peaks of Otter covers about 4,200 acres and is nine miles northwest of Bedford. The valley was first settled by settlers from Scotland in 1766. While its story is relatively new in terms of North American history, it’s no less beloved.

Native american history of peaks of otter

Archaeological evidence under Abbott Lake—the manmade lake that rests along the Peaks of Otter—suggests that Native Americans have been visiting the Peaks of Otter for at least 8,000 years for hunting, travel and rest. Findings from the lake include tools made from quartz and argillite found in the Piedmont to the east. The Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, and the Monacan, Saponi, and Tutelo Indians of western Virginia, were among the earliest inhabitants of the Blue Ridge, leaving artifacts and changes in the landscape as evidence of their existence. Many of the fields still visible at the base of the mountains date back centuries to ancient American Indian agricultural methods of burning and deadening the trees and underbrush to provide needed grazing and crop land.

In 1766, the area began being settled by European and other settlers. Thomas Wood, who arrived from Pennsylvania to the Peaks of Otter area, was one of the first. The family grew and expanded from there and, eventually, one of Wood’s descendants opened her home as the area’s first inn for travelers in 1834. The the late 1800s, the Peaks of Otter area was home to 20 families, a school, church and a resort hotel.

Visiting the peaks of otter

Several trails give hikers the opportunity to explore the mountains and countryside. From simple walks—like the one mile walk around Abbott Lake–to more grueling hikes to the summit of Sharp Top, the hikes around the Peaks of Otter have become beloved by those in the area as well as travelers coming in.

Hikers of all experience and skill levels can access the Peaks of Otter trail map online. Hikes include:

  • Sharp Top Trail (1.5 miles) – Still not for the faint of heart! The route is steep and strenuous.
  • Elk Run Loop Trail (0.8 miles)
  • Johnson Farm Trail (2..0 miles)
  • Flat Top Trail (5.4 miles)
  • Fallingwater Cascades Trail (2.0 miles)
  • Abbott Lake Trail (1.0 mile)

In the 1900s, the Peaks of Otter was selected by the National Park Service to be developed as a recreation area along the Blue Ridge Parkway. A well-known and well-trafficked drive that stretches 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, the Peaks of Otter offers beautiful respite for those making the entire trek, or simply those out for a leisurely drive. Visitors today can find a lodge and restaurant, visitor center, campground, picnic area and historic farm.

Peaks of otter pottery

The artists at Emerson Creek Pottery are constantly inspired by the beauty of the Peaks of Otter. That’s why you’ll find Peaks of Otter pottery in our collection. With a beautiful depiction of the mountains in their trademark blue, our Peaks of Otter pottery pays homage to a Virginia landmark. From small casserole dishes that are entirely lead-free and dishwasher, microwave and oven safe, to entire lead-free dinnerware sets, our Summer Peaks collection will leave you nostalgic for home or ready to visit.

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