Harkening Hill & Johnson Farm Loop

  • Highlights: Historic farm, views, rock formations, wildflowers, wildlife
  • Distance: 4.3 mile loop
  • Elevation change: 905 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Trailhead Parking: Peaks of Otter Visitor Center parking area, Blue Ridge Parkway mile post 86
  • Website: National Park Service
  • Beer Pairings: Apocalypse Ale Works—Enticer Session IPA & D-Stroy IPA

The Hike:

First of all, Harkening Hill has an elevation of 3,364 feet so it’s more of a mountain than a hill. It is the smallest of the three Peaks of Otter, but has nice views and cool rock formations. We combined the Harkening Hill loop with the Johnson Farm loop resulting in a hike with views and history. What’s not to like?

This hike begins at the Peak’s Visitor Center. We went counterclockwise and followed the signs for Johnson Farm. The trail travels beside the Parkway for a bit and then branches off into the forest. At .3 miles reach a junction for the Johnson Farm loop. A sign indicates the farm is to the left. Going that way results in some backtracking to reach the farm. We suggest going straight and following the back side of the loop. 

The trail passes through a meadow and past the site of an old tourist hotel. The Peaks of Otter have been a popular tourist destination for many years. The trail turns left onto an old farm road, a small sign on the left tells the story of this road. Reach the farm on the right at 1.1 miles. In the summer months park staff tell the story of the Johnson family and farming techniques over the years.

Continue up the hill and turn right at the next junction on the Harkening Hill Loop Trail. The trail is a steady but gradual climb. At 2.2 miles reach a spur trail to the left leading to Balance Rock. This short spur leads to an interesting rock formation. Return to the junction and the summit of Harkening Hill is only 700 feet away.

The summit has some nice views and a big rock which is a perfect spot to enjoy a snack or lunch. Continue on the trail as it begins to descend down the back side of Harkening Hill. Some interesting rock formations and wildflowers line the trail. The trail is a steep descent in places with several switchbacks. Reach the Visitor Center and parking area at 4.3 miles.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing: 

There are several beer options following this hike. The nearby Peaks of Otter Lodge (usually open March to November) has several craft beers on tap with nice views of Abbot Lake and Sharp Top. We decided to try Apocalypse Ale Works in Forest VA, about 30 minutes from The Blue Ridge Parkway.

Apocalypse has beer, pub food, live music, and indoor and outdoor seating. Kathy liked D-Stroy, a hazy New England-style IPA with just the right amount of bitterness. Pete tried Enticer, a hazy session IPA. It was low in alcohol (4.2% ABV) but was also low in bitterness at only 10 IBU.

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe and be responsible.