ApproachThis trail can be combined with the Fallingwater Cascades Trail for six miles, one way. One terminus is at milepost 83 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the other is along the Abbott Lake Trail at the Peaks of Otter Lodge at milepost 86.
Flat Top Trail, along with the Fallingwater Cascaces Trail were designated as a National Recreation Trail in 1982. As such, they are well maintained and offer tremendous views with the opportunity to witness a natural ecosystem in recovery.
This trail is a strenuous one with a total elevation gain of well over 1600 feet no matter which end you begin the hike. If beginning from Abbott Lake, the trail moves slightly downhill for a half mil as you wander through the Peaks of Otter Picnic Area. After you leave the picnic grounds, the pitch becomes quite steep and the climb is steady and relentless with few switchbacks and the track tackling the slopes head on. One passes through a forest of pretty much uniform cove hardwoods all the way to the main ridge, which is reached after about two and a half miles of strenuous climbing. At the ridgeline, you will begin to encounter a lot of exposed rock, some beech and birch trees, and a number of rocky outcroppings that drop precipitously. Care should be taken along these areas, as some of the falls one could take would easily be fatal.
Once on the ridge you will encounter first the summit of Flat Top, marked with a sign and a number of boulder fields. Continuing on along the level ridge, you will see another extremely rocky area that rises abruptly on the right known as the Pinnacle; something of a pillar. Less than a tenth of a mile past this formation, you will see a very short spur trail that leads to Cross Rock, a group of shattered stones, one of which resembles a cross. From here, the trail descends steeply along a number of switchbacks and direct lines down to the Flat Top Parking area on the Parkway and across the road to the Fallwater Cascades Trail for another 1.6 miles and a drop of 265 vertical feet to a set of waterfalls before looping back up to the Parkway.