Blue Ridge Parkway | OTTER LAKE / OTTER LAKE LOOP TRAIL (MP 63.1)

Blue Ridge Parkway's Otter Lake

Blue Ridge Parkway’s Otter Lake

View: ♦ ♦ ♦ / 5
Trails: Otter Lake Loop Trail, Otter Creek Trail
Picnic Tables: None

Otter Lake is a man-made lake formed by damming Otter Creek. It is a popular tourist attraction on the Blue Ridge Parkway, for both the lake and dam are quite scenic. A large parking area borders the lake, and a smaller parking lot is located to the right of the lake near the dam. There is also a trail that circles the lake, the Otter Lake Loop Trail.

Dam at Otter Lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Dam at Otter Lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Otter Lake Loop Trail

Length: 1-mile loop
Time: 45 minutes
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate with a few short strenuous climbs

The Otter Lake Loop Trail is for those who want to get some exercise, not for those who simply want to get a nice photo of Otter Lake. While the trail loops around the lake, you’ll rarely get a glimpse of the water. This is typical of many overlooks and trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Heavy logging had taken place within the Blue Ridge Mountains at the time construction on the Parkway began in 1935. While bad for ecology, it was great for scenic views. However, 85 years later, the forest has reclaimed the land, and many of the scenic views are now obscured by vegetation. The Otter Lake Loop Trail is one of the victims. You work your way up a steep hill to climb high above the lake for a promising photo opportunity only to find yourself in a forest and starring at a partially blocked overlook. Thus, if a photo of the lake is all you want, snap one from the parking lot, because that is the best view you are going to get.

If you plan to hike the trail, park at the smaller parking lot located at the right side of the lake near the dam. Here you will find a wayside exhibit with a trail map. Notice that the trail rarely skirts the shoreline, and most of the time it’s not even close to the lake. As a result, you spend the majority of your time hiking in the woods. Yes, it’s a good trail for exercise, but not for seeing the lake.

Otter Lake Loop Trail map (click to enlarge)

Otter Lake Loop Trail map (click to enlarge)

To start the hike, take the walkway at the left side of the trail map sign to a set of stairs that takes you below the dam. Walk around to the right and you will soon see some concrete stepping stones on which you can walk across the creek. You will also see a trail sign at this point. You can go right on the Otter Creek Trail, an easy trail that runs 3.5 miles from the Otter Creek Campground to the James River Visitor Center, or left to begin the Otter Lake Loop Trail. When crossing the creek you can get a good view of the dam from below.

Cross Otter Creek below the dam to start the hike on the Otter Lake Loop Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Cross Otter Creek below the dam to start the hike on the Otter Lake Loop Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Otter Lake Dam at Mile Post 63 on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Otter Lake Dam at Mile Post 63 on the Blue Ridge Parkway

As soon as you get across Otter Creek you will see a trail that goes straight up a muddy hill. Don’t make the mistake I made and try to hike up it because 1) it’s nearly impossible to climb without spikes attached to your boots, and 2) it’s not the Otter Lake Loop Trail. Instead, you must keep walking on whatever rocks you can find to make it a little farther up the creek in the direction of the dam until you get to a stone staircase. That’s the Otter Lake Loop Trail.

The hike starts off with a strenuous, 5-minute walk uphill on a trail filled with rocks and roots before making its way back down to the lake shore. It then follows the shore for a short distance, and this is the only time you will be near the lake until you get back to the Blue Ridge Parkway at the end of the hike.

The hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway's Otter Lake Loop Trail starts off with a steep, but short, incline

The hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Otter Lake Loop Trail starts off with a steep, but short, incline

The Blue Ridge Parkway's Otter Lake Loop Trail follows the shoreline for a short distance

The Blue Ridge Parkway’s Otter Lake Loop Trail follows the shoreline for a short distance

View of the Blue Ridge Parkway's Otter Lake from the western shore

View of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Otter Lake from the western shore

When the lakeshore segment of the trail ends, you have another short-but-steep walk up a small mountain. Once at the top, be on the lookout for a sign that directs you to the overlook located on a short spur trail that branches off from the main loop. The spur trail immediately forks with no indication as to which way to go. Not to worry, for the walk to the overlook is done via a short loop, so whichever way you go, you will end up back where you are now. About halfway around the loop is the overlook, and while you can see Otter Lake, the view is partially blocked and you can’t get a decent photo.

View of the Blue Ridge Parkway's Otter Lake from the overlook

View of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Otter Lake from the overlook

When done, return back to the overlook sign and continue hiking straight on the trail. Turning right takes you back the way you came. If the trail wasn’t but a mile long, heading back to the parking lot wouldn’t be a bad idea, but stick it out, for you are pretty much done with the uphill climbs. You will, however, begin hiking farther and farther from the lake, so you won’t see it again until you get back to the parking lot.

The trail traverses level terrain for a short distance before heading back down the mountain, and the hike down is as steep as the hike up. Shortly after reaching the bottom, the trail crosses a small creek via a footbridge. There are two creeks that flow into Otter Lake, with one being Otter Creek. I don’t think this is Otter Creek, which is much wider and crossed at the end of the hike.

First creek crossing on the Blue Ridge Parkway's Otter Lake Loop Trail

First creek crossing on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Otter Lake Loop Trail

If you took a good look at the map posted at the start of the Otter Lake Loop Trail, you may have noticed that it marks the location of an “Old Cabin Ruins.” Just a few minutes after crossing the creek is the cabin site. There’s nothing left but a pile of stones.

Old cabin ruins along the Otter Lake Loop Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Old cabin ruins along the Otter Lake Loop Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Shortly after passing the cabin is another intersection with the Otter Creek Trail. Follow the sign to the parking lot, which it claims is only 300 feet away. However, it’s double that distance just to reach the Blue Ridge Parkway, then perhaps 300 feet to the main Otter Lake parking lot. If you parked by the dam, you have another tenth of a mile beyond that.

Intersection of the Otter Creek Loop Trail and the Otter Creek Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Intersection of the Otter Creek Loop Trail and the Otter Creek Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Just past the intersection is a small swamp. A bridge spans the wet area, but if it has been raining, it might not be long enough. On the day I did the hike, somebody had torn down a fishing regulation sign and used it to extend the bridge to the land.

The bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway's Otter Creek Loop Trail that spans a wetland comes up short during high water periods

The bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Otter Creek Loop Trail that spans a wetland comes up short during high water periods

Just a few minutes past the swamp is the bridge over Otter Creek, and just beyond the creek is the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway's Otter Creek Loop Trail that spans Otter Creek

Bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Otter Creek Loop Trail that spans Otter Creek

The Blue Ridge Parkway Guides lists the official length of the Otter Lake Loop Trail as .8 mile while the trail sign states .9 mile. However, this only counts the actual earthen trail. It does not take into account that you have to walk nearly a quarter mile along the Blue Ridge Parkway to get back to your car, making the overall length of the hike 1 mile.

Final section of the Otter Creek Loop Trail is a walk back to your car along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Final section of the Otter Creek Loop Trail is a walk back to your car along the Blue Ridge Parkway


Next Stop South | Next Stop North | Otter Creek and James River Hiking Trails | Scenic Overlooks

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Last updated on November 29, 2023
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