Big Schloss Hike to Amazing Views on the Virginia Border

The Big Schloss hike leads to spectacular 360-degree views from a dramatic rocky summit on the Virginia and West Virginia border. It's a bit of a drive from DC and Northern Virginia, and it's a challenging climb at the start, but the panoramic payoff is well worth the effort.

Big Schloss Summit southward view
Big Schloss Summit southward view

Big Schloss Hike Details

The Big Schloss hike begins at Wolf Gap Campground and follows the Mill Mountain Trail for a little over two miles where it connects to a quarter-mile spur to the summit. Big Schloss was named by German settlers who thought the rocky summit looked like a castle (schloss in German).

Park at the Wolf Gap campground, then walk north on the road to find the well-marked Mill Mountain trailhead.

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Big Schloss Mill Mtn trailhead
Big Schloss Mill Mountain trailhead

The Mill Mountain Trail is steep and rocky for the first .7 miles as it passes through the forest. The woodland foliage was spectacular on a fall visit in mid-October.

Fall foliage on the Mill Mountain hike
Fall foliage on the Mill Mountain trail

Once you reach the ridge, the trail is fairly level for the remainder of the hike. The ridgeline offers several dramatic views to the east. In a little over a mile, watch for the right turn to the quarter-mile Big Schloss spur.

Turn right on the spur trail to Big Schloss summit
Spur trail to Big Schloss summit

The views open up as you approach a wooden bridge to the summit.  Stop before the bridge to admire the views and to see how the white sandstone rock outcropping resembles castle turrets.

Fall view of the rocky Big Schloss summit
Fall view of the rocky Big Schloss summit

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains the trails and the bridge that provides access to the Big Schloss rock outcropping.

Bridge to the summit
Bridge to the summit
Crossing the bridge to the summit
Crossing the bridge to Big Schloss summit

After you cross the bridge, you can enjoy those amazing views in every direction from the relatively flat top of the rocky overlook. It's a bit of a scramble, but not too challenging. However, drop-offs are stark so keep a close eye on children.

Summer views from the summit
The view east from the summit is equally dramatic
View east from the Big Schloss summit

The return hike follows the same route you climbed. Be especially careful when you leave the ridge and head down the steepest section, especially in fall when leaves cover the rocky path.

Tips About Hiking Big Schloss

On weekends, the summit and Mill Mountain Trail can be very crowded. If possible, hike on a weekday or head out early in the morning. We had the trail all to ourselves on a Tuesday afternoon in October.

The Big Schloss hike is beautiful year-round. In spring and summer, green covers the mountain ridges and offers shade for much of the hike. This is one of the most beautiful places to enjoy fall foliage in Northern Virginia, as you can see in the photos above. While the views are starker in winter, fewer visitors make this a wonderful place to enjoy a quiet outing in nature.

Winter solitude on the summit
Rocky summit is more exposed in winter

While we highly recommend this hike for active adults, it is not a great option for young children. The trail is steep and rocky for the first 3/4 mile, and the ridge and summit are very exposed. Older kids who like to hike will enjoy the challenge, the views, and scrambling on the rocks.

There are usually restroom facilities and water available at the campground. However, you should bring plenty of your own water along for the hike in case those facilities are closed.

Here is a trail map for the hike, on the Shenandoah County website.

Things to Do Near the Big Schloss Hike

You can access another excellent hike from the same Wolf Gap campground. Read our guide to the Tibbet Nob hike which also offers beautiful summit views and a fun rock scramble.

While the Big Schloss hike makes a fun day trip from the DC area, we highly recommend making your visit part of a weekend getaway or longer road trip. You'll find plenty of unique stays, delicious dining, wineries, breweries, museums, and scenic country roads in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

Plan your trip with our Shenandoah Valley destination guides:

This hike on the Virginia/West Virginia border requires extra effort, but the panoramic views from the summit of Big Schloss Mountain are worth the effort.

About Wolf Gap and George Washington National Forest

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests follow a ridge of the Appalachian Mountains along the Virginia border with West Virginia and Kentucky. The two national forests include nearly 1.8 million acres (most of them in Virginia) forming one of the largest blocks of public land in the eastern United States.

Within the GWJF is Wolf Gap Recreation Area, which sits just west of the state line in West Virginia. In the 1930s, the site was an African American Civilian Conservation Corps Camp. Now, Wolf Gap offers camping, picnicking, mountain biking, and hiking.

If you want to have the trail to yourself, you could stay in one of the nine campground sites (primitive bathrooms, no water) and get an early start.

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