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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains the trails and the bridge that provides access to the Big Schloss rock outcropping.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 10 Things to Do in Shenandoah County Virginia
- Northern Shenandoah Valley Road Trip: Winchester to Harrisonburg
- Southern Shenandoah Valley Road Trips: Staunton to Lexington
- 15 Fun Things to Do In and Near Winchester Virginia
- Favorite Things to Do in Harrisonburg Virginia and Rockingham County
- 8 Great Things to Do in Roanoke Virginia
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.