Northern Virginia bike trails include a fun selection of easy to challenging rides with paved, off-road, and mountain biking options ...
This hike along the Virginia/West Virginia border leads to amazing, 360 degree views from the summit of Big Schloss Mountain. 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.
The Hike to Big Schloss
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 the 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-markedMill 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 our visit in mid-October.
Once you reach the ridge, the trail is fairly level for the remainder of the hike, with 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.
On weekends, the summit can be crowded, but we had it all to ourselves on a Tuesday afternoon in October. The hike down retraces the same route. Be careful as you head down that steep section, especially in fall when leaves cover the rocky path.
Words of Caution About Hiking Big Schloss
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.
Note that the water service at Wolf Gap Campground has been suspended until early 2018. Be sure to bring plenty of your own water along for the hike, and even more if you plan to overnight at the campground.
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 then 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.
Have you hiked Big Schloss? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. Happy hiking!