Big Schloss is a moderate 4 mile hike with gorgeous views at the top. Located in George Washington National Forest’s Lee Ranger District, this trail is one of our favorite re-hikes due to great views and beauty of the trail.
Since Christine’s birthday is this week, her parents wanted to do something to celebrate. So, we decided to take them on a hike to Big Schloss and have a picnic. We’ve done this hike on numerous occasions, but this was the first time for her parents.
German settlers to this area named this rock outcropping “Big Schloss” due to its resemblance to a castle. “Schloss” means “castle” in German.
We parked at the Wolf Gap Campground. There are outhouses near the parking lot in case you need to make a pit stop before the hike. The Mill Mountain trailhead starts out from campsite #9. You’ll see the trail marker indicating a distance of two miles to Big Schloss.
The hike starts off with a fairly steep and steady uphill. However, you are getting this portion of the hike done with first, which is a nice bonus. After .66 miles, your climb ends. When you reach the ridge, the trail takes a sharp turn to the left. For most of the remainder of this hike, you will be walking on the top of the ridge, with occasional views through the trees to your left of the Long Mountain ridge and better views to your right.
At .78 miles, you will come to your first overlook. We noticed quite a bit of tree color on the trail and at the overlooks, which gets us both excited for some fall hiking. You’ll continue walking on the ridge, going slightly up and down, but not a lot of elevation change. At 1.75 miles, you will reach a signpost leading you to take a right to take the Big Schloss spur trail to the summit just .25 miles ahead. At 1.9 miles, you will see a campsite off to the left of the main trail and a small rock outcrop that holds a small cave.
Shortly after this, you will cross a wooden footbridge and then reach the summit for the best views. There is not a ton of room on the rocks to view the summit, but you will likely have a spot to enjoy the view and eat a snack.
At the summit, we ate a small handful of trailmix and then made our way back to the parking lot for a picnic lunch. Christine’s mother went overboard on packing for the picnic. She brought about 15 pieces of fried chicken, various pasta salads, pineapple, grapes, cheese & crackers, three different bags of potato chips, assorted beverages, and two birthday cakes (lemon blueberry cake and coconut cake). We ate way more than should have, but we had a wonderful morning for a hike.
If you are into geocaching, there is one that you can find not too far from the summit.
Big Schloss is one of my favorite hikes in the Lee District. It’s a beautiful hike in every season! Springtime brings a trail lined with mountain laurel and rhododendron. In the fall, the changing foliage colors spread across the valley below like a colorful tapestry (photo from Fall ’08). Summer brings fog in the valley and dense green foliage all around (photo from May 2007). In the winter, views are crystal clear and unobstructed for miles and miles.
The area is popular with central Virginians. The Wolf Gap campground is often full, and you’ll see hiking groups – especially on weekends. We’ve seen everything from hardcore mountain bikers to ultra-distance trail runners on the Mill Mountain trail. A couple years ago, we even met a team of competitive cyclists helping an injured teammate off the mountain. The terrain is very rugged, so I imagine you’d have to be an experienced mountain biker to travel this route.
On this particular day, we hiked with my Mom & Dad to celebrate my birthday. In addition to their wonderful company, I also got the gift of a new hiking gadget before starting the hike. My parents gave me a pair of Komperdell trekking poles. I’ve been wanting to get a set of poles for quite some time now, so I was thrilled with the present. I don’t really have the best of balance, so I loved the added stability the poles gave me hiking down the loose, rocky trail on the return trip. I was also amazed with how much strain they took off my knees. The model they gave me has cork handles, which are apparently cooler and chafe less than other handle types.
When we started out on our hike, the sky was brilliant blue with just an occasional cloud passing by overhead. By the time we got to the overlook, the sky was mostly cloudy and hazy. It wasn’t the best view that we’ve ever had from Big Schloss, but it was beautiful nonetheless. I loved seeing the hints of autumn starting to appear in the forest. The Virginia creeper was crimson. A lot of maples and dogwoods were starting to change, too. At every open viewpoint, we could see distant ridges with red, yellow and orange trees peppered into the greenness. Fall is definitely on its way, and I think it might be coming early this year.
We really didn’t stay too long at the summit, especially since we had a big picnic lunch waiting for us at the campground. As Adam mentioned, my mom went nuts with quantity and selection. I’m not complaining, but seriously… who brings two birthday cakes to a picnic lunch for four people?
My mom even brought birthday candles along. My family “sang” Happy Birthday to me while the breeze repeatedly blew out the candles. You’ll notice “sang” is in quote marks. I have to tell you, my family cannot sing – not a single note. They’re so bad, it’s become a family joke to make “Happy Birthday to You” sound like the saddest, most off-key, howl-inducing dirge you might ever imagine. Since we were in a public place, my dad and Adam put extra effort into singing it loudly and badly. I think I heard babies crying, dogs barking and campers exclaiming “What is that noise?”
After lunch, we parted ways with my parents and headed home. It was a great hike.
Note: There is another great trail starting out from the Wolf Gap Campground. If you have a couple days in the area, check out the Tibbet Knob trail.
- Distance – 4 miles out-and-back. Add another .1 mile to get to your car.
- Elevation Change –1000 feet
- Difficulty – 2. After a rather steep .7 mile climb at the beginning, the trail is mostly level and follows a ridge. There is one other short climb after the Mill Mountain Trail meets up with the Big Schloss spur.
- Trail Conditions – 2.5. The trail is well-maintained but it’s rocky and has lots of loose footing in the first .7 mile.
- Views –4.5. The view are pretty spectacular – especially on a clear day.
- Waterfalls/streams –0. Non-existent.
- Wildlife – 0 We didn’t see anything beyond chipmunks, birds and squirrels. We did see a fawn near the Wolf Gap campground.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Just stay straight on the trail.
- Solitude – 2. This trail doesn’t see the same crowds as trails in Shenandoah National Park, but it is a popular hike with the local crowd.
Directions to trailhead:
From I-81, take exit 279. Follow Rte. 675 until it meets Route 42. Turn right on 42 and then take almost an immediate left on 675 (Wolf Gap Road). Follow Wolf Gap Road until you come to the Wolf Gap Campground (right on the Hardy County Line.)