The weather in DC has been crazy lately! We went from a 70 degree day on Friday to snow on Saturday and back to a mild day on Sunday! But the snow caused still managed to cause some chaos. Skyline drive was closed which thwarted our original plan to hike Buck Hollow and Mary’s Rock in Shenandoah National Park. We’re lucky to have major national park and many national and state forests within a couple of hours of each other, so we decided to hike Big Schloss in the George Washington National Forest.
This out and back hike is only 4.4 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain. There is a short rock scramble at the very top but you can easily end the hike on the bridge to the rock outcroppings and still enjoy the fantastic view of the mountains. However, if you can push to the top you won’t be disappointed! The view from Big Schloss is among the best in this area. This is also an extremely dog-friendly hike. We took our 10lb dog, Sophie, with us. It was her first “big” hike and she hiked the entire length of the in and back like a champ!
The trail shares a parking area with the Wolf Gap Campground. Take a right out of the parking lot and make the short walk to the orange-blazed Mill Mountain trailhead on your left. The first mile is the steepest part of the hike but fortunately there are a few switchbacks which helps break the climb. Each switchback usually has a nice rock to sit on, if you need to take a break.
As soon as you finish your climb, you will have the first of many vistas. If you push yourself a couple hundred feet more, you can rest while enjoying an unobstructed view from the rock outcroppings. At this point, the trail has a few short ups and downs but for the most part is fairly level and easy to navigate. Close to the two mile mark, the trail will split. Be sure to follow the white-blazed Big Schloss trail on your right. There are signs to mark the split in the trail. If you miss it, you’ll be heading to Mill Mountain (another four miles away). The start of the Big Schloss trail is a little steep but short and soon after the trail levels off again. In less than a quarter mile, you will come upon two vista points (one on the right and the other on the left). Next you’ll cross a wooden bridge and then you’ll have to navigate the boulders to get to the top.
On Sunday, there was about an inch of fresh snow on the trail. If you’re familiar with winter hikes, you know walking in snow can feel a little like walking in sand. The little bit of snow wasn’t too taxing but the sun came out which melted the snow and made the trail a little slippery. I definitely had to watch my step and pay a little more attention to the ground than I normally would when hiking near such amazing vistas. The downside of melting snow is the mud and we definitely got dirty on the way down and poor Sophie was covered in mud!
Because of its ease and beautiful views, Big Schloss is a very popular hike on nice days. Although there was snow on the ground, the warm temperatures definitely brought out a good crowd on Sunday. The parking lot was packed and we snagged the last spot.
While this hike is great for a beginner, if you are looking for a longer or more challenging hike, you can always combine Big Schloss with some other hikes by this trail. You can always return to the Mill Mountain trail and continue to the top of the mountain or you can head back down to Wolf Gap Campground and cross the street and head up the sister hike, Tibbet Knob (this hike is shorter at 3.1 miles but there are two short but steep scrambles).
I’ve managed to keep my misadventures to a minimum these days. My only challenge was my new socks, which kept slipping under my heels. It was annoying but not devastating. If I had embarked on a longer hike, I probably would have been more uncomfortable and even formed a couple of blisters!
Want to see more? Check out the video of the hike (and remember to subscribe to my YouTube channel!).