This hike is very similar to the Little Sluice and has
nearly as much solitude. The big difference between the two
is the great vista you get by taking the short walk along Mill
Mountain to the Big
Schloss vista. This is one of the best
vistas in Virginia and shouldn't be missed.
Start by waking down FS92 for 0.5 miles to reach the Big Schloss
Cut-Off Trail (don't take the old faded trail but continue for
100 more yards and turn right
on the light blue blazed trail). Turn right and ascend on the Big
Schloss Cut-Off Trail for the steepest part of the hike for
1.9 miles to the ridge line.
At the ridge turn left on the orange blazed Mill Mountain Trail for 0.9
miles then turn left again uphill on the lookout trail to go
to the Big
to the Big Schloss Cut-Off trail intersection to continue the
Now continue on the orange blazed Mill Mountain Trail hiking along the ridge
for the next 3.4 miles and arrive at the intersection of the blue blazed Tuscarora Trail that comes in from the right.
Turn right downhill onto the blue blazed Tuscarora Trail for 0.6 miles
to reach the four way intersection of the yellow blazed Stony Creek Trail
just past a great camping
spot on the right.
We did this hike in reverse (Stony Creek first) with the yellow-blazed trailhead starting across FS92 (opposite of parking lot). Steady climbing and a beautiful trail for 3.5 miles. Stony Creek was running and there were plenty of pools to cool off in.
The trail opens up once you reach Tuscarora (blue-blazed - fireroad?) which is a short distance from Mill Mountain (orange-blaze). Mill Mountain trail was a bit choked, and seemed tight, but it is August. Sandstone Spring was beautiful! It was amazing to find such fresh cold water on top of the ridge. Just behind the spring is a large camp spot on the left, able to fit many tents. Just beyond THAT spot there is a smaller, more private spot...it was a lovely camp. A thunderstorm did roll in and the ridge felt pretty exposed. LOUD and a bit scary.
Working our way down Mill Mountain we stopped at the smaller overlook on the right. It was beautiful. There is a tree down near this spot that is navigable but tight. Once we reached the spur trail to the Big Schloss Vista, we started climbing again and almost made it to the overlook when a small black bear dropped from a tree in from of us and we decided to cut our losses and let that bear (and its mama) have that spot :) I'm glad we chose to stop at the first overlook.
We headed down the Big Schloss Cutoff trail (light-blue blaze) which was pretty technical in spots (with weighted packs) but I thought it was gorgeous! We hit FS92 and made a left for a short jaunt back to the car.
- You are going to get some good climbing (in either direction) this hike.
- ALL SPRINGS WERE RUNNING WELL on 8/13 - 8/14/16, and we were able to filter plenty of water.
- The trails were marked very well.
- We were sure to make noise when visibility was cut short. I carried bear spray.
- This would not be an ideal hike in thunderstorms.
- We ran into only one day hiker the entire time.
Date of Hike: Saturday, March 12, 2016
Great hike for a quick backpacking trip close to DC.
Parking: As of the hike date, the gate was closed on the western end of 92. I couldn't find info on the gate status online or on the ranger's recorded message. That was annoying, but my fault for not calling during the week. It is 3 miles from the gate to the Big Schloss shortcut trail. There were 1-2 pull off parking spots at the cutoff trail. We didn't hike past the shortcut trail on 92.
The shortcut trail was moderately steep but just short enough that it ended right when the uphill got annoying. I wouldn't call it difficult or overly rocky, but that's in comparison to West Coast desert hikes. There is no water between the shortcut trailhead and the Big Schloss summit. The mile from the top of the shortcut trail to Big Schloss was the best section of the hike. The trail was lined by brilliantly green grass and clovers making it feel like a majestic fairy forest.
The Big Schloss summit trail had about 5 campsites that we saw. The first two were overgrown but looked clearable. The third looks great with an awesome fire ring tucked underneath a rockwall corner, but was only level from maybe 1 tent (mentally noted for hammocks). The fourth was taken by a group with 4 tents, though I was shocked that they managed to cram that many tents in there. The fifth was just before the wood bridge and the best by far with a great fire ring and spots to fit 2-3 tents. It had views off both sides of the mountain. Firewood is abundant further away from the summit.
We decided to make do with the minimal water we had since we didn't want to walk the 3ish miles to Sandstone spring and back, so we can't report on status. We ended up sharing the campsite with two awesome nurses from Baltimore which made killing time much more fun.
Overall, excellent backpacking destination. From gate to shortcut trail to summit and back was 12.25 miles and maybe 2k ft of gain. With the gate open and parking at shortcut trail it would be 6 miles less. Next time we'll do the trail counter-clockwise and be sure to fill up on water before the summit.
Date of Hike: Saturday, December 05, 2015
Great but relatively mild weather for December overnight trip. We followed the route on the printable topo except for side hike to Big Schloss. Trail directions were right on except it's a little further from the parking area to the Big Schloss Cutoff trailhead. But it's clearly marked with signage as well as fresh light blue blazes. Climb to the ridge was the toughest part of the route and not too hard even for a desk jockey. Ridge trail was well marked. Sandstone spring was running well if you wanted to camp a little further out. A piece of aviation history can be found on Mill Mt at the airway beacon site. One of the footers for the light tower says Feb 1940. This was one of many sites nationwide that served to mark early air routes with light beacons before radio navigation. The facility and those like it were originally constructed by the Dept of Commerce and USPS. Only the equipment shack, tower footers, and a power pole remain. We camped at the Sugar Knob intersection which was notably clean given fire road access and the recent end of deer season. No trash, tin foil, beer cans. Even the fire rings seemed to have been shoveled. The spring below the PATC hut was running strong. Met few other hikers and a few bear hunters. One pick - FS92 could use some signage.
Date of Hike: Friday, October 16, 2015
I hiked this trail 30 years ago with my father and stayed in the Sugar Knob cabin so it had a lot of meaning for me. Hiked it this time with my son and a friend from church with his two boys. Hiked it backwards and got to the cabin by about noon. Had the rest of the day to relax and goof off. Fired up the woodstove that night to stay warm. Saw what we found out was bear scat on the trail to the cabin. Ran in to hunters running dogs to hunt bear the following day on the trail. Pretty cool. Glad I was carrying a firearm! (I have a conceal carry permit). Hike on day two was fairly easy. Took the trail to Big Schloss which was fairly steep but well worth the additional time and effort. Views were fantastic. We all had a great time. Hike back to the parking area from the Big Shloss cut off trail took longer than expected. Actually had a little snow/sleet on the way out! Very memorable trip. One that we will do again in the future.
Date of Hike: Friday, September 18, 2015
We turned this hike into a two day backpacking trip and it was fabulous! As suggested we did the hike backwards and started late friday night, hiking about 3/4 of a mile in to a nice camp spot by the creek. The next day we hiked the 8 or so miles to the summit of Big Schloss- this was our first time doing this type of thing so it was definitely strenuous but it was well worth it! The hike along the ridge was absolutely beautiful and the 8 miles with packs wasnt so bad. When we got to the top of Big Schloss there were ALOT of people there but we set up camp at an incredible spot at the peak and by 330 almost everyone was gone and we had the place to ourselves. It was a beautiful night and morning and a great spot to stay. The schlepp down in the morning was a little steep and monotonous but all around a beautiful and fun hike - I would absolutely recommend doing it backwards.