Big Schloss and Tibbet Knob are easily approachable sister peaks in the George Washington National Forest with fantastic vistas situated an easy 55-minute drive southwest from Winchester. Here’s a quick weekend itinerary. Friday evening after rush hour, drive out to Winchester and stay in one of our fine B&Bs or The George Washington Hotel. Have dinner at one of our wonderful restaurants in Old Town. Grab some joe and breakfast Saturday morning at Steamy’s and have Lenny make you bagel sandwiches to-go for your lunch. Drive 55 minutes to Wolf Gap Recreation Area and hike Big Schloss first before the crowds arrive, then hike Tibbet Knob, the less popular of the two peaks, later in the day. Have lunch on Tibbet Knob looking over into West Virginia. Get yourself good and hungry and come back to Winchester for a beer at one of our taphouses and then have a Chef’s Whim tasting at One Block West.
The trails for both peaks start at the Wolf Gap Recreation Area on the Virginia-West Virginia border, at the intersection of VA 675 (Wolf Gap Road) and the border. The road becomes WV 23/10 (Trout Run Road) on the WV side. Big Schloss is 2 miles north of the parking lot in the gap and Tibbet Knob is 1.5 miles to the south for a total of 7 miles to visit both peaks. Big Schloss is the premier location in this part of GWNF, so it always attracts a lot of visitors, except for when the weather is awful. Tibbet Knob has just as wonderful views but is much less visited than the Schloss and it involves two short and fun rock scrambles.
Both Trails Leave from Wolf Gap:
Find the Mill Mountain Trail (the only trail) leaving out of the north end of the recreation area and start your climb to the ridge towards Big Schloss. This trailhead has been the site of one or more Eagle Scout projects: in addition to the signboard, there is a long, nicely built bench, and the first part of the trail is wide and clearly manicured. The climb out of the campground to the ridgeline is steep, but not terribly long. Once up on the ridgeline, the walking is easy and very similar to all the ridgeline walking the length of Mill Mountain. There are great views all along the ridge to the east of Little Sluice, Little North Mountain, and stretching way out into the distance, the Massanuttens and the Blue Ridge.
View East Heading to Big Schloss:
There are wonderful views to the east all along the ridge until you reach the approach trail on the western side of Big Schloss where you will take the short white-blazed trail right and up the hill to the Schloss. Once you reach the top, there are views both east and west before you come to the wooden bridge across to the top.
Bridge Across to the Top of Big Schloss:
There are compelling views in 360 degrees on top of the rock formation. I really don’t have a favorite view: they are all quite astounding and make Big Schloss one of the most popular destinations in GWNF.
From the summit, retrace your steps back to the campground and cross the road where the trail to Tibbet Knob meanders through a picnic area. From there, the trail climbs to and follows a ridgeline with great views out east all the way to Shenandoah National Park. After the ridgeline, the trail ducks down and then bends right (west) and starts to climb up Tibbet Knob. As the trail heads westerly over the north flank of Tibbet Knob, it suddenly makes 180-degree switchback to the east before starting a much steeper climb to the south and the summit. Toward the top of the climb, there are two short rock scrambles that make for an interesting day. This trail is not super kid friendly, but it is certainly not technical either.
Once you emerge over the top of the second rock scramble, the trail becomes much less steep and you find yourself at the summit very quickly. The views here are to the north and west, about 180 degrees, and it is clear at the top where the views are: a big west-facing rock outcropping. You can see the entirety of Trout Run Valley in West Virginia from Wolf Gap all the way to Halfmoon Mountain in the north, framed to the west by Long Mountain with its long escarpment of stone and to the east by Great North Mountain (Mill Mountain). Big Schloss, some 3.5 miles distant, is clearly visible from here.
At the top of Tibbet Knob is an awesome camp site. Although it is dry and you have to carry water up to it, it is surrounded by a mountain laurel thicket that keeps it relatively wind free. It is big enough for several tents. To get back to your car, turn around and head back the way you came.
And now I bring this back to food with a quick recipe for a delicious trail mix that is both a lot more cost effective and tastier than any commercial product you can purchase. Here’s a really simple 6-item base trail mix recipe that takes just a few minutes of active work and can be prepared from ingredients readily found in your grocery store. You will see that in this version, I added a couple of additional items to the base recipe.
Simple Six-Ingredient Trail Mix Recipe
- 4 cups/12 ounces high quality rolled oats (that is, not Quaker and not steel cut)
- 2 cups/7 ounces slivered almonds
- 1/2 cup/4 fluid ounces maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 2 cups/8 ounces dried sweetened cranberries (or other fruit of your choice)
- 2 cups/11 ounces peanut M&Ms
Feel free to add any optional ingredients you like to this recipe. Just to shake things up, to this batch I added two cups each of wasabi peas and corn chips with flax seeds from my local bulk ingredient store. Avoid uncoated chocolate: you don’t want a molten mess in your pack.
You’ll need a half sheet tray or other rimmed cookie sheet, preferably with a silicone mat to keep clean up a breeze. And you’ll need a big bowl to mix everything in.
Start by preheating your oven to about 350F. In a large bowl, mix the oats, almonds, maple syrup, and salt. This quantity of salt will make it taste very salty. When you’re out on the trail sweating away, you’re going to want this salt. You’ll crave it with every fiber in your being. Trust me on this. Too salty when you’re not exercising is just right.
Spread the oat mix on a sheet tray (and silicone mat if you have one) and place it in the oven. It’s going to take about 30 minutes to get to a consistent golden brown. The oats will brown from the outside of the pan to the middle, so you want to mix it periodically for even browning. I stir it after 10 minutes, again after 10 more minutes, and finally after 5 more minutes.
Remove from the oven once it is evenly golden brown and let cool thoroughly, at least 30 minutes and preferably longer. You want all the remaining moisture to evaporate so that mold is not an issue. Pour the oats, cranberries, and M&Ms into a gallon seal-top bag, seal it with plenty of air space inside, and shuffle it about in your hands to mix the contents well.
Lay the bag flat, press out all the excess air, and re-seal for storage. I repackage it into smaller bags for each hike.