Not many towns can claim to be the Canoe Capital of Virginia and provide quicker access to Skyline Drive than any other town in the Valley.
Front Royal can.
“Come play in our backyard,” invites Felicia Hart, Front Royal’s Director of Community Development and Tourism. “We offer hiking, biking, paddling on the river, golf– almost anything outdoor-related.”
Easily accessible from I-66 and I-81, Front Royal is in Warren County, about 70 miles west of Washington, DC. Here are 12 good reasons to visit Front Royal right now.
1. As Hart indicated, it is nothing less than a haven for outdoor recreation. Shenandoah National Park’s northern entrance is at the southern edge of town. Several access points to the Appalachian Trail can be found nearby, and George Washington National Forest is minutes away. The Shenandoah River is easily accessible and has refreshed travelers for generations.
2. Adventure races may combine a variety of outdoor skills—mountain biking, running, paddling, rope climbing and orienteering— and racers must locate and stop in at checkpoints over a course that can be a few hours or a few days long.
Adventure Enablers in Front Royal conducts such events, and has 14 on the 2018 calendar right now. One coming up in the Valley is called Shenandoah Tough, September 12-16, starting and finishing at Southern Shrine Mont Conference and Retreat Center in Orkney Springs. It’s a point to point non-stop race covering 250-300 miles, requiring mountain biking, trail running, canoeing (Class I-III), ropes and navigation. The estimated time to win is between 40-50 hours. A total prize purse of $9,000 adds to the allure. Check their calendar for other races.
3. The New Greenway—“The ribbon cutting was just held in April, on Arbor Day,” said Hart. The new Royal Shenandoah Greenway is four miles long, with about another mile envisioned. It runs from the Visitors Center, down Main Street to Luray Avenue, then down to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. It follows along the river and ultimately stops in front of the Skyline High School; eventually it is planned to continue from the school to the intersection of Route 340 and Criser Road, and then about a half mile along Criser Road to Happy Creek.
4. The Walking Tour—Front Royal’s Walking Tour is an easy, one-mile loop, beginning and ending at the train station on Main Street. A number of historic homes and churches, the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum, and the Belle Boyd Cottage are among the rewards. Additionally, sites of the 1862 Battle of Front Royal, one of the very few “urban” conflicts in the Civil War, may also be visited. In fact, students of Civil War history will find Front Royal and the surrounding area a rich trove of sites, artifacts and stories.
5. Paddling—June is an ideal month to float or fish on the Shenandoah River. Much of the river is calm and serene, but be ready for periodic stretches of acceleration and bounce. Canoe outfitters normally provide a shuttle service, drop you off and let you float back a chosen distance to the outfitter headquarters. Some combination of canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, rafts and paddle boards may be rented from Front Royal Outdoors (open seven days a week until November), or the Downriver Canoe Company (a bit south of Front Royal) 800-338-1963.
6. It’s eight miles from the beautiful Shenandoah River State Park—1,600 mountainous acres with five miles of shore bordering the Shenandoah River, 24 miles of hiking/mountain biking trails, and a zipline. Overnighting options include 10 riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, RV sites and a group campground. Easily launch your own canoe, kayak or raft.
7. Wineries/Breweries—About a dozen wineries and breweries are found right in or near Front Royal, plus it’s a stop on the Blue Ridge Whiskey/Wine Loop — a self-guided tour of about a dozen vineyards, distilleries and breweries surrounding Shenandoah National Park. Virginia’s reputation for wines is gaining notice and the Valley’s contribution is growing. This loop provides a truly scenic driving tour with stops at award-winning vineyards.
8. Gazebo Gatherings—The Gazebo is a longstanding meeting place, social hub and event venue in Downtown Front Royal. Gazebo Gatherings are a Summer Concert Series presented by the Blue Ridge Arts Council and sponsored in partnership with the County of Warren, the Town of Front Royal and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Every Friday, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., all summer long.
9. Battle of Front Royal Re-enactment— On June 9 and 10, the town recognized the May 23rd, 1862 Battle of Front Royal, which pitted the 1st Maryland Infantry CSA led by General “Stonewall” Jackson against the Union 1st Regiment Maryland Volunteer Infantry commanded by Major General Nathaniel Banks. Visitors can see a battle re-enactment along Main Street, along with music and vendors at the Gazebo area. Living history demonstrations will be going on all day Saturday and Sunday morning.
10. Skyline Caverns— virtually next door to the Skyline Drive entrance, and only discovered in 1937. Plan on about an hour for a tour, with a knowledgeable guide, to see incredible rock formations and subterranean colors. A half-mile nature trail on the property is a treat after a trip underground.
11. Dinosaur Land— Bringing some real truth to the phrase “educational and fun,” this unique playground, a few minutes north of Front Royal, boasts life-size recreations of prehistoric life—Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus, Megalosaurus, and Coelophysis are among the 50-plus dinosaurs your awe-struck children can learn about on while you visit the Gift Shop.
12. The Apple House Locals know best when it comes to dining, and Warren County residents have eaten at the Apple House since 1963. Try the pork BBQ, the specialty sandwiches or the Apple Butter Donuts, and shop for Virginia-made crafts, wines, hams, jellies, peanuts, etc.
Where to Stay
Motel 6 has newly remodeled rooms with several amenities. There is a picnic pavilion area, and restaurants and convenience store with gas nearby. The Super 8 offers a free 8-item breakfast, free WiFi and non-smoking rooms. Pet-friendly!