The first question newcomers usually ask about Front Royal is, “How did the town get its name?” Among a number of theories is this one: A huge oak tree, (referred to as the “Royal Tree of England) once stood in a public square, now the intersection of Chester and Main streets. In colonial times, undisciplined military recruits were ordered by their frustrated drill sergeant to “Front the Royal Oak!”
There are other possibilities, but what’s important today is how much there is to see and do there. Easily accessible from I-66 and I-81, Front Royal is about 70 miles west of Washington, DC. No town in the Shenandoah Valley provides quicker access to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park; the park’s northern entrance is a stone’s throw from the town’s high school. Several access points to the Appalachian Trail can be found near town, and George Washington National Forest is minutes away.
But what outdoorspeople love most about Front Royal is probably the Shenandoah River. Front Royal was designated the “Canoe Capital of Virginia” in 1999, and with good reason. The river is quite manageable for beginners but includes stretches of excitement as well. Smallmouth bass fishing is perennially good.
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 or the Downriver Canoe Company (a bit south of Front Royal) 800-338-1963. Launching your own vessel is popular, too, and many access points/boat ramps are found in or near Front Royal. One of Virginia’s many state parks is nearby as well—the 1600-acre Shenandoah River State Park. It’s eight miles south of town on Route 340, offering miles of riverfront and mountain trails for hiking and mountain biking, as well as cabin rentals, a new zipline and tent camping.
Notable attractions include Skyline Caverns—only discovered in 1937. Plan on about an hour for a tour, with a knowledgeable guide, to see incredible rock formations and subterranean colors. Call 800-296-4545.
Just a bit north of Front Royal is Virginia’s own version of Jurassic Park—a kids’ haven called Dinosaur Land. Operating for more than half a century, this unusual playground holds more than 50 life- size fiberglass models of prehistoric life forms from the Velociraptor to Tyrannosaurus Rex. A rare example of something truly fun and educational.
Locals have enjoyed breakfast, lunch and early dinners at The Apple House since 1963. Tourists love the food, too from pork BBQ to the specialty doughnuts, plus the chance to buy Virginia-made crafts, wines, hams, jellies, etc.
Need more enticement to come to Front Royal? Consider this invitation from Tourism Director Tim Smith: “The breathtaking views of the mountain ranges, the tranquility of the Shenandoah River flowing through our town, and the natural caverns all pull together to create an incredible landscape that beckons to be explored. And from Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah National Park to river rafting and canoeing, cave tours, horseback riding, camping, and hiking, Front Royal is prepared to help with wherever your adventure takes you!
“Come and explore our Main Street, rich with antique shops, boutique shopping, and tasty dining. Stop into our Visitors Center, our historic train station, where our friendly staff would love to assist you during your trip. Take a step back in time, when you visit the rich history of our county at Ivy Lodge, Balthis House, Belle Boyd’s Cottage, and the Laura Virginia Hale Archives. Enjoy the incredible wineries and distilleries around us, as you taste the wonderful vintages that the valley holds. Join our town in one of the many vibrant festivals and concerts we hold each year, packed with food, vendors, live entertainment, and something fun for everyone.
“Front Royal welcomes you to stay and enjoy the wonders that the Shenandoah Valley holds!”
Find out more about Front Royal at the Visitor Center.