Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley

Virginia Route 340 between Front Royal and Luray is perhaps one of the more underrated scenic drives in the state. And as more and more outdoorspeople are discovering, one of the best places to get out of the car and adventure in that scenery is Shenandoah River State Park (also known as Andy Guest State Park).

As many great outdoor spots are, it can be a bit easy to miss. Driving south on 340 from Front Royal, go about eight miles and the park entrance is on your right. Admission for an in-state passenger vehicle is $5, Sunday through Saturday and $7 on “Prime Season Weekends and Holidays.” (Fees for various other situations may be found here. )

The park encompasses more than 1,600 acres of Blue Ridge beauty. About five miles of shoreline border the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. A small-boat launch is busy on weekends with canoeists, kayakers, rafters and tubers. Smallmouth bass fishing, especially in spring will give anglers all the action they want. While popular tales of catching “100 fish in a day” are probably a thing of the past, the Shenandoah River is still very good bass fishery.

The park is well laid out to take advantage of both river and mountain views. A picnic area by the river, 10 riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, RV sites and a group campground are available. (More information on overnight stays and reservations may be found here. )

With more than 24 miles of well-marked trails and a zipline, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding and adventure. Expansive views of the river and valley can be seen from high points along the trails.

Mountain biking in particular seems to be growing in popularity. While truly advanced cyclists might find the trail system more fun than challenge, new and intermediate riders can find easy, flat routes by the river, along with moderate hills, and the occasional lactate-searing climb. Richard Sitorius, massage therapist at the Mimslyn Inn Spa, rides there often and said, “The trail network is consistently clean and offers a wide range of fun, easy and family-friendly trails, as well as more moderately difficult routes. There is a lot of variety and I’ve enjoyed mountain biking there for several years now.”

Some of the trails lead into deep woods, and sightings of wildlife such as deer, turkeys and the occasional black bear are not at all uncommon. Ask for the trail map where you pay your entry fee to choose from various trail lengths and degrees of difficulty.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a long list of ranger-led natural history programs are conducted. These are perfect for any parent worried about how much screen time their children are getting. Topics vary widely but include outdoor photography, fishing, butterflies, astronomy, birding, wetland walks and more. Adventure races–such as the recent “Shenandoah Strong,” where competitors had 12 hours to traverse 50 miles of terrain by foot, bike and kayak/canoe–lie partially within the park, as well as George Washington National Forest.

While camping or staying in a cabin within the park is the best way to immerse yourself in the experience, great lodging options are available in nearby Front Royal at the Motel 6 or the Super 8. In Luray, choose from the Mimsyln Inn, The Manor House and Cottage Collection, the Hotel Laurance, or the Luray Caverns Motel.  Plenty of cabin rentals are available in and Luray, too. Check with All Star Lodging to find what suits you best.

Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks staff