If you wanted to build a town with great access to outdoor recreation, you could hardly do better than Front Royal.
Felicia Hart, Director of Tourism and Community Development there told us, “Front Royal, (just an hour outside of DC), is recognized as the “welcome mat” to the Northern Gateway to Shenandoah National Park and is considered the Canoe Capital of Virginia. Front Royal also hosts the Shenandoah River State Park and the Appalachian Trail. Visitors and residents can choose their adventure – whether it’s enjoying miles of parkland with hiking trails, electrifying waterfalls or plentiful wildlife viewing – there are plenty of options. The famous Shenandoah River runs through our area, providing many scenic locations for a memorable ‘selfie.’”
The entrance to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park is at the southern edge of town. Typically at this time of year, local temperatures average a low of 35 F and a high of 58 F; so hiking in the park might be bracing but not frigid. Usually there is still vibrant fall color at least early in November, and you can actually see the colors change online at the park’s Fall Color Report, which posts photos taken by visitors every week.
Front Royal is a designated Appalachian Trail Community, with a couple of nearby access points both south and east of town. The brand new Basecamp at Mountain Trails reflects how welcome hikers are. Showers, laundry facilities, message boards, storage, and other services are available, and “Everything is free for hikers,” said Hart. Find Basecamp at 120 E. Main St. or call 540-749-2470. There is also a kiosk for hikers with a map of Front Royal and its other amenities, including a variety of local establishments supportive of hikers.
Front Royal is just eight miles from the beautiful Shenandoah River State Park — 1,600 mountainous acres with five miles of shore bordering the Shenandoah River, and 24 miles of hiking/mountain biking trails. No horse rentals but there are trails where you can ride your own mount. You can also take a full zipline tour, conducted by Virginia Canopy Tours, which takes about three hours to complete and costs $89 per person. It includes:
A UTV (utility task vehicle) trail ride
A sky bridge
Two nature hikes
Reservations are advised (Call 540-622-2000) and more information can be found here.
Overnighting options at Shenandoah River State Park include 10 riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, RV sites and a group campground. There are even three yurts available. Easily launch your own canoe, kayak or raft.
As Hart stated, Front Royal is the official Canoe Capital of Virginia, and while some outfitters start closing in November you can still slip your own canoe (or raft, kayak or tube) into the Shenandoah River at several public boat ramps. Much of the river is calm and serene, but be ready for periodic stretches of acceleration and bumps. Water levels can be low at this time of year. Front Royal Outdoors is open seven days a week until November 4.
Front Royal’s new Greenway just opened, appropriately, on Arbor Day in April. It’s four miles long, with another mile planned. Start at the Visitors Center, follow it 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.
Deer hunting can be very good around Front Royal, and the town is just minutes from G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area–two parcels totaling nearly 4,000 acres. Deer, turkeys, small game such as squirrels, plus the occasional grouse and woodcock can be found in this habitat. Check with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries about licensing.
When your outdoor adventure is over for the day, Hart suggested, “Pull up a chair or barstool and sample the best that our local wineries and breweries have to offer. Highlights of our downtown include museums, antiques, fine art, and live music. Enjoy an eclectic mix of restaurants including farm-to-table and gluten-free menus. Take some time and relax in the Village Commons – a favorite spot for events.
“Front Royal offers personable B&Bs, cabins and lodges,” Hart continued—“just for you and your partner, or an entire family reunion. From familiar favorite hotels to yurts and “pitch a tent here” or “park your camper/RV” locations – our welcome mat is out year ‘round.”
Dining options in Front Royal are growing. A longtime favorite is The Apple House, which locals have enjoyed 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.
New restaurants in town include:
Front Royal Brewing Company, 122 E. Main St. 540-635-0773
Try Thai, 205 E. Main St. 540-551-8171
Royal Spice (opening in November – Indian cuisine), 219 E. Main St.
Hometown Diner, 107 Water St.
Down Home Comfort Bakery, 120 E. Main St. 540-635-6013
Hart also mentioned several new businesses of interest to travelers as well:
Mountain Trails, 120 E. Main St. call 540-749-2470
River and Peak Outfitters, 7 South St. 540-692-8941
Form and Function – Creative Woodworking, 501 E. Main St.
Art in the Valley, 205 E. Main St. 540-252-2260
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!
Find out more about Front Royal at the Tourism Office, 414 East Main Street, 540-635-5788
Banner photo: Front Royal is the northern entrance to Shenandoah National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service/Neal Lewis
Inset 1: AT Hikers can do laundry at the new Basecamp.
Inset 2: Front Royal Brewing Co. Bison Burger