How many small towns can claim to be the Canoe Capital of their state, and the entrance to a national park that drew 1.26 million visitors last year?
Front Royal, about 70 miles west of Washington, DC on I-66, is the only one we know of.
Felicia Hart, Director of Front Royal Community Development and Tourism, gave us the big picture of what the town has to offer: “Front Royal/Warren County offers so much for everyone,” Hart said. “Whether you want the excitement of racing through the trees while zip lining, a family canoe ride down the beautiful Shenandoah River, a slow stroll down our historic Main Street; a farm-to-table meal or a freshly brewed craft beer – we offer it all. Make sure your phone is fully charged so you can take plenty of “memory-making” photos to share.”
Floating the Shenandoah River is one of the most popular summer pastimes in the Shenandoah Valley, and exploring Shenandoah National park—either by hiking 500+ miles of trails or driving 105 miles along Skyline Drive—is an epic way to make travel memories. (And August 25th is a Fee Free day! Normally, the entry fee to the Park is $30 for one vehicle and passengers, good for seven consecutive days.)
Canoeing on the Shenandoah River – as well as kayaking, rafting, tubing and stand-up paddling—should start with a call to Front Royal Outdoors or a visit to their website where you can check the water levels—very important this time of year. They can rent you everything you need, provide shuttle service, help you find lodging or camping, give you local fishing advice, etc.
Others who can get you on the river include River and Peak Outfitter. They sell all manner of quality outdoor gear—kayaks, paddles and accessories, apparel, camping supplies of every stripe, etc. The founders are lifelong outdoors enthusiasts and ready to provide all the assistance you need for a trip on the river on in the mountains. They can even ship a gear order to you while you are hiking the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or any other long trail within the U.S.
Downriver Canoe, (540-635-5526) a longtime operation located a bit south of Front Royal, can also rent you canoes, kayaks, tubes, etc., handle shuttle service, and assist you in finding a place to stay or camp.
If you’re looking for a more competitive outdoor experience, check into Adventure Enablers. They cater to extreme athletes, weekend warriors, and casual health enthusiasts of all ages. They host trail runs, mountain bike races, adventure races (family races to multiple-day expedition races), half marathons, 10Ks, and 5Ks, etc. Most of their Front Royal events were in April and May this year. Check their calendar for events in other locations.
Moving off the water and underground–Front Royal is also home to the spectacular 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.
Another longstanding attraction, a few minutes north of Front Royal, takes you back to prehistoric times at Dinosaur Land. This unusual attraction 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.
Hart also touted some of the town’s coming events, such as:
5th Annual Appaloosa, Aug. 30 to Sept. 1.–Spectacular mountain views from Skyline Ranch Resort add to the appeal of multiple live bands at this Labor Day weekend celebration. No less than 24 bands are scheduled to appear. Choose from car/RV camping or stay a nearby hotel with rates discounted for the festival. Enjoy local food vendors and a wide variety of local crafts, artwork, etc. Contact: [email protected]
River and Brews Festival, (formerly Blues and Brews) Sept. 21– Visit Downtown Front Royal to enjoy a day of fun, delicious food, live entertainment, and 50+ varieties of beer from breweries all over Virginia and elsewhere. Gates open at noon with activities and live entertainment all day until 6:00 p.m. Downtown also offers a wide array of shopping opportunities and historic walking tours and museums. Get your tickets early and save.
Warren Heritage Society’s Festival of Leaves, October 12– Come to the 49th Warren Heritage Society’s annual fundraiser, the Festival of Leaves in historic downtown Front Royal, on Chester and Main Streets. Enjoy arts and crafts and listen to live bluegrass, blues, country, jazz, big band, and choir music. Stroll the Main Street shops and find museums and historic homes like the Belle Boyd Cottage and others. Most of all, see amazing fall color around Front Royal and the whole Shenandoah Valley.
Where to Stay
Motel 6 has 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!
Need to know more about Front Royal? Contact: Front Royal/Warren County Visitors Center, 414 East Main Street, Front Royal, VA 22630, 540-635-5788.
Banner Kayak Photo courtesy Front Royal/Warren County