Front Royal’s reputation for outdoor recreation is well-established—and growing. It has long been considered the Canoe Capital of Virginia. It’s also the northern entrance to Skyline Drive, is minutes from the Shenandoah River State Park, and is a designated “Appalachian Trail Community.” And now it’s earned another accolade for its connection to the outdoors. Last year it became the first town in the Shenandoah Valley to become an Appalachian Mural Trail Town. (Luray followed not long after Front Royal.)
This designation comes from the Appalachian Mural Trail program, founded in 2016 by Doreyl Ammons Cain and her husband Jerry, to recognize local artistic talent and celebrate the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. About 90 murals in North Carolina and Virginia are now recognized as part of the Trail.
There are three murals in Front Royal, all in the Downtown Historic District. “Mountain Trails Mural” (below) by Jacquelyn Ris represents waterfalls, skyline views, mountain laurel, and other visuals that can be seen along the Appalachian Trail. An untitled mural by Patricia Windrow, (banner photo at top), inside the Front Royal / Warren County Visitor Center displays a wide river valley. A third, untitled and artist unknown, displays a full moon over a peaceful valley.
Being the first in the Shenandoah Valley to participate in this program has brought Front Royal a great deal of media attention and stimulated more murals to come. Mountain Trails, a local outfitter, made the financial investment to do the first mural. And the town has started a mural campaign through its Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program; at least two more are in the pipeline for when the weather breaks.
Another trail-friendly operation in Front Royal is Base Camp, which opened in 2018. The Base Camp provides hikers access to free use of showers, industrial washer/dryers for their clothes/gear, secure locker space, boot dryers, phone chargers, and more. One entire wall is dedicated to the hikers (using their trail names) to make comments and leave messages for other hikers. All of the major hiker facebook pages have made mention of Front Royal’s Base Camp, and it’s also mentioned in the three “official” Appalachian Trail hiker books. Four businesses financially support Base Camp – Mountain Trails, Front Royal Brewing Company, Down Home Comfort Bakery and ViNoVa Wine and Tapas Bar.
Outdoor pursuits are without doubt contributing to an increase of visitors to the area. As a community with not only the Appalachian Trail, but as a gateway to Shenandoah National Park and Shenandoah River State Park, and of course access to the world-famous Shenandoah River, visitation is increasing. Annually, about 30,000 visitors stop in at the Visitor’s Center. The numbers at the parks have increased each year, as well as the number canoeing and kayaking on the river through one of the area’s canoe companies.
As for visiting Front Royal in February and March– the weather this year seems to be constantly changing – flip flops and shorts for two days and then snow the next. But there is still a lot to do in Front Royal right now. Historic Main Street, with unique shops and restaurants, walking and driving tours– there’s always something to entertain and educate you. And nearby award-winning wineries and breweries are always open. Make a stop along either the Blue Ridge Whiskey Wine Loop or the Shenandoah Spirits Trail. And not far off is the 9th Shenandoah Epic on April 18th– a 24-hour adventure race that will test your biking, paddling, trekking, and navigation skills as you explore two state parks and national forest lands.
Your first stop in Front Royal should be the Front Royal/Warren County Visitors Center, 414 East Main Street.
Banner photo: Mural by Patricia Windrow