Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. If you’ve only heard them mentioned once or twice, you’re not alone. And yet these underappreciated snow sports deserve a lot more popularity. Their famous cousins, skiing and snowboarding, tend to steal the spotlight. But both essentially require travel to expensive resorts, and demand a reasonably high level of physical fitness. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are much more widely accessible. If you like to hike (or even walk!), and live in an area where there’s snow, chances are you’ll be able to enjoy one or the other with only minimal upfront investment.
A snowy day in the Front Royal area is a great setting for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Whether you’re new to these snow sports, or an old hand, we’ll hope you’ll adventure out this winter and enjoy them. Read on for more information about these sports, as well as some suggestions of where to go in the Front Royal area.
Snowshoeing – the Basics
Snowshoeing can be as simple as hiking in the snow . . . but using specially designed snowshoes to make your life easier. Snowshoes work by providing a wider base for your feet than normal shoes. With your weight distributed over the wider area of the snowshoe, you can walk on top of the snow, without your feet sinking fully into it.
It’s possible to take a deep dive into various specialized techniques for snowshoeing. However, it really can be as simple as slipping snowshoes over your boots and taking a walk (in snow, of course!). “If you can walk, you can snowshoe” is a common mantra among snowshoeing enthusiasts. Snowshoeing is a great way to continue to enjoy your favorite hiking trails through the winter months. To get started, simply buy or rent a pair of snowshoes and head out. Poles are also worth considering if you plan to tackle steep slopes or tricky terrain.
Cross-country skiing is both more expensive and more challenging than snowshoeing. Nevertheless, it’s still more accessible than downhill skiing. It’s a great sport to try if you’re looking for a bit more excitement than snowshoeing.
Cross-country skiing involves a pair of skies similar to those used for downhill skiing. Poles are also essential. Cross-country skis allow the skier to traverse flat and even uphill terrain in addition to downhill runs. Because of the speed involved, downhill slopes are the most challenging to navigate in cross-country skiing, and should be approached with caution.
To get started cross-country skiing, it’s helpful to do some research into techniques. Check out videos such as this one, which give beginners a good introduction to the sport. You can also possible to look into instruction and guided trips, but since you can take cross-country skiing at your own pace, it’s also possible to try it out on your own.
Locations for Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing in the Front Royal Area
With snowshoeing’s similarities to hiking, it is possible to snowshoe on many of the great hiking trails around Front Royal. In fact, there are so many beautiful places to hike around Front Royal, that it’s a great place to give snowshoeing a try. When Skyline Drive is closed to traffic because of snowy conditions, remember you can access the park on foot from any boundary access point.
To find a great cross-country skiing trail, you’ll need to be a little more selective. You’ll want to find smooth trails, with gentle slopes. However, there’s still plenty to enjoy in the Front Royal area. Check out some of the trails in Sky Meadows State Park where the terrain is less mountainous. In Shenandoah National Park, the Limberlost Trail is a top pick for beginner cross-country skiers. The Big Meadows area is another part of the park that is particularly popular, with its gentle slopes and open fields. Finally, the iconic Skyline Drive itself might be an option. Before the road is plowed after a snowfall, while it’s still closed to traffic, it can provide an ideal surface for cross-country skiing, complete with stunning views and overlooks. Of course, you’ll need to keep a close eye out for the snowplow if you take this option. It’s also suggested that skiers access Skyline Drive at the Thornton Gap entrance station, rather than in Front Royal. A long, steep climb is the first thing you face after the Front Royal entrance station.
Though they are accessible to a wide variety of people, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing do involve some risk. As with any sport, especially those involving snowy and icy conditions, it is possible to suffer serious injury while snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Don’t be discouraged from giving these sports a try, but remember that it is important to exercise caution and stay within your limits. Ideally, you should bring a buddy if you are heading out onto the trails. At least be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. If you feel uncertain about your proficiency, it is much better to obtain professional training than to risk injury.
Don’t let the fantastic hiking trails in the Front Royal area lie silent and unused this winter.
A snowfall in the Front Royal area is a great opportunity to get out and give one of these snow sports a try. It’s not too hard to get started, and you may discover a new favorite way to exercise in the winter.
January has a reputation for being depressing. The fun and excitement of the holiday season is over. But the weather outside is still frightful! With cold dark days, and two more months (at least) of winter stretching out ahead, it’s not surprising that many people feel down in the dumps in January.
The good news is that the scenic beauty of the Shenandoah Valley is still there, and winter is a great time of year to enjoy it. The cold weather has chased away the crowds, so those bold enough to venture out will be rewarded with quiet and seclusion, and maybe even some rare wildlife sightings. The feeling of snow crunching under your boots. The barren splendor of the winter hillsides. The tingling of crisp cold air against your cheeks. The breathtaking beauty of icicle formations. All of these await you on a winter’s day in the Shenandoah Valley.
So fight off those January blues by getting outside for a winter hike. You’ll find there’s still plenty to enjoy about the great outdoors, even in mid-winter. And your cozy fireside chair never felt quite as good as when you sank into it after an adventure in the open air.
Read on for four top tips to help make your winter hike enjoyable.
1. Play it Safe
Winter hiking is fun, but with cold temperatures and early nightfall to contend with, it isn’t risk-free. Careful planning is important to ensure that you don’t find yourself lost in the woods after dark. Make sure you know where you’ll be hiking, and stay on clearly marked trails. It’s a good idea to bring an emergency blanket in case of injury, as well as to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. See here for more winter hiking safety tips from the Shenandoah National Park.
2. Water isn’t just for summer!
You don’t have to contend with the heat of summer, but winter hiking is still physical activity, and you’ll still get thirsty. Be sure to pack plenty of water, as well as some energizing snacks.
3. Stay within Your Comfort Zone
Hiking in winter may be more difficult and time-consuming than you expect, even if you’re an experienced hiker. In particular, snow and ice on the trail can slow you down. And remember the weather is colder at higher elevations, so you may run into ice on your hike, even if you didn’t see any at home. Steep slopes, in particular, can be extra difficult in winter weather conditions.
With these considerations, it’s a good idea to pick a hike that is well within your physical limitations. Use park signage and trail descriptions to choose a hike that will be safe and enjoyable for you.
For easier hike ideas, check out this Trail Guide from the Shenandoah River State Park, or try out the Charcoal Trail or Pig Iron Trail in the George Washington National Forest. See here for a list of trails in the Shenandoah National Park, starting with the ones closest to Front Royal. Be sure to check the difficulty level of the hike you plan to attempt.
The dead of winter is not a good time to challenge yourself with a new hike that you’ve never attempted or to tackle the bare rock face you’ve been dreaming about. Keep it doable and save yourself frustration and possible injury.
4. Wrap up!
In Scandinavia, they say “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Being properly dressed for winter weather can make the difference between an enjoyable hike and a miserable tramp through the woods.
Waterproof shoes and thick socks are a must. Dress in layers, and bring more than you think you’ll need. It’s easier to take something off than put on the coat you left at home!
Need some extra gear? A visit to Front Royal’s Mountain Trails should have you covered. Here you’ll find a full range of casual clothing and technical outdoor equipment.
Going on a hike might not be the first activity you think of for a January day. But with the proper research and preparations, you’ll find that winter hiking is a great pursuit that can be fun for all the family. And when you come in from the cold, don’t forget to stop by one of Front Royal’s eateries to warm up with a cozy drink or dinner.
In winter, a cozy fireplace can become the beating heart of your home. It’s a place the family can gather to bask in the warm glow of the fire. If you’re stuck at home this winter, try dedicating some screen-free evenings to spending time by the fire as a family. We’ve rounded up some innovative ideas for fireside activities. Even if you’ve been enjoying your fireplace for years, read on! You may discover a new way to relax by the fire on a winter’s evening.
1. Cook on the fire – it’s not just for summer!
You may have spent many evenings by your fire, but have you ever thought of making dinner on it? Just like a campfire, the fire in your hearth can be used for cooking. Gather around the fireplace on a winter’s night for a fun dinner that will remind you of those summer campfire cookouts. For some ideas to get you started, see here and here. Bonus: cooking as a family in the living room gives mom a break!
If you’re not in the mood for cooking a full dinner, you can still enjoy your fireplace and some delicious fire-roasted snacks or deserts. S’mores can be made indoors, just as they can on an outdoor campfire. Or for a Christmassy option that will remind you of a popular song, try some chestnuts “roasted on an open fire.” Make sure you have butter and cinnamon ready to dip them in! Baked apples are another great option for a fun and easy fireside desert.
2. Enjoy the Mood Lighting!
If you can turn off the lights while you’re gathered around the fire, you’ll notice how quickly the mood changes. Distractions melt away, and stresses seem to disappear, as the warmth and light of the fire comfort body and spirit. Skeptical . . . just give it a try one night: we promise, you’ll love it. Bonus points if you have Christmas lights up at the same time.
3. Have a Fireside Chat
There’s something about sitting by a fire together that can get people to open up and engage in great conversations that would not happen so easily otherwise. Need some help getting a conversation going? Consider keeping a pack of “conversation starter” cards near the fire. You never know, you might learn something you never knew before about a family member or guest.
4. Try a Fireside Game
There’s nothing like a family game night for involving everyone in some fun. Do it around the fire, and you’ll find it’s an unbeatable combination. If you’re going to play a family game around the fire, it’s ideal if it doesn’t involve too much moving around, and doesn’t require bright lighting. You’ll find some ideas here.
5. Read a Story Together
When the whole family is gathered around the fire is a great time to crack open a book and start reading aloud. If you can find a collection of short stories, that’s a great place to start. They’re short enough that you can get through a whole story – or two – in an evening. The short stories of Edgar Allan Poe will give your family a lot to think and talk about. They’re not a great option for younger audiences though. Or dig through a second hand bookstore, such as Front Royal’s own Royal Oak Bookshop and see what treasures you can find for yourself.
When the weather outside is frightful, the fire can be delightful. Take the time to enjoy your fire and your family this winter. Here’s to memories made around the fireside that will last a lifetime.
Guest Post by Taylor Jones.
Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, it is all upon us this holiday season. Despite all things 2020 - Front Royal has leveled up this year! In years prior it may not have been as easy to holiday shop locally but this year things are different. Local business is thriving! I’ve gathered a list of local spots that can make all your holiday present dreams come true.
First up is Inklings on Main Street. If you haven’t been through to visit this brand new spot you are missing out! They have great gifts from local vendors, vintage clothing, and all things Shenandoah related. This is a great place to shop for the person in your life who loves and takes pride in the Shenandoah Valley - as they have tons of mugs, posters, and puzzles that are Shenandoah themed. You can also find artisanal soaps, candles, and lotions! This place is chock full of things you probably didn’t know existed but are the perfect gifts for your family and friends.
It wouldn’t be a local gift guide without a shoutout for The Apple House - whether you’re looking for a fun hot sauce, cool socks, a funny tea towel, or some beautiful jewelry you’re looking for The Apple House. You may know them for their donuts and great barbecue but they are so much more. This place is quintessential to our town and they will not disappoint you or your gift receiving loved ones. P.S. - They offer holiday catering too!
Stokes…. I truly believe Stokes General Store is the most slept on spot in Front Royal. Stokes has so many great gift options and not just the ones you would think. They sell guns, and knives, and all things adventure related for that person in your life. But they also sell Carhart jackets, Minnetonka footwear, cast iron skillets, all kinds of boots and shoes; they’ve got it all. My favorite Denim jackets will never go out of style and Stokes offers them at a fair price and the chance to support a local shop!
Another great option for your adventure loving friends is Mountain Trails on Main Street! Mountain Trails is a real gem. They sell Patagonia outerwear and Blundstone boots and all the beanies you could ever wish for. They also sell sleeping bags, the fancy and coveted HydroFlasks and all sorts of warm flannels. Mountain Trails isn’t just an obvious choice for your adventuring loved ones, they have gifts for the whole family! They also have a store in Winchester!
A new spot with lots of great new options is Turnmeyer Galleries on South Street! They sell fun Front Royal Christmas puzzles, beautiful ornaments, and Shenandoah-themed mugs! Turnmeyer Galleries also sells beautiful images of the local scenery, in a number of different mediums. It is also a great spot to buy Yankee Candles locally!
Mystic Mountain Trading Company has lots of great options for your hippy friends! They have all the colored tapered candles, crystals, wind-chimes, and warm blankets you could desire. Mystic Mountain has gifts you may not have thought of but are sure to be crowd pleasers!
And last but not least, Royal Oak Bookshop! Royal Oak Bookshop is a representation of all the best things in our town. Packed to the brim with all sorts of books (local or otherwise) this shop is undervalued. This Holiday season you can call to place an order for any book, they’ll wrap it, and send it anywhere in the world! They also have a bunch of great books about our local history that would interest anyone who has lived in our town for long. The staff are friendly and helpful, including the shop cat.
There are so many other great shops in Front Royal but these are just a select few. Remember to shop local if you can this year. It is more important than ever for our local businesses to be able to stay afloat and support their families throughout 2020 and beyond!
Have a Happy Holiday!
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