All of fall is beautiful, but the season’s “peak” is that much-anticipated time when the greatest abundance of fall colors fill the landscape. It’s a short window, arriving when the vast majority of leaves have assumed their fall hues, and ending as they turn brown and fall from the trees. In the Shenandoah Valley, peak usually arrives in October (predictions for 2020 point to late October). The season typically lasts around two weeks.
If you’re coming to the Front Royal area to enjoy peak foliage, we’ve put together some helpful information. Read on some fun facts about the beautiful trees you can expect to see. We’re also featuring Front Royal’s top fall attraction: Skyline Drive.
Who’s Who in the Peak Foliage
Yellows, oranges, and reds are the signature colors of fall, and together they make up a peak fall landscape. However, it takes a variety of trees to make all of these vibrant shades appear. Different species contribute different hues to the display. If you’re seeing yellows and oranges, you may well be enjoying a view of beeches, sycamores, or sugar maples. Red maples take their name for the bright scarlet that they contribute to the riotous colors of fall. Meanwhile, oaks are a well-known species that contribute a spectrum of reds, russets, and browns (in addition to covering the ground with acorns – another signature sight of fall).
Of course these tips can only get you so far in determining which tree you’re looking at. If you’re wanting to go a little deeper in your enjoyment of the peak foliage, a little tree identification may fit the bill. Equip yourself with a tree identification field guide before heading out on your hike or fall picnic. You’ll find that identifying trees is a fun activity for all the family. And it’ll definitely help you increase your appreciation of nature’s handiwork.
Skyline Drive from the Front Royal End
Speaking of fall hikes and picnics, the premier spot for such pursuits is Virginia’s Skyline Drive. The central road of Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is one of the nation’s favorite places to enjoy peak fall foliage. Cresting the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountain range, Skyline Drive provides access to many unparalleled vantage points from which to enjoy the vistas of fall in the Shenandoah Valley. The northern entrance of the park is conveniently located right in the town of Front Royal.
Simply enjoying a drive through the park is a great way to enjoy the foliage display. In fact, Skyline Drive was actually designed with driving in mind. However, October is Skyline Drive’s most visited month, and the traffic can get frustrating. If you’re looking to enjoy Skyline Drive from the Front Royal end, we’ve rounded up some ideas for leaf-peeping in the park without having to drive too far. That way you can spend more time enjoying nature, and less time waiting in leaf-peeper traffic.
Compton Peak is a fantastic hike near the Front Royal end of the park. It’s a family friendly trail that includes a mildly strenuous climb, but is manageable for most. Park at the Compton Gap parking area (mile-marker 10.4). Cross the road, and head south/west on the Appalachian Trail into the woods. After a mile or so, the Compton Peak trail intersects the Appalachian Trail. Look out for a concrete marker to tell you’ve arrived at this point. A right turn takes you up hill to a stunning viewpoint, where you can enjoy the fall foliage and a sense of accomplishment. Heading left will bring you to a more obstructed viewpoint, but fascinating rock formations. Can’t decide? The two overlooks are close enough that you can check out both.
If you’re not up for a hike, there are some great picnicking spots also within easy distance of the Front Royal entrance to the park. Range View Overlook (mile-marker 17.0) consistently makes it on lists of the park’s top overlooks. From this viewpoint, take in the beauty of the piedmont on the Eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For views of the Shenandoah Valley to the West, good options are Gooney Run Overlook (mile 6.8), and the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. Dickey Ridge is also a great place to get advice from a park ranger on other good spots to check out in the park.
Don’t miss out on one of America’s favorite leaf-peeping spots. Plan your peak foliage visit to Skyline Drive today!
There's Peace and Quiet in Those Hills ...
While options may be different than those found in larger cities, there are plenty of unique activities and entertainment to be found in smaller communities such as Front Royal, VA. This small town comes with a rich history and direct access to the Shenandoah Valley and Skyline Drive.
There is so much to do and enjoy that we wanted to provide a day guide for your next visit here!
Stroll Around Town
Small towns in the more rural regions of America are known for their downtown areas with “heritage” buildings, quaint streets, and charming local shops. Front Royal is no exception. Don’t be afraid to venture beyond Main St.! Our town offers many shops, antique stores, outdoors parks and award winning restaurants.
Check out other businesses our town has available to you!
Explore a Museum
Front Royal and Warren County have a unique history. Though the museums may not have a well-known reputation, they are nonetheless a treasure trove of our culture, background, and insights.
Check out our other historic places of interest around town!
Go Out for Coffee
It is common to find groups of friends sitting at local coffee shops for hours on weekday and Saturday mornings. Coffee shops are also popular hangouts for the older, retired crowd. You can experience several hours of relaxation for the cost of one cup of coffee.
Skyline Drive Sightseeing
Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway. Though autumn is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive, with its breathtaking foliage, spring offers the pale green of trees waking up from a long winter, colorful wildflowers, as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurel.
How long does it take to get through the park? With over 75 scenic overlooks along the way, most people allow three to four hours to drive the 105-mile length of Skyline Drive.
You’ll find some of the most scenic golf courses within the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains. The views here are amazing!
For Disc Golf lovers we have Rockland Park Disc Golf Course
Here you’ll find a complete list of area golf courses.
Go Fishing or Hunting
The Shenandoah River has been regarded as one of the best smallmouth rivers in the world. Pair that with the Blue Ridge Mountains to explore the best fishing and hunting in Virginia!
To learn more about the best places to dock, check out our recent blog!
One of the benefits of a small town is that there can be a lot of open space not too far away. Sometimes, it can be a ton of fun to pack a bag and head outside of town. If you have kids, hiking can be a chance to spend some time together, while you teach them how much fun it can be to explore!
Check out some of our best trails!
Everyone has a different reason to go camping. Many want to disconnect from high tech and reconnect with the outdoors. Families go camping to get away from distractions at home and to rejuvenate relationships. Camping means different things to different people.
Not sure where to stay? Here are some great choices!
Go Canoeing or Kayaking
The Shenandoah Valley offers numerous rivers ideal for canoeing and kayaking for all experience levels. The most famous is the Shenandoah River, which runs parallel to Front Royal.
Don’t feel like toting your own vessel, or maybe you don’t own one? Don’t worry, we have you covered!
Check out the following business to rent your own:
Support the Community by staying at a local B&B
Staying at a bed and breakfast is the perfect choice of lodging when you need a relaxing escape. You can find B&Bs almost anywhere you go, and they provide much better value than hotels. From personalized attention to delicious food, there are many reasons to choose a bed and breakfast over a hotel - especially in Front Royal.
When you are on the road, away from home, travelers seek to experience a deeper connection with the places they visit. The bed and breakfast industry, is known for its hospitality, which is why you see many B&B’s and Inns receive great ratings for this very quality.
Each bed and breakfast has its own history and its own style of accommodation. A B&B gives you the sense of being home because the rooms are both comfortable and elegant.
B&B’s are small businesses. Innkeepers take tremendous pride in their work. Not only that, they feel a responsibility to make sure their guests are comfortable and cared for.
And then there is the food! Home-cooked meals, with locally sourced ingredients, make the start of the day an enjoyable one. A freshly-prepared, delicious breakfast means the world to travelers who are far from home.
Front Royal and Warren County have a bevy of choices:
When was the last time you truly saw the stars in a night’s sky? A distinct advantage of a small-town visit is having the chance to see the stars! Stick around for an evening so you can see for yourself.
Public Parks & Gardens
From botanical gardens and arboretums to fun playgrounds and community parks, there’s something to please everyone!
Here are additional parks and places of interest to visit!
A Final Thought!
There are many ways to enjoy small towns and their surrounding areas. These economical and creative solutions can be a great way for visitors to enjoy just as much as you would in the big city. They may not seem as grand, but they can be just as educational, entertaining, and fun!
Fun, relaxation, and the outdoors await in Front Royal. It’s in our nature!
Shenandoah is absolutely gorgeous right now. But its beauty changes season to season: from autumn leaves, to frozen water falls, to flowering rhododendron, to amazing vistas, to picture- perfect swimming holes. Front Royal Brewing Co. sits right here at ground zero. Our home town and namesake is where the legendary Shenandoah River actually begins – the north and south forks come together on the edge of town to begin their journey north as the meandering Shenandoah. But we’re also where the Skyline Drive begins, and where the Shenandoah National Park ends. When you decide to come here, you’ve come to the perfect spot to experience this amazing region.
You have many good options, from a picnic on the Skyline Drive to hikes on Old Rag and the many other justly-famed mountain trails in the Shenandoah Valley. Numerous blogs, apps, websites, and travel guides can tell you all about these popular destinations.
But since we are about being local here at Front Royal Brewing Co., we thought we’d pick the brains of some of our best local customers to give you options you may not have thought of. Front Royal Brewing Co. is a hiker haven of sorts. Our landlord offers “Base Camp Front Royal,”which is a free shower-locker-laundry facility for thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. For most of the summer you’ll see these hikers sitting at our bar, spinning yarns about what they’ve seen and done in the mountains. But for many of our local customers, these mountains have been their personal playground for a lifetime.
One such local is Chris German. Chris’s day job is guiding people on river trips down the Shenandoah, but his real passion is discovering amazing hikes and places to go in these marvelous mountains. Here are his favorites, all right here a few miles from Front Royal. Note: we don’t give all the details you may need for some of these trips, so check the links and your favorite hiking site for more information. We like Hiking Upward.
Best For: View, Easy Hike; 4-7 Miles
This is the quintessential hometown hike. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone from Front Royal who hasn’t taken this beautiful and easily-accessible day-hike. You can turn it into a two-hour out-and-back walk that almost any reasonably healthy adult of any age can handle, or you can shuttle from one end of the ridge to the other and hike all day. You’ll meet extended families, couples on dates, serious rock climbers, and hiking aficionados from all over the east coast. It truly has something for everyone.
The culmination of the hike is, of course, Buzzard Rock (the name comes from the population of buzzards, gliding on the updrafts), an outcropping extending for several hundred yards along the ridge, with sheer drops on the west side of 300 feet or more. Hence the rock climbers. They seem to always be there, with their ropes and gear – and fearlessness. The views are awesome. To the west is Fort Valley and the Massanutten Range, a beautiful wilderness area that has the look and feel of Colorado, not Virginia. To the East is the town of Front Royal and the surrounding farms and countryside. There’s even a somewhat surreal view to the north of the fish hatchery and its many round ponds.
The eastern trailhead (3087 Mountain Road, Front Royal, VA) has a somewhat limited parking lot, and during peak season, cars will sometimes overflow and park on the road. DON’T be tempted. The police do ticket. If the Mountain Road lot is full, try driving around the mountain to the western trailhead at Elizabeth Furnace. The hike from there is longer and more strenuous but even more beautiful. (If you have two cars, you can also shuttle-hike from lot to lot). Another word of caution. Many sites also list the Buzzard Rock Overlook hike, which is not the same as either of the Buzzard Rock hikes described here. The Overlook hike also leaves from Elizabeth Furnace, but takes you west of Passage Creek up the Massanutten ridge towards Signal Knob, with a view of Buzzard Rock to the east, but not a trip to the rock itself.
Best For: Falls, Swimming; 3-9 miles
This is the perfect summer hike, in swimming attire. Falls to gaze at, pools to swim in, water slides to make you squeal. But if you’re out here in winter, it’s also a fabulous winter hike. Look for a day when temperatures have been in the teens for several days and you’ll be amazed at the frozen water falls. Awesome!
Overall Falls, if you do the full trip, is an 8 mile loop. But you can customize it to your liking. It includes the highest waterfall in the Shenandoah National Park – a 93 foot drop. But it also includes three more falls, spectacular in their own right – one at 63 feet, another at 36 feet, and one more at 29 feet. This area is also prime bear habitat, so keep a sharp eye. The stream going over these falls is low volume so the hike is best in spring when water flow is high.
The hidden surprise on this hike is a series of swimming holes, off the beaten track, that include pools deep enough to dive into off the rock cliffs, gentle water slides you can scoot down on your rear, and a myriad of other small pools to lounge in. Much better than a manufactured water park off the beltway!
You can start this hike from the top or bottom; however, we suggest beginning at the bottom at the Thompson Hollow trailhead. The swimming area is about a mile up the trail from Thompson Hollow. After a mile, the trail comes to a T intersection. Swimming area is down the mountain to the right. Continue to the left to get to the falls.
GOONEY CREEK SWIMMING HOLE
Best For: Swimming; 50 yards
While we’re on the topic of swimming; holes, we have to tell you about this one. A classic you won’t find on any trail guide. Gooney Creek is a small but beastly creek dropping straight out of the mountains into the Shenandoah River – kayakers adore this creek after a spring rain. But at its mouth, just before it empties into the Shenandoah, it offers up a beautiful, deep, wide swimming hole with rock cliffs and an Olympic-sized pool that’s perfect for an August day. If you need to cool off after a day of hiking definitely check this out.
To get there, take VA 340 south from Front Royal about 5 miles to Gooney Creek Campgrounds. Walk about 50 yards upstream to the swimming hole.
LITTLE DEVIL STAIRS
Best For: Strenuous Hike, History; 6 miles
Locals like this hike for two reasons. First, it’s a mood thing. Try it on a misty, foggy day. The clouds hang in the valleys and shoulders of this valley, as if an artist put them there. The hike follows a deep draw into the mountain, along a small creek and over a series of natural rock stairs. Very cool experience.
The second reason, though, is a touch of local history. Early last century, Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive was private property, owned by thousands of mountain people - farmers, herders, lumberjacks, hunters. Hundreds of years before that, immigrants from Scotland, Ireland, and the Continent of Europe had migrated into those mountains to eek out a living and became the authentic Appalachian Mountain people many of us have heard or read about. But during the New Deal, this region was appropriated by the Federal Government and the locals were force off their land – many settled right here in Front Royal. About two miles into this hike, you’ll come across grave sites these early mountain people left behind as well as a Park Service marker, memorializing their experience.
SIGNAL KNOB OVERLOOK
Best For: Driving to View, 0 hiking miles
We’ll close with a drive-through. For those of you who may be tired of hiking but still want an amazing Shenandoah experience, you’ll need to plan ahead a little for this one: wait till sunset. From Front Royal, drive south on the Skyline Drive just a few miles to Signal Knob Overlook, which gives you a perfect west-facing view of the sunset over Signal Knob. Absolutely spectacular! What local teenager wouldn’t love to end a picnic date sitting on the wall of the overlook, holding hands, watching those hues of red, orange and purple fade into night. Even a middle-age couple would love that!
And when you’re in Front Royal, stop by Front Royal Brewing Company. We’re always churning out new beers and even offer what we call our Trail Series: new, cutting-edge brews straight from our experimental cellar. They come in limited supplies, but are just perfect after hiking and swimming in Shenandoah. We also have amazing food every day and live music on the
weekends. Hope to see you soon!
Celebrating Spring has not been the same here in Front Royal this year. Locals and tourists alike anticipated meandering through the glorious Shenandoah National Park, taking in the spectacular scenery and enduring rugged outdoor adventures. As a popular destination for weekenders in Warren County and nearby regions, drivers can ostensibly travel the 105-mile road in about three hours. But those three hours do not account for the enticement to stop, look, picnic, play or simply explore so much of what is Skyline Drive.
But all was changed on April 4, the day it was closed to motorists due to the coronavirus.
We missed the sounds of rumbling motorcycles coming in from I-66 transporting cruise riders, the Harley riders, and young-at-heart senior riders (good for them!). We missed the cars parked on the side while waiting for an order from Spelunker’s. We missed viewing the magnificent landscape dotted with flowering dogwood, redbud, and wild plum trees. We missed the trails artfully displaying colorful azaleas, pink-and-white mountain laurel, and hundreds of wildflowers carpeting the forest’s floor.
After many weeks and confusing federal and state guidelines, Shenandoah National Park will begin Phase Two of its phased reopening plan.
Phase Two: What You Need to Know
Beginning at 7:00 a.m. on June 11, 2020, Shenandoah National Park will reopen access to:
Concession-operated services will open as follows:
Beginning June 12, 2020, the Park will reopen access to:
With public health in mind, the following facilities remain closed at this time:
Planning ahead is important.
Keep yourself and others safe by planning before coming to Shenandoah.
A few simple things can help ensure a safe visit.
The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners continues to be paramount. At Shenandoah National Park, our operational approach will be to examine each facility function and service provided to ensure those operations comply with current public health guidance and will be regularly monitored. We continue to work closely with the NPS Office of Public Health using CDC guidance to ensure public and workspaces are safe and clean for visitors, employees, partners, and volunteers.
While these areas are accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased and services may be limited. When recreating, the public should follow local area health orders https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/prevention-tips/, practice Leave No Trace principles, avoid crowding and avoid high-risk outdoor activities.
Details and updates on park operations will continue to be posted on our website www.nps.gov/shen and social media channels: https://www.facebook.com/shenandoahnps/, https://twitter.com/ShenandoahNPS, and https://www.instagram.com/shenandoahnps/. Updates about NPS operations will be posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus. Please visit www.goshenandoah.com for updates about park concessioner, Delaware North’s operations.
As the weather gets warmer and the dangers of the coronavirus are lessened, grab that picnic basket filled with your favorite foods. Do not forget the blanket, insect repellant, and a few rain ponchos. Your day to cruise Skyline Drive awaits.
And as the summer passes by so swiftly, the annuals in your garden will start to fade, the fireflies will take their final bow and the leaf peepers will back up traffic at the corner of South Royal Avenue and South Street.
It may have been a silent spring, but the roar of leather-clad motorcyclists and carloads of nature lovers won’t miss the must-take road trip this Fall.
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