Every fall sees large numbers of visitors heading to the Front Royal area in pursuit of the breathtaking fall foliage vistas. But if you’re seeking nature’s glory splendor in Front Royal this year, make sure you catch the whole show! Mother Nature isn’t done after a day of drinking in the splendor of fall. There’s an equally glorious display about to come: the star-filled night sky.
There’s something about stargazing that’s good for the soul. The sight of thousands of sparkling lights coming from worlds away is one that never gets old. It’s a good reminder of how big the universe is. And how small we are.
And maybe it’s something we’re meant to see. After all, for most of human history, people everywhere enjoyed star filled skies on a regular basis. Today, light pollution has made stargazing difficult for those living in highly populated areas. That’s yet another reason to escape to the Front Royal area this fall so you can enjoy the night sky the way it’s supposed to be.
Stargazing Spots in the Front Royal Area
For those in search of the thrill of gazing at a starlit sky, there are two parks in the Front Royal area that offer particularly outstanding displays.
The first is Shenandoah National Park. Driving on Skyline Drive already makes you feel a bit closer to the sky. But for stargazers there’s still some light pollution from the towns in the valley below. To maximize your night sky viewing, head to one of the park’s top stargazing areas. The Big Meadows area is a sought-after stargazing spot, and the location of Shenandoah National Park’s formal astronomy program, which takes place on select Friday nights through the month of October. The Skyland Amphitheater is another top stargazing spot in the park. Making arrangements for a campsite,cabin, or hotel room in Shenandoah National Park is a great way to enjoy some stargazing without having to make a long trip home at night.
For more tips, see this guide to stargazing in Shenandoah National Park. The guide includes including a list of the top overlooks in the park for stargazing (with the least light pollution interference).
On the other side of Front Royal, another great option is Sky Meadows State Park. Sky Meadows offers such great night sky views, that it’s recently become an officially designated Dark Sky Park. The park typically closes at dusk, but check their schedule of events for the popular Astronomy for Everyone program. For these family friendly events, the park stays open after dark, and you can enjoy a guided stargazing experience. Or if you want a real stargazing adventure, plan on using their primitive hike-in tent camping site and spending a memorable night under the stars.
Five Stargazing Tips
If you’re sold on making stargazing part of your next Front Royal adventure, read on for a few more tips that will help make your experience great!
1.Plan with the moon in mind. The brighter the moon, the less you’ll see of the stars, as the light of the moon can drown out these smaller nights. Stargazing will be best with a new or crescent moon above you.
1.Wait for clear skies. You’ll also want to make sure that there’s minimal cloud coverage blocking your views of the stars. Choose a crisp, clear fall night (and maybe bring a mug of hot chocolate!).
1.Let your eyes get used to the dark. You may not be used to being outside after dark, but your eyes will get there quicker than you think. While it takes several hours for your eyes to completely adjust to darker conditions, major changes take place in your eyes after just ten minutes of darkness, allowing you to see better. To help your eyes adjust, avoid using flashlights or other artificial lights as possible. It’s also helpful to avoid looking at phone screens. If you must use a light, try using one that’s tinted red.
1.Stay safe. If you’re an adventurous spirit in the park after dark, you might be tempted by the idea of a stargazing hike. While hiking at night can be a fun and memorable adventure, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll want to take added safety precautions. Don’t stray from trails at night. You may find it impossible to retrace your steps without light. Also, avoid trails with hazards such as steep drops that could be particularly dangerous in the dark. Be particularly alert for wildlife. And as always, make sure someone knows where you are going, and when you expect to return.
For more stargazing tips, see this article on stargazing in Shenandoah National Park.
There are few sights as captivating as a night sky filled with stars, or as stunning as the Blue Ridge mountains lit up with the colors of fall. Plan to enjoy both this year. A combination leaf-peeping star-gazing trip will leave you filled with awe at nature’s wonders.
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!
Early Fall: the Best of Both Worlds
Early fall is a thoroughly enjoyable time of year. It’s still warm enough to enjoy a picnic in the sunshine, or your last chance to cook out in shorts and a t-shirt. Nevertheless, fall has unmistakably arrived. The first hints of color are showing among the leaves, and there’s a welcome coolness in the air – although it’s not too cold yet. Apple-picking season is in full swing, and it’s a great time to enjoy a beautiful orchard among Virginia’s sunny hillsides. You can enjoy harvesting delicious fruit without worrying about overheating in the blazing heat of summer.
This week, we’re providing our guide to early fall in the Front Royal area. Read on for the scoop on the foliage you’ll see in early fall, as well as our top “picks” for local apple orchards. We’re even throwing in some tips on how to use that big bag of apples when you get it home.
Early Fall Foliage in Virginia
Early fall doesn’t bring the riotous beauty of full-on fall foliage, when vivid colors totally overwhelm the landscape. Nevertheless, early fall foliage has its own particular charms. The deep green of the forest changes to a lighter shade. The first bright pops of red and yellow against this green background are charming . . . and they hold the promise of more to come.
If you’re out hiking or driving through Virginia in early fall, you’ll see the first signs of fall foliage. Among the first colorful leaves of the fall, you can expect to see Virginia Creeper, Black Gum, and Dogwood. Virginia Creeper is one of the first heralds of fall, but it isn’t actually a tree at all. This vine climbs on anything – trees, walls, houses, even along the ground. In Shenandoah National Park, the sight of bright red Virginia Creeper leaves intertwined among the still-green tree branches is one of the first signs of the arrival of fall. Black Gums and Dogwoods will be among the first trees to turn, bright splashes of red, gold, and even purple standing out from a tranquil green background.
Apple-Picking Around Front Royal
You can enjoy the sights of these early turners while on an apple-picking expedition in the Shenandoah Valley. The Front Royal area is home to several pick-your-own apple farms. Check out Hartland Orchard or Hollin Farms, both located just one exit down from Front Royal on I-66. Stribling Orchard is another favorite, with a stunning mountainside location. Unfortunately, Stribling’s 2020 season is cancelled, but be sure to check back next year.
If you’re driving from Front Royal to pick apples at any of these orchards, you’ll drive directly past the local favorite Apple House, right before you get on I-66. Make sure to stop in and pick up some of their famous Apple Butter Cinnamon Donuts. These divine creations are the perfect treat to enjoy on your apple-picking adventure (or on your way home!).
Apples, Apples Everywhere!
There’s just one thing about apple-picking. That basket of apples looks a whole lot bigger on your kitchen counter than it did in the field! If you’re overwhelmed by a huge supply of apples, we’ve rounded up some ideas for you.
Apple pie and apple crisp are classic favorites that need no explanation. It’s also surprisingly easy to make your own apple butter. You don’t even need to peel the apples, and as they cook all day in your crock pot, they’ll make your whole home smell like fall. Or enjoy apples baked on a fall campfire. There’s even a good use for all those apple cores that get left over from your baking. Apple scrap vinegar is a fun way to use the parts you would otherwise throw away. And it has an impressive range of uses and health benefits.
Fall is in the Air!
Many pick-your-own orchards offer apple cider for sale, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you could try making your own. You’ll need an apple crusher to break down the apples, before squeezing the juice out in a cider press. Commercial apple cider equipment can be forbiddingly expensive, but for home use, you can get what you need for a more reasonable investment. Enjoy your fresh, sweet cider warm or cold, or ferment it into hard cider for an extra challenge.
It’s definitely fair to say that the year 2020 has defied expectations. When the calendar flipped to January 1, who would have predicted that we’d face a pandemic and the lockdown of our entire society, not to mention riots and social unrest?
With all the uncertainty in today’s world, we can take some comfort in knowing that the seasons continue to change as they always have. While the tide of human affairs ebbs and flows, another stunning fall will illumine the Virginia hillsides around Front Royal. And yet, as we mentioned last week, no two falls are the same. With the many factors that go into creating the beautiful colors of fall, it should be no surprise that there’s some variation from year to year. Certain colors might be more or less vibrant. The season could begin earlier or later, and could be more or less drawn out.
But since we know a little bit about what causes the leaves to change, we can make some estimates as to how each fall will go. So, even though it’s apparently dangerous to make any kind of prediction in 2020, we’re going to be bold. Here are our best guesses as to the way the fall foliage will play out this year in the Front Royal area.
Spring and Summer 2020 Indicate a Late Fall
Leaves are living things that come to life in the spring and die in the fall. Weather conditions during the entire lifetime of the foliage will impact its appearance in the fall. Taking a look back at the spring and summer can give us some hints as to how the fall may go. For a couple of reasons, the weather of spring and summer 2020 points to a late arrival of fall color.
First of all, spring got off to a rough start this year. Though warmer temperatures appeared earlier than normal, they weren’t around to stay. A chilly April, and a late frost in May damaged the yields of fruit-bearing trees in many areas. Tender young buds that had emerged in the early warmth could not survive the bitter cold of the late the frost. In general, the colder temperatures in late spring meant that the season got off to a later start than usual. A late start to spring often causes fall to come slowly as well.
The conditions of the summer are also likely to cause fall foliage to appear later than usual. Summer 2020 saw record-breaking heat in Virginia, and a fairly dry July. These conditions can cause tree stress, leading to less vibrant fall hues. However, welcome rains in August brought some stress relief to the trees. These late rains will likely allow the trees around Front Royal to stay greener for longer. They may also reverse the negative impacts of a hot and dry July.
Fall Weather May Cause Vibrant Reds
Of course, it’s not possible to predict the fall foliage entirely from the weather of spring and summer. When fall arrives in Front Royal, it will bring its own combination of weather conditions that can greatly influence the foliage display we see around us.
It’s obviously difficult to predict the fall weather in advance. Long-range weather forecasting is far from an exact science. In fact, many meteorologists will tell you not to trust a forecast of longer than ten days. And they may well be right. But it’s still fun to make some guesses.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, a popular long-range weather forecast source, the Front Royal area will enjoy plenty of sun in September and October, mixed with some rain. The forecast of sun bodes well for a brightly colored fall. Sunlight supports the production of anthocyanins, the chemicals responsible for the red hues in fall leaves. The sunshine of the fall, in addition to being enjoyable for humans, promises to contribute to a stunning display on the tree covered mountain slopes of Virginia. That is, if the almanac’s right…
Our best prediction: fall foliage will be slow to arrive in the Shenandoah Valley, but splendid when it comes.
Visit the Shenandoah Valley for Some Lucky Leaf-Peeping
The good news is that while we can’t predict the exact condition or timing of the fall foliage, we can tell you one thing for sure. Any visit to the Shenandoah Valley or the Front Royal area during the fall foliage season will be memorable. Even if your arrival doesn’t quite coincide with the perfect peak of fall foliage, you’ll still be able to enjoy glorious colors, beautiful views, and every essential fall activity that your heart desires.
After all, the unpredictability of the foliage is part of the fun of leaf-peeping. It’s an exciting pursuit that requires knowledge AND some good luck!
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