Welcome to Discover Front Royal’s “Discover-y” blog series! As spring weather begins to lift our spirits and tempt us outdoors, we’re turning the focus to the fantastic natural world around us. This series will feature a monthly post on the outdoor world around the Shenandoah Valley. Today’s topic: spring birds of the Shenandoah Valley!
Read on for some recommendations of birding spots in the Front Royal area. We’ve also included a list of five favorite birds that beginner and experienced birders alike will enjoy observing this spring (and even late winter if you are eager to get out there!).
Birding in the Front Royal Area
The Front Royal area is home to some fantastic spots for birding. An obvious place to start is the famed Shenandoah National Park. With its mountain-ridge location and plenteous forest habitat, the Shenandoah National Park is a magnet for migratory birds. The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center Area, just five miles from the Front Royal entrance station, is a top recommendation for bird-watching. Explore the trails in this part of the park if you’re in search of some spring bird sightings. See here for a further list of the park’s best hikes for birdwatching enthusiasts.
Another highly recommended spot for bird-watching around Front Royal is the Blandy Arboretum. The 700 acres of the arboretum include a variety of habitats, making it a great destination for wildlife enthusiasts of all kinds. Explore on your own, or consider checking out the arboretum’s educational programs. There are several birding offerings, which could be a great fit whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned birder looking for some company and fresh perspective on your birding adventures.
Finally, to view a diverse range of birds including waterfowl, don’t forget to check out some of the riverside locations around Front Royal. Shenandoah River State Park is a commonly recommended destination for bird enthusiasts. And if you head to Eastham Park you can take a birding walk along the Shenandoah River without even having to leave town.
1. Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebirds are one of the few brightly colored birds you may sight around the Front Royal area in the dead of winter. While many birds leave the area in the fall, Eastern Bluebirds can be seen all year long. If you head out birding before spring has really started, Eastern Bluebirds are a great species to look out for. The pop of blue and rusty red will brighten any late-winter’s landscape.
A late winter birdsong to listen for is the “FEE-BEE” mating call of the Black-Capped Chickadee. Male Chickadees can begin to make this call as soon as late January. You’ll start to hear it more and more often as spring approaches. The Shenandoah Valley area is home to two species of Chickadees: Carolina and Black-Capped. The two are so closely related that they can interbreed. When they do, the offspring have the fascinating ability to make the distinctive bird call of both species.
3. Black-and-white Warbler
The sound of birdsong is a well-known hallmark of the return of spring. But did you know that in the Shenandoah Valley, it’s often the Black-and-White Warbler who’s the first to announce the end of winter. This distinctive, black-and-white striped bird is one of the first migratory birds to arrive in Shenandoah National Park each year. Hearing or seeing this bird is a sure sign than spring has finally come. Black-and-white warblers are also known for their “creeping” movement as they explore tree trunks in search of food.
4. Cerulean Warbler
The Cerulean Warbler used to be one of the more common birds of the lower Mississippi valley. In recent years, numbers have declined, and Cerulean Warblers are now a much rarer sight. One of the best places to spy them is Shenandoah National Park. Every spring, birding enthusiasts head to the park from miles around in hopes of laying eyes on one of these cheerful, bright blue songbirds. You’ll need to look hard and upwards! Cerulean Warblers generally prefer the higher part of the forest canopy.
5. Baltimore Oriole
The riverside trail at Eastham Park is a great spot for spring sightings of plentiful Baltimore Orioles. These brilliantly colored song-birds love to make their spring nests in the sycamores by the Shenandoah River. Take a stroll on the walking trail and keep your eyes peeled for the Baltimore Oriole’s attention-grabbing flash of orange.
Exploring nature and birding is a great spring pursuit. Once you get hooked, you can even bring the birds to your own backyard, and watch them right out of your window.
Consider putting up a bird feeder or nesting box this spring for bird-watching fun that keeps on going even after you get home. You’ll be helping out the Shenandoah Valley’s feathered friends too!
Skyline Drive/Shenandoah National Park is an incredible leaf-peeping destination. It’s not surprising that the park is something of a national treasure. The only problem is that it does attract significant crowds during the peak of fall foliage.
If you’re looking to enjoy fall foliage in the Front Royal area without dealing with crowds, this post is for you! We’ve rounded up some spots for leaf-peeping that will take you a little off the beaten path, while still ensuring that you can enjoy the unparalleled beauty of the Shenandoah Valley in fall.
1. Shenandoah River State Park
This amazing park is like Skyline Drive’s overshadowed little brother. Located just nine miles down the road from Skyline Drive’s Front Royal Entrance Station, Shenandoah River State Park doesn’t get the attention it deserves. However, there’s plenty to write home about here. The park extends right up the Shenandoah River, and you’ll find plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy.
Visit Shenandoah River State Park to discover 5.2 miles of Shenandoah River shoreline, over 24 miles of hiking trails, scenic overlooks, and opportunities for camping, horseback riding, and fishing.
2. George Washington National Forest
George Washington National Forest is another great option for fall outdoor adventure in the Front Royal area. Though less frequented than Skyline Drive, the National Forest is full of hiking and biking trails, and also boasts great locations for camping and fishing. Passage Creek is a stocked trout stream that flows through the forest. It’s a favorite of local fly-fishermen. And, of course, the forest features plenty of trees, so there’s lots of fall foliage to enjoy.
If you’re looking for scenic views in the George Washington National Forest, Buzzard Rock is a great hike to check out. It’s something of a local favorite. You’ll follow a wooded trail before eventually emerging on the exposed rocks at the top of the mountain. From this vantage point, enjoy stunning views of the surrounding countryside. There’s a good chance you’ll even see some buzzards soaring through the skies.
3. Enjoy Fall Views from the Shenandoah River
If you want to enjoy a relaxing outdoor adventure away from the crowds, don’t forget that Front Royal sits right on the famous Shenandoah River. You might associate river trips more with summer, but the river can be a great fall destination too. As fall colors appear on the tree-lined banks of the river, a boating trip is a great way to enjoy them. To plan your trip, get in touch with one of Front Royal’s River Outfitters. Or, if you have your own boat, you can organize a day on the river independently. This map shows public river access points in the Front Royal area.
4. Take a Scenic Fall Drive
Skyline Drive isn’t the only scenic road in the Shenandoah Valley. There are plenty of other options for those seeking less heavily travelled fall foliage drive. If a fall drive through the Front Royal area sounds appealing, consider this Fall Foliage Driving Tour, developed by the experts at the Virginia Department of Forestry. They’ve carefully planned out the route to ensure lots of opportunities for enjoying the fall leaves. To make the day complete, stop in Front Royal to pick up some fall-themed road trip snacks or a pumpkin spice latte to sip on as you drive.
Don’t let fear of crowds prevent you from enjoying all that the Shenandoah Valley has to offer in the fall. Even if you’d prefer not to join the crowds at Skyline Drive, there’s plenty of beautiful fall foliage in the Front Royal area.
For special needs parents, it can be tough to find activities that whole family can enjoy together. But doing so is totally worth it. You don’t want your special needs child to be left out of those great memories that siblings share. Not to mention it’s more efficient if everyone can have fun at the same time! And that’s worth taking into consideration… After all, special needs parents are some of the busiest people in the world!
The good news is that the Front Royal area has plenty of opportunities for special needs family fun. We’ve done the research to round up a selection of accessible Front Royal destinations that will appeal to all different abilities and interests.
Whether you’re planning a trip to the Shenandoah Valley, or already live in the Front Royal area, this post is for you. Read on for a comprehensive list of accessible activities that parents and siblings will also enjoy. Everyone’s included!
Accessibility in Shenandoah National Park
No doubt about it, the top tourist attraction of the Front Royal area is Shenandoah National Park. With its stunning mountain views, the park attracts over one million visitors every year. It’s also one of the most accessible of America’s National Parks. In fact, this park was specifically designed with driving in mind. In an era when cars were first becoming widely available, the park’s designers planned that the central feature of the park should be Skyline Drive, a road leading all the way down the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can enjoy the park’s major attraction without ever having to leave your car! There are also plenty of accessible picnic spots with stunning views, conveniently located right by the road.
If you're not already aware, individuals with disabilities are entitled to a free lifetime pass to our National Park system! Learn more here!
With a variety of accessible facilities, including lodging and camping, Shenandoah National Park is a welcoming destination for the special needs family. For a fully accessible hike, check out the Limberlost Trail. Shenandoah National Park is beautiful all year long, but it’s a particularly popular destination in the fall.
Horseback Riding for the Whole Family
For special needs families in the local area, North Star Stables offers both able-bodied and therapeutic horseback riding lessons, for riders of all capabilities. You won’t find a more welcoming environment! Head instructor Teresa Pilegaard is a special needs mom herself. She’s seen the benefits of therapeutic riding in all areas of development: physical, mental, and emotional. North Star Stables is truly a treasure of the Front Royal area. There isn’t another PATH certified therapeutic riding instructor for hours around! The best part? Able-bodied siblings are welcome at North Star Stables too. All the kids can jump in and experience the benefits of horseback riding!
Note: due to medical clearance requirements, North Star Stables is unfortunately unable to offer one-off sessions for traveling families.
Summer Fun: Pools and Parks
If you’re thinking that water fun is an essential part of summer, we agree! And Warren County does too! Special needs families can enjoy the Claude A. Stokes Community Swimming Pool, which features a lift to assist those with mobility challenges to into the pool. Or for splashing and sprinklers, visit the splash pad at the Dr. Saul Seide Memorial Gardens. You’ll find it’s fully accessible and fun for all the family. Within the same park, you’ll also find Free Wheeling Way, a wheelchair accessible playground structure, complete with accessible picnic tables. It’s a recipe for a day of summer fun at the park.
Several of Front Royal’s other parks also feature accessible walking trails. The beautiful Eastham Park walking trail is located right on the banks of the Shenandoah River. Other options are the Skyline Soccerplex trail and the Rockland Park walking trails. Enjoy in the summer, or any time of year!
Even More Accessible Activities in Front Royal
After a day at the pool, on Skyline Drive, or on horseback, there’s still more to enjoy in Front Royal!
Older children, or those with a special interest in history, may enjoy Front Royal’s Civil War Driving Tour. Did you know that Front Royal was the scene of a Civil War battle? The driving tour will take you to all the important spots, and bring the history to life.
Arts and craft lovers will want to check out Explore Art and Clay. The studio is wheelchair accessible and offers paint your own pottery sessions. Come make memories painting a mug, plate, or seasonal decoration. They’ll give your work of art a professional finish. Budding sculptors should check their event schedule for the Kids Clay Club sessions. Projects can be adapted to suit different ability levels.
Finally, bowling is an all-time favorite for family fun. Bring the whole family to Royal Family Bowling Center. The lanes that are fully wheelchair accessible, and bowling ball ramps are available. Kids and adults of all abilities can play.
When the whole family’s together, you’ll make memories you’ll cherish for years to come. Start your adventure in Front Royal, Virginia. It might be as simple as a day at the park, or as exciting as a series of horseback riding lessons. Whether you’re coming for a visit or here to stay, we’re sure you’ll enjoy the unique opportunities you’ll find in the Front Royal area.
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!
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