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.
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!
As the season of fall gets underway, apples give way to pumpkins as the seasonal produce of the moment. October is pumpkin month! Pumpkin patches, pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice, and jack-o-lanterns are all fall staples that aren’t going anywhere. If you haven’t had a close encounter with a pumpkin yet this fall, now’s the time! Read on for a run-down of pumpkin patches in the Front Royal area, as well as some carving and eating tips.
Pumpkin Patches for Fall Fun around Front Royal
A visit to a pumpkin patch in the Shenandoah Valley will be a memory you’ll cherish for years to come. The Front Royal area’s pumpkin farms combine scenic beauty, fun activities, and pumpkins that taste as good as they look. You can pick them right where they grew! Plan your visit during the month of October, as most pumpkin patches close after Halloween.
Hartland Orchard pumpkin patch is the closest to the town of Front Royal. It’s conveniently located just one exit down on I-66. Here, you’ll also find delicious pumpkin pies in the store.
If you’re up for a longer drive to a truly rustic pumpkin patch, head down US-340 to Valley Star Farm in Luray. About a thirty minute trip from Front Royal, Valley Star Farm is located in the valley between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Massanutten mountain range. You’ll enjoy great views of both. In addition to its pumpkins, the farm usually has a range of fun attractions, including a corn maze and a duck race. (Due to COVID, Valley Star’s 2020 season is pumpkins only. Extra attractions are closed.)
Heading in the opposite direction, you’ll find several options for pumpkins and fun. Wayside Farm Fun, Hill High Farm, and Great Country Farms are all in the Winchester/Berryville area. These family-friendly options include various side attractions, such as corn mazes, hayrides, and pumpkin guns. Be sure to check ahead when planning your trip, though. Due to COVID, advance tickets are required on certain days at both Wayside Farm and Great Country Farms.
Pumpkin Carving and Eating Tips
When you get your pumpkin home, you have three options: set it out as a decoration, carve it, or eat it (we won’t include letting it rot on the counter because you’re indecisive…). Pumpkins are a simple and tasteful fall decoration. Simply setting one out on your porch can give your home seasonal appeal.
For more involved decorations, carved pumpkins are an obvious choice. Carving pumpkins is a favorite fall activity for both kids and adult. Designs range from simple smiley faces to highly complicated works of art. Don’t throw the seeds away when you scoop them out! Save them and roast them for a snack that’s both delicious and nutritious.
Finally, pumpkin-flavored baked goods are a delicious way to enjoy fall. In addition to its delicious taste, pumpkin also adds a nutritional boost to your home baking projects. Don’t forget, it’s a vegetable! Pumpkin pie is a fall classic. For breakfast or brunch, try some chocolate chip pumpkin pancakes. Or for a naturally sweetened, gluten free, healthy snack, check out these pumpkin chocolate bars.
The Shenandoah Valley is a great fall destination. Don’t forget to include some pumpkin-picking as you’re planning your fall in the Front Royal area.
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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