We live in an era in which high quality videos and pictures of the world’s most fascinating sights are at our fingertips for most of our waking hours. Spending long periods of time outdoors peering through binoculars in the hopes of catching a (perhaps distant) sighting of an elusive bird may seem . . . a bit out of touch. But birdwatching is a pastime that grew in popularity throughout the twentieth century, and still commands a large number of devotees. If you’re in the Front Royal area, it may be time to discover (or continue enjoying) the thrills of birdwatching for yourself. The Shenandoah Valley is a great place to birdwatch. With habitat for some of America’s favorite birds, as well as rarer migratory species, the area draws birdwatchers every year. Read on to explore three reasons why birdwatching is still worthwhile in the smartphone era, and find our tips for great birding spots in and around Front Royal.
1. Birdwatching is Good for Your Health
Birdwatching requires slowing down, peace and quiet, and often a hike into less-frequented areas of nature. Research has shown the negative effects of the constant stimulation and instant gratification we get from our digital devices. It’s affecting our mental health, as well as our attention spans, and even brain function. Taking a break from the screen and focusing your attention on observing a bird at the slower pace of real life can provide a much needed change. Especially when combined with exercise such as walking, birdwatching can boost your mental, physical, and emotional health all at once!
2. You get to Search for an Answer
In the world of google and countless information apps, finding thousands of answers to any question can be as quick as typing it in and hitting go. All that information can be overwhelming, and it also takes away the unique satisfaction of figuring out a problem on your own. When you’re out in the field watching birds, identifying a species you haven’t seen before is the perfect opportunity to exercise your (perhaps neglected!) sleuthing skills! Flipping through a field guide, making comparisons, sometimes getting stumped, and finally arriving at an answer is a uniquely satisfying process, one many of us experience all too infrequently.
3. Birdwatching Brings Its own Thrills
Perhaps it’s partly because birdwatchers aren’t guaranteed success every time: birdwatching is full of thrills. Whether it’s spotting a new species for the first time, finally laying eyes on a bird you’ve been patiently awaiting, or sharing the joy of exploring nature’s wonders with friends and family, birdwatching has excitements all its own in store. It’s another great way to get outdoors and explore all the natural world has to offer.
If you’re considering a birding outing around Front Royal, you’ll find there are loads of great places in the area to explore. See our post here to learn more about birdwatching at Shenandoah National Park or the Virginia State Arboretum. Between these two locations there’s scope for almost unlimited birdwatching. For a lesser-known park with lots of birdwatching potential try Shenandoah River State Park. A thrilling local hike that’s name for the bird sightings it includes is the George Washington National Forest’s Buzzard Rock Hike. A fun climb up through the woods emerges onto an exposed rocky outcrop at the top, with thrilling scenes of buzzards wheeling through the skies and stunning views of the surrounding countryside. It’s a local favorite you’ll want to check out.
Whether you’ve never tried birding or you’re an experienced birdwatcher, let this spring be a time to get out there with your binoculars and field guide! Birdsong is one of spring’s most exciting sounds. It’s a great time of year to get out there and get to know the wonderful creatures that fill the air with song.
Whether you prefer an organized event or an excursion that you can take at your own pace, Front Royal, Virginia has you covered all year long. If you’re looking to get out and enjoy nature, Warren County offers hiking and biking trails, and about a hundred different ways to experience the stunning beauty of the Shenandoah Valley. And a calendar filled with quintessential small town festivals means you won’t get bored. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter, there’s always something happening in Front Royal. Here’s our guide to a year of fun and festivity.
**Due to Covid-19 and the restrictions put in place, many of our scheduled events have been cancelled. However, not forever and have been rescheduled for 2021.**
Spring in Front Royal: The Shenandoah Valley Awakens
Eight miles south of Front Royal, the village of Browntown kicks off the season’s festivals with its annual Redbud Festival. Every April, the redbuds bloom, and the Browntown community comes out to celebrate. You can enjoy delicious home cooked food, live music, and craft sales. A highlight of the day is the Gooney Creek Duck Race, a fun event for all the family.
Front Royal’s own historic Main Street hosts the first of many annual events in April as well. At Taste of the Town, Front Royal’s independent restaurants come out on Main Street with the best of their tempting cuisine. Buy a tasting ticket and stroll Warren County’s quaintest street as you sample delicious food in a festive atmosphere. Or sit down to enjoy and meet some new friends.
Main Street becomes the scene of two more festivals every May. Family Fun Day happens towards the beginning of May. Come out for a parade, an antique car show, games and face-painting for kids, and the trademark Louisiana Crawfish.
Later in May, Main Street transforms into for the annual Wine and Craft Festival. You won’t want to miss this day of fun for the whole family. Adults can taste wine from a selection of Virginia wineries. Meanwhile, festival has plenty to offer for the rest of the family. Delicious food, live music, and games for kids keep everyone happy. In between games and wine tastings, peruse the offerings from an array of talented artists. Craft sales include fine jewelry, clothing, pottery, and original paintings.
For a more relaxed way to enjoy the Shenandoah Valley in the spring, try a drive on one of the scenic roads around Warren County. The famous Skyline Drive starts right in Front Royal. It’s an obvious choice. The long drive down the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains features many overlooks where you can pull off and enjoy the view. But you don’t need to be on top of the mountain to enjoy it. For nature-lovers, other less well-known byways also offer stunning vistas in the spring. If you leave Front Royal going south on 340, you’ll be treated to a drive down the valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains on your left, and the Massanutten Mountain on the right. Alternatively, you can head north on 624 for views of farm fields and tree-lined roads. If you get as far as Boyce, finish your drive at the State Arboretum of Virginia, a fantastic spot for a spring picnic or a relaxing walk.
Summer in Front Royal: The Perfect Place to Enjoy Nature
America’s ultimate summer party happens on the Fourth of July. With events taking place up and down the Shenandoah Valley, Front Royal won’t be left out. The Northern Virginia 4-H Center hosts Front Royal’s Fourth of July celebration, with live music, games, food trucks and, of course, fireworks.
For a low-key summer evening in the Shenandoah Valley, try out Gazebo Gatherings, a free weekly concert series at Front Royal’s downtown Gazebo. Bring your own lawn chair and enjoy music and the community of Warren County.
Nature is easy to enjoy on an idyllic summer day in the Shenandoah Valley. Ideally situated on the iconic Shenandoah River, Front Royal offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation. Eastham Park is conveniently located only a mile from Front Royal’s historic downtown. The park features a generous stretch of riverfront, with a scenic walking trail, and access for swimming, boating, and fishing. Other popular public access points to the river include the Riverton Boat Ramp, and the Morgan Ford Boat Landing. Spend a day swimming and fishing at one of these points, or bring your own kayak or tube and float from one to the next.
Getting out on the river is a great recipe for summer fun, but it does carry some risks. Make sure to follow appropriate safety precautions, including wearing a life-preserver. If you need more guidance, or if you need to rent boating equipment, check out one of Front Royal’s own outfitters. If you’re fishing, be sure to purchase the appropriate license.
Autumn in Front Royal: Spectacular Hiking and Fall Fun
If you thought spring and summer in Front Royal good, just wait for autumn! Warren County becomes a sought-after tourist destination in the fall. As the tree-lined Shenandoah Valley lights up in vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow, Skyline Drive become a destination for many seeking nature’s beauty. The park sees more visitors in October than in any other month of the year.
Front Royal’s festivals continue through the autumn too. On Labor Day Weekend, the Skyline Ranch Resort becomes the home of the three day Appaloosa Music Festival. Sponsored by Washington D.C. band Scythian, this family friendly festival features folk music, camping, a free kids area, and food and drink from local providers.
Also in September is the River Valley Festival at VFW Post 1860 in Front Royal. This festival features a menu of pit roasted meats, along with juggling, live music, and craft beer and wine.
In October, Front Royal celebrates nature’s work of art with the Festival of Leaves on Main Street. Along with the usual crafts and live music, this festival has a historic flair, with historical re-enactors and tours of Warren County’s historic buildings: the Belle Boyd Cottage and the Balthis House. The festival also coincides with the annual Leaf Peepers races. Choose your distance: half-marathon, 10k, or 5k, and run in the all the fall glory of the Shenandoah Valley.
Driving or hiking at Skyline Drive will give you stunning views of the fall. Check here for updates on fall foliage in the park. If you want to avoid the crowds, there are other places to enjoy that are less crowded but still offer glorious nature in the fall. Try a picnic at an overlook in the Shenandoah River State Park. Buzzard Rock is another local favorite for hiking.
If you’re looking for a fun and seasonal family outing, there are plenty of opportunities for apple picking. Later in the fall, visit a local pumpkin patch.
Winter in Front Royal: Cozy Pancakes, Christmas Lights, and Winter Sports
Winter isn’t the busiest season of the year in Front Royal, but there’s still seasonal fun to be had. In early December, the Kiwanis Club of Front Royal holds an annual pancake day. Proceeds from this fun (and delicious) fundraiser go to support the work of the club.
The annual Christmas Festival and Parade is a special event that you won’t want to miss. This last festival of the year takes place at the beginning of December. The festival includes a parade down Main Street and ends with a lighting ceremony of Main Street’s Christmas lights. Even if you can’t make it to the parade, make sure you check out the lights at some point during the Christmas season.
Warren County is conveniently located for outdoor winter fun. For day ski trips, or snow tubing, check out Bryce Resort in the Allegheny Mountains, and Massanutten Resort. Both resorts are only about an hour’s drive from Front Royal. It’s a comfortable (and memorable!) day trip.
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