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.
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!
Discover Front Royal