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!
Now that the imposed limitations from COVID-19 are almost behind us and summer is on its way, having fun outdoors can mean being on or in the water. Canoeing and kayaking are not only great for seeing picturesque views, but a wonderful way to relax and destress from the hectic pace of day-to-day life. Finding peace and quiet on the water is all part of the overall experience.
With one of the most beautiful and iconic parts of America’s landscape, the Blue Ridge Mountains, for its backdrop, the Shenandoah River is undoubtedly what so many residents and nature-loving people enjoy most about Front Royal. In 1999, Front Royal received the honor of being named the “Canoe Capital of Virginia”. The river is controllable for beginners but includes expanses of thrills as well. The canoe has been used for trade and transportation along the river since the earliest recorded history in the Valley, so enjoy the history, beauty, and tradition that canoeing entails in the Shenandoah Valley.
Front Royal is fortunate to have two forks of the river running through our land:
The South Fork Shenandoah is a popular destination for canoeists and kayakers. The nearness of the river to the more urban areas of Virginia and the bucolic beauty of the valley attracts thousands each year. Several canoe outfitters operate on the South Fork and traffic can be heavy on certain sections of the river during the summer months. Twenty (20) public access points along the entire length of the river creates the opportunity to plan many different float trips of varying distances.
The North Fork is a relatively small, shallow river and is very accessible to wade angling. This part of the river is ideal to float, canoe or kayak. Clear water, pleasant scenery, abundant wildlife, and mild whitewater make the North Fork a paddler’s dream.
Fishing opportunities on the North Fork:
Consider these other benefits of canoeing and kayaking in the Front Royal’s portion of the Shenandoah River:
Prior to jumping into your canoe, don’t forget these necessary and practical health and safety tips for canoeing and kayaking:
Canoe outfitters along the Shenandoah River normally provide a shuttle service, drop you off and let you float back a chosen distance to the outfitter headquarters. Looking for a local Front Royal shop to help?
Some combination of canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, rafts and paddleboards, may be rented from Front Royal Outdoors, Downriver Canoe Company or Shenandoah River Outfitters.
Launching your own vessel is popular, too, and many access points/boat ramps are found in or near Front Royal.
One of Virginia’s many state parks is nearby as well—the 1600-acre Shenandoah River State Park. It is located eight miles south of town on Route 340, offering miles of riverfront and mountain trails for hiking and mountain biking, as well as cabin rentals, a new zipline and tent camping.
From beautiful mountains, lush pastoral farmland and glistening river waters, Front Royal’s nature will astonish both young and old. Mark your calendar, Friday, June 26th is National Canoe Day! Make it a weekend getaway by renting a cabin, staying in a nearby Bed & Breakfast, and or local hotel. Now is the time to plan your trip to enjoy a river experience in the Canoe Capital of Virginia!
Eat Local - Shop Local - Support Local
We have had three successful weekends of closing the Main Street shopping corridor to allow restaurants and other places of commerce to conduct business outdoors. The Town of Front Royal is delighted to announce the continuation of ‘Downtown Rebound’ each weekend until further notice, as part of the Governor’s “Virginia Forward” reopening plan.
Giving rave reviews and breathing a collective sigh of relief, our town’s residents and visitors have embraced this event as a hint of better days and times ahead. These past few months have not been fun for any of us. We have been coping with interruptions in our daily life and the life-altering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We deserve this break from the lockdowns that have become routine . . . and what better way to do so than supporting our local businesses!
Here’s what Downtown Rebound offers each weekend:
Though the atmosphere is festive, and everyone enjoys freely strolling around Main Street, it is also a great time to look over the town’s other business establishments. You are certain to find a special item or service that you did not know was right here in town!
Want more info?:
Outdoor Movies - Royal Cinema’s “Main Street Movie” with its outdoor movie screen is a special treat for everyone. Reminiscent of a drive-in theater, without the car, lounging in a lawn chair or sprawled out on a blanket with the kids, creates a cherished memory. Don’t miss this opportunity to spend additional time enjoying the evening’s entertainment after the sun goes down. Check Royal Cinema’s Facebook page for upcoming movie selections, weather permitting.
Road closures - The temporary road closures of Main Street, Kidd Lane, and part of Chester Street to vehicles and bicycles will continue beginning Friday at 4:30 P.M. and ending on Monday at 7:00 A.M. each weekend until further notice. Parking remains available at the Gazebo entering from Laura Virginia Hale Place only.
Restaurants - Restaurants will be prepared to start seating customers around 5:30 P.M. on Friday, as it takes about an hour to set up tables and seating after the road closure.
Looking to get your business to participate? Businesses that operate outside of the perimeter of Main Street, Kidd Land, and a portion of Chester Street and who wish to participate in Downtown Rebound events may contact William Huck at 540-450-7939 to coordinate a location to set up to sell merchandise or promote your services.
As Virginia entered Phase Two on June 5, 2020 (excluding the City of Richmond and the Northern Virginia Region), all citizens are expected to maintain social distancing of 6 feet and follow other guidelines as noted in EXECUTIVE ORDER 65 (2020) AND ORDER OF PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY SIX PHASE TWO EASING OF CERTAIN TEMPORARY RESTRICTIONS DUE TO NOVEL CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19). At their discretion, restaurants may have additional restrictions.
Should you have questions, please contact the Town of Front Royal’s Public Information Office at 540-631-3600.
Celebrating Spring has not been the same here in Front Royal this year. Locals and tourists alike anticipated meandering through the glorious Shenandoah National Park, taking in the spectacular scenery and enduring rugged outdoor adventures. As a popular destination for weekenders in Warren County and nearby regions, drivers can ostensibly travel the 105-mile road in about three hours. But those three hours do not account for the enticement to stop, look, picnic, play or simply explore so much of what is Skyline Drive.
But all was changed on April 4, the day it was closed to motorists due to the coronavirus.
We missed the sounds of rumbling motorcycles coming in from I-66 transporting cruise riders, the Harley riders, and young-at-heart senior riders (good for them!). We missed the cars parked on the side while waiting for an order from Spelunker’s. We missed viewing the magnificent landscape dotted with flowering dogwood, redbud, and wild plum trees. We missed the trails artfully displaying colorful azaleas, pink-and-white mountain laurel, and hundreds of wildflowers carpeting the forest’s floor.
After many weeks and confusing federal and state guidelines, Shenandoah National Park will begin Phase Two of its phased reopening plan.
Phase Two: What You Need to Know
Beginning at 7:00 a.m. on June 11, 2020, Shenandoah National Park will reopen access to:
Concession-operated services will open as follows:
Beginning June 12, 2020, the Park will reopen access to:
With public health in mind, the following facilities remain closed at this time:
Planning ahead is important.
Keep yourself and others safe by planning before coming to Shenandoah.
A few simple things can help ensure a safe visit.
The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners continues to be paramount. At Shenandoah National Park, our operational approach will be to examine each facility function and service provided to ensure those operations comply with current public health guidance and will be regularly monitored. We continue to work closely with the NPS Office of Public Health using CDC guidance to ensure public and workspaces are safe and clean for visitors, employees, partners, and volunteers.
While these areas are accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased and services may be limited. When recreating, the public should follow local area health orders https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/prevention-tips/, practice Leave No Trace principles, avoid crowding and avoid high-risk outdoor activities.
Details and updates on park operations will continue to be posted on our website www.nps.gov/shen and social media channels: https://www.facebook.com/shenandoahnps/, https://twitter.com/ShenandoahNPS, and https://www.instagram.com/shenandoahnps/. Updates about NPS operations will be posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus. Please visit www.goshenandoah.com for updates about park concessioner, Delaware North’s operations.
As the weather gets warmer and the dangers of the coronavirus are lessened, grab that picnic basket filled with your favorite foods. Do not forget the blanket, insect repellant, and a few rain ponchos. Your day to cruise Skyline Drive awaits.
And as the summer passes by so swiftly, the annuals in your garden will start to fade, the fireflies will take their final bow and the leaf peepers will back up traffic at the corner of South Royal Avenue and South Street.
It may have been a silent spring, but the roar of leather-clad motorcyclists and carloads of nature lovers won’t miss the must-take road trip this Fall.
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