Appalachian Trail Community: Front Royal/Warren County, Virginia

 Located in the beautiful and historic Shenandoah Valley, once breadbasket of the Confederacy, now a vista of farms, pick-your-own orchards, and wineries, Front Royal is the seat of Warren County, Virginia. Three miles west of the Trail crossing at Rte 522, there’s a kiosk with a map of Front Royal and QR code to the Visitor Center website (www.discoverfrontroyal.com). Front Royal is the northern gateway to the Shenandoah National Park and home to 30 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

If you need a break from your thru-hike or a satisfying finish to your day hike, there’s outdoor dining along historic Main Street featuring regional wines, coffee (and Internet) at the Daily Grind, tea and chocolate (and Internet) at the Vine & Leaf, or a glass of locally produced Alpenglow, sparkling cider in a variety of flavors. And if you are coming straight off the trail, you can find affordable lodging or a snack just a few steps east on Rte 522 at the Cabbin at Mountain Home B&B (www.facebook.com/mountainhomeinfrontroyal).

Designated an Appalachian Trail Community™ on April 21, 2012, Front Royal is located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, 70 miles west of Washington, DC, just off Interstate 66.  Flanked by the Blue Ridge to the east and Massanutten Range to the west, Front Royal’s founders settled at the forks of the Shenandoah River. Canoe Capital of Virginia, Front Royal has three outfitters, Front Royal Canoe Company, Skyline Canoe, and Downriver Canoe Company that rent out canoes, kayaks, rafts, and tubes for an “aqua-blaze” north to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Rates include shuttle service along routes ranging from three miles to 40-mile overnights. 

Local establishments supportive of hikers include the 4-H Center, adjacent to the Trail, which offers showers and pool use for a fee, and The Apple House (great BBQ, ice cream, Alpenglow, and those signature apple donuts, www.theapplehouse.net), on Route 55, closer to the Linden crossing. On the side of town closest to the Trail, hikers will find Samuels Public Library (www.samuelslibrary.net), offering free Internet; three food stores (Martin’s and Better Thymes (health food) on South Street, and Food Lion on Rte 522); a Laundromat; one Woodward House B&B; and plenty of hotels. Rural King (South Street) and Stokes General Store (Main Street) carry hiker supplies.

Once “le front royal” or “royal frontier” between French and British territories, local legend favors a more colorful origin for the town’s unusual name.  Supposedly, a giant oak, the royal tree of England, stood in the public square. Exasperated by the inability of his militia recruits to follow even the simplest command, a drill sergeant once bellowed, “Front the Royal Oak!”  This command allegedly morphed into “Front Royal,” and the name stuck. 

Where the Royal Oak once reigned now stands the Gazebo on the Village Commons, right next to the Warren County/Front Royal Visitor Center (www.discoverfrontroyal.com), where hikers will find a hiker box and care packages. You can also download maps and clues for our family-friendly community treasure hunts, called Quests. Designed by local residents, Quests will take you on themed walks throughout our region, our way of sharing with you our stories, natural areas, and special places. Make the Visitor Center one of your first stops in town, and stick around for entertainment at the Gazebo, a favorite gathering place for festivals, weekly concerts, and a farmers market during the summer months.

Intersecting Main Street is historic Chester Street. In this area, costumed interpreters conduct walking tours describing the Battle of Front Royal, one of the first urban battles in U.S. history.  Front Royal offers an excellent base from which to explore the many battlefields preserved in the northern half of the Valley. Also found on Chester Street are the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum, Warren Heritage Society, Ivy Lodge Museum, Laura Virginia Hale Archives, and Belle Boyd Cottage, home of the 19-year-old Confederate spy who played a key role in the Battle of Front Royal. 

Hundreds of miles of hiking trails thread their way across Warren County. Shenandoah National Park, the Tuscarora Trail, and the Appalachian Trail offer loops for hikers and backpackers of all levels, while families can stay overnight or enjoy picnicking and day hikes along the Shenandoah River at Raymond R. “Andy” Guest Jr. State Park.  In addition, Backpacker Magazine named the Massanutten Range, just west of town, Washington, DC’s top-secret hiking getaway in 2009.  And for those who prefer a stroll underground, Skyline Caverns offers a tour of one of the area’s unique “karst” or cave systems, featuring the world’s largest encrustation of anthodites, "orchids of the mineral kingdom" that cling to the cave ceiling, their delicate white spikes resembling crystalline sea urchins. 

If you prefer a birds-eye view, Blue Ridge Hot Air Balloons offers a one-hour aerial tour, followed by the traditional champagne toast upon landing. Horse trails are nearly as plentiful as hiking trails, and a variety of stables in the region offer trail riding, lessons, and carriage tours.  Then there are the llamas…

Be sure to visit our official AT Community Supporters:

Alvin Stokes General Store, 533 E Main St, Front Royal, VA 22630 (540) 635-4437 Hiker supplies.

Front Royal Visitor Center, 414 East Main Street, Front Royal, VA 22630 Toll Free: (800) 338-2576, Local: (540) 635-5788 Open 7 days a week.

Mountain Home B&B 3471 Remount Rd (Rte 522), Front Royal, VA 22630 (540) 692-6198 Snacks and lodging.

Ramsey True Value Hardware 703 N Royal Ave, Front Royal, VA 22630 (540) 635-2547

Samuels Public Library 330 E Criser Rd, Front Royal, VA 22630, (540) 635-3153  Internet

Take a Quest through Front Royal/Warren County and discover architecture, history and nature in a community adventure!