Designated as 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, the Shenandoah Valley was once known as the "Breadbasket of the Confederacy" due to its agricultural production, and history buffs will enjoy visiting the battlefields and historical landmarks that dot the valley. Front Royal itself has an interesting history: 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's Center, 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. Additionally, three miles west of the Trail crossing at Rte 522 as you head into town, there's a kiosk for hikers with a map of Front Royal and its amenities, including a variety of local establishments supportive of hikers.
Front Royal serves as the seat of Warren County and the northern gateway to Shenandoah National Park. Warren County is filled with idyllic inns, pick-your-own orchards, wineries, and beautiful mountain vistas - not to mention 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 in Front Royal featuring regional wines, coffee, tea and chocolate (and Internet), 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 Cabin at Mountain Home B&B.
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 Shenandoah 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 Shenandoah River State Park. In addition, Backpacker Magazine named the Massanutten Range, just west of town, a 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.
Also known as the Canoe Capital of Virginia, Front Royal has three outfitters that rent out canoes, kayaks, rafts, and tubes for an "aqua-blaze" (the term used by thru-hikers for traveling on a nearby river instead of hiking a section of the Trail): Front Royal Canoe Company, Skyline Canoe, and Downriver Canoe Company. Rates include shuttle service along routes ranging from three miles to 40-mile overnights.
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…
There's a lot to discover in Front Royal! Be sure to check out upcoming events here.
A.T. Community Supporters:
Alvin Stokes General Store
Front Royal Visitor Center
Mountain Home B&B
Ramsey True Value Hardware
Samuels Public Library