Appalachian Trail Community: Front Royal/Warren County, Virginia

Once breadbasket of the Confederacy, now a vista of farms, pick-your-own orchards, and wineries, Front Royal is the seat of Warren County, VA. 3 miles west of the Trail crossing at Rte 522, Front Royal is the northern gateway to the Shenandoah National Park and home to 30 miles of the A.T. So, if you need a break from your thru-hike or a satisfying end to your day hike, there’s outdoor dining along historic Main Street featuring regional wines, coffee (and Internet) at the Daily Grind, or a glass of locally produced Alpenglow, sparkling cider in a variety of flavors. 

Designated an Appalachian Trail Community™ on Apr 21, 2012, Front Royal is located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, 70 miles west of Washington, DC, just off I- 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 VA, Front Royal has two outfitters, Front Royal Canoe Company and Downriver Canoe Company that rent out canoes, kayaks, rafts, and tubes for an “aqua-blaze” up to Harpers Ferry, WV, the next Appalachian Trail Community™ north. Rates include shuttle service along routes ranging from three miles to 40-mile overnights. Another canoeing outfitter to check out is Skyline Canoe Company.

Local establishments supportive of hikers include the 4-H Center, adjacent to the Trail, which offers free showers at the pool, and The Apple House (great BBQ, ice cream, Alpenglow, and those signature apple donuts), on Route 55, closer to the Linden crossing. On the side of town closest to the Trail, hikers will find Samuels Public Library, offering free Internet; 3 food stores - Martin’s and Better Thymes (health food) on South Street, and Food Lion on Rte 522; a Laundromat; a B&B and plenty of hotels. The Apple House and Stokes General Store (Main Street) both carry a limited selection of 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 the variation “Front Royal,” and the name stuck. 

Where the Royal Oak once reigned now stands the Gazebo on the Village Commons, right next to the Front Royal Visitor Center where hikers will find a hiker box and care packages. This summer, you will also be able to obtain maps and clues for our family-friendly community treasure hunts, called Quests. Designed by local residents, Quests will take you on themed walks throughout the region, a way of sharing 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 on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings 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 to take place 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 A.T. 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 Massanutten Washington, DC’s top-secret hiking getaway in February 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. 

For those seeking the 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.

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