As I write this, the leaves are bursting with beautiful fall colors. By the time you read this article the leaves along Skyline Drive may have passed their peak, however, down along the Shenandoah River that runs through the town of Front Royal, the moisture helps to slow the rapid change in color. Where the Blue Ridge Mountains…meet the Shenandoah River, change comes slow, and that is why this is one of my favorite road trip destinations.
Front Royal is the northern gateway to the Shenandoah Valley and Shenandoah National Park. The crown jewel of outdoor recreation and the Canoe Capital of Virginia, Front Royal can provide a full day of fun and an evening of relaxation. One of my favorite places to visit is Elizabeth Furnace recreation area in the George Washington national Forest. The area got its’ name from a blast furnace that occupied the grounds from 1833 to 1888 and was used to create pig iron using Passage Creek for water power. Iron ore was mined nearby, purified in the furnace, and then the pig iron was transported over the Massanutten Mountain to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River for forging in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The road used to transport the iron is still used today by hikers and campers.
The North Fork and South Fork of the Shenandoah converge at Front Royal and flows for 57 miles until it empties into the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry. The Shenandoah is a low gradient, slow moving river, which makes it ideal for canoeing or kayaking. The deep gorge of the river makes for banks that are tree-lined and create a feeling of being alone in the wilderness. Bring your own canoe, or rent one at the handful of facilities that are available.
As I mentioned earlier, the leaves of the trees along the river will turn slower that those leaves in the mountains. So, if the weather is warm, head for the water, or just take a leisurely stroll through the parks.
Historic Front Royal isn’t exactly a hotbed of activity as far as nightlife is concerned, but hey, this is a place to get away, relax and take in the sights and sounds. During the first week of December, Front Royal holds its annual “Old Time Christmas Celebration” downtown at the Town Square and gazebo. As well as live music, there will be authentically dressed Victorian carolers and horse-drawn carriages. With recent renovations, the downtown/old town area will feature new shops as well as the old favorites.
While downtown you can take a walking tour. The tour takes you by the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum, the Belle Boyd House (home of the famous Confederate spy Belle Boyd), and Soldiers Circle, where the remains of 276 confederate soldiers lie, representing each of the 13 states of the Confederacy. For the tinsel town crowd, you can tour the summer homes of Warren Beatty and Shirley Maclaine who grew up in Front Royal.
There are many places to dine in Front Royal, but I will just mention a few. Across from the visitor’s center is the distinctive Main Street Mill Restaurant and Tavern. You can’t miss the place by its red checkerboard Purina look and grain board. You will come back for their terrific home-style cooking, reasonable prices and just all around fun time.
The second place to have a bite to eat and a really good time is the Lucky Star Lounge at 205A East Main Street. These guys don’t serve any fried food, but everything else is tasty and is loaded with sandwiches, salads, pastas and 50 different craft beers. They also have live local music every night but are closed on Sunday.
The third establishment is one that I have not visited, but hear about it all of the time. Apt.2g Restaurant is the fine dining element in Front Royal. Set in an old apartment building, the dining is intimate and exceptional. Check all of these places out on line.
I also have to mention the Happy Creek Coffee & Tea located on the corner of High Street and Jackson. A good friend and baker extraordinaire, Shannon Koprivich-Jones, recently moved with her family there and she loves the place! I do understand that the coffee is amazing. We have added Happy Creek to our Front Royal distribution.
Some of the leaves are still green, so take a drive down 66 to Front Royal, Virginia and take in all of its beauty.
~ Written by: Bob Tagert