Front Royal: Gateway to Shenandoah

by Mary and Bill Burnham

Hiking in Shenandoah National Park

Like many early Virginia towns, Front Royal began as a frontier settlement at the crossing of trails. Here, wagon roads from Manassas and Chester Gaps met near the mouth of Happy Creek.

The city is still a major crossroads of modern Interstates and the northern entrance to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. The south fork of the Shenandoah River also flows through town, wide and steady-flowing with a bit of whitewater. Front Royal is known as the Canoe Capital of Virginia and several outfitters offer canoe and tubing trips.

Click to read about hiking to nearby Overall Run, tallest waterfall in Shenandoah National Park

Front Royal

The historic train station houses the Front Royal Visitors Center, the starting point for a one-mile self-guided walking tour. The Warren Rifles Confederate Museum houses Stonewall Jackson's signal cannon and the Union flag surrendered to him after the Battle of Front Royal.

Originally known as Helltown, for all the raucous goings-on of a typical frontier town. the present name (pronounced "Front Rawl") came about because of a huge oak - the royal tree of England - at the joining of Chester and Main Streets. During colonial times the militia-in-training were told to "front the royal oak," meaning salute the tree. The name was condensed to Front Royal.

For more on visiting Front Royal, go to

Front Royal is one of the many towns included in the Burnhams' upcoming book Backroads of Virginia.