My husband and I love going leaf peeping every autumn, and try to come up with interesting itineraries for a one- or two-day trip. This year we planned an overnight trip, leaving mid-morning to drive over to Front Royal, at the base of Shenandoah National Park. We'd then follow Skyline Drive to Skyland, where we'd eat a late lunch, then exit the park at Thorton Gap and meander back north, parallel to the park up to Winchester, where we'd stay the night. The next day -- and next week's post -- would take us into West Virginia and western Maryland, where we'd go hike to see the waterfalls in Swallow Falls State Park.
This was supposed to be the peak weekend for Shenandoah, and I watched weather and leaf forecasts anxiously. My fears came true: it was going to rain and be dreary most of the weekend, and "fall was coming slowly." Our schedule wouldn't permit postponing to the following weekend, so we decided to make the best of it, and headed out despite the gloomy forecast. This is a case where the journey and the fun we have together along the way, rather than the destination, was the point of the day trip.
As we drove into Front Royal, at the foot of the Shenandoah Mountains, we noticed the 44th Annual Festival of Leaves in full swing. Curious, we parked and headed over to enjoy the festivities. There were bands playing around the old-timey town square, and crafts and vendors along two closed off streets. Colonial period re-enactors mingled with the crowds around two of the historic homes/museums, and of course, the crowd had lots of dog-friendly people -- our three dogs received a lot of attention, and we were grateful that Front Royal was so welcoming to our beagles and greyhound-mix.
It was, I think, the first time I've ever gotten out of the car in Front Royal. Since the time I was a kid, we'd always drive through, in a rush to get to the campground or the hike's trail-head. If this describes your experience with Front Royal, then next time you're there, plan a stop over for a few hours to explore this quaint historic town.
We noticed that many homes and vendors had fun Halloween decorations up already -- it was a nice way to get in the mood for fall! Halloween decorations is one reason to love October!
We strolled around for a couple hours, enjoying the town and even chatting with some of the folks we met -- there's nothing like small-town festivals for encountering friendly people who will start up a conversation about anything at all. The dogs were a good conversation starter.
While we were in Front Royal, we also detoured to visit the Prospect Hill Cemetery -- there were some lovely trees starting to show off some spectacular color (it wasn't quite peak there yet). Prospect Hill Cemetery sits overlooking the town of Front Royal, really a pretty location!
Finally we got back in the car and headed into Shenandoah National Park. Signs at the entrance warned of dense fog. We put on our fog lights, crossed our fingers, and hopped for the best. But before we were 2 miles up Skyline Drive, the fog and mist crept in. Still, the trees were beautiful against the white mist -- they didn't photograph really well, but it was still lovely!
I think we visited a week too early: there were a few bright, sweet spots here and there, mostly the dogwoods and another tree I didn't know the name of. Dogwood trees display different shades of scarlet, all of them subtle and muted -- not the splashy oranges or glowing reds of the maples.
After eating a pleasant lunch at the Skyland dining room -- a burger for my husband and a pulled pork sandwich for me -- we headed down Thorton Gap exit, to drive along Rt 340 parallel to the park, on our way up to Winchester, where we planned to spend the night.
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