Shenandoah River State Park and Front Royal

I’m sure I’ve written something similar before, but I’ll say it again: one of the things that I enjoy most about Northern Virginia is that we have easy access to all of the amenities of a major city, while at the same time living a short drive away from beautiful rural landscapes. With that in mind, last April we decided to hit up one of the state parks within easy driving distance of our home. Shenandoah River State Park is located in Bentonville, about an hour and 15 minutes west of our Fairfax County abode, and just a 15-minute drive from Shenandoah National Park’s Front Royal entrance. Its street address is Daughter of Stars Drive, whose name – according to the Virginia DWR’s website – is an homage to “the Native American legend describing the creation of the Shenandoah River and Valley as the place where ‘the morning stars placed the brightest jewels from their crowns in the river.'” 

My usual blurry attempt at a sign photo while exiting the park.

Shenandoah River State Park is composed of 1600 acres along a five-mile stretch of its namesake river, making it a prime location for boating and fishing. The park’s intricate network of trails (the most expansive of the nine state parks we’ve visited thus far) provide for extensive hiking, and we also noticed quite a few mountain biking groups taking advantage of the trails while we were there. Horseback riding is permitted in the park, as is camping in a variety of tent and cabin sites. There is truly something for everyone there, but with a significantly smaller crowd than you’ll likely encounter at Shenandoah National Park.

Trail Map courtesy of the VA State Parks website

Before setting out, I highly recommend taking a look at the trail map first, as this park has more trails labeled “difficult” than any of the parks I’ve been to thus far. Since we visited the park in early spring, we decided to check out the Bluebell Trail, an aptly named one-mile trail that follows the river and is easily accessible from the canoe launch parking lot.

With such a large network of trails, it was helpful that everything was so well marked.

We truly lucked out, because the weather was gorgeous and the bluebells were in full bloom. I will never get tired of seeing that telltale blue-green carpet along Virginia waterways each spring. In fact, I hope to write a blog post in a couple of months devoted to tips and locations for bluebell viewing. Stay tuned!

In any case, there were several things I really liked about the Bluebell Trail at Shenandoah River State Park, aside from the obvious perk of hiking alongside the beautiful flowers. First of all, the trail follows the river, which allows for pretty views, boat sightings, and prime rock skipping spots.

In addition, the trail has little offshoots with narrow pathways through the flowers, which made it all the more magical. Some of these offshoots required a bit of climbing or scrambling, which provided the perfect amount of excitement for kids around ages 5-9 without being difficult or inaccessible. That said, you could avoid the offshoots altogether and enjoy a peaceful, level hike that doesn’t skimp at all on the views. Furthermore, you could easily connect to other trails to make the hike longer or more challenging (see signpost above), or keep it simple and sweet. Our verdict: the Bluebell Trail is a great option for hiking in Shenandoah River State Park, and a must if you visit during bluebell season.

Trail off-shoot

If you’ve worked up an appetite hiking and are looking for a place to eat on your way back to Route 66, allow me to make the decision easy for you: pay a visit to Talk of the Mountain Seafood on Main Street in Front Royal. I know what you’re probably thinking: in a state with thousands of miles of shoreline, who would travel that far inland just for seafood? The answer: lots of people, if this food joint’s 4.8 star rating and 300+ reviews on Google are any indication. If you do decide to venture out there, don’t let the hole-in-the-wall location next to the old movie theater fool you – this place is the real deal. I was skeptical, too, but the delicious crab cake was made with almost no fillers, and the potato salad, mac and cheese, and hush puppies were among the best I’ve ever had (as you can see, I was on a health kick when I visited). I recommend using their website or calling to place an order in advance so that it’s ready pick up when you arrive. Note that at the time of writing this post, the restaurant is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, but check out their Facebook page for delivery and pop-up location information. My husband and I definitely hope to pay them a visit the next time they set up shop near our home.

I wish I had thought to take a picture before I started shoveling everything in my mouth – the crab cake was so impressive!

Regardless of whether or not you’re in the mood for seafood, Front Royal’s Main Street is a nice stopping point when traveling to or from either the state or national park. Though small, it is home to multiple restaurants and small businesses, including an old-school arcade and a great outdoor adventure shop that can supply you with anything you forgot at home.

Mural in downtown Front Royal

Have you explored Shenandoah River State Park or spent time in Front Royal? Let me know in the comments!

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