Spring is returning to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The dogwoods are blooming, wildlife once again appears along Skyline Drive, and Washington-area residents are heading to nearby Luray and Front Royal, Va., for day trips and weekend getaways.
The town of Luray welcomes the season with festivals and a reopening of seasonal recreation. Its 11th annual Festival of Spring is set for May 9. It’s a laid-back, family-oriented party with arts and crafts, “duck” races in the Shenandoah River, dog Frisbee, and lots of kids’ activities and games. (townofluray.com)
Luray boasts that it is the “Cabin Capital of Virginia,” and there are 250 cabins scattered throughout the area. Allstar Lodging manages more than 100 individual cabins and vacation homes, some perfect for family reunions and others ideal for romantic retreats for couples. Brookside Cabins, near the entrance to Shenandoah National Park, offers cabins with luxury touches and a family restaurant.
“We’re also becoming known as a great cycling destination and folks are coming from as far away as Canada to get in shape for the biking season,” said John Robbins, who promotes the Luray area. There is a multi-event cycling weekend, including the Downtown Luray Criterium, April 24-26; a cycling road race Aug.1; the highly rated Luray Triathlon Aug. 15-16; and the Luray Caverns CX bike race Sept. 12.
On the water
This is the area where the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River join to create the main stem of the river, and Front Royal claims the moniker “Canoe Capital of Virginia.”
For anyone who enjoys paddling or floating, this is a “must-do” destination. The conditions range from gentle tubing to intermediate whitewater. There are several outfitters who offer equipment rental and guided tours. Front Royal Canoe (frontroyalcanoe.com) has a range of trips including stand-up paddleboards and fishing kayaks, as well as lodging packages. Downriver Canoe (downriver.com) has whitewater canoe, kayak, rafting, and float excursions. Shenandoah River Outfitters (shenandoah-river.com) also offers a full range of trip options, plus lodging, including tent campsites.
The subterranean landscape of this part of the Blue Ridge Mountains is as impressive as the surface views.
You can have an underground “outdoor” experience at Skyline Caverns and Luray Caverns. The guided tours lead through a landscape of fantastic rock formations, a mirror-like lake, and mysterious colors and shadows. The legends and history of the caverns are straight out of Indiana Jones.
Both caverns have a lot of family-friendly activities in addition to the tours. Skyline Caverns, at the north end of Skyline Drive in Front Royal, also offers a miniature train, mirror maze, nature trails, and large picnic area. (skylinecaverns.com)
The options at Luray Caverns include a car and carriage museum, a toy museum, museum of Luray Valley history, a ropes course, a gem sluice, and a garden maze.
They also have fast food and bistro-style restaurants. The first wines from the newly established Luray Caverns Vineyard are available to taste on weekends.
Duffers can enjoy the value-laden packages offered at the caverns golf course. (luraycaverns.com)
Wine in Front Royal
Just off I-66, in nearby Front Royal, wine is the theme at the 29th annual Virginia Wine and Craft Festival.
The town is the gateway to scenic Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah National Park. The pretty village is always busy with visitors to the park, backpackers, mountain bikers, and history buffs. But the focus is on cabernets, not cannon fire, on May 16. The annual festival welcomes 20 wineries from across the commonwealth.
The crafts fair is very high-end. The town square and park are the center of a seven-block outdoor exhibition center featuring more than 100 vendors from across the East Coast. Jewelry, metal work, handcrafted musical instruments, antiques, clothing, and hand-painted wineglasses are among the treasures to be found.
Equally well-represented are food vendors. Aromas from at least a dozen different cuisines tempt visitors from food trucks and stalls, while restaurants offer special menus and a chance to sit for awhile. Live music includes traditional folk, “outlaw” bluegrass, and rhythm and blues. Admission to the festival is $25 in advance, or $30 at the door. (wineandcraftfestival.com )
For a different kind of adventure, you can make friends with the llamas if you visit the Posey Thisisit Llama Farm to the west in Shenandoah County. The graceful creatures live on 27 acres where they enjoy entertaining visitors. The llamas are as much pets as they are farm animals, and they freely meander into the farmhouse and throughout the grounds. Two herds of rare-breed sheep share the property. The gift shop sells scarves, shawls, and other products made from the hair and wool of the llamas. (poseythisisitllamas.com)
For more information:
Front Royal Tourism: discoverfrontroyal.com
Luray Tourism: luraypage.com
Front Royal Outdoors
The Shenandoah River offers mild whitewater, but is calm enough for canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards.
The Luray Caverns course is beautifully kept and provides outstanding mountain views.