Britain's best autumn walks
The arrival of autumn sees the British countryside transform into a spectacular display of oranges, reds, yellows and golds – experience this seasonal splendour with our pick of the best autumn walks in the UK
Autumn in Britain sees a wash of breathtaking seasonal colours spread across the countryside. Trees turn red, yellow and gold, hills and moors glow russet and red, and our hedgerows bow beneath the weight of ripe berries and fruits. So why not make the most of it and get outside?
From bracing hikes over windswept moorlands to gentle woodland strolls, perfect for families, our guide to Britain's best autumn walks has something for everyone.
Best autumn walks in England
Allen Banks, Northumberland
3.5 miles/5.6km | 2.5 hours | moderate
This hidden corner of Northumberland presents a real lost-world feel. Where the River Allen has cut a precipitous gorge on its winding course to join the River Tyne, that sense is reinforced. Forests of beech and oak cascade down the steep-sided valley, the largest area of ancient woodland in Northumberland.
October is the best time to visit as autumn takes hold and the trees present a final flourish of colour before their leaves fall to the woodland floor. Allen Banks is also home to some spectacular fungi, including puffballs, sulphur tufts and fairy inkcaps, adding to the allure of an autumn wander.
Savernake Forest, Wiltshire
5.9 miles/9.5km | 3-4 hours | easy-moderate
Afew miles south of the historic town of Marlborough lies a sprawling 2,750-acre forest, once a popular hunting area where royalty chased stags past trees that still stand today.
Savernake is now in private ownership (but open to the public and managed by the Forestry Commission) and is believed to hold the highest concentration of veteran trees in Europe. Several of these specimens have been bestowed with names that reflect their age and history, including the imposing Big Belly Oak, one of the oldest oak trees in Britain.
Rhinefield Forest, Hampshire
3.2 miles/5.1km | 2 hours | easy
A pine-scented route that sweeps through the heart of the New Forest National Park, Rhinefield Ornamental Drive is home to some of the tallest trees in England.
Alongside the oak, ash and beech, non-native trees are an outstanding feature of the park. Lining the Drive are fifty-metre-tall redwoods and mighty Douglas firs that were planted by the Victorians in the 1850s.
Buttermere and Rannerdale Knotts, Cumbria
7.5 miles/12km | 5 hours | moderate–challenging
Henry David Thoreau wrote of tramping eight or 10 miles to “keep an appointment with a beech tree, a yellow birch or an old acquaintance among the pines”. Here in the Lakes, visitors can do the same with a walk of about eight miles, first climbing to the crest of Rannerdale Knotts before returning via the iconic Buttermere Pines.
This autumn walk includes some of the Lake District’s most beautiful trees and forests, where myth and legend tangle with the Scots pines and the golden needles of larches.
Tarr Steps, Somerset
7.1 miles/11.5km | 4.5 hours | moderate
Tarr Steps is one of Exmoor’s true hidden treasures, especially in autumn – once you’ve discovered it, you’ll find yourself drawn back time and time.
Tucked away down a narrow lane five miles from Dulverton, the steps are an ancient clapper bridge – large flat slabs of stone placed on stone supports – across the River Barle, which dates back to around 1000 BC. Local legend says the five-tonne slabs were placed here by the Devil to win a bet with a local giant (apparently Old Nick still has sunbathing rights on its stones).
2.7 miles/3.8km | 1.5 hours | easy
Towering trees thick with colour, lakes and brooks criss-crossed by bridges, and a fantastical country mansion – enter the watery world of Cragside, an enchanting estate dreamt up by an ambitious inventor.
On this walk, look out for Douglas fir, western hemlock, giant sequoia – some towering above 50m – along with beech, Norway spruce, pedunculate oak, Norway maple, Scots pine, larch, common lime and silver birch, creating a majestic riot of autumn colour. It’s a true woodland wonder
Old man of Coniston, Cumbria
6.7 miles/10.6km | 5 hours | moderate–challenging
The village of Coniston, an attractive little spot bisected by the bustling waters of a mountain stream, sits near the northern end of beautiful Coniston Water in Cumbria.
It is an area that was made famous for Victorian tourists by John Ruskin, who has a grandiose memorial in the churchyard. There are still memories of those days in the rebuilt elegant 19th-century steam yacht gondola that offers regular trips on the lake.
Teign Gorge, Devon
4.3miles/6.9km | 3 hours | moderate
The River Teign tumbles off windswept moors, swirling and carving through a spectacular gorge overhung with crooked oaks and beeches. The fresh autumn air invigorates the soul, while the peace is occasionally broken by the chilling bellows of a stag ready to rut.
Deep within this valley in the northern fringes of Dartmoor National Park, an ancient woodland is returning.
Rivington Terraced Gardens, Lancashire
2.7 miles/4.3km | 1.5 hours | easy–moderate
Like the remains of a lost civilisation, the ruins and follies of Lord Leverhulme’s terraced gardens add a real spirit of adventure and discovery to an autumn exploration of Rivington Wood.
In the early 20th century, soap baron Lord Leverhulme created a terraced garden of Japanese lakes, pagodas, archways, Romanesque bridges and an elaborate ballroom. By 1925 it was all abandoned and today is being reclaimed by nature. It’s a great place to spice up a walk with a game of ‘hide and seek’.
5.5 miles/8.8km | 3 hours | moderate – route courtesy of the National Trust
The 5-mile King Alfred’s Tower walk (2 hours) takes you up through beautiful woodland to King Alfred’s Tower, a 160ft-high folly designed for Stourhead’s owner Henry Hoare II in 1772. There are truly spectacular views from the top, with the deep autumnal hues of red, russet and yellow from surrounding forest. It is not open to visitors every day, so make sure you check out the best times to visit.
Brownsea Island, Dorset
1 miles/1.6km | 30 mins | easy – route courtesy of the National Trust
On Brownsea’s easy Lake and Heath Walk (1 mile/1.6 km, 40 mins) there are a whole range of bright hues to enjoy, from sweet chestnuts and beeches to hazel trees and scarlet oaks from North America. Even the local wildlife adds to the vibrant atmosphere, with migrant redstarts and the local population of red squirrels as the stars of the show. This easy walk will take you round the island to enjoy all the delights of the season, with sweeping coastal views thrown in for good measure. Combine your visit with a Poole Harbour Boat Cruise for one of the one of the best autumn and winter bird spectacles in the UK.
5.9 miles/9.4km | 3 hours | moderate – route courtesy of the National Trust
The Autumn Colour Trail (5.9 miles/9.4km, 3 hours) at Ashridge leads you through some of the most spectacular woodland and parkland at Ashridge. Every corner you turn or hill you climb will give you more breath-taking views of autumnal colour. The final stretch of the trail offers a stunning palette of colours provided by the beech, oak and lime trees, and if you have the time to climb the monument, the views are dazzling. Lucky wildlife spotters may catch a glimpse of the resident muntjacs or fallow deer herds through the trees. In autumn the fallow deer are particularly active as the bucks are busy trying to attract during the rut.
Belton House, Lincolnshire
3.2 miles/5.1km | 1.5 hours | easy–moderate – route courtesy of the National Trust
Autumn reds, yellows and golden browns can be found all over Belton, from the adventure playground and parkland to the tranquil views overlooking the boating lakes. The magical misty mornings and crisp, clear days of autumn are an ideal time to enjoy the wonderful succession of changing colours. As you explore the estate on Belton Park Walk (3.2 miles/5.1km, 1.5 hours) you can rustle your way through fallen leaves and enjoy the gorgeous golds and yellows of the lime trees along the cobbled drive. Closer to the house, rich ruby and russet creepers clad the honey-coloured walls of the West Courtyard, where the sharp but sweet aroma of ripening quinces lingers on the air.
Best autumn walks in Scotland
Glen Affric, Highland
11 miles/16.6km | 6-7 hours | moderate–challenging
Often hailed as the Highlands’ most beautiful glen, Glen Affric not only boasts shimmering lochs and rugged mountains, but it is also one of the largest remnants of the pine forest that used to cover much of Scotland. For centuries the flanks of the glen were blanketed with birch,rowan and magnificent Caledonian pines.
Much of the forest was felled during the Industrial Revolution, but in recent decades Glen Affric has been at the centre of a determined attempt to conserve and extend the remaining woodland.
Steall Falls and Glen Nevis, Highland
2 miles/3.2km | 1.5 hours | moderate
Tapering south from the Highland town of Fort William, gorgeous Glen Nevis is bounded by several high, rugged mountains, including the huge bulk of Ben Nevis, which, at 1,344m (4,409ft) above sea level, is the highest point in the British Isles. Other iconic peaks include Sgurr a’ Mhaim and Stob Ban and the glen is a playground for mountaineers, mountain bikers and white-water rafters.
However, it is a low-level, two-mile walk through the dramatic Nevis Gorge that really packs a punch and provides an unforgettable aural and visual experience, especially in autumn.
10.6 miles/17.1km | 7 hours | challenging
Seek refuge from the cold inside one of Scotland’s most majestic churches, then venture into the Highlands past the wizards’ railway to a lonely mountain pass. In autumn and winter, as day breaks from a cloudless night, the glen is particularly magical. Frost envelops everything: the pine trees, the mountain ridges, the church’s pitched roof. It dusts frozen puddles, crunches beneath feet and petrifies plants.
Birks of Aberfeldy, Perthshire
2.7 miles/4.3km | 1.5-2 hours | moderate
When Robert Burns came to visit Aberfeldy in 1787, he was so impressed by the spectacular waterfalls and birch woods outside that he wrote a poem celebrating the area’s natural beauty. ‘Birks’ is the old Scots word for birch trees, and there are plenty of them around – glowing gold in autumn –as you follow the path along Moness Burn.
Big Tree Country, Perthshire
This signed walk leads through the National Trust for Scotland Linn of Tummel, originally part of Bonskeid Estate. The large Douglas firs and Sitka spruce date from around 1900, part of a great pine planting tradition in Perthshire, sparked by the Scottish Plant Hunters.
Best autumn walks in Wales
Waterfall Country, Powys
2.5 miles/4km (5 miles/8km return) | 2 hours (4 hours return) | moderate
“I cannot call to mind a single valley that… comprises so much beautiful and picturesque scenery and so many interesting and special features.” With these words, Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was describing neither the Amazon nor the Far East that he explored on his intrepid travels, but somewhere much closer to home: the Vale of Neath on the southern slopes of the Brecon Beacons.
Spilling water, mossy riverbeds and tree-shrouded caverns – Waterfall Country is an autumn walker's dream.
Tŷ Hyll, Betws-y-Coed, Conwy
4.4 miles/7.1km | 2.5 hours | moderate
Tŷ Hyll, or ‘the Ugly House’, is named for its colossal, crudely cut yet lovely stones. It’s a place of uncertain origin – a brigand’s hide-out, duke’s folly, or maybe a tŷ unnos (a home built in a day to secure ownership of land). What is certain is that it’s now a cosy tearoom selling fresh-baked delights and very, very good tea. It's also the starting point of a peaceful woodland walk, which offers seasonal delights whether you visit in spring, summer, autumn or winter.
Coed y Brenin, Gwynedd
3.5 miles/5.6km | 2 hours |easy-moderate
In Snowdonia’s rain-soaked forests, everything is clean and wet. Mist rises, trees transpire, moisture kisses your skin and wets your lips. Oxygen-rich air lifts your spirits and the sound of water fills your ears as it trickles down tracks, bubbles through moss, and crashes in creeks.
Coed y Brenin Forest Park is managed for timber and recreation, with well-marked mountain-bike, walking and running trails.
Plas Power Woods, Wrexham
1.5 miles/2.4km | 1 hour | easy
The Vale of Clywedog wriggles defiantly through a part of the map that red lines and grey blocks dominate. And through it, the delightfully sylvan 9km Clywedog Trail follows the river to Wrexham via Minera Lead Mines, the corn mills at Kings Mill and Nant Mill, Bersham Ironworks, the Turkey Paper Mill and the William Emes-designed open parkland of Erddig Estate, where the trees are a true delight come autumn.
Carn Pica, Powys
The Brecon Beacons National Park comprises many great peaks, each as worthy as the next – one of the most understated of all these is Carn Pica.
There’s no easy way to get to the summit of this mountain, which rises more than 750m above sea level. You can approach it from the long, sprawling mass of Bryn and the boggy uplands of Waun Rydd, or from the west and the Central Peaks of Pen y Fan and Cribyn. One of the quietest ways to reach the summit, however, is from the east and Talybont Reservoir. It’s a steep route to the top, but on an early autumn day the slopes are blanketed in pink heather, and views of the surrounding woodland add a tint of gold to the scene.
Best walks in Northern Ireland
Tollymore Forest Park, County Down
Variable distances, from half-mile to six-mile trails
The River Shimna rises on the rutted slopes of the Mourne Mountains, gurgling over granite and heather before dropping into the shadowy depths of Tollymore Forest.
In autumn, burnt-orange beech leaves cling to ashen spurs, their increasing minimalism countered by majestic evergreens and low-lying reefs of mosses, liverworts and feathery ferns. The forest’s saturation and decay are palpable.
Glenariff Nature Reserve, County Antrim
The Rivers Glenariff and Inver have cut right through this spectacular steep-sided gorge – the Queen of the Glens.
These rivers can be lively and dramatic as they tumble over boulders and a series of three impressive waterfalls. But then they become suddenly calm and tranquil, flowing lazily through oak and beech woodland, sunlight streaming through the fresh new leaves.