Best walks in the Lake District National Park
Of all the national parks in Britain, the Lake District in North England is arguably the most celebrated – discover the area's fells, rivers, waters and towns with our guide to the best hikes in the Lake District National Park.
The Lake District National Park comprises 912 square miles of high mountains, lakes, rivers and coastline. No wonder, then, that it was loved so dearly by Beatrix Potter, Alfred Wainwright, Arthur Ransome, and William and Dorothy Wordsworth – along with the 16 million visitors it receives every year.
There are hundreds of miles of footpaths in the Lake District, so no matter what your ability, the chances are there is a walk for you.
But for those seeking a little guidance, we've put together a list of what we believe to be the very best walks in the Lake District, from family-friendly autumn rambles and easy waterfalls walks, to circular dog walks and spectacular mountain hikes.
18 spectacular Lake District walks
The circuit of Tarn Hows may be short, but you’ll need to allow lots of time for all the occasions on which yet another entrancing scene will suddenly stop you in your tracks.
This dark, mirror-like body of water is surrounded by atmospheric woodland, with snatched glimpses of dramatic mountain scenery, often snow-covered in winter, constantly appearing and disappearing.
If it all sounds too good to be true that’s because, in some ways, it is – Tarn Hows is actually a Victorian construct. It started life as three small pools, but the landowner, James Garth Marshall, dammed one of them in 1865 to create the single tarn that exists today. With ideas based on Romantic notions of the ‘picturesque’, he also planted trees, intending both to frame and reveal views of his creation.
This walk on undulating but surfaced paths can be accessed from the National Trust car park. There are toilet facilities here and free Tramper mobility scooters for the less able. (The latter should be booked in advance.)
- 1.8 miles/2.9km
- 1.5 hours
Aira Force to Raise, Cumbria
From the wooded shores of Ullswater where swans glide gracefully on Lakeland’s second largest body of water, to rocky mountains where peregrines chase down their prey with brutal efficiency, this walk takes in a massive range of habitats.
Wood pasture, high grassland, rugged fells and even a Victorian arboretum can all be seen along the way.
- 19km / 11.8 miles
- 8 hours
Buttermere and Rannerdale Knotts, Cumbria
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.
- 12km / 7.5 miles
- 4 hours
Rydal and Grasmere, Cumbria
On 23 October 1802, Dorothy Wordsworth wrote in her journal: “A breathless, grey day that leaves the golden woods of autumn quiet in their tranquillity, stately and beautiful in their decaying. The lake is a perfect mirror.”
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This six-mile circular tour around Grasmere and Rydal Water illustrates perfectly how her description of the autumnal landscape is just as evocative today as it was when she wrote it in her journal 215 years ago. The route starts and finishes at Rydal, home to the Badge Bar – the perfect reward after a day on the trail.
- 9.7km/6 miles
- 4 hours
Cat Bells, Cumbria
The iconic peak – believed to be a distortion of ‘Cat Bields’, meaning ‘the home of the wild cat’ – sits enticingly above the town of Keswick and Derwent Water. It’s universally loved, and for good reason – the panoramic views of the Lake Districtfrom its summit are the perfect introduction to the national park’s mirror-like lakes, wild mountains and lush valleys
- 5.7km/3.5 miles
- 2.5 hours
Loughrigg Fell, Cumbria
Amid the tall, craggy splendours of the Lake District, it’s from the lower hills that you can sometimes, with surprise, discover the finest views.
At 335m in height, Loughrigg Fell doesn’t qualify as a mountain, yet it provides, in miniature, much of what the high peaks offer.
- 4km/2.5 miles
- 1.5 hours
Orrest Head, Cumbria
Follow in the footsteps of the Lake District’s most celebrated wanderer, Alfred Wainwright, spurred on by views of misty mountains, rambling vales and the largest natural lake in England.
For such modest effort, the reward is exceptional, and it is worth repeating that effort throughout the seasons. Choose a clear winter’s day when the snow on the range of the Lakeland fells seems to accentuate their height and ruggedness, and a cornflower-blue sky is reflected in the still waters of Windermere. Or visit on a soft autumn morning when a light mist shrouds Windermere from view, seeping into the colourful woodland that fringes the lake.
- 7.2km/4.5 miles
- 3 hours
Rosthwaite to Grasmere, Cumbria
The much-celebrated writer Alfred Wainwright is perhaps best-known for his seven guidebooks describing 214 fells in the Lake District, but his long-distance route across northern England – the Coast to Coast – is a close second in the hearts of British ramblers. The 182-mile trail traverses the width of England, from St Bees Head in the west to Robin Hood’s Bay in the east. If you’re feeling intrepid, take on the whole 182-mile pilgrimage; or, if time is scarce, simply walk a stage or two.
One of the very best legs is the delightful Rosthwaite to Grasmere section. Crossing the Central Fells in the Lake District, this stage includes more than 700m of ascent.
- 13.2km/8.2 miles
- 6-7 hours
Lingmoor Fell Circuit, Cumbria
This lowland loop walk through the heart of the Lake District National Park is packed with splendours – from glistening tarns and craggy fells to magical, mossy bridges. The route starts with a short, sharp climb, but soon levels out, skirting the foot of Side Pike before slowly descending into Little Lansdale.
- 13.4km/8.3 miles
- 5 hours
Ennerdale and Haystacks, Cumbria
Just getting to the remote shores of Ennerdale Lake is something of an adventure. Navigating the winding, narrow roads requires some skill. Then, as you approach the lake, the road gives way to rubble tracks, which lead to rough-surfaced car parks. The lake shore can only be reached on foot. The result is that solitude and tranquility are more readily found in Ennerdale than in any other Cumbrian valley.
Footpaths completely circle the lake, and are accessible from either of the two car parks, Broadmoor Wood to the west and Bowness Knott – this walk starts at the latter.
- 22.9km/14.2 miles
- 7 hours
Hawkshead and Latterbarrow, Cumbria
Wainwright described a walk to the summit of Latterbarrow as one “needing little effort yet yielding much delight”. Set off from the traditional village of Hawkshead – with its whitewashed cottages, cobbled courtyards and quaint alleyways – and experience a wonderful winter’s wander, full of festive spirit, to the crest of this small Lakeland hill.
- 5km/3.1 miles
- 2 hours
Wasdale Head Inn, Gosforth, Cumbria
This venerable inn, hidden within the valleys and mountains of the Lake District, has housed some of Britain's best novelists and poets – find out what inspired these great writers with a 8km walk.
- 7.9km/4.9 miles
- 3 hours
Grizedale Forest, Cumbria
Rippling across the crags between Windermere and Coniston, Grizedale is 8,000 acres of mixed forest laced with tracks and endowed with a renowned series of outdoor sculptures.
- 12.2km/7.5 miles
- 4 hours
Old Man of Coniston, Cumbria
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. Walk beside high tarns and copper-mining relics to a magical fell-top vista in the Lake District National Park.
- 11.1km/6.9 miles
- 5 hours
Howtown to Glenridding, Ullswater, Cumbria
Famous fell-walker Alfred Wainwright called this south-shore walk – accessible by boot or boat only – “the most beautiful and rewarding in Lakeland”. The water stretches out for 14.5km, while to the south sits the rising skyline of the Helvellyn Range. This 10.6km walk starts with a boat trip from Glenridding.
- 10.6km/6.6 miles
- 4 hours
Castle Crag, Cumbria
At a humble height of 290m (951ft), Castle Crag is a bit of a mini-mountain in comparison with other peaks in the Lakes, but its sylvan charms are what lured Wainwright to its slopes, and prompted him to include it in book six of his Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. He describes it as being “so magnificently independent, so ruggedly individual, so aggressively unashamed of its lack of inches.” It is a little corker of a crag. Explore the crag with a bracing 6.5km walk.
- 6.5km/4 miles
- 2.5 hours
Holme Wood is a classically English mixed woodland of oak, chestnut, ash, sycamore, alder and lime, providing the dappled sunlight that bluebells seek in spring, and the perfect habitat for red squirrels. This 5.9km route saves the best until last, so park on the roadside layby near Loweswater Hall – although alternative parking is available at Maggie’s Bridge.
- 5.9km/3.7 miles
- 2 hours
Bowness-on-Windermere to Kennel Wood, Cumbria
A mile or two from the bustle of Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District National Park stands a lonely oak, at its most enchanting after a night of snowfall in winter.
Fuel up on coffee and cake in town then make for the hills in search of this wonderful winter spectacle. Visiting in spring, summer or autumn? Fear not, this tree in leaf is just as grand and still well worth the walk.
- 2.8 miles/ 4.6km
- 2 hours
Duddon Valley, Cumbria
Poet Laureate and inveterate traveller in England, William Wordsworth loved the Lake District, but within these sceptred acres he had a particular fondness for the Duddon Valley, which he explored as a child and where he later composed a series of 35 sonnets lauding the area, recalling his time spent there contemplating the passing of life and the rugged, sylvan beauty of the countryside.
Today, it is well off the beaten track and is a richly rewarding departure beyond Lakeland’s core.
Discover this secluded corner of the Lake District that hums with memories of Wordsworth and still offers the beauty and tranquillity he sought.
- 10km/6.2 miles
- 4 hours
Danny is the outdoors editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine, responsible for commissioning, editing and writing articles that offer ideas and inspiration for exploring the UK countryside.