The Lake District National Park comprises 912 square miles of high mountains, lakes, rivers and coastline, and receives almost 16 million visitors a year. No wonder, then, that it was loved so dearly by Beatrix potter, Alfred Wainwright, Arthur Ransome and William and Dorothy Wordsworth.
“Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body.” Wrote Wainwright in The Western Fells.
Lake District National Park, Cumbria ©Jake Graham
Our guide to the best hikes in the Lake District National Park, including route descriptions and maps.
The Lake’s landscape is steeped with footpaths, and by simply climbing from your tent or stepping out of your front door, you’re likely to find yourself walking some ancient trail with unerring scenery flanking your gait.
But for those seeking a little guidance, here are our favourite Lake District walks, from gentle riverside rambles to stiff mountain ascents.
Buttermere, Lake District ©Getty
This 12km 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.
A stroll in the footsteps of the Wordsworth family offers exquisite reflections of autumn colour in the still waters of Rydal Water in the Lake District ©Alamy
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.”
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.
A“proper little mountain”, a “family fell’, a “mountain in miniature”. If ever there was a hill to be fond of, it’s Cat Bells ©Alamy
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
Lingmoor Fell rainbow ©Getty
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.
The view from Haystacks with High Stile separating Ennerdale and Crummock Waters ©Getty
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.
Winter veil: the village of Hawkshead in the Lake District National Park wakes to a blanket of thin frost and low-lying mist ©Simon Whaley
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.
Above the Wasdale Inn rises Wasdale Fell, a favourite with trail runners ©Martin Jones
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.
View of the Old Man of Coniston across Grizedale Forest ©Getty
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.
Old Man of Coniston, Cumbria ©Getty
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.
Ullswater from Place Fell, looking towards Glenridding and Hellvellyn ©Alamy
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.
Castle Crag, Lake District ©Jake Graham
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.
Brimstone butterfly ©Getty
Wordsworth’s famed daffs nod their heads to countless Lake District visitors beside Ullswater. Far more secret are the woods above the tiny village of Brigsteer, nestled amid limestone hills above the Lyth Valley and Morecambe Bay. Here, wild Lenten lilies (an old English name for a native wild daffodil) stud the wooded slopes of Brigsteer Park, succeeded by ramsons and bluebells in a profusion of spring colours. Walk past a medieval castle and glowing wild daffodils with this 6.6km walk in the Lake District National Park.
Holme Wood is a classically English mixed woodland of oak, chestnut, ash, sycamore, alder and lime ©Getty
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.
Kennel Wood oak, Lake District National Park, Cumbria ©Jake Graham
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.
River Duddon in the Lake District National Park ©Getty
Discover a secluded corner of the Lake District that hums with memories of Wordsworth and still offers the beauty and tranquillity he sought.