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.

The National Trust has owned the popular beauty spot since Beatrix Potter sold it to them in 1930.

Tarn Hows in autumn
Tarn Hows is particularly magical in autumn/Credit: Getty

Tarn Hows car park

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.)

After your walk, warm up in one of the cafés or pubs in Coniston, just two miles away.

How long does it take to walk around Tarn Hows?

The Tarn Hows circular walk is around 1.8 miles (2.9km) and should take roughly 1.5 hours to complete.

An optional detour to Tom Gill waterfall near the end of this walk extends the route distance to 2.4 miles (3.9km) and will take around 2 hours to complete.

Discover more Lake District walks

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.
Autumn hills

Tarn Hows walk

Tarn Hows circular: 1.8 miles/2.9km | 75m accent | 1.5 hours | easy

Tarn Hows circular with Tom Gill detour: 2.4 miles/3.9km | 142m accent | 2 hours | easy–moderate

1. Picturesque pikes

Taking the surfaced path opposite the car park’s pedestrian entrance, keep right when it splits, staying parallel with the road for now. The distinctive mountain outline on the skyline to the north-west belongs to the famous Langdale Pikes.

2. Coniston views

After joining a path from the left, stride out along a high promenade, with the finest views of the tarn soon revealed. Wetherlam’s rugged slopes and the craggy Coniston Fells form a grand backdrop to this watery scene.

Paths around Tarn Hows
Enjoy a circular walk around Tarn Hows on a well-maintained, surfaced path/Credit: Getty

3. Down by the water

At a fork, keep right, along the higher route. The path then drops to tarn level and crosses a bridge. Later ignore a signposted path on the right.

4. Falls detour

For a detour to Tom Gill waterfall, take the trail on the right immediately before the tarn’s outflow stream. Rougher underfoot and with steep drops, this won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the reward comes in the form of boisterous waterfalls set amid gnarly oak woodland. It’s 200m to the main waterfall; 450m to the lower cascades.

More like this

The main route, though, continues beside the tarn and through a gate. Ignore a path to the right and another to the left; simply follow the clearest route uphill back to the road and car park.

Tom Gill waterfall in autumn
Take a detour near the end of the walk to visit Tom Gill waterfall/Credit: Getty

Tarn Hows map

Tarn Hows walking route and map

Tarn Hows walking route and map

Useful information about Tarn hows

There is National Trust parking (free to members) with toilets at the south end of the lake.

The full circuit is suitable for mobility scooters. Trampers are available (free) through the National Trust:

Tarn Hows postcode

The postcode LA22 0PP takes you close to the Tarn Hows car park, but not right to it. Once close to the car park, follow road signage and not your Sat Nav.


Vivienne Crow
Vivienne CrowTravel and outdoor writer

Vivienne Crow is a photographer and writer who specialises in the outdoors.