The Lake District, fondly known as ‘The Lakes’, is England’s largest and arguably most famous National Park. Home to many vast and beautiful lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and charmingly archaic villages, The Lake District attracts millions of visitors every year from all over the world.
The landscape is made up of deep, earthy green vegetation mixed with the icy blues of the lakes and summer skies. Jagged textures of the fells (“fell” is a term for a mountain used in Northern England) are often covered with a layer of mist or rainfall that attracts hikers and photographers looking to capture some of the most beautiful nature the UK has to offer.
With plenty of outdoor activity centers to entertain the kids, The Lake District is a popular destination for families to burn up their endless energy before setting up camp or retreating back to a cozy country cottage. And at the end of a long day of hiking, you can head to one of the spas in the area to relax in a sauna looking out over the rolling hills. Idyllic, right?
When you’re ready for a break from the outdoors, you can visit the homes of famous children’s writer, Beatrix Potter, and romantic poet, William Wordsworth. Exploring The Lake District it’s easy to understand how this beautiful setting inspired much of their work.
But how do you know where to start when planning your trip to the Lake District? With so many hiking options it’s easy to feel overwhelmed before you’ve even begun. So we’ve come up with a go-to-guide for the best trekking in this picturesque part of the UK.
Whether you’re simply visiting the Lake District for a long weekend or are planning a more substantial trip – we’ve listed the 9 best Lake District walks plus other activities, places to stay, and places to eat!
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The 9 Best Hikes and Walks in the Lake District
When it comes to hiking in the Lake District, there’s a wide spectrum in the different levels of intensity. We’ve broken the best Lake District walks down into three categories – easy, moderate, and strenuous. So if it’s a relaxed afternoon stroll you’re after, you won’t accidentally embark on a surprise 10-mile hike!
Easy Lake District Walks
1. Blea Tarn Trail
Distance: 1.8 miles (2.9km)
Hiking Time: ~1-2 hours
Starting Point: Blea Tarn National Trust Car Park
Blea Tarn is in the heart of the Central Fells about 7 miles west of the town of Ambleside. The Blea Tarn Trail is an easy 1.8-mile out-and-back walking trail that offers direct views of Langdale Pikes and Lingmooor Fell. Plus the nearby National Trust parking lot makes this Lake District walk extra convenient.
‘Tarns’ are small mountainside lakes that can be found throughout the Lake District. Some tarns are in popular tourist spots, but there are many others that can be found in quieter, more tranquil areas. Tarns are a great inclusion to your Lake District walk if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the true serenity of the British countryside or if you just fancy a quick swim in nature.
2. Aira Force and Gowbarrow Trail
Distance: 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Hiking Time: ~1.5-3 hours
Starting Point: Aira Force National Trust Car Park
The Aira Force and Gowbarrow Trail begins with an easy walk through lush woodland before reaching Aira Force, one of the most popular waterfalls in the National Park.
Continuing along, the trail becomes steeper as you climb to the summit of Gowbarrow Fell. Here you’ll have vast views of Lake Ullswater and surrounding fells. As a final highlight of your walk, you’ll pass Lyulph’s Tower, a hunting lodge built in the 1780’s. When viewed from Lake Ullswater it appears to be a well-fortified castle, but from your vantage point, you’ll notice it’s a bit more modest.
Combining a waterfall, a historic hunting lodge, and spectacular views, this is one of the best walks in the Lake District if you’re looking for a lot of variety in a single easy hike.
3. Tarn Hows Circular Walk
Distance: 2 miles (3.2km)
Hiking Time: ~1 hour
Starting Point: Tarn Hows Car Park
The Tarn Hows Circular Walk is an easy, family-friendly walk in the Lake District. It’s a must if you’re looking for stunning lakeside views. And if it’s a calm day, the still lake water may even reflect an exact mirror of the surrounding landscape.
This 2-mile Lake District walk will take you in a clockwise loop around Tarn Hows (remember, a “tarn” is a mountain lake). You’ll probably spot some friendly Belted Galloways along the way. These docile Scottish beef cows are ideally suited for grazing in the high grasslands of the Lake District.
When the trail splits on the eastern side of the tarn make sure you take the upper path. Get your camera ready – this route will bring you to the old car park where you’ll have a beautiful panoramic view of Tarn Hows. From there, it’s just a short walk back to the beginning of the loop.
Moderate Lake District Hikes
4. Ambleside to Troutbeck and back via Wansfell
Distance: 5.8 miles (9.3km)
Hiking Time: ~4-5 hours
Starting Point: Market Cross in Ambleside
The Ambleside to Troutbeck and back via Wansfell hike is another lovely walk in the Lake District. Beginning in Ambleside, you’ll walk along quiet country lanes and footpaths on the northeast edge of Lake Windermere before arriving in the small village of Troutbeck.
The Old Post Office in Troutbeck has been converted into a cafe – stop in for tea before continuing your walk. And if you have extra time you can take a short detour in Troutbeck to visit Townend. This 17th-century farmhouse was the home of a local farming family for over 400 years before being donated to the National Trust.
Leaving Troutbeck, you’ll begin your walk back towards Ambleside. The return path takes you up and over Wansfell Pike. It’s a steep hike to the summit but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views over Ambleside and the surrounding fells.
5. Stickle Tarn Trail
Distance: 1.9 miles (3 km)
Hiking Time: ~2 hours
Starting Point: Sticklebarn in Great Langdale
Located in the middle of Scafell Pike and Grasmere, the Stickle Tarn Trail is a 1.9-mile out-and-back trail up the rugged valley of Stickle Ghyll. Scattered with small waterfalls and rock pools, this walk provides spectacular views across the valley towards Lingmoor.
Your final reward is the small lake of Stickle Tarn, backed by the peaks of Harrison Stickle and Pavey Ark. It’s a perfect place to rest and catch your breath before heading back down to Sticklebarn.
The Stickle Tarn Trail a relatively short walk, but the steep gradient and rough terrain make it a challenging hike. The views are sure to make it worth the effort!
6. Rosthwaite, Watendlath, Grange in Borrowdale Circular Walk
Distance: 7.5 miles (12km)
Hiking Time: ~4-4.5 hours
Starting Point: Rosthwaite
The Rosthwaite, Watendlath, Grange in Borrowdale Circular Walk is a lovely loop trail that includes a variety of different landscapes in the northern Lake District.
Your walk starts in Rosthwaite on the edge of Keswick. From here you’ll walk northeast up and over the ridge to the small town of Watendlath, taking in lovely views of Watendlath Tarn. Next, you’ll make your way down the serene Watendlath Valley (following Watendlath Beck) to Derwent Water.
If it’s been raining you’ll definitely want to take a short detour to see Lodore Falls behind the Lodore Falls Hotel & Spa. The waterfall is quite impressive when flowing but almost disappears in the dry weather.
From here you’ll simply follow the River Derwent back up to Rosthwaite to finish your route. Stop off in the tiny town of Grange if you need a break. The Grange Bridge Cottage Tea Shop has a lovely garden out back with picturesque views of the old stone Grange Bridge over the River Derwent.
Strenuous Lake District Hikes
7. Roman High Street Circuit Hike
Distance: 10.1 miles (16.4km)
Hiking Time: 5-7 hours
Starting Point: Hartsop Village
The Roman High Street Circuit is a relatively untouched hiking route that takes you from the valley floor up to the summit of Thornwaite Crag. You’ll begin your hike in tiny Hartsop Village and follow the Pasture Beck southeast through the valley climbing up to the mountain saddle between Stony Cove Pike and Thornwaite Crag.
Climbing up and over Thornwaite Crag you’ll reach the Romain High Street. Following this ancient path until you reach Satura Crags, you’ll be rewarded with views of the beautiful Angle Tarn. Follow the trail around the backside of Angle Tarn and descend through the mountain saddle before dropping back down into the valley for the return to Hartsop.
Be warned that the Roman High Street Circuit has minimal to no signage so make sure you bring along detailed instructions to help you find your way. At 10 miles in length, this is one of the best long hikes in the Lake District – perfect for avid hikers.
8. Scafell Pike Corridor Route
Distance: 9.4 miles (15.2km)
Hiking Time: ~6-8 hour
Route link: Seathwaite Parking
We couldn’t create a guide to The Lake District without including a hike up England’s tallest peak! In fact, summiting Scafell Pike is one of the best hikes in the UK. There are several routes you can take to the summit of Scafell Pike, but we’ve chosen Seathwaite to Scafell Pike (sometimes also called the Corridor Route) because it offers prettier views than the shorter route from Wasdale Head.
After parking at Seathwaite, you’ll begin your walk following River Derwent and then Styhead Gill. You’ll soon reach Styhead Tarn which is perfect for a short break before continuing on your way up Scafell Pike. This hike does have one small bit of rock scrambling (sometimes referred to as the “bad step”), but if you’re a seasoned hiker then you should have no problem with it.
As well as being England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike is also a historic land memorial. The mountain was gifted to the National Trust following WWI to mark the sacrifice and bravery that the men of The Lake District demonstrated during the war. Combining history and incredible views, a hike to the top of Scafell Pike makes for a day out in the Lake District that you won’t soon forget!
9. Pillar Trail from Wasdale Head
Distance: 7.5miles (12km)
Hiking Time: ~4-5 hours
Starting Point: Wasdale Head Inn
Avid climbers, this may be the best Lake District hike for you! The Pillar Trail gains 2,600 vertical feet over the course of 3.25 miles. If you’ve got it in you, the views are well worth it from the summit at 2,900′!
Beginning your hike at the Wasdale Head Inn, you’ll walk through Mosedale valley before ascending Black Sail Pass. You’ll then have a steep climb before the trail levels for the final 3/4-mile stretch on a gently inclined plateau with views of Ennerdale valley far below.
On a clear day, from the summit of Pillar, you can see north all the way to neighboring Scotland and west to the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. If you’re packing light for this trail, at least make sure you include your camera to capture your achievement at the top.
Wasdale is also the starting point for the most popular route of Scafell Pike. If you have time, consider spending a night and tackling that famous Lake District walk next. There is lodging at the Wasdale Head Inn as well as a few camping options in Wasdale.
Other Activities in the Lake District
Looking to try something different? There are plenty of fun activities in the Lake District besides hiking! Here are a few to choose from:
Fell Pony Adventures
Take a guided hike across the fells with the help of these trusty four-hoofed friends. Spend the morning getting to know your pony and learn about the history of this ancient working breed before packing up and hitting the road. Fell Pony Adventures offers a variety of different treks – you can even explore the wilderness for up to 8 days on their Big Fell Pony Adventure.
Take that riverside walk, in the river! Wander through the gorge, over rocks, up steep steps, maybe even down a few waterfalls. Gorge scrambling is a really fun activity for those who want to fully embrace the Lake District experience!
Rookin House is an adventure center filled with activities such as archery, clay pigeon shooting, paintball, tree climbing, and quad biking. This family-run center really does have something for everyone! With packages for different groups and group sizes, this is a must for adventure seekers.
Where to Stay in the Lake District
For the true naturists who love to set up camp under the stars, The Lake District has a long list of campsites, ranging from the remote spots to the more convenient camps with shops and showers. But if you prefer a cozy hotel room, here are our top choices:
Best Luxury Accomodations
The Samling Hotel and Applegarth Villa are two great options for couples and those who want to get pampered and enjoy a bit of luxury during their time in The Lakes. With breathtaking views, fine dining and even wine tasting – they are both great options to celebrate a special occasion. It’s the attention to detail these two hotels dedicate to their guests that set them apart.
If you’re looking for a post-hike massage, Applegarth Villa will organize an ‘in-suite masseuse’ to tend to your needs. Perhaps not the option for a family vacation, but a romantic weekend for two? Absolutely.
Best Accomodations for Families and Groups
The Keswick Lodges are situated towards the north of the National Park, surrounded by secluded, serene countryside. With the option to choose a lodge with a hot tub and the ability to bring your dog, they’ve really catered for all options. Hill of Oaks is on the shore of Lake Windermere with ‘Glamping’ options as well.
Both properties boast beautiful lodges with stunning views, and are a more affordable option for groups and families.
Best Budget Accomodations
Summer Hill Country House and Nanny Brow are two bed and breakfasts perfectly suited for the budget traveler! Local cottages, hearty breakfasts, and a simple good night’s sleep to set you up for a solid day’s exploring. Tried and tested by many visitors, if you’re here to focus on exploring The Lakes, these are two top choices.
Where to Eat in the Lake District
The Lake District is famous for hiking so, of course, there are plenty of pubs and English tea rooms to fuel hungry adventurers. Often sourced with fresh local ingredients, The Lake District has become known for its food delights as well as its views. Whether it’s a pub lunch, nourishing breakfast, or traditional afternoon tea you’re after, we’ve selected a few to help you ease the choice.
The Drunken Duck
A contemporary-country inn, the Drunken Duck has hearty food, good ale, great views, and a friendly atmosphere. Focusing on a strong relationship with their customers, high-end dishes and the local’s favorite ale, you can tell why The Drunken Duck is featured in most of the reviews of the area.
Ideally situated on the edge of bustling Ambleside, and a short drive to the shores of Lake Windermere, it also boasts one of the best locations in the Lake District. If you’re only here for a weekend, make sure to stop by for their Sunday lunch before you go!
The Lake District is scattered with English tea rooms, but The Hazlemere, in Grange-over-Sands, brings a contemporary twist to the old English tradition. With a wide selection of teas and a bakery selection to match, The Hazlemere really lives up to expectations. If you’re after something a bit heartier, there’s also a good selection of reasonably priced traditional meals.
Not just your average dinner spot, L’Enclume has 2 Michelin stars and was named the best restaurant in the UK by the Best Food Guide, 2020! Ingredients are sourced from their own farm and surrounding areas, which you can see for yourself in a requested tour. Hidden in the picturesque village of Cartwell, L’Enclume also offers a number of packages for overnight stays in the lodge so you can really make the most of this experience.
Homeground Coffee and Kitchen
This darling little restaurant is found in the heart of Windermere village. With a seasonally changing menu, you can guarantee you’ll find the brunch you need to match the unpredictable Cumbrian weather. Hearty English breakfasts, french toast, and eggs benedict are just some of the yummy brunch dishes offered at Homeground Coffee and Kitchen. It’s the perfect start to a day of ambling around the shores of Lake Windermere!
We hope you enjoy hiking in the Lake District!
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