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Best walks in the Lake District

  • Cumbria, United Kingdom (UK)

Last updated: 26 March, 2024

The lofty hills and glacial valleys of the Lakes lured walkers long before Alfred Wainwright published his seminal walking guides in the 1950s. Wainwright’s books opened up the region to a much wider audience, and his 214 ‘official fells’ represent the ultimate challenge for hikers and serious walkers.

But there are plenty of easier options; gentle strolls, family trails and networks of pub walks that offer the chance to pair an outdoor activity with great places for lunch.

Who to go with: tour operators

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  • Ambleside, Cumbria, United Kingdom (UK)

This lovely circular six-mile walk has an easy first half, following footpaths and bridleways across the wooded countryside around Ambleside to Troutbeck. The more challenging return route involves a stiff climb up Wansfell Pike, for superb views over the Lakes, then descends via the pretty waterfall of Skelghyll Force.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 3 hours

  • Buttermere, Cumbria, United Kingdom (UK)

Walk around Lake Buttermere

Bucket List Experience

Walk around Lake Buttermere

This 4.5-mile circular walk around Lake Buttermere, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, starts and ends in pretty Buttermere village, and takes in wonderful views of the craggy peaks of Littledale Edge, Dale’s Head and Mellbreak, skirting the shores of beautiful Lake Buttermere. Ideal if you want to be surrounded by mountain scenery without actually having to do any climbing.

Halfway around at the southern tip, you’ll pass the ‘Sentinels’, the Lake District’s most photographed trees. Also look out for the ‘lone tree’, another highly-photographable feature.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 2 hours

  • Cumbria, United Kingdom (UK)

Described by Alfred Wainwright as ‘the finest square mile in Lakeland’, this relatively short 4-mile circular walk takes in the impressive volcanic landscapes around Borrowdale. It includes the climb up Castle Crag – a 2,000-year-old hill fort – and the summit at Peace How, which offers spectacular views.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 3 hours

  • Cumbria, United Kingdom (UK)

For a first-time fell walk, this compact little hill on the western shore of Derwentwater is hard to beat. At just 451m, it’s half the height of the highest Lakeland fells, but it still makes for a brisk, bracing walk – and the views from the summit over Derwentwater and the Skiddaw range are really grand.

The trail is well-marked and easy to follow; the usual route up follows a loop from the fell’s northern end at Hawes End, and in total covers about 3.5 miles.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 3 hours

  • Great Langdale, Cumbria, United Kingdom (UK)

The Langdale Pikes is a classic Lake District ‘round’, a multi-hill loop hike that allows keen ‘peak baggers’ to tick off several summits in a single walk.

The main route climbs up past the waterfall of Dungeon Ghyll Waterfall, then loops across the ‘Pikes’ – which can, depending on your chosen route, take in between three and six summits: Pike of Stickle, Pavey Ark, Loft Crag and Harrison Stickle, Thunacar Knott and Thorn Crag. The route then loops back down via Dungeon Ghyll, or you can add on an optional descent via Martcrag Moor.

It offers wonderful views over the valley of Great Langdale, and is also a stiff workout – there’s plenty of ascent involved, and depending on your route, some airy drops too, but there are few walks in Lakeland that offer such drama and diversity of scenery.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 4-5 hours

  • Wasdale, Cumbria, United Kingdom (UK)

Peak of Scafell Pike

Bucket List Experience

Walk up Scafell Pike

This is the big one: the highest point in England at 978m, and the one everyone wants to tick off on their bucket list. Granted, compared to some of the world’s great mountains, it’s a tiddler, but don’t underestimate the challenge of Scafell Pike: it feels high, exposed and extremely windswept, and it requires a steep, tiring slog to reach the top. But on a clear day in good weather, there’s no finer feeling than to stand on England’s rooftop.

There are a number of different ways to the summit, including an excellent trail across from Borrowdale, but the classic (and shortest) route starts in Wasdale Head, at the head of the deep, dark lake of Wastwater. From here, it ascends up Lingmell Gill, climbs past Brown Tongue and Hollow Stones, then turns at Lingmell Col for the final steep, tiring push to the summit.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: Full day

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around
Duration: 3 hours

Getting there & doing it

Experienced walkers can tackle most routes on their own, but if you’re looking to do any of the more challenging routes, it’s essential to be properly prepared. On the most challenging routes, consider hiring a local guide, or joining an organised group hike. There are information centres at Bowness-on-Windermere, Ullswater (at Glenridding) and Keswick, and the tourist office runs regular guided walks that anyone can join.

On any of the more challenging routes, a detailed map is essential: the Ordnance Survey Explorer maps or Harvey Superwalker maps (both at 1:25,000 scale) are the ones to go for. A mobile phone is important too in case of emergencies – but don’t rely on them for maps and route-finding.

The weather in the Lakes is constantly changeable – particularly if you’re walking the peaks. Check the weather forecast carefully before setting out.

 

When to do it

Walking is superb all year round. Summer (usually) brings good weather but crowds.

Winter offers invigorating walking conditions, fewer crowds and welcoming log fires to come home to – but on the higher fells, snow and ice make them for experienced winter walkers only.

The tourist office’s guided walks run April to October.