Best walks in the Lake District

Rural, Walking, The Great British Outdoors

Posted by Kate Atkin on 20th July 2021

Walking in the Lake District

As the most visited national park in the UK with over 15 million annual visitors, the Lake District makes a wonderful holiday destination for walkers and hikers. The glistening lakes (with 16 in total, though only Bassenthwaite is officially a lake in the truest sense of the word), and the rugged mountains of Cumbria offer a scenic backdrop for some excellent walks, many of them with a pub somewhere along the route for refuelling!

Whatever your ability, there's a walk for you - read on to find out some of the best walks in the Lake District.

Lake District cottages

Tarn Hows

Tarn Hows Circular

Let’s begin with one of our favourite Lake District walks for beginners. The Tarn Hows Circular Walk near Coniston is a classic waterside stroll around the calm shores of Tarn Hows. It’s an easy, family-friendly loop that offers mesmerising views of the craggy Langdale Pikes.

Cared for by the National Trust, the well-trodden, level paths that perform a circuit of the tarn also form one of the best Miles without Stiles routes in the Lake District, and there are Tramper mobility scooters for hire if required. Grassy slopes provide plenty of spots for a little rest or a picnic, and there are WC facilities in the car park – we do advise arriving here early though to guarantee a car parking space as it’s a very popular beauty spot.

Rydal Water

Rydal Water

Right in the heart of the Lake District, this relatively easy lakeside walk around Rydal Water is perfect for those who don't want anything too strenuous. It’s also one of the top short walks in the Lake District and you can stop off at Rydal Hall (about a mile's walk). Although if you want to go further, there is a 3 or 7-mile circular walk starting in Ambleside which takes in Loughrigg Tarn, Grasmere and Rydal Water.

Drink in the beautiful Lakeland scenery, especially wonderful in autumn and head up to Wordsworth's Seat, reputedly William Wordsworth's favourite spot, as well as two of his homes, Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount. There are also pretty woodland trails and waterfalls along the route if you want to get away from the shores.

If you have a four-legged friend with you, check out all the best dog-friendly places to visit with our Lead your dog to the Lake District guide.

Mickleden Valley

Mickleden Valley Trail

If you are looking for remote wilderness walking, this is the one for you - the scenery is outstanding. The 3.8-mile Mickleden Trail near Ambleside which takes approximately 2 hours, runs along Mickleden below Pike O' Stickle on the right and The Band on the left.

Glacial moraines come into view as you approach the head of the valley and the path splits at the bottom of two ancient mountain passes, Rossett Gill and Stake Pass, which is where you can stop and turn around for the walk home. This long flat walk is ideal for those who cannot manage hills and the track is level and well-defined so ideal for children too.


Circuit of Buttermere

Buttermere offers one of the best Lake District circular walks for the whole family. Another designated Miles without Stile route, the 4-5-mile circuit takes around 3 hours to complete, passing deep ravines, soaring mountains, ancient woodlands and gorse-lined roads.

Kids will adore the 100-foot-long Hassness Tunnel on the eastern shore, as well as the abundance of grazing Herdwick sheep, a fluffy and iconic breed native to the area. A cluster of trees known as the Buttermere Pines rest beneath the dramatic buttresses of Haystacks – Wainwright's favourite mountain – at the south-eastern end of the lake, providing one of the most photogenic locations in the Lake District.

Derwentwater and Cat Bells

Derwentwater and Cat Bells

It's always difficult to choose a favourite view in the Lakes, but this one is pretty much the best - not only that but this iconic walk in the Lake District incorporates a boat trip too! Hop aboard at Keswick where you will glide over to the Hawes End landing for the circular walk, which takes you up to Cat Bells and then back to Keswick.

The views over Keswick, Derwentwater and Borrowdale are really impressive and it's not too long - approximately 3.5 miles. There are some steep parts and a few scrambly sections but nothing too difficult; this one will take you about 3 hours so best to take a picnic or a flask of something hot on chilly days!

All the lakes in the Lake District are beautiful but which ones to visit? Have a read through our Guide to all the Lake District lakes to see which ones take your fancy.

Aira Force and Ullswater

Aira Force and Ullswater

Choose from a variety of walking trails along this most stunning route in Ullswater that takes in the delightful 65-foot waterfall of Aira Force - take a gentle stroll beside Ullswater Lake or hike up to Gowbarrow summit. The path at the falls is well-maintained by the National Trust so is easy for those with children, but it can be difficult to get a buggy around unless they’re the off-road type.

An extra bonus is the Aira Force tearoom where you can stop off for a cream tea after finishing your walk - there's also a natural play area for children if they haven't burnt off all their energy already!

There are many dazzling cascades to discover within the national park, so why not find some more in our guide to the most beautiful waterfalls in the Lake District?

Grasmere and Helm Crag

Grasmere to Helm Crag

Rising gently over the picture-postcard village of Grasmere, Helm Crag is a distinctive fell described by Alfred Wainwright as one of the very best in Lakeland – a ‘rather weird and fantastic place’ blessed with a ‘remarkable array of rocks’. If you’d like to see these unusual rock formations for yourself, including those resembling a lion and a lamb, a woman playing the organ and a howitzer, then this should definitely be on your list of Lake District walks to try.

After you have worked up an appetite exploring this modest Wainwright fell, Grasmere is home to a variety of country pubs and cafes where you refuel, as well as some interesting attractions, including Dove Cottage, the former home of famed poet William Wordsworth.

Stickle Tarn

Stickle Tarn

The area of Langdale offers great routes for all types of walkers with differing abilities. If you want an easier route, explore the lower trails where you can walk without too many hills or scale the peaks if you prefer a more challenging walk. One of the most popular and more difficult walks is the 1.9-mile Stickle Tarn trail.

Start off at the Sticklebarn Pub and follow Stickle Ghyll up the side of the valley - look out for cascading waterfalls and rock pools peppered into the mountainside as you go. The path, while steep, is quite well defined but there are some sections where you might need to scramble up so make sure you are capable of this before starting off.

Old Man of Coniston

Old Man of Coniston

Boasting everything from striking cliffs and hidden tarns to historic mines and aircraft wrecks, it’s not hard to see why the Old Man of Coniston offers some of the best walks in the Lake District. There are several possible routes to the summit, but the most favoured way to climb this towering fell is directly from Coniston village, with expansive views over Coniston Water opening up behind as you ascend.

You’ll also wind past the secluded mountain tarn of Low Water – a great spot for a wild swim on a hot summer’s day. And when you reach the fell’s lofty peak, you’ll be treated to awe-inspiring views over the Cumbrian countryside – on a clear day, you may even be able to see as far out as Blackpool Tower!


Helvellyn via Striding Edge

If you’re looking to test your hiking abilities, then Helvellyn is one of the most challenging Lake District walking routes. At 950m tall, this is the Lake District’s second-highest peak and is certainly not for the fainthearted. Found in the heart of the national park, Helvellyn soars regally over the glistening waters of Thirlmere.

There are many ways to climb this mountain, but an ascent via Striding Edge has to be considered the most spectacular of all. The walk begins in the village of Glenridding and when you reach the base of Striding Edge there is a serious scramble up the ridge to the summit of Helvellyn. At 8.5 miles long, you’ll need to allow 5 to 6 hours to reach the summit and back.

Stay with us in the Lake District

If these Lake District walks have inspired you to visit, then take a look at our stunning collection of holiday cottages in the Lake District for a staycation to this most scenic of national parks in the UK.

Lake District cottages

The Great British Outdoors

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.