Free days out for kids in the Lake District

Posted by Kate Atkin on 20th February 2018

Home to England’s largest National Park, the Lake District boasts incredible scenery with 12 of the largest lakes in England and 3,105 kilometres of footpaths to explore. This outdoor paradise, packed with things to do and see, makes a great destination for UK family holidays and it’s always good to remember that it offers a wealth of free attractions and activities for kids of all ages to enjoy.

There are some fantastic places to picnic in the Lake District, adventure play areas to go wild in, nature sites to explore and plenty of natural wonders to admire. It is the perfect UK destination for any budget and guarantees a lifetime of happy family memories.

We have created a list of our favourite free days out in the Lake District to successfully keep the whole family entertained, so if you’re planning a holiday in the Lake District, you can relax knowing you have a full week planned that definitely won’t break the bank.

Have fun in the forest

The Lake District is home to the spectacular Grizedale and Whinlatter Forests, which are both perfect for kids of all ages to enjoy a plethora of outdoor activities. In the school holidays they both offer a wealth of free events where families can discover the secrets of the woodland, have a go at orienteering or delight in some wild adventures.

Nestled between the lakes of Coniston and Windermere, the 4000 hectares of Grizedale Forest offers an adventurous day out in the Lake District for everyone, with a variety of things to do. Its selection of waymarked trails, with views of the lakes and mountains, caters for all abilities, and amongst its lush woodland scenery the forest hides at least 40 amazing sculptures for kids to seek out.

Grizedale Forest near Hawkshead in the Lake District National Park

For older children who fancy an exhilarating challenge, there are a network of graded mountain-bike trails to take on including the thrilling North Face trail. There is a great playground if kids need to let off some extra steam and a café serving tasty snacks and meals, with take-away options if you fancy picnicking amongst the trees.

Whinlatter is England’s only true mountain forest, rising 1000m above sea level, and is a brilliant visitor attraction for families, with a range of outdoor activities on offer. Little tots will love following clues and collecting evidence as they search for the Gruffalo along the Gruffalo Spotters trail, or exploring the WildPlay trail with its nine separate play areas where kids can swing, slide, splash and climb to their hearts content. There are excellent walking opportunities with miles of waymarked trails encompassing breath-taking views across the fells and forests, suitable for all ages and abilities.

Whinlatter Forest in the Lake District National Park

The forest is also a playground for trail bikers with the blue-graded Quercus trail, suitable for anyone who is reasonably confident on a bike to the red Altura trail, which is far more advanced but offers the reward of awe-inspiring views across Blencathra, Skiddaw and the other northern fells.

Between April and the end of August each year you might be lucky enough to witness nesting Ospreys from the open-air viewpoints or via the nest camera on the giant screen in the Visitor Centre, as well as a host of interesting wildlife sheltering in the trees including red squirrels, roe deer, badgers and an otter family playing by the lake edge.

Play by the lakeside at Fell Foot Park

If the sun is shining, indulge in a scenic picnic at this stunning family friendly country park in the Lake District. Located on the southern tip of Lake Windermere, with views across the tranquil water to the magnificent mountains above, Fell Foot Park’s green sloping lawns provide an excellent spot for outdoor family games or enjoying a barbecue.

Kids can spend the day paddling in the lake, feeding friendly ducks and playing in the playground. With easy lake access, it is one of the best places to soak up Lake Windermere in all its beauty, and there are plenty of boats for hire should you fancy taking to the water and exploring further.

Adventures at Brockhole

Brockhole is the official visitor centre for the Lake District National Park, found on the picturesque shores of Lake Windermere. As well as being a great place to start any holiday in the Lake District, it boasts an abundance of activities to keep children of all ages entertained, whatever the weather.

Packed with rope walks, swings, slides, scramble nets and zip wires, the adventure playground, with a separate area for under sevens, Brockhole is a brilliant free attraction in the Lake District. If the weather’s not on your family’s side and you're stuck for what to do, there is an indoor soft play for under-fives, a creativity space to let little imaginations run wild and heaps of interesting exhibitions, so the rain needn’t stop their play.

Explore the beautiful lakeshore grounds by following the fun trails that criss-cross 30 acres of meadows, woodland and shoreline, treat the kids to a paddle in the lake, or wander through the flourishing gardens. With regular family-friendly events throughout the year, it’s always worth checking the centre’s website before your visit.

Visit a waterfall

No trip to the Lake District is complete without visiting the beautiful and powerful Aira Force. Ullswater twinkles in the distance as you stroll under the shelter of an ancient leaf canopy to the falls, with fells rising on either side.

Aira Force waterfall near Ullswater in the Lake District

This impressive waterfall thunders over a drop of 65 feet, loudly crashing into a pool below; kids will never forget the breath-taking sight before them. Hours can easily disappear in building dams, paddling and picnicking amongst large smooth boulders, stepping stones and a series of natural pools. When you need to warm up, there is a National Trust coffee shop located in the car park with hot drinks and snacks.

Take a hike!

Of course, it would be remiss to talk of free days out in the Lake District without mentioning the number of fantastic walks on offer in this spectacular part of the world - there are so many amazing places to go and so much wonderful scenery to see. Whilst some are more challenging than others, there are plenty of child and buggy-friendly walks in the Lake District. Here are some of our favourite places to go.

Enjoy a peaceful family stroll around Lake Buttermere, a one and a half mile long shimmering lake surrounded by steep-sided fells and farmland. With children, a walk around Buttermere takes approximately two to three hours, but is broken up with the discovery of mini beaches, some sheltered and mossy, others wide and pebbly and perfect for pebble-skimming and paddling. You can usually enjoy some welcome refreshments at a kiosk, about halfway round the lake or at Syke Farm at the end of the walk, which sells ice-cream made with milk from its own Ayrshire herd.

Lake buttermere in the Lake District National Park
Lake Buttermere

At 335m, Loughrigg Fell is one of the smallest of the Wainwright Fells, but its isolated position offers incredible panoramic views across the central Lake District. With its easy-to-follow path and gentle contours, it is a good choice for walkers with children. From Rydal, a tranquil path follows the shoreline of Rydal Water passing the dramatic Rydal Cave with its jutting, angular rocks and mysterious pool full of small fish. Follow Loughrigg Terrace, an enchanting traverse overlooking Grasmere, before climbing to a rocky summit that is scattered with streams and tarns, the perfect place to stop for a family photo.

View of Grasmere lake from the summit of Loughrigg Fell in the Lake District
Views of Grasmere from the summit of Loughrigg Fell

Take a gentle ascent to the top of Sale Fell and admire panoramic views of Bassenthwaite Lake and the surrounding valley. From here, you’re not far from Dubwath Silver Meadows, the Lake District’s first wetlands nature reserve, which is a haven for wildlife and easily accessible for families with pushchairs.

Delight children with a magical circular walk around Tarn Hows. This accessible route near Hawkshead, which is suitable for pushchairs and children, passes through beautiful countryside with majestic mountain views. There are plenty of benches dotted along the trail should you need a breather, or simply a spot to admire your surroundings with the Coniston hills and Langdale Pikes as a magnificent backdrop.

Tarn Hows artificial lake in the Lake District National Park
Tarn Hows

There are 48 official walking routes across the Lake District National Park, which are suitable for families with children and pushchairs, and they are available to view in more depth on the Miles without Stiles website.

If you’ve been inspired to spend your next getaway with the family in the beauty of the Lake District, take a look at our collection of holiday cottages in the Lake District to find your perfect place to stay.

For more ideas on how to spend your getaway in the Lake District, take a look at the guides below:

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.