Guide to Dartmoor National Park

Days out, Walking, The Great British Outdoors

Posted by Courtney on 6th July 2021

Brentor on Dartmoor

It’s now over 70 years since Dartmoor became a national park and, like a fine wine, it just keeps getting better with age. Discover all that this wild landscape has to offer; a topography of untamed upland, deep valleys rich with rivers, extraordinary wildlife and history, there are plenty of things to see and do in Dartmoor National Park.

We've made it easier for you plan your next Devon holiday with easy-to-read sections on what to see and where to go in Dartmoor. Whether you want to explore the moors on foot and take in all the wonderful walks Dartmoor bestows, or you want more of a family-friendly attraction to keep the kids entertained, or even if you just want to cosy up with an ale and in front of a log fire in a local pub, we’re on hand to help make that happen.

Discover an abundance of things to do in Dartmoor today. 

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The best walks in Dartmoor

The vibrant and green Burrator ArboretumPhotos courtesy of @kalliebogpony (top), @artem_kuybida (bottom left) and @nelson_captures_photos (bottom right)

Burrator Arboretum & Nature Reserve

Meander in the meadows or weave your way through the woodland, where you’ll pass under broadleaf and coniferous trees, as well as seeing a number of exotic species too. There’s so much wildlife on offer here including dragonflies by the pond, numerous butterflies in the wildflowers, a multitude of bird species and, if you’re lucky enough, you may spot wild otters along the babbling Narrator Brook too. Give yourself an hour to amble along the newly revamped boardwalk at the arboretum, which provides easy access to those who would otherwise struggle to explore the reserve and reservoir.

  • Distance: 0.9 miles
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Good to know: the entire footpath is wheelchair friendly and there is an ice cream van at the main Burrator Dam

Views of Princetown walks

Princetown walk

Set at the heart of Dartmoor, in the quaint, isolated town of Princetown, this moderate walk begins by giving you a glimpse of the imposing Dartmoor Prison looming over the moors. This landmark is in stark contrast to the unbound freedom experienced during this circular walk which starts and ends at the conveniently placed watering hole, The Plume of Feathers. This hike comes with its own audio track if you really want to become acquainted with the history and landscape in depth, including the waterfall and aqueduct, the Bronze Age hamlets and rows of stones, and the disused railway. If you just want to do your own thing, you’ll be equally pleased – just ensure you take in the sights of Hart Tor and the Rifle Range, Black Tor Waterfall, Devonport Leat, and Ingra Tor Quarry along the way.

  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Good to know: look out for the old, abandoned tin mine at Whiteworks, said to have begun excavating tin as early as 1180

Lydford Gorge

Lydford Gorge

With the deepest river valley in the South West and a soaring waterfall to boot, you get two walks for the price of one at Lydford Gorge. A sight that has been attracting visitors since Victorian times, the Waterfall Trail sinks to the foundations of the gorge where Whitelady Waterfall awaits, a towering 28.2-metre-high cascade of watery force. Keep it fresh by taking a different route back through the woodland and along the old Great Western Railway path. 

A more challenging trek would be the River Trail, which can include some slippery paths and uneven steps. It’s ultimately worth taking on this circular route though so don your appropriate footwear and enter the woodland with the river visible below. You’ll head down into the gorge where you’ll pass Whitelady Waterfall, as well as the boundless energy of Tunnel Falls before making it to the peacefulness of Pixie Glen, finishing where you started.

  • Distance: 1 mile for waterfall walk; 2.5 miles for river walk
  • Difficulty: moderate for waterfall walk; challenging for river walk
  • Good to know: dogs welcome (on leads); wear sturdy footwear; one-way system in place as much as possible

More Dartmoor walks

The best things to do in Dartmoor

Charismatic animals at Dartmoor Zoo

Dartmoor Zoo

If Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson made a film about an attraction in Dartmoor, you know we’re going to feature it in our ‘best of’ section! The inspiration for Hollywood blockbuster We Bought a Zoo, Dartmoor Zoo has a magnificent setting, positioned amongst 33 acres of woodland, yet under 10 miles from the city of Plymouth. It’s a terrific day out for families featuring big cats, Iberian wolves, tapirs, monkeys and much more. The kids can get up close and personal in Close Encounters and feel the insects and reptiles on their skin, and there are daily displays, talks and feedings to observe before resting on a picnic bench to have a well-deserved sarnie. 

The zoo also takes sustainability and conservation seriously and is working towards its ‘Green Zoo’ status, as well as partnering with Plymouth University to create the Dartmoor Institute of Animal Science (DIAS) POD to explore animal consciousness to promote the rights and welfare of animals everywhere.

  • Cost: adults (16+) £14.95; children (3-15) £10.95; children (2 and under) free
  • Best for: the vastest array of big cats in the area, including lions, tigers, jaguars and cheetahs
  • Stay nearby: Sea Captains Lodge | sleeps 5

Nature and activities combine at Becky FallsPhoto courtesy of @beckyfalls (top right)

Becky Falls

If you love the idea of a picturesque walk but promised the children a bit of excitement and adventure too, then visiting the ancient woodland park of Becky Falls should be high on your list of things to do in Dartmoor. The park is named after the 70-feet-high waterfall that flows over countless granite boulders on its way towards the Bovey Valley. 

It’s a truly beautiful walk that takes you along the Becka Brook and there are three colour-coded trails to choose from depending on your ability. Choose the Blue Trail with the kids and take part in the Children’s Nature Trail Competition. The little ones can even harness their inner Indiana Jones and borrow an explorer backpack containing binoculars, bug viewers, and various spotters cards. Other activities include animal encounters, animal shows and Meet the Keeper sessions.

  • Cost: adults (16+) £8.50; children (4-15) £7.50; children (3 and under) free
  • Best for: a compromising blend of family-friendly activities and tranquil woodland saunters 
  • Stay nearby: Primrose Cottage At Greatrock Farm | sleeps 4 + 2 dogs

The captivating Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast Abbey

You’ll feel immediately welcome at Buckfast Abbey, which has been home to a community of Benedictine monks for over 1,000 years and has been tightly intertwined with the history of England and the Catholic Church. The grounds and gardens are exquisite and the grey and gold brickwork of the abbey itself catches the sun in such a way as to make it a truly divine edifice in every sense of the word. 

Entry is free and well-behaved dogs are welcome in the outdoor areas, meaning they can accompany you to the Sensory, Millenium and Physic Gardens. If you wish for an aromatic experience, take a stroll through the Lavender Garden where you can catch the scent of over 50 varieties of the plant. The abbey church continues the tranquillity with its Lantern Ceiling and Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Finish off at the renowned Grange Restaurant where you can sit outside under cover and enjoy the gardens and adjacent countryside whilst you eat.

  • Cost: free
  • Best for: its centre of musical excellence in the Abbey Church, where you can watch choirs and other performers from the local area
  • Stay nearby: Kingfisher Lake Lodge | sleeps 4

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The best pubs in Dartmoor

The biggest beer garden in the world at the Warren House InnPhotos courtesy of @iamhowzer (top left and bottom) and @emzy73 (top right)

The Warren House Inn, Postbridge

Perched upon a hill between Moretonhampstead and Princetown is perhaps the most famous pub on all of Dartmoor. The Warren House Inn is in fact the third highest tavern in England and boasts unrivalled views across the wilderness. A magnet for hikers and road cyclists, the inn is extremely welcoming and, as you enter, the air of warmth and hospitality will be palpable from the traditional oak beams lining the ceiling to the roaring fires, one of which is said to have been burning non-stop since 1845.

 Hardy locals mix it up with visiting families whilst drinking the delicious local draft ales on offer and sampling the surprisingly extensive food menu. So, grab your pint and head across the road to the picnic tables to enjoy the unparalleled views of Dartmoor with Highland cattle and sheep for company.

  • Menu pick: homemade Warreners Pie (rabbit pie)
  • Are dogs allowed?: dogs are welcome in the bar area on leads but not in the restaurant area
  • Good to know: you’d have to take the landlord’s word for it, but the inn is said to have ‘the biggest beer garden in the world’, referring to the massive expanse of moor and woodland opposite the pub

The beautiful Rugglestone InnPhotos courtesy of @cheesecovers (top), @treesvandewouw (bottom left) and @chrisiversenphotography (bottom right)

The Rugglestone Inn, Widecombe-in-the-Moor

The inn - which derives its name from a large piece of granite that naturally balanced on a larger piece of granite, allowing it to rock - was once considered to be one of the smallest pubs in England. Following on from some minor alterations, it is now slightly bigger but has remained largely unchanged since the early 1800s. This is true even in its nod to its 18th-century origins as a farmhouse: you get greeted by roaming pigs, goats, ducks and chickens as they merrily go about their day. 

As you pass the farm animals and cross the quaint bridge over the pretty moorland stream, you’ll find yourself in a sweet, sheltered garden where wisteria grows freely upon the Grade II-listed building. Grab a table if the weather is fine or head inside and cosy up next to the log fire. If you’re visiting The Rugglestone, a traditional ale is a must as they serve them straight from the barrel in an old-timey fashion - we recommend the Rugglestone Moor Beer (or just more beer at The Rugglestone)!

  • Menu pick: homemade scotch egg served with salad, piccalilli, coleslaw and new potatoes
  • Are dogs allowed?: yes, if kept on a lead
  • Good to know: don’t expect to catch the big game here; the inn is free of mod cons, with the locals preferring cribbage, euchre and dominoes

The Rock Inn, Haytor ValePhotos courtesy of @livingstoneleica (left) and @griffsgrub (right)

The Rock Inn, Haytor Vale

Probably the best place to eat on our list, the Rock Inn has won multiple awards for its culinary excellence and continues to provide weary travellers with fantastic hospitality. The inn is located in Haytor Vale, home to Haytor Rocks, one of Dartmoor’s most popular tors and arguably the national park’s most popular beauty spot. Therefore, the pub is ideally situated for walkers whether you want a quick drink before setting forth, or you need a hearty meal after trekking to the tor and back. 

The pub itself is quite intimate with its low ceilings and feels very cosy with the dark oak panelling. In the evenings, it’s a lovely place for a romantic meal, especially as the wine cellar is extensive at reasonable prices. In the day, pop across the road with your beer from Dartmoor Brewery in hand and enjoy the large beer garden with picnic tables. From here, so much of Dartmoor is on your doorstep and you can easily explore other areas in this guide, such as Becky Falls and the Princetown walk.

  • Menu pick: smoked duck breast, rhubarb, pickled shallot and tapioca crisp, followed by roasted coley with fennel, peas, broad beans, crispy capers and brown shrimp butter
  • Are dogs allowed?: yes, dogs are allowed in The Riley Room for lunch and dinner (not breakfast) and also in the garden and patio areas
  • Good to know: between 1996 and 2015, The Rock Inn received one AA Rosette Award for Culinary Excellence every year and has received a further two AA Rosettes since 2016

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Stay with us in Dartmoor

Now that you’ve sampled the best things to see and do in Dartmoor, maybe it’s time to start planning for that next adventure. A unique blend of wild moorland, deep gorges, forests and tors awaits you and your family or friends, and we have cottages and lodges dotted all over this ancient land. Whether you want to get away from it all and go as rural as possible in small villages such as Yelverton or Buckfastleigh, or stay a little closer to civilisation in Totnes or Tavistock, we can help. We have a lovely selection of characterful cottages with hot tubs, romantic boltholes, dog-friendly retreats and family-friendly properties that will make a great base for exploring this untamed wilderness.

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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.