Guide to all the Lake District lakes

Rural, Nature, The Great British Outdoors

Posted by Kate Atkin on 1st January 2021

Guide to all the Lake District lakes

Covering a total area of just over 885 square miles, the Lake District National Park has been protected since 1951, and is one of the most photogenic and inspiring regions in the world.

Its picturesque patchwork of lakes, valleys, woodlands and fells make it one of the best places in Britain to get out and experience the great outdoors and it has become one of the country’s favourite holiday destinations.

How many lakes are in the Lake District?

There are 16 lakes that give the Lake District its name, and each is unique; their magnificence brings the special distinction to the scenery that draws visitors here year after year. However, only one of these bodies of water, Bassenthwaite Lake, is officially called a ‘lake’. Others such as Windermere, Ullswater and Buttermere are known as either meres, tarns and waters, and there are many more beautiful, smaller tarns waiting to be stumbled upon, which have not even been named yet.

Here is a guide to the 16 major ‘lakes’ in the Lake District National Park; each offers something a little different to visitors and their ever-changing nature, light and reflections will delight and amaze onlookers, transforming the countryside, whatever the weather.

Lake District waterside cottages


Windermere

Windermere - 5.7 square miles

Windermere, at 10.5 miles long, 1 mile wide and 220 feet deep, is England’s largest natural lake, fed by numerous rivers. 

Accessible to everyone and widely regarded as one of the best places to stay in the Lake District, it is a mecca for water sports enthusiasts and is a constant hub of activity, with steamers and ferries offering lake cruises throughout the day. 

Surrounded by stunning and varied scenery, there is a wealth of attractions and activities to keep the whole family entertained on a holiday to the Lake District; feed the feisty swans at the lakeside of bustling Bowness, enjoy a peaceful cruise and gaze longingly at the huge Victorian mansions which line the shore, or take to the water and delight in sailing, wind-surfing, rowing, and water-skiing (if you don’t mind a more genteel pace with the lakes’ 10mph speed limit). 

There is a plethora of relatively easy, low-level walks in the surrounding attractive foothills, and one of the best views across the lake can be seen from Orrest head which, standing at 784 feet high, guarantees awe-inspiring vistas.

Activities to try: Charter a yacht; learn to sail; hire a canoe, kayak or SUP; go for a swim; take a cruise or cross the water on a car ferry.

Stay nearby: Satter Knotts, Near and Far Sawrey | sleeps 8 + 3 dogs

Windermere cottages


Ullswater

Ullswater - 3.4 square miles

The Lake District’s second longest lake at 9 miles long and 250 feet deep, is located in the north east of the National Park and has a much more tranquil air than Windermere. 

Ullswater has a unique ‘Z’ shape with its three distinct bends, and is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery to its south and gentle rolling hills to the north. One of the most popular ways to explore its deep, clear waters is aboard the Ullswater ‘Steamers’. These steam-driven heritage vessels sail along the lake's sinuous waters from the quaint village of Glenridding, boasting views of ancient woodlands and fells, England’s third-highest mountain, Helvellyn, and a wealth of rare species of wildlife including red deer, red squirrels and goosander. 

If you don’t fancy a trip by steam, there are plenty of hire boats available or you could enjoy some of the scenic walks or cycle routes along the shoreline. About halfway along the lake you can discover one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Lake District, Aira Force, or take a hike up Gowbarrow Fell for breathtaking views across the lake and the undulating mountains all around.

Activities to try: Take a tour on the famous Ullswater Steamers; explore the lake on a kayak tour; learn to sail, canoe or kayak; charter a motorboat or rowing boat; or fish for trout and perch.

Stay nearby: The Ullswater Retreat, Ullswater | sleeps 2 + 2 dogs

Ullswater cottages


Derwentwater

Derwentwater - 2.1 square miles

With its long literary and historical heritage, tranquil Derwentwater, at 3 miles long, is best known for its beautiful, moody landscapes that change dramatically with the weather.

Located just outside the popular walking centre of Keswick, it has become one of the most developed of the lakes in Cumbria, boasting incredible boating and water sports opportunities, with numerous marinas and boat hire companies serving visitors all year round. 

One of the best ways to enjoy the beauty of the oval lake is to take one of the Keswick Launches, which operate on a regular timetable taking in spectacular views of the surrounding fells. You can leave the launch at any one of the regular stops for a relaxed amble and picnic, then catch another launch at the same or a different jetty. Lovely old wooden rowing boats can also be hired for a leisurely potter around the lake; sail to one of the four islands (owned by the National Trust) and indulge in a real ‘Swallows and Amazons’ adventure.

If you prefer to keep your feet on solid ground, there are a wealth of beautiful Lake District walking trails winding around the shoreline. A loop of the lake is about 8 miles long and you can follow the shore for much of the way with regular resting points on its shingle beaches, perfect for a paddle or simply to relax and watch the world go by. 

One of the best views in all of Cumbria is from Friar’s Crag, a little spit of land jutting out into the lake. This impossibly photogenic setting looks across the wooded shoreline of Derwentwater towards the Jaws of Borrowdale, the sunlight glittering on the water.

Activities to try: Take a cruise; hire a boat, canoe or kayak; book a sailing lesson; catch some fish; try wild swimming; feed the ducks, or canoe to Derwent Isle.

Stay nearby: Farrier House – Portinscale | sleeps 6

Derwentwater cottages


Bassenthwaite Lake

Bassenthwaite Lake - 2 square miles

Lying at the foot of Skiddaw, near the town of Keswick is Bassenthwaite, the only official ‘lake’ of the Lake District. It is the most northerly of the major lakes and one of the shallowest at 70 feet deep. 

A path runs along the entire 4-mile-long western shore of the lake where cormorants and herons can be spotted fishing in the fertile waters. There is no access to the eastern shore except from Mirehouse, a fine Georgian country house with connections to the poet Lord Tennyson and other Victorian literary figures. The house and grounds are now open to the public, providing access to the lakeshore, along with woodland playgrounds and the tiny St Bega’s Church. 

One of the best views of Bassenthwaite can be seen by taking the minor road from Braithwaite village that leads up to Whinlatter Pass. About halfway up the climb there is a lay-by offering magnificent views over the lake, also known as one of the best views in the whole of the Lake District.

A major regeneration project has been undertaken to bring the water in Bassenthwaite Lake up to the high quality which best supports its wildlife, including the unique vendace fish and the feeding grounds of the ospreys, now a regular summer visitor. 

At the northern end of the lake you can visit Dubwath Wetland Nature Reserve, a 10-hectare site home to grasshopper warbler, curlew, greylag, geese, reed bunting and meadow pipit.

Activities to try: You can sail, row, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, fish and swim here but you’ll need a permit, as this lake has special protection as a National Nature Reserve; no motor craft are allowed.

Stay nearby: Brackenrigg Toll House, Keswick | sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Bassenthwaite cottages


Coniston Water

Coniston Water - 1.5 square miles

On the edge of Coniston village lies Coniston Water, a ribbon lake formed by glaciation which stretches about 5 miles in length and half a mile wide.

It is a favourite spot for fishing and indulging in the opulent Gondola, a beautifully restored Victorian steam-powered yacht that sails gracefully round the lake in the summer months - one of the must-visit attractions in the Lake District

This deep lake is famous as the scene of Sir Donald Campbell’s attempt to break the world speed record. His final record attempt led to his untimely and tragic death in 1967 when his boat, the Bluebird, flipped over and disintegrated, travelling at a speed of over 320mph. 

This picturesque lake also forms some of the inspiration behind Arthur Ransome’s famous children’s book, ‘Swallows and Amazons’, and much fun may be had trying to discover the locations of the stories. 

There are plenty of jetties around the lake to stop off and explore including Brantwood, the former home of Victorian philosopher John Ruskin, which is today a popular tourist attraction - the estate is full of opportunities to walk and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Lake District.

Activities to try: Hire motorboats, canoes, kayaks or paddleboards; take a cruise on the Steam Yacht Gondola or one of the Coniston Launches, or fish for pike.

Stay nearby: Tent Lodge Cottage, Coniston | sleeps 4 + 1 dog

Coniston cottages


Haweswater

Haweswater - 1.5 square miles

Haweswater is a reservoir controversially constructed in 1929 in the valley of Mardale to supply water to the urban conurbations of north-west England. 

The farming villages of Measand and Mardale Green were flooded and lost during construction and the population had to be moved. Presently, it supplies around 25% of the North West’s water and is one of the Lake District’s largest lakes (and the largest of the Lake District reservoirs) at 4 miles long and half a mile wide. 

It is a unique wilderness and is most often explored at times of drought when the water level is low, and visitors can get a glimpse of what is left of the atmospheric village of Mardale. It is a haven for wildlife with a small population of Schelly, a species of fish dating back to the Ice Age living in its waters and peregrines elegantly soaring through the crags. 

Haweswater is also one of the most peaceful lakes, largely due to a combination of steep mountainsides, lack of villages and hamlets close by, and its inaccessibility.

Activities to try: You can sail and boat on the lake, but this is also a great place to visit for walking as the routes tend to be a lot quieter.

Stay nearby: Rockery House Cottage, Shap | sleeps 4 + 1 dog


Thirlmere

Thirlmere - 1.3 square miles

Conifer-clad Thirlmere is a man-made reservoir created in 1894 to supply water to Manchester, submerging the Lakeland villages of Wythburn and Amboth in the process – only the church of Wythburn village survives. 

The reservoir is four miles long and half a mile wide, and is surrounded by 2,000 acres of enchanting coniferous forest, mainly spruce and larch, which was planted more than 100 years ago. 

Much of this woodland is open to the public and there are some excellent waymarked trails with incredible views to enjoy. If you’re lucky, you might spot some of its resident red deer and red squirrel. 

Incredibly photogenic, the impressive mass of Helvellyn lies to the east of Thirlmere and many captivating fells to the west including Armboth Fell and Raven Crag, both of which provide jaw-dropping views of the lake.

Activities to try: Take to the water on a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard, or go sailing.

Stay nearby: Riverbank, Grasmere | sleeps 4 + 1 dog

Keswick cottages


Ennerdale Water - 1.2 square miles

Ennerdale Water is the westernmost and least visited of the major lakes in the Lake District. However, it is also one of the prettiest and most peaceful lakes due to its remote location – there are no roads running along its full length. 

Only canoes and kayaks are permitted on this deep glacial lake, providing you have a canoeing permit, making it one of the best spots for kayaking in the Lake District. Spanning 2.5 miles long and three quarters of a mile wide, its waters are exceptionally clear and contain a variety of fish including the Opossum shrimp, a type of freshwater shrimp.

Enjoy glorious views on some of the region’s finest walks either following the lakeshore with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains or for the more adventurous, from the top of Angler’s Crag, a rocky foothill of Crag Fell that looms over the southern shores.

Activities to try: You can canoe, kayak, paddleboard or row here (larger groups will need a permit). Swimming, sailing and motor craft are not allowed.

Stay nearby: Ullock Mains, Cockermouth | sleeps 14 + 2 dogs

Workington cottages


Wast Water

Wastwater - 1.1 square miles

Wastwater, England's deepest lake at 260 feet, lies in Wasdale to the west of the National Park and is home to the Lake District’s most compelling and memorable view; the narrow valley with the peaks of Red Pike, Kirk Fell, Great Gable and Scafell Pike – England’s highest mountain. 

The outline of the three peaks that stand at the eastern end of the lake (Lingmell, Scafell Pike and Great Gable) was selected as the symbol of the Lake District National Park. Wastwater was scooped out by grinding, flowing ice at the end of the last Ice Age and its dramatic slopes lend a wild and forbidding appearance. 

Owned by the National Trust, the lake is located in some of the best climbing country in the National Park and as such, can be rather busy on fine days. The eastern end is particularly popular where large numbers of walkers arrive to ascend Scafell Pike.

Activities to try: Go swimming, take to the water on a canoe, kayak or paddleboard, or take a rowing boat out to explore the water. Sailing boats and motor craft are not allowed.

Stay nearby: Carter Ground Barn, Broughton Mills | sleeps 8 + 4 dogs

Wastwater cottages


Crummock Water

Crummock Water - 1 square mile

Situated between Loweswater and Buttermere, Crummock Water is a clear, rocky bottomed lake flanked by steep fellsides of Skiddaw slate. 

Measuring 2.5 miles long and three quarters of a mile wide, the lake lies at the foot of Grasmoor Peak and offers unparalleled views from either side of the water. It is fed by numerous streams including the beck from Scale Force, the tallest waterfall in the Lake District with a drop of 170 feet. 

There are rowing boats for hire along the shore should you wish to have an adventure upon the water and explore further.

Activities to try: You can swim here, and canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding and rowing are all allowed with a permit. Sailing boats and motor craft are not allowed.

Stay nearby: The Cottage at Cockermouth, Cockermouth | sleeps 4 + 2 dogs

Borrowdale cottages


Esthwaite Water

Esthwaite Water - 0.4 square miles

Esthwaite Water is nestled between Coniston Water and Windermere and is one of the smaller and lesser known of the lakes in the Lake District. 

It is, however, every bit as great as its neighbours having thought to have inspired Beatrix Potter, and featuring in Wordsworth’s poem ‘Expostulation and Reply’. 

One of the best times to visit this beautiful lake is during the summer months where the water’s surface is completely covered by lilies, a remarkable sight to behold. 

It is also a well-managed trout fishery boasting excellent facilities for boat or bank fishing as well as pike fishing in the winter.

Activities to try: Esthwaite Water is privately owned; you can fish here and take an osprey safari boat tour, but contact the fishery first.  

Stay nearby: Brown Cow, Hawkshead | sleeps 2

Hawkshead cottages


Buttermere - 0.3 square miles

Set within an amphitheatre of mountains, picturesque Buttermere Lake is a tranquil scene. 

It’s a popular location for photographers who are able to capture the idyllic shots of mountains reflected in its still waters. This easily accessible lake makes for a peaceful family stroll following the footpath that circumnavigates the shoreline. Discover mini beaches, some sheltered and mossy, others wide and pebbly and perfect for pebble-skimming and paddling.

Picnic areas overlook the lake and there is a plethora of trails leading into the nearby hills where you can look down upon the lake, marvelling the dramatic play of light and shade in the narrow valley as the sun moves across the sky.

Buttermere Lake is also popular with fishermen and is home to the char, believed to have been in existence since the last Ice Age.

Activities to try: Go swimming, or take to the water on a canoe, kayak, paddleboard or rowing boat with a permit. Sailing boats and motor craft are not allowed.

Stay nearby: Swinside Lodge, Portinscale | sleeps 20 + 2 dogs

Buttermere cottages


Grasmere

Grasmere - 0.2 square miles

Described by William Wordsworth as ‘the most loveliest spot that man hath found’, this small lake just west of Rydal Water is one of the most attractive lakes in the Lake District. 

There is a small island in the centre of the lake, said to be Wordsworth’s favourite destination whilst he was living nearby. 

This island is now privately owned so is no longer accessible but can still be admired from the shore on a relaxing walk around the lake. Grasmere is also open for canoeing and boating during the summer season.

Activities to try: This lake is great for swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding and rowing. Sailing boats and motor craft are not allowed.

Stay nearby: North Cottage, Ambleside | sleeps 2

Grasmere cottages


Loweswater

Loweswater - 0.2 square miles

Nestled in a wooded valley to the far west of the Lake District, Loweswater is a small, peaceful lake that is largely unspoilt by tourism. 

At approximately 1 mile in length and half a mile wide, it provides an excellent lake circuit for walkers. 

The accessible footpath is part of the Miles Without Stiles project, meaning it is suitable for families with children and pushchairs, wheelchair users and people with limited mobility.

It passes through Holme Wood, a small mixed woodland populated by deer and red squirrels, along with Holme Force, a dazzling waterfall of great beauty. Loweswater is unique as it is the only Lake District lake where the water flows back into the park and away from the sea.

Activities to try: You can canoe, kayak, paddleboard and row here as long as your watercraft is under 4 metres. Swimming is also welcomed, but sailing boats and motor craft are not allowed.

Stay nearby: Keeva’s Cottage, Cockermouth | sleeps 4 + 1 dog

Cockermouth cottages


Rydal Water

Rydal Water - 0.1 square miles

Popular with tourists because of its Wordsworth connections, Rydal Water is one of the smallest lakes in the Lake District. 

At the western end of the lake there are steps leading up to ‘Wordsworth’s Seat’, reputedly the poet’s favourite viewpoint. The lake is located just outside of Grasmere at the foot of Loughrigg Fell and is partly owned by the National Trust.

You can follow in the footsteps of Wordsworth and take an exceptionally attractive stroll around the tranquil lake and through pretty woodland scenery with spectacular views through the trees. 

The walk passes by Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount two of Wordsworth’s homes along with the dramatic Rydal Cave – a large cavern with jutting, angular rocks hiding a mysterious pool full of small fish within.

Activities to try: The only water sport allowed here is recreational swimming.

Stay nearby: Brae Cottage, Ambleside | sleeps 2 + 2 dogs

Rydal cottages


Brothers Water

Brothers Water - 0.1 square miles

Brothers Water is one of the smallest and secluded lakes in the Lake District, located at the northern end of Kirkstone Pass. 

This shallow lake covered in a carpet of lily pads during the summer is abundant in flora and fauna.

The lake sustains a trout population and is one of four locations in the Lake District harbouring a rare species of fish, the schelly. Due to its quiet and remote location, wild bird species can often be seen including chaffinches, willow warblers and pied flycatchers. 

There is a delightfully easy walk around the lake, which is often added on to tougher mountain treks in the areas surrounding Patterdale as the glorious finale.

Activities to try: Fish for trout in the area that isn’t protected, or go for a swim; the lake is very shallow so other water sports aren’t advised.

Stay nearby: Red Squirrel Den, Ullswater | sleeps 2 + 2 dogs

Ambleside cottages


Map of lakes in the Lake District

Plan your holiday in the Lake District by finding your favourite lakes from the list on the map below.



See the UK's Great Lakes for yourself 

These remarkable bodies of water each hold their own unique appeal. Pick out your favourite and jump in for a wild swim, hire a boat or hops aboard a cruise, or take in magnificent views with a stroll along its shores. 

If you’ve been inspired to spend your next getaway 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.

Lake District waterside cottages



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.