Guide to all the Lake District lakes

Posted by Kate Atkin on 13th November 2017

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.

Each of the 16 lakes that give the Lake District its name is unique, and 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; 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.

Windermere - 14.8 square kilometres

Windermere, at 10.5 miles long, one mile wide and 220 feet deep, is England’s largest natural lake, fed by numerous rivers. Accessible to everyone and extremely popular, 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, surfboarding 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.

Ullswater - 8.9 square kilometres

The Lake District’s second longest lake at 14.5km 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 lakes’ 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 goo sander. 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 the dramatic waterfall Aira Force, or take a hike up Gowbarrow Fell for breath-taking views across the lake and the undulating mountains all around.

Derwentwater - 5.5 square kilometres

With its long literary and historical heritage, tranquil Derwentwater, at three 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 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 walking trails winding around the shoreline. A loop of the lake is about eight 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.

Bassenthwaite Lake - 5.3 square kilometres

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 four-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 ten-hectare site home to grasshopper warbler, curlew, greylag, geese, reed bunting and meadow pipit.

Coniston Water - 4.0 square kilometres

On the edge of Coniston village lies Coniston Water, a ribbon lake formed by glaciation which stretches about five 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. 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.

Haweswater - 3.9 square kilometres

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 at four 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 mountain sides, lack of villages and hamlets close by, and its inaccessibility.

Thirlmere - 3.3 square kilometres

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.

Ennerdale Water - 3 square kilometres

Ennerdale Water is the western most 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. Spanning two and a half 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.

Wast Water - 2.9 square kilometres

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.

Crummock Water - 2.5 square kilometres

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

Esthwaite Water - 1 square kilometre

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.

Buttermere - 0.9 square kilometres

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.

Grasmere - 0.6 square kilometres

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.

Loweswater - 0.6 square kilometres

Nestled in a wooded valley to the far west of the Lake District Loweswater is a small peaceful lake that is largely un-spoilt by tourism. At approximately one 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.

Rydal Water - 0.3 square kilometres

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.

Brothers Water - 0.2 square kilometres

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.

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.

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.

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.