A guide to the North York Moors National Park

Days out, The Great British Outdoors, Destinations

Posted by Ed Roberts on 23rd July 2021

A guide to the North York Moors National Park

The exceptionally wild and striking North York Moors National Park covers a vast area of North Yorkshire, reaching from the North Sea in the east and almost all the way to the Yorkshire Dales in the west. The area became a national park in 1952 and covers 554 square miles and is defined by natural boundaries of the Cleveland Hills, the Hambleton Hills, and the Vale of Mowbray to the north and west; and, to the south, the Tabular Hills and the Vale of Pickering.

A holiday to the North York Moors National Park gives visitors the perfect mixture of countryside and coast. By the seaside you'll find lovely resorts such as Robin Hood's Bay, as well as pretty villages such as Runswick Bay and Staithes, their harbours gilded with colourful fishing boats. Further inland, you'll find moorland villages including Goathland, the setting for TV’s long-running show, Heartbeat, and the foodie paradise of Malton, all enhanced by their stunning countryside scenery.

Wayfarers and outdoor sporting enthusiasts love the North York Moors National Park for its patchwork puzzle of landscapes, from green heathlands to mysterious valleys. Many long-distance walking trails criss-cross the national park such as the Cleveland Way, the Pennine Way or Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk. Read on to discover the very best of the national park or get inspired by our collection of North York Moors cottages and self-catering accommodation situated in both coastal and countryside locations.

North York Moors cottages


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The best walks in the North York Moors National Park

The best walks in the North York Moors National Park

The Cleveland Way 

The Cleveland Way National Trail starts at Helmsley, a pretty market town in the west of the North York Moors, and ends at the coast in beautiful Filey. Crossing heather-laden moors, quaint villages, famous resorts like Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby, Scarborough, and the peculiar landform that is Roseberry Topping, there’s much to enchant the eye along this famous waymarked trail.

Distance: 109 miles

Difficulty: Easy to strenuous

Good to know: You can break the Cleveland Way into six easy chunks


Wainstones Walk

Wainstones Walk

This 8-mile walk offers up some breathtaking moorland scenery. You will marvel at the remoteness of this climb up to Cold Moor, Urra Moor, and some rock crags known as the Wainstones. Old boundary markers and Bronze Age burial sites punctuate the trails and offer an ancient perspective on this beautifully bleak area of the North York Moors National Park.

Distance: 8 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Good to know: Enjoy a pint at the Buck Inn pub after the climb


Esk Valley – Grosmont to Whitby

Esk Valley – Grosmont to Whitby

The full 37-mile-long Esk Valley Path follows the course of the winding River Esk, but our favourite section of this wonderful trail is the section furthest east that runs from the village of Grosmont and ends at the sea in Whitby. The signposted path with its leaping salmon decals will keep you on course to see some wonderful North Yorkshire countryside and moorlands.

Distance: 8 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Good to know: You can catch the North York Moors Railway back to Grosmont 

More North York Moors walks


The best things to do in the North York Moors National Park

North York Moors Railway (NYMR)

North York Moors Railway (NYMR)

Climb aboard all manner of steam trains along the NYMR. This heritage line operates between Pickering and Whitby, and it really is an experience to enjoy watching the moors spin by as you sit in comfort. There are special services available where you can sit aboard a lovingly restored period steam engine and imbibe some afternoon tea or light lunch.

Cost: See the  website for details 

Best for: Train enthusiasts and those that wish to see the North York Moors in comfort

Stay nearby: The School House | Sleeps: 6 guests + 2 dogs  


Go stargazing

Go stargazing on the North York Moors

The North York Moors National Park was named an International Dark Sky Reserve thanks to the area’s vast undeveloped spaces and lack of light pollution. There are three Dark Skies Discovery Sites which are The Moors National Park Centre in Danby, Sutton Bank National Park Centre, and Dalby Forest with its two stargazing observatories.  

Cost: No charge although there may be parking fees applied at some locations

Best for: Night hawks who love to gaze at the heavens and contemplate their existence

Stay nearby: Teapot Cottage | Sleeps: 6 guests  


Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey was once one of England’s most powerful Cistercian monasteries, but for centuries it’s been a scattered yet beautiful ruin. Rievaulx Abbey stands at the northern head of the Cleveland Way National Trail but, before you set off, enjoy the lovely Rievaulx Terrace landscaped gardens located next to the abbey ruins. It’s a bewitching spot for historians and nature lovers alike.

Cost: Adult £11.90 / Child £7.10. See website for details 

Best for: Historians and garden lovers

Stay nearby: Woodland View |  Sleeps: 4 guests 

More Yorkshire days out


The best beaches in the North York Moors National Park

Scarborough

Scarborough  

Scarborough is a classic traditional seaside resort in the British sense, with its pier, long sandy beach, a promenade, fish and chip shops, arcades, and that magical sought-after ambience. That ‘je ne sais quoi’ is vitally present in Scarborough, and its deckchair-laden beaches. Evening strolls along the promenade or a day of sunbathing and sandcastle building are very much in style at this well-loved and respected seaside town. Scarborough is just outside the national park borders by 3 miles, but we’ll include it here because it’s so unmissable.

Lifeguards: Yes, at both North and South Bay (May to September) 

Dog-friendly: Yes, but there are dog-restriction zones in effect during May to September

Other information: There are facilities galore at Scarborough including WCs, access ramps, refreshments, lifeguards and deckchair hire


Robin Hood’s Bay

If fossil hunting is one of your favourite pastimes, then a day trip to craggy Robin Hood’s Bay is well worth your time. The long, cliff-lined beach is a big favourite with locals and is a treasure trail for those who love peering into rock pools to see which sea creatures are lurking beneath the surface. Robin Hood’s Bay is the eastern terminal of Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk, so expect to see lots of tired walkers cooling their aching feet in the sea.

Lifeguards: No

Dog-friendly: Yes

Other information: Enjoy a pint in the Bay Hotel, with its gorgeous sea views


Runswick Bay

Runswick Bay

Runswick Bay is a fantastic example of an unspoiled seaside village. It’s one of the North York Moors National Park’s most beautiful beaches because it is sandy with some rocky areas at its edges. It’s popular with water sports enthusiasts and fossil hunters, making it a lively destination. The Cleveland Way winds past at the top of the cliffs, so it’s a great stop off if you happen to be trekking along this pretty section of the coast.

Lifeguards: No

Dog-friendly: Yes

Other information: Cars are not permitted in the village, so there’s a little bit of a walk to reach the beach from car park at the edge of the village

More Yorkshire beaches


The best pubs in the North York Moors National Park

The Wainstones Hotel, nr. Great Broughton

The Wainstones Hotel, nr. Great Broughton

Located near Great Broughton, The Wainstones Hotel's bar and restaurant has a restful atmosphere. The Pembrokes Bar bridges the contrasts between a traditional country pub and a continental bistro with a great selection of international beers, spirits, and wines. Endeavours is the restaurant section and has a mouth-watering table d’hote menu to choose your evening meal from.

Top pick: The seafood platter is to die for

Dogs welcome: No

Good to know: Enjoy a visit after a walk on the Wainstones Trail


The Goathland Hotel and Pub, Goathland

The Goathland Hotel and Pub, Goathland

Fans of Heartbeat will get a kick out of enjoying a pint at the pub that doubles as the Aidensfield Arms in the TV series. With at least 16 malt whiskies to choose from, this pub will make whisky connoisseurs very happy. You are also guaranteed to enjoy a good home-cooked meal made from locally sourced produce at The Goathland Hotel.

Top pick: Deep-fried Whitby scampi

Dogs welcome: Yes (family room only)

Good to know: It’s a good family-friendly pub – children are welcome in the family room. You can buy Heartbeat souvenirs at the hotel reception


The Royal George, Staithes

The Royal George, Staithes

A trip to the picture-perfect fishing village of Staithes should be on everybody’s itinerary when holidaying in the North York Moors. The Royal George is one of a handful of ‘olde-worlde’ pubs in the heart of the village. Enjoy harbour views as you sink a cool drink after a day of exploration. The menu is full of pub standards hearty enough to make your mouth water.

Top pick: Fish and chips

Dogs welcome: Yes, in the bar

Good to know: The pub is great pitstop after a day of walking along the coast path


Map of the North York Moors National Park

Find each of these North York Moors National Park highlights on our handy map.

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Stay with us in the North York Moors National Park

Come to the North York Moors National Park for a holiday. From stunning walks in the bleak and beautiful wilds to unforgettable cliff-top walks, there’s so much to enjoy for lovers of great British outdoors, history and nature. For even more inspiration, browse our collection of North York Moors National Park accommodation. One visit is not enough; we are sure you’ll want to return to North Yorkshire again and again.

North York Moors 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.