16 of the best Yorkshire river walks

Walking, Nature, The Great British Outdoors

Posted by Ruth on 1st February 2021

Yorkshire rivers

Yorkshire's landscape has been shaped by its rivers: from the River Esk which meanders through moorland on its way to the North Sea at Whitby; through the Rivers Swale, Nidd and Wharfe, each giving their name to a Yorkshire dale; and down to the grand Ouse, flowing through the historic city of York and out to the huge Humber Estuary.

Walking is one of the best outdoor activites in Yorkshire, and keen ramblers come from all over to explore the breathtaking landscape on foot; with so many beautiful rivers criss-crossing the terrain, you’ll discover Yorkshire has more than its fair share of river walks to set out on.

To help you plan your next holiday, we’ve found some of the best river walks in Yorkshire where you can come across waterfalls in full force, spot otters and kingfishers in their natural habitat, and simply get away from it all.

Read on to discover our favourite walks along Yorkshire’s rivers, or click the button below to find a fantastic place in which to relax and unwind after a day of adventures in the fresh air.

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River walks in North Yorkshire


River Esk: Grosmont to Whitby

The Esk Valley Walk follows the River Esk for 37 miles from Castleton to Whitby; this is the final section which follows the river from Grosmont until it reaches its confluence with the North Sea. Beginning at Grosmont station, you’ll walk through woodland and farmland before a steep descent into Whitby, where your walk finishes on the West Pier. Breathe in the fresh sea air or reward your efforts with fish and chips, before catching the train or bus back to Grosmont.

Distance: 8 miles              

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: Marine View, Whitby | sleeps 10 + 2 dogs


River Swale: Richmond circular

This picturesque walk begins in the centre of historic Richmond, one of the best places to stay in Yorkshire. It follows a trail out of the town, through woodland and wildflower meadows before tracking back along the River Swale, one of the most popular North Yorkshire rivers. The varied landscape of thick woodland, open fields and the grassy banks alongside the babbling river make this a refreshing and invigorating route, although the sight of the majestic Richmond Castle which appears on the horizon as you walk along the river surely has to be the high point.

Distance: 3 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Stay nearby: Evergreen Cottage | sleeps 4 + 1 dog


River Ure: Masham circular

Beginning in the historic market town of Masham, this gentle countryside walk follows public footpaths along peaceful lanes and through arable fields before arriving at the River Burn. It then follows the river until it joins the Ure, where you may be able to spot kingfishers darting along the riverbanks or trout leaping out of the water. Visit on a Wednesday to join in the fun of market day back at Masham at the end of your walk.

Distance: 4.7 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Stay nearby: Barn Owl Cottage, Masham | sleeps 6 + 2 dogs 

Forge Valley Woods

River Derwent: Forge Valley Woods

Stroll through ancient woodland along the beautiful River Derwent with this family-friendly walk, where you can hope to spot creatures such as nuthatches, green warblers and even otters. Visit in spring to see the colourful array of wildflowers or in autumn for a spectacular display of foliage. Following a boardwalk for most of the route, it’s great for little ones and is also dog friendly – but, as it’s a nature reserve, make sure your four-legged explorer is kept on a lead.

Distance: 2 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Stay nearby: Virginia Cottage, Thornton-le-Dale | sleeps 5 + 2 dogs

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River walks in the Yorkshire Dales

Arkle Beck

Arkle Beck: Langthwaite circular

Taking in the breathtaking Arkengarthdale scenery, this circular walk follows the banks of the Arkle Beck, a tributary of the River Swale. Beginning in Langthwaite, which you may recognise from All Creatures Great and Small, you’ll follow the beck past the pretty Georgian lodge of Scar House before crossing a footbridge, turning around and returning to your starting point. Combine a visit with a trip to the Tan Hill Inn, England’s highest pub, which is around 7 miles further up the dale.

Distance: 6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: Foxy’s Den, Reeth | sleeps 4 + 1 dog

Aysgarth Falls

River Ure: Aysgarth Falls

No visit to the Yorkshire Dales is complete without a visit to the spectacular Aysgarth Falls, and this walk really makes the most of this fantastic natural site. Beginning in West Burton, the walk not only allows you to see the fantastic force of Aysgarth Falls as the water crescendos its way along the River Ure, but also the Cauldron Falls at West Burton. Visit after heavy rain for the most impressive sights and sounds of these wonderful Yorkshire waterfalls in full flow.

Distance: 5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: Waterside Cottage, Aysgarth | sleeps 4 + 1 dog

River Wharfe

River Wharfe: Buckden to Starbotton

This National Trust walk takes in classic views of the Dales as you wander the Wharfe Valley before following the River Wharfe along a picturesque path. The trail leads steeply up the Centenary Path which, from the top, offers incredible views of the iconic dry-stone walls and the rolling patchwork hills of the Dales, before dipping back down into the valley to follow the rushing river back to the start. Back in Buckden, there is a lovely pub if you need a post-walk pick-me-up.

Distance: 5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: The Little House at Fairlawn, Buckden | sleeps 2

Bolton Abbey

River Wharfe: Bolton Abbey circular

Combining the sights and sounds of the river with a visit to the spectacular ruins of Bolton Abbey, this is one of the best Yorkshire Dales river walks. Beginning in Bolton Abbey car park, this route passes two Yorkshire Dales rivers – the River Wharfe and the River Strid – and will take you along grassy riverbanks, through woodland and past historic sites such as the Cavendish Memorial and some pretty stone bridges. There are a few hills, but they afford almost aerial views of the imposing priory, so are well worth tackling.

Distance: 7.2 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: Coopers Studio, Skipton | sleeps 2 + 1 dog

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River walks in West Yorkshire

Five Locks

River Aire: Bingley Five Rise Locks

Taking in both the River Aire and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, this pretty walk allows you to see what has been called one of the ‘seven wonders of the waterways’: Bingley Five Rise Locks. These locks were engineered in the 18th century and have barely changed since. It’s a great family walk, never really leaving Bingley, where you can hope to see goosander, kingfisher, wagtail, and maybe even an otter.

Distance: 5.3 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Stay nearby: Ivy House, Bingley | sleeps 10 + 2 dogs

River Ouse

River Ouse: Drax big river walk

The power station in Drax seems like an unlikely setting for a peaceful river walk, however, there are not one but three beautiful routes close to the River Ouse which start from this industrial setting. The longer walk of the three takes you along a woodland trail, through the pretty village of Barlow and the Barlow Common Nature Reserve and along the banks of the Ouse before tracking back across fields towards Drax. Keep your eyes peeled for pretty woodland and water creatures such as stoats on this surprising and intriguing walk along one of the most famous West Yorkshire rivers.

Distance: 11 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: River Cottage, Howden | sleeps 4 + 2 dogs

Wakefield 1

River Calder: Wakefield circular walk

Offering a fantastic day out for keen ornithologists, this circular walk on the outskirts of Wakefield passes by the Calder Park Wetlands nature reserve, where you can see a wide variety of birds. Despite being a stone’s throw from the city centre, the route allows you to get closer to nature and is still easily accessible, as well as being a great place for dog walking.

Distance: 2 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Stay nearby: Claphouse Fold Cottage, Barnsley | sleeps 3 + 2 dogs

Wakefield 2

River Calder: Southern Washlands Reserve

Another Wakefield walk, this route follows the canal towpath from the Stanley Ferry pub and takes you through the beautiful nature reserve where you can spot many winter migratory birds as well as a wide range of spectacular flora and fauna. The nature reserve is fringed by the meandering Calder, which you can spy as you follow the circular route before heading back to your starting point. The pub is a great place to take in the waterside views as you enjoy a restorative drink!

Distance: 2.75 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Stay nearby: Dragonfly Cottage, Whitley | sleeps 2

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River walks in South Yorkshire

River Dove

River Dove: Thurgoland Boundary Walk

If you really want to stretch your legs, this is a great route which takes you along the Trans Pennine Trail and the Dove Valley Trail, among beautiful scenery in the Barnsley borough. You’ll walk across open fields and through woodland on this circular walk, with some hilly sections offering spectacular views of the River Don Valley. Keep your eyes peeled for creatures including kingfishers, brown hares and skylarks as you walk through the beautiful Yorkshire countryside.

Distance: 9 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: Folly Farm Cottage, Penistone | sleeps 2

River Don

River Don: Spotbrough circular walk

On the outskirts of Doncaster, this gentle circular walk follows the River Don from Spotbrough towards Spotbrough Flash, a nature reserve which is a delight any time of year. Walk among colourful orchids in the spring and summer, and spot kingfishers and brown hares in the winter. There’s also a lovely riverside pub en route, which also welcomes dogs if you’re taking your four-legged friend on a river walk.

Distance: 4.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Stay nearby: The Dovecote – Appleton House Farm, Gringley On The Hill | sleeps 2

RSPB Dearne Valley

River Dearne: Old Moor Walk

Dearne Valley Old Moor is an RSPB nature reserve on the edge of the River Dearne, which is home to wildlife such as kingfishers, barn owls, avocets and bitterns. Beginning at the visitor centre, this family-friendly walk will take in some of the best sights in the nature reserve. It's a great day out for kids; along the way, there are plenty of hides to hole up in and see which birds you can spot, and little ones will also love the playground and the café, where you can warm up with something hot after your waterside walk.   

Distance: 3 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Stay nearby: Claphouse Fold Cottage, near Barnsley | sleeps 3

River Rivelin

River Rivelin: Rivelin Valley walk

Beginning on the outskirts of Sheffield, this walk takes you to the outskirts of the Peak District National Park and returns following the River Rivelin. It’s a great walk if you’re based in Sheffield and want to make the most of the nature and scenery along one of the loveliest South Yorkshire rivers. Along the way you’ll see a small waterfall and there are stepping stones to cross too which will delight little ones – but be careful after heavy rain.

Distance: 9.7 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: Penny Pot Cottage at Revell Grange | sleeps 6

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Stay with us in Yorkshire

From the many bucolic rivers of the Yorkshire Dales to lesser-known streams and canals, there are so many places to enjoy a beautiful waterside walk along Yorkshire’s rivers. If you’ve been inspired to visit God’s Own Country, take a look at our collection of fantastic cottages by clicking the button below, and start planning your next getaway in the great outdoors.

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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.