Dreaming of a tour of the UK? Between the fish and chips, cups of tea, and the Queen; the United Kingdom is also home to 15 epic nature havens. Here’s your UK National Parks hiking guide to enjoy them all.
If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of 2021, then the stretches of green landscape, blue waters and rocky mountains found across the United Kingdom may be the perfect place for a break. After months of staying indoors, a hiking trip into the great outdoors is exactly what we all need.
Here’s a list of all 15 national parks in the UK, and a quick explanation of why you need to visit each and every one.
- 1. The Cairngorms
- 2. Loch Lomond and The Trossachs
- 3. Northumberland National Park
- 4. The Lake District
- 5. The Yorkshire Dales
- 6. North York Moors
- 7. Peak District
- 8. Snowdonia
- 9. The Broads
- 10. The Brecon Beacons
- 11. Pembrokeshire Coast
- 12. Exmoor
- 13. South Downs
- 14. New Forest
- 15. Dartmoor
1. The Cairngorms
We’re starting up north with Cairngorms National Park. Nestled away in the Scottish Highlands, this park covers the Cairngorms mountain range and surrounding hills. Scotland is home to two national parks – and this is the largest.
You’ll find over a hundred public trails to explore, with routes to suit all abilities. Look for hill tracks, long-distance routes, heritage trails, and even guided walks with park rangers.
Cairngorms National Park contains 25% of Scotland’s native forest, so you may just spot mountain hares, capercaillies, or even wildcats on your daily adventures. We recommend taking the 1.5-mile walk to The Falls of Bruar– this short hike takes in two magnificent waterfalls, scented pine forests, and a deep-cut ravine.
2. Loch Lomond and The Trossachs
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs is Scotland’s second national park. It stretches across much of the southern highlands, with mountains and lochs covering 720 square miles of land. The park is very near to Scotland’s Central Belt meaning tourism numbers are high- around 4 million people are said to visit each year.
Contrary to its name, this UK national park is actually split into four distinctive parts: Breadalbane, Cowal Peninsula, Loch Lomond, and The Trossachs.
Breadalbane is best known for its scenic views and beautiful villages, while Cowal Peninsula is all about gorgeous gardens and getting off the beaten track. Visit Loch Lomond to see Britain’s largest inland stretch of water, or The Trossachs for fantastic wildlife and forest walks.
3. Northumberland National Park
We’re moving into the northern-most park in England now. Northumberland National Park covers 1,050 square kilometers of land with plenty of walks that end with a good pub lunch or views that stretch for miles.
It’s the least visited and least populated National Park in the UK, so definitely worth the visit if you’d prefer to avoid the crowds.
We recommend taking on the Breamish Valley Hillfort Trail, which will lead you to five hillforts along the way. The trail covers 4.5 miles and should take around 3.5 hours to complete. All walking routes within the National Park are listed on the Viewranger website, making it easy for you to plan your hikes even if you are a beginner.
4. The Lake District
There’s plenty of cool things to do in the Lake District, from Ghyll Scrambling to Whiskey Tasting- but it’s the incredible scenery that hikers love the northern national park for. The Lake District is home to England’s highest mountain and deepest lake, as well as hundreds of walking routes and hills to climb.
There are 48 routes across the park without stiles, which are great for those with limited mobility, dog walkers, and families with pushchairs. You really can find something for everyone in the Lakes.
If you want to take on a challenge, however, look no further than Helvellyn. The peak is the third-highest in the Lake District at 950 meters tall and demands attention from all those who dare to take it on.
5. The Yorkshire Dales
The Yorkshire Dales is found in the Pennines. The National Park was created in 1954 in recognition of the area’s beautiful valleys, crags, and stone-built villages. Contrary to parks across the US, the Yorkshire Dales is a working environment with more than 24,000 people living on its grounds.
There’s more than 2,628km squared of footpaths across the park, making up both short strolls and moorland hikes. For a fantastic hiking holiday, you might want to check out the Pennine Way. This 268-mile trail is considered one of the best in England, starting at the Scottish Borders and making its way down to the Peak District.
Start your trek in the Yorkshire Dales, then spend as little or as long as you like exploring the trail. There’s plenty of places to stay along the way, including Hawes, Skipton, and Hebden Bridge.
6. North York Moors
The North York Moors blend history, wildlife, and coastlines perfectly. A hiking trip to the National Park will take you along 26 miles of coastline, twitch plenty of amazing views and cute market towns along the way.
You’ll stroll, paddle, cycle, and eat your way through the North York Moors for the perfect outdoor break. The National Park’s website has a fantastic list of the best walking routes to take, but we’d recommend Broxa Forest.
Take in a birds-eye view of the rolling hills with this 6-mile circular hike. You’ll start at the Forestry England car park at Reasty Hill Top, and weave your way through woodlands and moorland to find some of the best countryside views in England.
7. Peak District
The Peak District became the UK’s very first National Park in 1951. The park is loved for its accessibility- it’s just a short drive from the busy cities of Sheffield, Derby, and Manchester. There’s so much to do in the Peak District from rock climbing to quad-biking, but if it’s walks you’re after, you’re definitely in the right place.
For the perfect hiking holiday, start in Castleton or Bakewell. Both are beautiful quaint villages with plenty of places to sleep, eat, and drink after a long day of exploring.
Take on Grindsbrook Clough and Kinder Scout for a hiking challenge. Starting in Edale, you’ll scramble up the rugged terrain of the Clough before heading across the moorland of Kinder Scout. Head back down via Jacob’s Ladder and finish your hike with a great pub lunch in the village below.
We’re heading into Wales now with Snowdonia National Park. Home to around 26,000 people, Snowdonia is the largest National Park in the country with a wealth of natural beauty and history.
The park offers a wealth of hikes to suit people of all abilities. It has one of the most varied terrains of all the National Parks in the UK – you could be climbing rugged mountain peaks one day, and strolling along sandy beaches the next.
It’s no question, however, that most people visit Snowdonia to climb Mount Snowdon. It’s the highest mountain in Wales, and the summit is the highest point in the British Isles outside of Scotland. While it’s considered the busiest mountain in the UK, it’s a must-do for most walkers. Having said that, you can always take the train to the summit if you don’t fancy the hike. And no, we’re not joking!
9. The Broads
The Broads is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’ for having more waterway mileage than the Italian city itself. Found in the historic English county of Norfolk, the Broads is made up of rivers, shallow lakes, and other waterways. Explore Britain’s largest protected wetland by boat, bike, or foot.
Until fairly recently, it was thought the Broads were the product of nature. However, research by a botanist in the 1950s revealed the park to be manmade, created as a result of peat diggings used for fuel.
You can take both your own routes and guided walks of the Broads. We’d recommend the Beccles Marsh Trail, made up of a series of hikes through grazing fields and historical references. Look out for Worlingham Wall, a medieval flood defense that was created to divide common marshes for farming.
10. The Brecon Beacons
The Brecon Beacons covers 42 miles of South and Mid Wales. The National Park has a rich history and boasts mountains, moorlands, waterfalls, and even the odd castle. The park has also earned recognition as an International Dark Sky Reserve, so star gazers, this one’s for you!
This National Park is perfect for heritage tours and action-packed holidays alike. Enjoy the stunning scenery, keep your eyes peeled for protected wildlife, and explore over 250 ancient monuments across the park.
The Brecon Beacon’s large open spaces are loved by hikers. For a fun 8-day route, look no further than The Beacons Way, an iconic and challenging 99-mile trail that shows off some of the very best of the National Park. Of course, you can always choose to take the trail a day at a time at your own convenience.
11. Pembrokeshire Coast
Pembrokeshire National Park covers the coastline of West Wales and is pretty much considered to be walker heaven. It’s one of the smallest National Parks in the UK, but don’t let that fool you.
Lonely Planet has named the Pembrokeshire Coast Trail one of the best long-distance treks in the world, while National Geographic has determined the area to be the second-best coastal destination in the world back in 2010.
The 186-mile trail will take you on a journey between towering limestone cliffs and golden sands in the south, and rugged peaks and deep valleys in the north. We’d recommend visiting the gorgeous secluded beaches of Abercastle and Porthsele for a really magical experience.
Exmoor has undergone years of work since it became a National Park in 1954. Its main purpose is to conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife, and heritage, and it certainly does a very good job of it.
The National Park is found in south-west Britain, sweeping across west Somerset and north Devon. Once held as a royal forest, Exmoor is known for being 267 square miles of England’s best-kept secret.
Both Dunster and Lynton and Lynmouth, villages within Exmoor, are part of the ‘Walkers are Welcome’ scheme. This means you’ll be invited in to the areas to hike, stroll, and cycle to your heart’s content. We’d recommend heading to Gallox Bridge in Dunster for a gorgeous 2-hour circular walk.
13. South Downs
As the newest National Park in the UK, the South Downs was given its title in 2011. It’s definitely one of the lesser-known parks for this reason, which makes it all the better for visiting. As the name suggests, the South Downs covers the southern region of the UK. If you’re living in or visiting London, this National Park could be the perfect short trip.
The South Downs is loved for its rich landscape of folklore and legend that has become the backdrop for many a book, poem, and painting. Similar to the Brecon Beacons, this park has also been granted the International Dark Sky Reserve status.
Hikers love the South Downs for its versatility – choose to take a short stroll at lunch or a 100-mile week-long trail along the South Downs Way until the Seven Sisters cliffs.
You’ll find more than 3,300km of footpaths to explore.
14. New Forest
The New Forest was given National Park status in 2005. It covers 219 square miles of south-east and south-west England and is home to free-roaming animals, fantastic scenery, and years of deep history.
The New Forest is a lowland national park, meaning you won’t find any large mountains or deep valleys. In turn, this makes the park one of the most accessible in the UK.
We’d recommend downloading the New Forest National Park app for access to over 27 tried and tested routers throughout the park. To get off to a good start, try the Blackwater Tall Trees Trail. This 1.4-mile route will take you on a tour of some of the oldest fir trees in Britain and views of huge redwoods.
Dartmoor is the most southern national park in the UK, found in the south of Devon. The park covers 368 square miles, which is roughly the same size as 20,000 full-sized football pitches. A total 65% of Dartmoor is made up of granite, which was formed around 295 million years ago.
To find the highest point of the National Park, climb the 621 meters to the summit of High Willhays. The lowest point is Doghole Bridge, which stands just 30 meters above sea level.
You’ll find both short and long routes at Dartmoor National Park, most of which include great stop-offs to sample local produce. We’d recommend the Four Villages Walk, an easy-going 6.5-mile route that takes in South Tawton, South Zeal, Sticklepath, and Belstone.
Which of the 15 UK National Parks in this hiking guide is your favorite?
There we have it, a complete UK National Parks hiking guide with every park the UK has to offer, and why hikers love them so much. Do you have a favorite? We love the Peak District – but we’ve still got a few parks on the list to tick off yet!
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Ann Holmes is a freelance journalist, Youtuber @FarFromHolmes, and the co-founder of Adventure Pending.