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Top 10 Hiking Trails in the UK

When people think of adventuring in the great outdoors or tackling a blood-pumping hike, their minds typically wander to foreign destinations like Yosemite, the Pacific Crest Trail, trekking the Himalayas or alike.

However, what they don’t realise is that there really is no need to look any further than their own back yard.

For a relatively small country, you might be surprised by how many thousands of kilometres of trails are on offer across the United Kingdom. With 15 gorgeous National Parks, we are spoiled for choice with where we can go hiking.

This great isle offers a huge range of hikes that vary in difficulty, length and surrounding landscape.From the Yorkshire peaks or Scottish moors to the Cumbrian coastline or Celtic crags, the UK really has it all.

National trails are generally well marked, needing little preparation or hiking experience, whereas some of the backcountry routes require a bit of navigation skill. If you want to wild camp along the way you will be rewarded with unspoiled scenery and solitude.

Below we have pulled together just a handful of some of the best hikes on offer, ranging from single day excursions to week long rambles. Some are fit for beginners whilst others require a bit more experience.

Most of the trails can be tackled year round but summer is likely to bring the best conditions. It is England after all, so packing a raincoat is always a good idea and be sure to check out accommodation options en route before you set off, as smaller routes will have fewer options and tend to book up.

As long as you’re prepared, hiking in the UK is an amazing way to get a sense of all things British. You may even find that the more hiking you do, the longer your bucket list of walks will become.

Cumbria Way

England

  • Length of route: 112 kilometres
  • Average time to complete: 6 days
  • Difficulty: 2/5
  • Starts at: Ulverston, Cumbria
  • Finishes at: Carlisle, Cumbria
  • Highest point: 280 metres (or 658 metres if choosing to go over High Pike)
  • Best for: The country’s best inland trail with a combination of outstanding natural scenery and quintessential English towns

The Lake District is a majestic destination and this trail crosses through the very heart of it. Although the area is infamous for its steep peaks, this is a relatively low-level route, making it a manageable walk and the perfect introduction to both the Lakes and long-distance walking. The scenery is breathtaking, particularly the views of Coniston Fells.

The terrain is a mix of soft tracks, lakeshore paths and tarmac walkways, with some rough paths during the climb over Stake Pass due to its mountain terrain.

If you fancy something a little more challenging, diverge a few kilometres off the trail to Threlkeld and climb up Blencathra via sharp edge. This grade one scramble is definitely tough but the view from the top is utterly worth it. Alternatively, Wainwright fell is en route and you can choose whether to skirt it or go up and over.

If you want to really soak in the scenery and stop off at some of the Lakeland villages en route, you may want to take up to nine days to complete this trail.

South Downs Way

England

  • Length of route: 160 kilometres
  • Average time to complete: 8-9 days
  • Difficulty: 2/5
  • Starts at: Winchester
  • Finishes at: Eastbourne
  • Highest point: 270 metres
  • Best for: Quintessential British countryside and avoiding roads

This hike encapsulates the best of the English countryside, from wide open fields, to pubs and inns, and then onward to the refreshing sea air of Eastbourne.

Running through the South Downs National Park, you will experience a patchwork of culture and nature as you progress along the trail with attractive wildlife, visible landmarks of history and picturesque villages.

Enjoy the peace and quiet as you saunter along the bridleways then call into one of the hearty pubs to grab a pint and put your feet up.

To ensure you end with a big finish, the route is best hiked from the ancient cathedral city of Winchester in the west to the white chalky cliffs of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head in the east.

If you don’t fancy tackling the full trail, there are plenty of smaller sections, meaning that you can head out on a weekend jaunt or walk, run or cycle its entirety over several days.

Lairig Ghru

Cairngorms, Scotland

  • Length of route: 30 kilometres
  • Average time to complete: 10 hours – 2 days
  • Difficulty: 3.5/5
  • Starts at: Aviemore
  • Finishes at: Linn of Dee or Braemar
  • Highest point: 853 metres
  • Best for: A challenging walk through rugged terrain and spectacular scenery

The Lairig Ghru is the most famous mountain pass in Scotland. Its 500-metre deep trench cuts between the second and third highest mountains in the UK

The pass can be completed as a long day walk or one of the best two-day backpacking trips to be had in Scotland. Don’t be fooled by its short length –  this hike is challenging from start to finish but the perfect opportunity to soak up the sheer rugged magnificence of Scotland’s Cairngorms.

The main challenges of the route are the rocky terrain and unpredictable storms that tend to sweep through the area.

A steady incline takes you up into Rothiemurchus forest, leading out to the northern entrance of the Lairig Ghru.

This mountain gateway can look fierce at the best of times but from here onwards you really get to feel like you’re in the mountain wilderness.

The final stretch of the trail changes scenery again as it runs past the lush Forest of Mar down into Braemar.

The route runs north to south and is more enjoyable with the addition of an overnight stop, allowing you time to take in the views, watch the evening shadows cast by the surrounding mountains and to see the deer come down the glen at dusk.

Coast to Coast

England

  • Length of route: 293 kilometres
  • Average time to complete: 14-17 days
  • Difficulty: 3/5
  • Starts at: St Bees
  • Finishes at: Robin Hood’s Bay
  • Highest point: 780 metres
  • Best for: Dramatic upland scenery with no two days the same.

The Coast to Coast in an unofficial route, originally devised by Alfred Wainwright in 1973, that runs from St Bees on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea coast. For anyone that has a couple of weeks to play with, this is arguably one of the greatest walks in the UK.

The trail encompasses two coasts and seas and three national parks, creating a neat snapshot of the best that northern England has to offer. Dramatic scenery includes parts of the English Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, along with fells, moorland and visible remnants of the region’s mining history.

The traditional route is made up of 12 main stages, each handily ending at a settlement with overnight accommodation nearby. Most coast-to-coasters complete the route over the course of two weeks but this can be shortened or extended, depending on how much time you want to take enjoying the landscape and towns en route.

Your two weeks will encompass the deep-sided valleys, lake shores and remote mountain passes of the Lake District, along with the limestone country of the Yorkshire Dales, old market towns and rolling moorland hills before landing in the fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea.

It’s very true that no two days are the same, so if you tire easily of monotonous walks – this one is for you!

The Glyders

Wales

  • Length of route: 11.5 kilometres
  • Average time to complete: 5-6 hours
  • Difficulty: 3/5
  • Starts at: Llyn Ogwen, Snowdonia
  • Finishes at: Llyn Ogwen, Snowdonia
  • Highest point: 1001 metres
  • Best for: Sweeping views of a glaciated valley

The Glyderau are a mountain group in Snowdonia, taking their name from the highest peaks in the range, Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach. The Glyders trail traverses this area and circles around one of the best examples of a glaciated valley in the UK, with hallmarks of its icy creator in every direction.

This Snowdonia trail can be a deceptively hard day, with views that take your breath away in every sense.

Starting and finishing at Ogwen Cottage, the route is a classic round of the Glyderau peaks with their fabulous rock formations, returning via the Devil’s Kitchen deep rock cleft. Quickly reaching a small tarn in the hanging valley, hardened scramblers can take the direct way up Bristly Ridge or the more manageable route up to the plateau.

Most people tend to opt for the latter and we would recommend doing so to save your legs for later. After summitting the second Glyder, you descend a scree slope to another small tarn before dropping down the Devil’s Kitchen where you can see the stream plunging down to the beautiful lake below.

Keep your eyes peeled for the delicately balanced, iconic Cantilever Stone just before the first Glyder summit – and the imposing rock tower Castell y Gwynt (Castle of the Winds) soon after.

Bear in mind that although it’s only a day hike, this is a serious mountain route with some challenging sections. In poor visibility, route finding can be difficult and it is best avoided in winter.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Wales

  • Length of route: 270 kilometres
  • Average time to complete: 12-16 days
  • Difficulty: 2.5/5
  • Starts at: Amroth, Pembrokeshire
  • Finishes at: St. Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire
  • Highest point: 175 metres
  • Best for: Sea views from start to finish with swimming and exploration opportunities throughout.

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path is a National Trail, forming part of the larger Wales Coast Path that stretches an impressive 1,400 kilometres.

The area was recently voted the second-best coastal destination in the world by National Geographic and the views are nothing short of stunning.

Following the undulating Welsh countryside, the path has over 100 footbridges, 479 stiles, and thousands of steps to aid the climbing of steep and slippery sections. The trail is mostly at cliff-top level, with a total 11,000 metres of ascent and descent but this is staggered throughout the hike, with plenty of plateau walking.

Along the path are seaside towns and coastal villages, such as Tenby, St Davids, Solva and Newport, where you can stop off to enjoy the local fare.

As well as beaches, trekkers will get the opportunity to see volcanic headlands and estuaries, plentiful bird life an array of coastal flowers through spring and summer.

If you’re short on time then you can just trek the Wales Coast Path, a sub-section of this route, which runs 138 kilometres from Llansteffan to West Angle Bay.

This trail encompasses the best bays and ocean views but can be completed in a week.

Ballintoy to Bushmills

Northern Ireland

  • Length of route: 20 kilometres
  • Average time to complete: 8 hours
  • Difficulty: 2/5
  • Starts at: Ballintoy, Northern Ireland
  • Finishes at: Bushmills, Northern Ireland
  • Highest point: 100 metres
  • Best for: A varied day hike culminating in a visit to one of the UK’s top attractions

The Ballintoy to Bushmills trail is part of the longer Causeway Coast Way but is more manageable whilst still enjoying most of the highlights. This relatively short walk allows you to discover the wonders that lie along the Causeway Coast, including Portballintrae, Portbradden, Dunseverick Harbour and the infamous Giant’s Causeway itself.

The trail is varied, walking across beaches, over rocks and along cliff top paths following the Causeway Coast Way – heralded as one of the most spectacular cliff top paths in the UK.

Walking in a strong Northern wind along the clifftops can be thrilling (to say the last) as you walk between the Giant’s Causeway and Dunseverick Castle with nothing more to hold on to then some metal wire along the sheep fence.

However, this is a small price to pay for stunning views in temperamental British weather.

The way is well marked and and relatively easy to walk, with the occasional slippery section. If you have time to spare you can extend your walk in either direction.

The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, resulting from a volcanic fissure eruption. This ancient site is Northern Ireland’s first UNESCO Heritage Site and is an incredible finish to your hike.

Yorkshire Three Peaks

Pennine Range, England

  • Length of route: 39 kilometres
  • Average time to complete: 12 hours
  • Difficulty: 4/5
  • Starts at: Horton-in-Ribblesdale
  • Finishes at: Horton-in-Ribblesdale
  • Highest point: 736 metres
  • Best for: A timed (and extremely rewarding) challenge.

Ok, so whilst this is a trail in the traditional sense, the Yorkshire Three Peaks has to make the list as it is widely recognised as one of the best hikes in the UK.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks are situated in the Yorkshire Dales and feature Pen-y-ghent (694 metres), Whernside (736 metres) and Ingleborough (723 metres). Although it is possible to tackle just one peak at time, most choose to attempt a 12-hour completion of the circuit involving all three.

The circular route is popular amongst not just hikers but challenge seekers and charity fundraisers, with people racing from one location to the next as the clock counts down.

Depending on the size and fitness of your group, you may take significantly less or more time to hike the Three Peaks.

Feeling super competitive? The fastest recorded time is 2 hours 29 minutes and 53 seconds.

Needless to say, you will need to be fit and have completed plenty of practice walks. The trails combined include over 1600 metres of ascent but from the plateau of Ingleborough you will be rewarded with 360-degree views of the Yorkshire Dales.

The walk is generally well signposted but in off-peak times when other walkers are scarce, it is worth carrying a map and compass as a backup.

Because the hike is completed as a circuit, it is possible to start and finish in any of Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Ribblehead or Chapel-le-Dale. A top tip – if you want to avoid the crowds, start at Chapel-le-Dale and proceed in anti-clockwise direction.

West Highland Way

Scotland

  • Length of route: 154 kilometres
  • Average time to complete: 6-8 days
  • Difficulty: 2/5
  • Starts at: Milngavie
  • Finishes at: Fort William
  • Highest point: 300 metres
  • Best for: A mid-length walk across ever-changing and breathtaking landscape with elements of hill walking.

This long-distance trail traverses ancient and historic routes including 18th century military roads and abandoned railway tracks. Thanks to its stunning scenery and historic elements, the West Highland Way has been designated by Scottish Natural Heritage as one of Scotland’s Great Trails.

The landscape is ever-changing and almost always breathtaking. You’ll walk the length of Loch Lomond, the largest freshwater lock in the UK.

Beinn Dorain and Glencoe are two more  of its most awe-inspiring spots, but the landscape’s rocky and mystical backdrop will have your head swinging from left to right throughout the route.

The cherry on top? You’ll get a chance to see the much loved highland cows as they roam in their natural environment.

Every B&B that you stay in provides a hearty Scottish breakfast to keep you filled up throughout the day, with hosts so friendly that you’ll feel like you’re at a family reunion.

Take to the trail in late autumn to enjoy the oranges and browns of the the trees as they change, dodging the crowds and the dreaded midges.

If you fancy an added challenge along the way you can break off from the trail to climb any number of the munros (mountains). If you’ve got a little extra left in the tank at the end of the walk you can take a night in Fort William and then spend the following day taking on Britain’s highest summit, Ben Nevis.

Great Glen Way

Scotland

  • Length of route: 125 kilometres
  • Average time to complete: 6-7 days
  • Difficulty: 3/5
  • Starts at: Fort William
  • Finishes at: Inverness
  • Highest point: 375 metres
  • Best for: Getting up close with Scotland’s stunning lochs

This part of Scotland is not called Great Glen for nothing. The area is renowned for being superb walking country.

The Great Glen Way is one of the UK’s best options for a week-long hike. Picking up from where the West Highland Way leaves off in Fort William, the trail follows the major natural fault line of the Great Glen that divides Scotland from coast to coast.

The majority of the trail keeps to lower levels and offers a good introduction to the Highlands.

If this doesn’t get you breaking a sweat, there is a higher level option between Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit that offers more dramatic views with only a little more effort.

Clearly way-marked and following defined paths and tracks, the trail provides straightforward walking throughout.

The section through the forests above Loch Ness does have some steep climbs with the highest point as you come up through the Abriachan Forest.

The route closely follows two of Scotland’s most well-known lochs – Loch Lochy and Loch Ness. Take a well-deserved lunch break at the latter and see if you can catch sight of the country’s most famous immortal beast, the Loch Ness Monster.

On particularly still days, the waters of the lochs are like mirrors, reflecting the mountains and transforming the surrounding landscape. People travel from far and wide to see these lakes, but hiking the Great Glen Way will allow you to revel in their glory long after the cars full of tourists have left.

As well as the impressive nature found in the Scottish Highlands, part of the trail also runs along the towpath of the Caledonian Canal, an engineering marvel built by Thomas Telford that links these lochs.

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