The Lake District, often abbreviated to ‘the Lakes’ or ‘Lakeland’, is a mountainous region in North West England.
Famous for its lakes, forests and mountains (known locally as fells), it is a popular holiday destination and a Mecca for trekkers and outdoor explorers.
It has been made famous in part by its associations with William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter and John Ruskin.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the area, which was previously more of a hidden gem, started to become more popular with travellers.
William Wordsworth published his Guide to the Lakes in 1810, and was influential in popularising the region. The railways led to another expansion in tourism and tourist numbers rocketed with the introduction of the motor car, when railways began to be closed or run down.
The Lake District National Park was established in 1951, recognising the need to protect the Lake District environment from excessive commercial or industrial exploitation and preserving what visitors were travelling far and wide to see.
The National Park covers an area of 2,362 square kilometres and in 2017 was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It retained its original boundaries until 2016 when it was extended by 3% in the direction of the Yorkshire Dales National Park to incorporate areas such as land of high landscape value in the Lune Valley.
The aim of the National Park protection is to conserve the beauty of the park without any restriction on the movement of people into and around the district. Tourism is now become the park’s major industry, with around 15 million visitors each year, coming from places as far away as China, Japan and the US.
The Lake District is located entirely within the county of Cumbria and encompasses all the land in England that lies at 3,000 feet or more above sea level. This includes Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England and it also contains the deepest and largest natural lakes in England: Wast Water and Windermere.
As the highest ground in England, Scafell Pike naturally has a very extensive view on a clear day, ranging from the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland to Snowdonia in Wales, thus making it a very popular (if not challenging) route for hikers. The Lake District extends to the sea to both the west and south.
The opportunity for trekking within the Lakes is boundless. There are many paths over which the public has a right of way, all of which are signposted. Within the National Park there are 2,159 kilometres of public footpaths, 875 km of public bridleways and a general “right to roam” in open country.
Many of the higher fells are rocky, while moorland predominates at lower altitudes, offering a great various in terrain to hike across. Much of the lower land tends to be boggy, due to the high rainfall but sticking to paths makes for easy walking.
With so many spectacular walks in the Lake District, it’s a tough job narrowing the list down. As a starting point, you should consider how long you want to go for, your level of fitness and ability, and whether you want to base yourself somewhere and do a variety of one-day treks or whether you’d prefer to do a multi-day hike cross-country.
• Some of the best scenery in Europe as well as variety of wildlife.
• The Lake District is one of England’s crown jewels.
• Varied topography, lakes and forests.
The nearest train station to the Lake District is Oxenholme Rail Station, which serves as a good base to explore Kendal and the surrounding areas.
However, depending on which part of the Lake District you wish to visit, you can also get trains to Windermere, Carlisle, Barrow, Kendal and Penrith.
Coming from London, the train to Oxenholme Lake District is roughly 3 hours and 10 minutes . On weekdays, there are 18 trains travelling from London to Oxenholme Lake District, so there is plenty of flexibility to leave and arrive whenever suits you and your trekking.
If you’re coming in from further afield, the Lake District is served by a number of airports however Manchester is the most convenient airport to fly into for quick access the Lakes.
Trails and treks in the Lake District area vary in length from a few kilometres up to 100 kilometres, crossing different types of terrain and gradient.
For example, the full Lake District Circuit is only suitable for experienced walkers who are able to walk from 5 to 8 hours a day across rough and sometimes rocky, ground. Further below we list some of the most popular walks and a little bit about them, to help you choose a good fit for you.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
As mentioned, the walks vary massively in terms of grade. The easier walks offer a gradient of 1:10, with a completion time of a couple of hours, and the tougher ones include scaling England’s highest mountain to look out over the valley below.
In the different route overviews below you can get an idea of the various walks on offer, but there really is something for everyone.
The Lake District has a particular set of walks called Miles without Stiles.
These are 48 routes across the National Park suitable for people with limited mobility, including wheelchair users, families with pushchairs, and the visually impaired. All of these walks are carefully detailed on their website and are graded for ‘all’, ‘many’, or ‘some’, based on gradients and surface conditions.
Anyone looking to take on some of the more challenging climbs in the Lake District will need to have some experience on tough outdoor trails. With a variety of terrain underfoot, ranging from loose rocks and gravel, to boggy moors, it is important to have a relative level of fitness, the correct kit and a well-planned route.
For those who are going for more leisurely ambles across flat land and around the lake at Ennerdale for example, little to no experience or preparation is needed and a good pair of trainers will do the trick.
There are no gates or barriers barring entry to the National Park and thus no need for permits or passes.
The only requirements are that for wild camping and/or barbecuing, you must legally have the permission of the landowner on whose land you are basing yourself.
Guided or Self-Guided
There are a huge amount of guided walks, as well as cycle tours and boat trips, that are available and can be booked through the Lake District website.
All guided walks are graded online in terms of their difficulty, and recommendations are provided for families or people with particular needs. However, with the abundance of information available online, it is generally preferred to take on the Lakes self-guided.
This allows you the flexibility of combining various walks and altering your plans based on the weather and what other activities you’d like to incorporate.
Over the majority of the routes, the trail is clear on the ground. Virtually all trails are on known paths and are marked on maps.
However, the path is not always visible on the ground, particularly in bad weather and fog, so it’s worth carrying a map with you.
The Lake District’s location on the Northwest coast of England, coupled with its mountainous geography, makes it the wettest part of England. The UK Met Office reports average annual precipitation of more than 2,000 mm but with very large local variation from area to area.
You’re also more likely to find a bargain in March before the Lakes’ peak season gets underway (April to October). March to June tend to be the driest months, with October to January the wettest, but at low levels there is relatively little difference between months.
May is historically one of the driest months in Cumbria and it falls nicely between the Easter rush and the summer crowds. Even though it’s possible to enjoy brilliant walking days in the Lakes the heart of winter, it is more difficult to predict winter weather in advance, so it is always best to go in the slightly warmer months.
Below are a handful of routes that offer up some of the best scenery in the Lakes.
Total ascent: 200m
Time: 1-2 hours
Terrain: Farm tracks and lakeside single track.
Highlights: A flat and easy walk around the lake suitable for all the family with mountains that ring Buttermere sweeping straight up from the lakeshore.
Total ascent: 1040m
Time: 6-7 hours
Terrain: A high-level fell walk with potential for some challenging navigation in poor visibility and a couple of rocky sections where you might need to use hands for balance
Highlights: Once on St Sunday Crag the route opens out in front of you in all its magnificent glory and you can make your way along the crest walking into a succession of stunning views.
Coniston Water Walk
Time: 3-4 hours
Height gain: 200m
Start/finish: Coniston Boating Centre Car Park
Terrain: Valley roads, cycle tracks, lakeside tracks and farm access tracks
Highlights: The western shoreline of Coniston Water is a stunning mix of low hills and ancient woods dotted with a series of peaceful pebble beaches. An added bonus is that there are no roads, only tracks and paths.
Ullswater Walk (around Glencoyne and Sheffield Pike)
Distance: 8km (5 miles)
Time: 4 hours
Height gain: 635m
Start/finish: Glencoyne Bay Car Park
Terrain: A varied mix including the busy valley road, woodland, steep fell side, broad rocky summit ridge and wall side path.
Highlights: Being tucked away from view by steep slopes and a protective circle of craggy peaks makes Glencoyne a rather secretive spot and provides a particularly tranquil atmosphere with plenty of flora and fauna.
Eskdale Walk Loop from Stanley Force to Eskdale
Distance: 4.8km (3 miles)
Time: 2 hours
Height gain: 150m
Start/finish: Dalegarth Station
Terrain: Valley road, riverside path, rock steps, wooded lane and even the old railway bridge.
Highlights: This little, family-friendly loop starting at Dalegarth Station makes the perfect introduction to the valley, taking in some woodland and exploring a delightful section of the River Esk.
Scafell Pike Walk via Corridor Route
Total ascent: 1070m
Time: 6.5 hours
Start/finish: Wasdale Head
Terrain: Farm tracks, stony bridleway, scree, steep mountain sides, high mountain cols, narrow rocky path, rocky gills, rock steps, exposed col, boulder field and rocky summit.
Highlights: Scafell Pike is a complex mountain with a ridge that is a roller coaster of rocky summits and narrow cols buttressed by a multitude of towering crags and deeply indented gills. High, wild and rocky the main crests always throw up a challenge but you are rewarded with mind-blowing views and mountain architecture.
Windermere Walk via Hill Top and Moss Eccles Tarn
Time: 2 hours
Height gain: 175m
Start/finish: National Trust Car Park, Near Sawrey
Terrain: Tracks and paths through woodland and low fells.
Highlights: This walk takes in many of the locations that provided inspiration for the settings and characters in Beatrix Potter’s books, with great scenery on a very accessible route.
Skiddaw Walk by the Jenkin Hill Bridleway
Distance:16.8km (10.5 miles)
Total ascent: 970m
Time: 6-7 hours
Terrain: Streets, bridleway, steep grassy fellside and stony summit ridge
Highlights: Skiddaw is visually the perfect mountain, with steep smooth flanks and slopes covered in a patchwork of bracken, grass, heather and scree. In its isolated position, set apart from its neighbours, the unrestricted views from its summit and south side are arguably the best in the Lake District.
The Lake District Circuit
If you’re keen on something a little more challenging, why not take on The Lake District Circuit? The circuit offers 10 stages with different types of scenery, over the course of 11 or 12 days across the Lake District and can be done with a tour or group, or self-guided.
The Circuit is a 150 kilometre circular route through the main mountains of the Lake District. It allows several excursions to be made to summits of peaks, while being a solid trek in its own right.
The main route is broken down into four sections: North, East, South and West – offering an insight into each respective area. Each of these shorter routes is a circular one, and the main Lake District Circuit links the outsides of each circle.
Highlights of this route include climbing the central and highest, clump of peaks around Scafell Pike. Reached from Wasdale in the West this is probably the grandest mountain scenery in the Lakes.
The valleys are a highlight in a different way and more closely match what people picture when they think of the Lake District. Stone walls lined up in parallel, containing green grassy fields, with hillsides rising up around water.
The Lake District is lucky in that is is supplied with plentiful accommodation, most of it at a high standard.
Due to the popularity with tourists, most towns and villages in the expansive area offer a variety to options – from B&Bs and homestays to boutique hotels, country houses, hostels and even glamping. Most villages offer at least one or two pubs, basic shops and a handful of accommodation choices.
Where you stay will be mostly dictated by your route and if you have limited flexibility with when you go and your budget then it is advisable to book well in advance. If going in Easter or summer school holidays then you may need to book up to six months in advance.
Below we have listed out some of the most popular towns and villages around the Lake District, not only for their beauty but also what they offer outside of walking opportunities.
Best for: Walking and climbing
This little village in the Southern part of the National Park and a firm favourite of walkers and climbers, who come to enjoy the surrounding beauty, with the bonus of being able to watch sunrise and sunset over nearby Furness Fells and Dow Crag.
Best for: Quiet and calm
This hidden gem lies not far from the River Ea and coastal town of Grange-over-Sands. Just outside the Lake District National Park, the village offers numerous interesting sights to explore and is as picturesque as any of its larger neighbours. The 800-year-old Priory in particular is a must for any fans of history, with spectacular stained glass windows and is a place of local legends.
Best for: Culture and charm
Just north of the Esthwaite waters, Hawkshead is a small but typically beautiful Cumbrian village, perfect for getting some R&R in between exploring England’s best lakes and mountains.
Best for: Museums and shopping
Located on the edge of Lake Derwentwater, this lively market town has plenty of attractions and year-round events for people of all ages.
Best for: History and calm
Considered one of the quaintest villages in the Lake District, Grasmere is particularly rich in history. Many of the beautiful grey stone buildings are centuries old and the church dates back to the 13th century.
Best for: Watersports and dining
At the heart of the Lake District, you will not only find a variety of great local shops and cafes but this is the perfect spot for enjoying sailing and watersports.
Best for: Photography and nature
On the North side of Lake Windermere lies the idyllic village of Ambleside. Its unique array of sights makes it a great stop for anyone wanting to dust off their photography skills and is also a good base for those without cars looking to explore the lake and mountains.
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Difficulty||1/5 - 2/5|
|Starts at||United Kingdom|
|Finishes at||United Kingdom|
|Length of route||5 - 150Km|
|Average time to complete||1 - 10 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||978 metres|
|Equipment needed||Camping equipment, Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots|
|Countries visited||England, UK|