The ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks’ is a collective term that encompasses the mountains of Whernside (736 metres), Ingleborough (723 metres) and Pen-y-ghent (694 metres).
The peaks, which form part of the Pennine range, are found in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in the North of England.
The Dales’ spectacular scenery and fantastic walking opportunities draw in visitors from across the country and makes for a great place to spend a few days.
Every year thousands come to take on at least one of the peaks, or to conquer all three as part of the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge. This requires hikers to complete a full circuit, summiting each mountain in turn, in under 12 hours.
The infamous challenge is actually the original three-peak walk within the UK and is not to be confused with the later ‘National Three Peaks’, which involves Ben Nevis, Mount Snowdon and Scafell Pike (respectively the highest summits in Scotland, Wales and England).
The three peaks are arranged in a triangle, with the River Ribble and two minor B roads between them. As a circular route, the hike can be started from Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Ribblehead or Chapel le Dale, finishing at the same point.
As a walking marathon with 1,585 metres of ascent, the Yorkshire Three Peaks is suited to anyone wanting to challenge themselves on a tough, long-distance mountain walk and has a bit of training behind them.
- Best way to discover the stunning Yorkshire Dales.
- One of the top walking challenges in the UK.
- Raise money for a charity whilst enjoying impressive views in every direction.
Horton-in-Ribblesdale is the most popular starting point and has its own train station, as well as copious amounts of parking.
Local trains run to and from Leeds on a regular basis and from here there are connections to all over the country. Leeds to London Kings Cross takes two hours and 25 minutes direct.
For those that are coming from further afield, Leeds also has an airport with domestic and international terminals. Driving time to Horton-in-Ribblesdale from here is a little over an hour.
The other two starting points for the Three Peaks are Chapel le Dale, which has limited free parking but is usually quiet, and Ribblehead, which also has some free parking and a railway station. Regardless of where you start and finish, the only difference will be the order in which you complete the peaks.
This walk follows a circuit stretching almost 40 kilometres. Involving over 1600 metres (5000 feet) of climbing, people complete the challenge in anywhere between eight and 13 hours.
Unless you are seasoned elite hiker, allow for 11 to 12 hours to conquer all three peaks and get back to your starting point.
However, for those who are less competitive, the peaks can also be taken on individually or over three consecutive days for a more relaxing experience.
Alfred Wainwright famously referenced the challenge in his book, saying:
Grade and difficulty of the walk
All three mountains have some steep climbs, with the occasional need for some easy scrambling. The difficulty lies largely in trying to summit all of them consecutively, which will push your body to the limits.
You need to be able to navigate and cope with conditions in the high fells but worst case scenario, it is possible to end the challenge after one or two peaks and take public transport back to your starting point.
One section is on road, but the paths are generally good. They are all maintained but a combination of the English rain and the route’s popularity means that they are often churned up and muddy. As such, trainers or hiking boots with a decent grip will keep you upright on any inclines and declines, rather than spending half of the trail on your backside.
This walk is just as tough, if not tougher, than the National Three Peaks.
Although you don’t need any hiking or climbing experience per se, you will need a good level of fitness to complete the walk.
Make sure you undertake the proper training in the lead up to your walk and be prepared for a very long day in the mountains.
Getting some fell walking under your belt in the prior months will serve you well. Most guided tours will happily provide a training plan if required.
You don’t need any form of permit or pass to take on any of the Three Peaks but consider leaving a donation for their ongoing maintenance and upkeep.
Guided or Self-Guided
Thanks to a plethora of information online and plenty of fellow hikers to follow along the route, most people choose to go self-guided.
When the weather is fine, the route is fairly straightforward to follow. That said, go prepared with an Ordnance Survey map and know how to use it, and don’t forget your phone for emergency purposes.
For those who want to take the hassle out of their excursion, there are a huge amount of tour companies that will take you on a guided hike with groups varying in size from two to 10.
The cost is usually around £175 per person, including two nights of accommodation, all meals, a mountain guide and support vehicle.
Deciding on the best time of year to walk takes some careful consideration.
Although the summer months will bring the best weather and lower your chances of rain and cloud, you’ll be trudging up and down with hundreds of other people and competition for local accommodation and parking can be fierce.
Due to its popularity as a charity sponsored walk, Saturdays in the early summer can see several hundred walkers making their way round the route.
Friday dates are dramatically quieter than weekends but shoulder months of May and October are your best bet if you’re not confined by school semesters.
Don’t try to hike the Three Peaks in winter as the days are too short and conditions both weather-wise and underfoot can be perilous.
For anyone looking to complete the challenge in 12 hours, see a suggested itinerary below. If you want to break it up, just split it out over two or three days and follow the same route.
- Set off between 6.45am and 7am to allow yourself full use of daylight and some buffer time for unexpected issues. On departing Horton-in-Ribblesdale the first peak, Pen-y-ghent, is just under five kilometres away. It is the toughest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, but the quickest to complete.
- Walk south out of the village, past the church and across a small stream. Turn left up a minor tarmac road and head towards Brackenbottom. Just before reaching the cluster of buildings take the footpath on your left signed to Pen-y-ghent.
- Climb steadily up through fields and expect some steep sections with uneven surfaces, evening out towards the summit.
- Soon after this you’ll reach the trig point and shelter. If you are aiming to complete the challenge in 12 hours then this section should take you one hour and 30 minutes.
- Cross the wall at the summit and follow the clear path heading north. This zig zags down the far side of the mountain, eventually reaching the head of a walled lane.
- Walk straight over onto the new path over Whitber Hill to reach a clear track. Turn right then follow this for 1.5 kilometres before taking the path on the left towards Birkwith cave.
- Briefly following a rough tarmac track, take the next left and then right onto an unsurfaced track towards Nether Lodge.
- A long access track takes you up to the B6479 to a path towards Ribblehead viaduct. Keep the viaduct on your left and follow an obvious path running alongside the railway.
- At the aqueduct cross the railway and climb towards Grain Head, taking the path signposted to the summit.
- This second section is the longest but easiest part of the challenge with little incline. To complete the 12-hour challenge, this section should take no more than five hours.
- Descend from the Whernside Summit by following the ridge path southwards then taking the signed path down to Bruntscar. Follow the lane towards the valley to reach the B6255, turn left past the Old Hill Inn then right on to a level grassy path.
- Meander through fields and an area of limestone pavement, past Braithwaite Wife Hole and stay on the obvious path towards Ingleborough.
- The climb starts off gently before increasing to a steep summit climb.
- This section is tough on tired legs and should take just over three hours to complete. Once you reach the plateau you’ll feel shattered but a real sense of accomplishment as you’ve successfully completed three out of three peaks and it’s now all downhill to the end point.
- Follow the path east heading towards Horton-in-Ribblesdale, dropping slowly towards the valley. Head down past Sulber Nick – a small straight valley – and through the few fields that surround the path before arriving at Horton train station.
- The nine-kilometre trek back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale should take no more than two hours and 30 minutes and will deliver you back in time for a much-deserved cold pint and dinner.
For those who want to stay in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, there are a handful of pubs, B&Bs and a campsite.
Varying in price, there is something to suit most tastes but with limited options available they do tend to fill up quickly. As such booking ahead is crucial in summer months.
The View Cottage in central Horton-in-Ribblesdale is popular with hikers, with double and twin bedrooms available, topped off by views to Pen-y-Ghent and free WiFi. The Crown Hotel is also a comfortable and welcoming abode to bunk down in.
Other nearby villages are good options if you’ve got a car and include Settle, Ingleton and Giggleswick. Because the hike takes up the best part of a full day, it is recommended to accommodation as close to your starting point as possible.
Anyone that is starting in Chapel le Dale, the villages of Ingleton, Settle, Austwick and Malham are all close by and also offer locally-run, friendly accommodation.
The Yorkshire Dales are packed with things to do and see. Take some time for a leisurely hike through patchwork green valleys, under craggy cliff faces, and over farmland dotted with limestone walls.
There’s plenty of wildlife to look out for – particularly for avid birdwatchers. It is this dramatic scenery that has led to the area being heavily featured in films and series, including Calendar Girls and the Harry Potter series.
Head to one of the spa towns like Harrogate and visit the pump rooms, manicured flower gardens, and quaint tearooms. Bolton Abbey, Wensleydale Creamery, Aysgarth Falls and Stump Cross Caverns are all good places to wile away the day.
For those who are coming to the area via Leeds, considering tagging on an extra day or two in this amazing city. Unwind after your hiking challenge by perusing the elegant arcades, drinking up at Brewtown, catching a show at the ornate Grand Theatre or admiring the sculptures at the Henry Moore Institute.
And if you didn’t get enough greenery in the Dales, Roundhay Park lies just outside the city centre with 700 acres of rolling parkland, two clear lakes and woodland as far as the eye can see.
Spend time wandering around and take in the array of Victorian buildings and modern architecture, including the wonderful Corn Exchange. This Grade I-listed building is part retail space, part food hub, and houses an array of indie shops and boutiques.
Nearby Kirkstall Abbey, Temple Newsam House and Harewood House are all impressive architectural destinations too.