The best hikes in the Lake District
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The best hikes in the Lake District

Heading to the Lake District and keen to get hiking? Feeling a little overwhelmed by the amount of hikes on offer? I felt the same before visiting, so in this guide my aim is to help you to uncover the best hikes in the Lake District.

The Lake District, nestled in the picturesque northwest region of England, is a total haven for hiking enthusiasts. With its stunning landscapes, serene lakes, and rugged fells, the Lake District offers a plethora of hiking opportunities for all skill levels. In fact, the Lake District is the active holidaymaker’s dream, and for anyone with a love for the outdoors. At almost 600,000 acres, you’ll find every type of walk and hike, from scenic mountain walks and panoramic climbs to easy-going strolls. It comes as no surprise that the Lake District is rated as one of the best adventure holiday destinations in the UK. In this guide, I’ll help you to discover the best hikes in the region, from leisurely strolls around lakes to challenging ascents of iconic peaks.

Quick tips for visiting the Lake District

Get this: a full-day guided tour of the Western Lake District, admiring England’s steepest passes and admiring Britain’s favourite views.

Don’t miss: a half-day tour of Beatrix Potter country, including her home at Hill Top, and Wray Castle where she first visited the lakes. It’s an important part of British culture in this area.

Bucket list experience: an incredible 45-minute Northern Lake Tour of the magnificent Coniston Water, my favourite part of the Lake District.

Flights: find the cheapest flights to Newcastle (the closest airport to the Lake District). with Skyscanner.

Stay: Find the most affordable hotels in the hub of the Lake District, Windermere, on Booking.com.

The best hikes in the Lake District

There are so many hikes you can do in the Lake District, that you could probably spend a good part of your life searching for the best. Although the idea of the ‘best’ hikes in the Lake District is a little subjective, I’ve rounded up what I’d consider to be the most adventurous, scenic, and immersive into this beautiful part of the world. Each of the hikes I’ve listed below can be completed in a day, although some will take longer than others. There is a wonderful hiking trail for every fitness level and capability, so you’re in for a treat whether you’re a seasoned hiker or an outdoor newbie. Here are my top picks for the best hiking trails in the Lake District. 

Langdale Horseshoe 

  • Distance: 18km (11 miles)
  • Total ascent: 1,400m
  • Rough duration: 7h+

The Langdale Horseshoe is a classic Lake District trail, offering some of the best views of the Langdale Pikes and Cumbria Way. It’s a nice circular route that begins and ends at Old Dungeon Ghyll. If you need to trim down your hike slightly, it’s possible to clock out at the long valley path around halfway. First head to Sticklebarn and the huge National Trust car park. There are some occasional bus services too if you’re relying on public transport.

The Langdale Horseshoe route quite literally horseshoes west to take you along the top of the beautiful Langdale Pikes, before making a steep descent down to Three Tarns and winding towards Crinkle Crags. One of the first peaks on the trail, Pike of Stickle, is thought to be the site of a Neolithic axe quarry, and its stone axe heads have been discovered across the country. The trail finishes at Old Dungeon Ghyll. Make sure you have your best walking boots on for this 18km trail as you might be hiking for over 7 hours. This circular route offers a fun yet challenging day out in the fells, with interesting stops along the way. 

Route description

  • From Sticklebarn, follow the signs for the Cumbria Way (west). Once through the gate, take the path to your left, and up the ridgeline across the Langdale Pikes to the Pike of Stickle for gorgeous views.
  • Continue across the top of ridge that runs along the valley, before taking the path that goes across the Langdale valley, and back along the next ridgeline. Follow the ridgeline across the tops of Buck Pike and Rossett Pike, before heading down to Angle Tarn.
  • You’ll spot a small path that heads up around the bowl surrounding the tarn – take this up to Ore Gap, before heading left to Bow Fell. Here, you’ll experience some beautiful views across the Langdale Pikes that you crossed earlier on in the hike.
  • Next, you’ll descend the path to Three Tarns, before winding your way towards Crinkle Crags. Just before Crinkle Crags, turn right, away from the edge. Here, you’ll find a marked path from the summit, which you need to follow to Great Knott.
  • You’ll reach the final summit, the Pike of Blisco. The path runs between the mountains and back towards the beginning of the walk. You’ll follow a stream until you meet Redacre Gill, then head downhill until you reach the car park, at the end of one of the best hikes in the Lake District.
Langdale Horseshoe, Lake District

Aira Force and Gow Barrow Trail 

Aira Force:

  • Distance: 2.4km (1.5 miles)
  • Total ascent: relatively mild, with minimal elevation gain. It’s suitable for a wide range of fitness levels.
  • Rough duration: 1-1.5h

Gowbarrow Trail:

  • Distance: 6.4km (4 miles)
  • Total ascent: 213m
  • Rough duration: 2-3h

Offering swathes of lush woodland and stunning waterfalls, the Aira Force and Gow Barrow Trail is a nice hike of 8.8km in total through the National Park. One of the best hikes in the Lake District, this route provides views of stunning Lake Ullswater, the surrounding fields, and Lyulph’s Tower – a preserved 16th-century hunting lodge. This hike offers a lot of variety in one route and has some breathtaking views, especially in the spring and autumn. 

Aira Force is a waterfall situated in the Ullswater Valley, near the village of Watermillock, while the Gowbarrow Trail is a trail near Aira Force, in the Gowbarrow Fell area. The waterfall is one of the most popular and iconic in the Lake District. It’s surrounded by lush woodland, and the force is approximately 20 metres (65 feet) high and is formed on the Aira Beck as it cascades down several rock steps. The trail takes you up Gowbarrow Fell, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape. It’s also known for its diverse flora and fauna, and is suitable for various fitness levels.

Route Description

  • The trail starts from the Aira Force National Trust car park, where you can park your car. Begin the hike by walking through the woodlands surrounding Aira Force waterfall. Follow the paths that lead you to viewpoints offering stunning views of the falls.
  • As you explore the Aira Force area, you’ll find signs directing you to the Gowbarrow Trail. Follow these signs to access the trailhead.
  • Next, the trail takes you uphill to Gowbarrow Fell. Be cautious that the path is less defined in some places. Along the way, you’ll catch the occasional glimpses of Ullswater Lake and the surrounding fells.
  • The trail eventually climbs to the summit of Gowbarrow Fell, where you can enjoy breathtaking views. It’s a great spot for photos and a well-deserved rest. From here, descend from Gowbarrow Fell, following the trail in a circular route.
  • The trail eventually loops back to the starting point, completing the circular hike. Allow time for exploring, photos, and enjoying the natural surroundings.
Aira Force, Lake District

Catbells

  • Distance: 5.6km (3.5 miles)
  • Total ascent: 450m (1,480 feet)
  • Rough duration: 2-3h

Catbells is a classic Lake District hike, providing breathtaking views of Derwentwater, Keswick, the Newlands Valley, and the surrounding mountains. The circular route starts from Hawes End and takes you on a well-defined path to the summit. This relatively short hike is perfect for beginners and families, offering a taste of the Lake District’s beauty.

The circular route up and around Catbells allows hikers to experience different perspectives of the scenery without retracing their steps. This makes for an engaging and varied hike. Catbells is located near the town of Keswick, making it easily accessible for visitors staying in the area.

Route Description

  • You can begin your hike from the Hawes End car park on the shores of Derwentwater. Follow the well-marked path as it ascends through the woods and then onto the open fellside of Catbells. The path can be rocky and steep in places, but it is well-maintained.
  • Reach the summit of Catbells and enjoy the breathtaking views of Derwentwater, Keswick, and the surrounding mountains. Take some time to relax, have a snack, and capture the scenic landscapes.
  • You’ll then sescend from Catbells, following the path toward Hause Gate. On the way down, you’ll experience different perspectives of the landscape and the Newlands Valley.
  • Continue the descent to Hause Gate, where you’ll find a gate leading into Manesty Wood. Follow the path through the woods, and enjoy the shade and peaceful surroundings.
  • As you exit the woods, the path leads you back to the shores of Derwentwater. Follow the lakeside path, passing through farmland, and return to the starting point and car park at Hawes End.
Best hikes in the Lake District

Helvellyn via Striding Edge

  • Distance: 16km (10 miles)
  • Total ascent: 1113m (3,651 feet)
  • Rough duration: 6.5h+

For a more adventurous, challenging hike, tackle Helvellyn via Striding Edge. This iconic ridge walk is one of the best hikes in the Lake District, offering a thrilling experience with steep drops on either side. Begin at Glenridding and ascend via Striding Edge to reach the summit. The panoramic views from Helvellyn are rewarding (especially if you get the right weather), making this a favourite among seasoned hikers.

If you’re up for making the hike even longer, you can start further north (as far at Threlkeld) if you can find parking. You could also continue south to Ambleside, but St Sunday Crag is the better mountain in my opinion. Helvellyn is often considered the most iconic mountain in the Lake District, and is the third highest in England. You’ll see many of the lakes in the region from the top.

Route Description

  • Begin the hike from Glenridding village, following the path along Greenside Road and past the old Greenside Mine. Continue on the path, climbing up toward Red Tarn. Red Tarn is a really scenic glacial tarn, just below the eastern face of Helvellyn.
  • Begin the ascent to Helvellyn summit, where you’ll tackle Striding Edge, a prominent arête with steep drops on either side. You’ll need to be careful here. Once at the top of Helvellyn’s summit, you’re on the third-highest peak in England. You can enjoy incredible panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and mountains.
  • Descend from Helvellyn’s summit via Swirral Edge, another sharp ridge. Be cautious here, as the terrain can be steep and rocky. Continue downhill from Swirral Edge to Catstye Cam, a subsidiary summit of Helvellyn.
  • Take in the views from Catstye Cam before descending, following the path that leads back to Red Tarn. Descend from Red Tarn, retracing your steps or following alternative paths back to Glenridding.
Helvellyn

Scafell Pike

Distance: 18km (11 miles)
Total ascent: 1,402m
Rough duration: 7.5h +

As the highest peak in England, Scafell Pike is a must for those seeking a challenging trek. I actually completed this hike as a kid, when my Dad took my brother and I scrambling up the mountain, and I’ll never forget the satisfaction of reaching the top. I feel like the climb to Scafell Pike is one of the best hikes in the Lake District – it’s iconic, and a must for everyone to try at least one time in their lives. The route from Wasdale Head is the most popular, leading you through stunning landscapes and rocky terrain. Prepare for changing weather conditions, and take in the awe-inspiring views from the summit.

It’s important to note that Scafell Pike is not a trail for the faint-hearted. Also known as The Bonkers Way, this hike offers the highest climb possible and takes you on a journey up Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England. There’s lots of uphill hiking, but I really can’t stress enough how worth the effort is for the views at the top, all the way across the Lake District.

Route Description

  • I recommend starting your hike at Wasdale Head, and following the path northeast towards Brown Tongue and Hollow Stones. Continue climbing uphill through Hollow Stones, which is – as the name suggests – a little rocky. Reach Lingmell Col, a saddle between Lingmell and Scafell Pike.
  • From Lingmell Col, ascend the rocky path to the summit of Scafell Pike. Do note that the route may involve some scrambling, and there are various paths to the summit.
  • At the top – you’ve made it! Enjoy the panoramic views from the highest point in England, the Scafell Pike summit. On clear days, you can see most of the lakes in the area, as well as other notable peaks in the Lake District and beyond.
  • Once you’re ready to descend from the summit, head south towards Broad Crag Col. Be careful here, as the terrain can be quite rocky and uneven. Continue towards Esk Hause, a mountain pass with paths leading to various surrounding peaks.
  • Follow the path from Esk Hause to Sky Head, another mountain pass. From here, you can choose to continue towards Sty Head Tarn, or descend directly to Wasdale Head.
Best hikes in the Lake District: Scafell Pike

Tarn Hows and Tom Gill Waterfall

Tarn Hows:

Distance: 3km (1.9 miles)
Total ascent: relatively flat
Rough duration: 1-1.5h

Tom Gill Waterfall:

Distance: 1.6km (1 mile)
Total ascent: moderate
Rough duration: 1-1.5h

Ideal for a leisurely stroll, the Tarn Hows circular walk takes you around a beautiful tarn surrounded by woodlands and mountain views. You can also choose to extend your hike by including a visit to Tom Gill Waterfall, adding a touch of natural beauty to your Lake District experience. I highly recommend doing this! Tarn Hows is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, and is surrounded by picturesque woodlands, providing breathtaking reflections of the surrounding fells on its tranquil waters.

Tom Gill Waterfall is a charming cascade located within Tom Gill, surrounded by lush woodlands. The waterfall and the stream create a peaceful escape into nature. Imagine the sound of flowing water and the greenery around. One of the best hikes in the Lake District, the path to the waterfall takes you through Tom Gill’s woodlands. The trail is well-marked, making it accessible for various hiking abilities.

Route Description

  • Begin your walk from the Tarn Hows car park. Follow the well-maintained circular path around Tarn Hows. The path offers stunning views of the tarn, surrounded by woodlands and hills. Near the northern end of Tarn Hows, you can choose to take a short detour to the viewpoint, which provides magnificent panoramics view of the area.
  • Follow the path that leads southeast from Tarn Hows. This path takes you through beautiful woodlands, following Tom Gill. You’ll soon reach Tom Gill Waterfall. Take some time to enjoy the cascade and the tranquil surroundings. There are stepping stones and footbridges along the way.
  • Retrace your steps or take alternative paths to return to Tarn Hows. Enjoy the scenery once again as you make your way back. Finish the circular walk around Tarn Hows. The path brings you back to the starting point at the Tarn Hows car park.
Tarn Hows, Lake District

Old Man of Coniston

Distance: 7.5km (4.5 miles)
Total ascent: 2,380ft
Rough duration: 3-4h

The Old Man of Coniston offers a diverse hike with varied landscapes. Start in the village of Coniston and ascend through disused copper mines, reaching the summit for panoramic views of Coniston Water and beyond. This hike combines history with natural beauty, and is one of the best hikes in the Lake District. Hiking to the summit of the Old Man of Coniston offers outdoor enthusiasts stunning panoramic views of the Lake District.

It’s a challenging yet rewarding physical workout, and an opportunity to immerse yourself in the region’s natural beauty and tranquility. With its diverse landscapes, historical significance, and potential for wildlife encounters, this hike appeals to adventurers, nature lovers, and photographers alike, providing a memorable outdoor experience in one of England’s most scenic regions.

Route Description

  • Begin your hike from Coniston village, and follow the Walna Scar Road, a track that leads you towards the Old Man of Coniston. As you climb, you’ll come across various paths. Choose the one that suits your preference and experience level. There are multiple routes leading to the summit. I like how you have a choice here!
  • The trail then follows a steady climb through diverse terrain, including rocky sections and open slopes. Simply follow the well-marked paths and occasional cairns to guide your way.
  • As you approach the summit, the terrain becomes a little steeper and more rugged. The final approach involves a bit of a rocky ascent to the summit. Once at the peak, take in the breathtaking panoramic views of Coniston Water, surrounding fells, and the Lake District landscape.
  • Descend using the same route or choose an alternative path for a varied experience. Simply follow the trail back to Coniston village, completing the circular hike. I recommend exercising caution on the descent, especially in rocky sections.
Old Man of Coniston hike

Langdale Pikes

Distance: 10km (6 miles)
Total ascent: 2,625ft
Rough duration: 4-6h

For a challenging yet rewarding hike, explore the Langdale Pikes. The circuit takes you over Crinkle Crags and Pike of Blisco, offering stunning vistas of the Langdale Valley. This circular route provides a satisfying day of exploration for experienced hikers. I love it because you enjoy stunning panoramic views of the Lake District, and the many rugged peaks, scenic valleys, and picturesque landscapes.

You’ll experience diverse terrain, from challenging rocky ascents to open fells and grassy slopes. From the summit, you should be able to spot all the prominent peaks, including the Harrison Stickle and Pike of Stickle. The Langdale Pikes offer a range of routes catering to various skill levels. The dramatic landscapes and changing light conditions also make the Langdale Pikes a favourite for photographers.

Route Description

  • Begin your hike from the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel. Climb along the well-marked Stickle Ghyll path, following the course of the beck. Continue the climb to Stickle Tarn, a picturesque mountain tarn nestled beneath the Langdale Pikes.
  • Take a moment to enjoy the views of the surrounding fells. From Stickle Tarn, ascend to the summit of Harrison Stickle, the highest of the Langdale Pikes. Be cautious as you climb here – part of the route involves rocky sections. At the top of the summit, you’ll enjoy incredible panoramic views.
  • Descend from Harrison Stickle and continue to Pike of Stickle, another prominent peak in the Langdale Pikes group. This part of the trail involves some steep sections and rocky terrain.
  • Follow the ridge to Loft Crag and Thorn Crag, and enjoy the scenic views along the way. Take in the surrounding landscapes, including Langdale Valley.
  • Descend from Thorn Crag, and consider taking a route via Martcrag Moor to complete the circular loop. You’ll find grassy slopes and rocky paths in this part of the hike. Complete the loop by returning to the starting point at Old Dungeon Ghyll, enjoying the views of the Langdale Valley as you finish the hike.
Best hikes in the Lake District: Langdale Pikes

What to pack for a trip to the Lake District

What to take with you to the Lake District will ultimately depend on the time of year you’re visiting, and the kind of hikes you’ll be embarking on. That said, it’s important to be well-prepared. Here’s a list of items I highly recommend taking with you for your visit to the Lake District:

  • SPF 50 – I can’t recommend a good suncream enough! The sun can still affect your skin, even when cloudy, so you should always make sure you take plenty of SPF with you.
  • Toilet paper – there’s no guarantee you’ll find toilets along your hike, so these compressed towels are super handy for on the go.
  • Reusable travel water bottle – I don’t hike without one of these any more. It’s super cheap and is easy to just refill and shove into a backpack when you’re out exploring. I always like to have water on me, and don’t like buying single use plastics, so this is perfect.
  • Trail mix – trail mix is perfect for keeping you going when you’re on a long hike, so I recommend grabbing a large bag like this. It’s great for decanting into smaller containers for each time you’re heading out on a hike.
  • A backpack – I’ve used this Trespass backpack for as long as I can remember. It’s lightweight, holds up to 30 litres, is really comfy, and comes in a range of colours. It served me so well for my hikes all over the Lake District (and in Canada too), and so I highly recommend it.
  • Medication and first aid – no one wants their hike ruined by injury or sickness, so I usually keep a few key items packed. Paracetamol, suncream, and plasters literally come with me everywhere. This basic first aid kit is great for covering the essentials for your hike.

Tips for hiking in the Lake District

Having frequented the Lake District for hiking since I was tiny, I’ve got a good idea of some tips and tricks to consider before heading out to the lakes for yourself:

  • Given the Lake District’s reputation for rain, pack waterproof jackets, trousers, and suitable footwear to stay dry.
  • Weather conditions can change quickly, so I’d recommend bring layers to adjust to temperature changes. A moisture-wicking base layer, insulating layer, and waterproof outer layer are usually what I wear and it does the job.
  • Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots are essential for walking across diverse terrains. Ensure they are broken in before your trip! The last thing you need is painful shoes.
  • Even with GPS, I’d recommend carrying a map and compass, especially if you plan on hiking in more remote areas.
  • Carry sufficient water to keep hydrated, and bring energy-boosting snacks for sustenance during your outdoor activities. You can’t beat trail mix, bananas, and cereal bars!
  • It’s unlikely you’ll need it, but a whistle can be useful in emergencies to attract attention.
  • Keep your phone charged for emergencies and use it to navigate if needed. A portable charger can be handy.
  • Protect your electronic devices from the elements with waterproof covers. I learnt this the hard way when I got stuck in a downpour which stopped my phone from working.
  • Check the weather conditions before setting out and be prepared for sudden changes.

The best hikes in the Lake District: FAQs

Here are some of the questions I’m asked most about the best hikes in the Lake District:

What is the most beautiful walk in the Lake District?


One of the most beautiful walks in the Lake District is the circular route around Buttermere. Beginning and ending in the charming village of Buttermere, this walk unveils the breathtaking beauty of the landscape. As you wander along the shores of Buttermere, surrounded by towering mountains and tranquil woodlands, the scene is nothing short of picturesque. That said, the Lake District has a wealth of beautiful walks catering to different preferences and abilities. Popular choices also include hikes to places like Helvellyn, Catbells, Grasmere, or Tarn Hows, each offering its own unique charm and breathtaking scenery. The ‘most beautiful’ walk really depends on your own preferences, whether you’re drawn to lakeside strolls, challenging mountain ascents, or lush valleys.

What is the best multi day hike in Lake District?

Determining the ‘best’ multi-day hike in the Lake District is really subjective and depends on your preferences, fitness levels, and the challenge you’re after. One of the most renowned and rewarding multi-day hikes, however, is the ‘Coast to Coast’ walk. Created by Alfred Wainwright, it spans approximately 192 miles (309 kilometers) from St. Bees on the west coast to Robin Hood’s Bay on the east coast. This long-distance trail takes hikers through diverse landscapes, including the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and North York Moors.

The varied terrain, charming villages, and panoramic vistas make the Coast to Coast Walk a favourite for those looking for an immersive and challenging multi-day hiking experience in the Lake District. Of course, multi-day hikes require careful planning, and it’s essential to be well-prepared with suitable gear, maps, and accommodation. There are other excellent multi-day hikes in the Lake District, including the Cumbria Way and the Langdale Pikes Circuit.

What is the hardest walk in the Lake District?

The Lake District is known for its challenging and diverse terrain, offering hikes suitable for all levels of experience. One of the most renowned challenging walks, however, is the ascent of the Pinnacle Ridge on St. Sunday Crag. It’s a challenging scramble and climb located on St. Sunday Crag, a fell in the eastern part of the Lake District. The route involves steep ascents, exposed sections, and some technical climbing, requiring a good level of fitness, confidence in scrambling, and the use of hands for certain parts. I’d always recommend checking weather conditions and trail status before embarking on challenging routes, as visibility and safety can be compromised in poor weather.

What is the best summit in the Lake District?

The Lake District has a plethora of stunning summits, each offering unique views and experiences. The summit often regarded as iconic and offering breathtaking panoramas is Scafell Pike. The highest peak in England, it stands at 978 meters (3,209 feet) above sea level. It offers spectacular views of the surrounding fells, valleys, and lakes. Various routes lead to the summit, including the popular routes from Wasdale Head and Seathwaite. The hike involves diverse terrain, from rocky paths to open fells.

Which is easier Helvellyn or Scafell Pike?

In terms of difficulty, the choice between Helvellyn and Scafell Pike depends on the specific route taken. For Helvellyn, one of the more straightforward routes is via the ‘Doddick Fell Path’ from Glenridding, or you can go via Swirral Edge, which is more challenging and involves some scrambling. Helvellyn stands at 950 meters (3,117 feet) above sea level, making it the third-highest peak in England. Scafell Pike, on the other hand, has routes that can vary in difficulty, and the terrain includes rocky paths and open fells. Scafell Pike is the highest peak in England at 978 meters (3,209 feet), and while there are less technical routes, the overall hike is more challenging than some routes up Helvellyn.


That’s my guide to the best hikes in the Lake District! I hope you found it useful. If you have any questions about hiking in the Lake District, let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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