The Best Walks in the Lake District, UK

Hike the Corridor Route mountain path over Sty Head and stop for a picnic at the top
Hike the Corridor Route mountain path over Sty Head and stop for a picnic at the top | © Realimage / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Mandi Keighran
30 September 2020

The Lake District is one of the best walking districts in the UK – and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site for its spectacular landscapes. Here are 12 of our favourite trails, from gentle strolls that can be enjoyed by the whole family to some seriously challenging hikes and scrambles.

Buttermere Loop

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This easy walk around Buttermere Lake is perfect for the whole family. It’s also one of the Lake District’s classic walks, and has been popular with tourists since Victorian times. There are three lakes in the valley – Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater – which are surrounded by steep mountains. Although this 4.2-mile-route doesn’t venture onto the slopes, you’ll still feel immersed in the dramatic scenery. You’ll also see grazing Herdwick sheep, an iconic breed native to the area.

Scafell Pike

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View from Scafell Pike in the Lake District National Park, Cumbria, England.
© Sebastian Wasek / Alamy Stock Photo
At 979m tall, Scafell Pike is England’s highest mountain – and scaling it is a challenge that should only be taken on by experienced climbers. If you do decide to take it on, be prepared and make sure you have the right gear. At the peak, you’ll find England’s highest war memorial, commemorating those who died in WWI. The mountain is also part of the notorious Three Peaks Challenge, in which participants attempt to climb the highest mountains of England, Scotland and Wales within 24 hours.

Grasmere to Helm's Crag

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© Ed Gorochowski / Alamy Stock Photo
English poet William Wordsworth lived in Grasmere for 14 years and called it “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found” – and this short 3km walk is one of the most popular walks from the pretty village. It begins in Lancrigg and passes through woodland before climbing along quarry paths towards the summit. The Helm Crag is also known as The Lion and the Lamb thanks to the distinctive rock formations at the peak – although you’ll need some scrambling expertise to ascend the summit rock.

Aira Force to Glenridding (The Ullswater Way)

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© Angus McComiskey / Alamy Stock Photo
Lakes aren’t the only magnificent water features in the Lake District – there’s also waterfalls. The first part of this walk takes in the waterfalls of Aria, located in an old woodland. The stone arch bridge spanning a 65-foot waterfall makes for a spectacular photo opportunity. The route also passes through Glencoyne Wood, where William Wordsworth saw the daffodils by the lakeshore that inspired his most famous poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. In summer months, you can cruise back to Aira Force from Glenridding on board an Ullswater steamer.

Ash Landing and Claife Heights, Windermere

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Moss Eccles TarnClaife HeightsLake District
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Claife Heights is on the picturesque western shore of Windermere, the Lake District’s largest lake. Seen from busy Bowness Bay, on the opposite side of the lake, it’s one of the area’s most familiar views. Get a different perspective with this circular route, which starts in Ash Landing. There are plenty of spots to stop off for lunch on the way too – like Tower Bank Arms, a pub next to the Hill Top Beatrix Potter House. On the way back, there’s also the option to visit the Victorian neogothic Wray Castle.

Seathwaite to Sty Head and Grains Gill

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© Realimage / Alamy Stock Photo
Explore the Lake District hills on an ancient packhorse route on this invigorating 9.7-mile circular trail. Pack a picnic lunch and take a break at the picturesque Sty Head Tarn or Sprinkling Tarn, and keep an eye out for the mountain ringlet butterfly in summer months. Near the top of Sty Head Pass, you’ll find the “1000ft boulder”, an enormous rock from which you can enjoy unbeatable views of the Taylor Gill Force waterfall.

Grasmere and Rydal Water circuit

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This circular walk circumnavigates two lakes – Grasmere and Rydal Water. You can start either in Grasmere or the Pelter Bridge Carpark by Rydal Water, and there are plenty of cafes and shops to explore in the pretty village of Grasmere. Part of the circuit follows the morbidly named “old Coffin route”, a medieval corpse road that was used to transport dead bodies from Rydal to the church in Grasmere. You’ll also pass by Dove Cottage, once the home of poet William Wordsworth, and now the Wordsworth Trust Shop. It’s a particularly pretty walk in Autumn.

Helvellyn via Striding Edge

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© David Forster / Alamy Stock Photo
This exhilarating ridge walk is one of the most popular in the country – and with good reason. Helvellyn and Striding Edge are two of the most famous mountains in the Lake District and the approach to Helvellyn from Striding Edge is spectacular. It’s a good place to start if you’re a beginner to scrambling as it’s not overly technical. A word of warning, though – avoid this route on windy days and only take it on in winter if you’ve got plenty of experience and the proper equipment, including crampons and an ice axe.

Friar’s Crag, Keswick

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© David Thompson / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s no better place for stargazing in the Lake District than Friar’s Crag. The headland on Derwentwater lake is part of the first land in the Lake District to be acquired by the National Trust. It’s a short, easy walk from the market town of Keswick through the gardens of Hope Park and along the shoreline. The route also passes by memorials to National Trust founder Canon Rawsley and artist and writer John Ruskin, who believed the view from Friar’s Crag to be one of the best in Europe.

Greendale and Middle Fell, Western Fells

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To escape the company of other hikers, head to the Lake District’s more remote Western Fells. This 3.5-mile walk is fairly easy, but does have a few steeper sections. The lush valley views over the Wasdale screes and the Western Fells, however, are well worth the effort.

Tarn Hows circuit

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© Stephen Sykes / Alamy Stock Photo
The short walk around this lake between Coniston and Hawkshead has level paths maintained by the National Trust, making it an ideal route for families with young children in pushchairs or people in wheelchairs. It’s a popular spot, though, so it’s best to arrive before 10am to guarantee parking. You’ll also need to pack your own refreshments. Tarn Hows is one of a number of manmade lakes in the area, and was formed from three smaller tarns during the building of a damn in the early nineteenth century.

Old Man Coniston

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© keith taylor / Alamy Stock Photo
The area around the village of Coniston was used for copper mining from the 16th century until the 1950s – and this circular fell walk takes in the remnants of the old mines. At 2,633 feet, Coniston Old Man is one of the highest fells in the Lake District, so you’ll also be treated to expansive valley views and picturesque tarns. There are several possible routes to the summit – some easier than others – so do your research before venturing out.
These recommendations were updated on September 30, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.