10 Best Walks in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
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10 Best Walks in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is one of the largest national parks in England, more so after its expansion in 2016 to include the Howgill Fells. It is home to some of the most impressive scenery in the country, dominated by expansive areas of exposed limestone, rolling green fields and picture-perfect drystone walls. The underlying geology has led to the formation of some stunning features such as Malham Cove, Gordale Scar and the world-famous limestone pavements around Ingleborough.
The Dales also has a quieter, more desolate side found in the vast moorland to the north which stretches the length of the northern border between Kirby Stephen and Leyburn. Several of the Dales’ highest points can be found here and offer a break from the sometimes crowded villages in the south, though the vast areas of open moorland lend themselves to more experienced walkers, especially in poor weather. Rest assured, there’s something for everyone in the Yorkshire Dales.
We recommend that you check the individual routes as to which map you specifically need. The Yorkshire Dales is split into three areas by the Ordnance Survey OS 25k maps, covering the south and west, the north, and the extreme north-west. You may find that some of the walks listed below cross two maps. The three OS 25k maps are:
- OL2 – Yorkshire Dales – Southern & Western
- OL19 – Howgill Fells & Upper Eden Valley
- OL30 – Yorkshire Dales – Northern & Central
The British Mountaineering Council 1:40k map covers the majority of the National Park and is an excellent addition to any map library.
Aside from the Yorkshire Three Peaks, this circuit is probably the most popular walk in the Yorkshire Dales and rightly so. In fact, it was voted number three in the top 100 walks in the UK. The walk takes in the spectacular scenery around the village of Malham which stands close to the Craven Fault, a major geological feature which extends from Grassington to Ingleton.
The fault generally defines the boundary between the limestone uplands of the higher dales and the gentle green pastures of the south and has dozens of remarkable limestone features littered along its length, the most famous being Malham Cove. There is interest throughout including the delightful waterfall at Janet’s Foss, the dark, foreboding Gordale Scar and the quiet beauty of Malham Tarn. This shows the Dales at its very best and is not one to be missed.
The town of Settle forms the start of this walk around the Ribble valley and Attermire scar, which is dotted with interest along its entire length. It’s a great place to escape the crowds of the neighbouring Gordale and Malham.
There are a handful of waterfalls along the length of this walk, all of which vary in appearance and scale. The highlight is arguably Catrigg Force, a beautiful ribbon of water hidden in a wooded ravine but Stainforth Force is impressive after some heavy rain. Scaleber Force is also worth seeking out.
Caves also feature on this walk, Attermire Scar is littered with them. The largest you will encounter is Victoria Cave, an important location in Yorkshire Dales history. Both prehistoric and Roman remains have been excavated here.
Pen-y-ghent is one of the icons of the Yorkshire Dales, standing proud over the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale. It is traditionally the first peak climbed by those undertaking the Three Peaks challenge but is interesting enough on its own warrant a day out. Being a fairly modest height also makes it the perfect ‘mountain’ for younger walkers.
Being on the Three Peaks route means that paths are well maintained and signposted throughout while the short diversions to Hunt Pot and Hull Pot are highly recommended. However, being on the Three Peaks route means the hill and the village can be extremely busy during spring and summer weekends so perhaps save this for a crisp winter day or a mid-week mission. Always treat the village with respect.
While it is a fairly sizable hill, Buckden Pike is one of the quieter fells in the south Yorkshire Dales and this route is one of the less-trodden meaning you may well have it all to yourself. It is by far the best way up Buckden Pike and one of the best ascents in the whole of the Dales involving a few interesting obstacles on the way while also visiting the remnants of some of the Yorkshire Dales mining heritage.
In addition to this, you will encounter a memorial to a Polish aircrew who lost their lives when their Wellington bomber crashed into the hillside. Their legacy is remembered thanks to the endeavours of the sole surviving member of the crew, Sgt Josef Fuzniak.
Cautley Spout and the Howgill Fells
The Howgill Fells offer rich rewards to those who are willing to take them on. The curious collection of steep, rounded hills stand in a cluster between the moors of the Dales and the more mountainous Lake District, overlooking the market town of Sedbergh. Wainwright dedicated an often neglected book on them, akin to his famous Pictorial Guides to the Lake District. The Howgills became an official part of the Yorkshire Dales after park boundary changes in 2016.
Some would argue that they are home to the highest waterfall in England. While true, Cautley Spout tumbles 200m in a series of cascades rather than as a single stream and is one of the few cascade waterfalls in the country. The path alongside the falls will give you a stern test on this walk from the Cross Keys to the Howgills’ highest point, The Calf.
This is a Yorkshire Dales classic, a real exploration of limestone country. Starting from Clapham you’ll pass the entrance to Ingleborough cave and the narrow chasm of Trow Gill before visiting the maw of Gaping Gill, one of the largest cave systems in the country. Climbing Ingleborough, you’ll be rewarded with increasing views across North Yorkshire. The highlight of the walk is undoubtedly the fine, flat summit of Ingleborough and its sweeping views across three peaks country and beyond.
The adventure doesn’t stop there, however. Descending from Ingleborough will take you through Sulber, one of the best examples of limestone pavement in the country. Wainwright described this route from Clapham as the ‘best in the Yorkshire Dales’ which is high praise indeed.
Ingleton Waterfalls Trail
The minor drawback of this walk is that it is on private land and an admission fee needs to be paid (it also has seasonal opening times, so check before you decide to travel). Don’t let that put you off though as the price of entry is well worth it. The short loop of the River Twiss and the River Doe is home to some of the most impressive waterfalls in the entirety of the Yorkshire Dales.
The trail follows a well-maintained path which runs as close to the edge of the two rivers as possible to provide spectacular views of the waterfalls. However, the path does include a large number of steps which means it’s not suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs.
All the latest information can be found at the following website: http://www.ingletonwaterfallstrail.co.uk/
Whernside is North Yorkshire’s highest peak and makes it onto this list for that reason. While not as dramatic as its neighbours, it is more characteristic of the high hills and expansive moors which make up the northern Yorkshire Dales which include Great Shunner Fell and Wild Boar Fell.
The climb is not especially inspiring but is straightforward thanks to the long, largely gentle gradient. After the climb, you’ll be rewarded with a superb ridge walk along the crest of the fell, which straddles the border of North Yorkshire and Cumbria. On a clear day, there are expansive views towards the coast.
Nine Standards Rigg is not the most fashionable fell on this list but the line of cairns atop its summit are intriguing enough to add it to this list. Strictly speaking, Nine Standards Rigg is the summit of Hartley Fell and is located all of 700m outside the national park boundary, but we’ll overlook that for now for it’s too good to leave out and we’re not planning a ‘Top 10 Walks Just Outside the Yorkshire Dales’.
The walk to Nine Standards Rigg from Kirkby Stephen is a real adventure, following the route of the famed Coast to Coast. You’ll start in the busy market town before venturing out through pasture and woodland to find the surprising Ewbank Scar – a feature best described as a limestone water slide. Beyond this, you’ll strike out onto prime Pennine moorland for the gradual ascent to the summit.
The Nine Standards are a collection of tall cairns which line the summit. Their original purpose is largely unknown, so why not venture up there and decide for yourself?
No Yorkshire Dales list would be worth its salt without including one of the most famous and popular walks in the country, the Yorkshire Three Peaks. Traditionally done as a challenge walk (the aim is to complete the 40km distance in under 12 hours, though this can make it less enjoyable), the three peaks route traverses three of the Dales’ best hills and some of the best natural landscape in England.
The traditional starting point is the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale but the popularity of the route means the village often becomes overcrowded during the spring and summer months. Pen-y-ghent is your first objective followed by the long walk towards the head of the valley. From there you’ll tackle Whernside and Ingleborough in quick succession before descending back into Hortin-in-Ribblesdale.
Alternatively, starting at Ribblehead is equally as rewarding and a more logical route, taking on the big two fells first and using Horton-in-Ribblesdale as a rest stop around halfway. There is ample parking at Ribblehead and it saves clogging up the village of Horton.
Wherever you decide to start, pack and prepare for an absolute epic.