10 of the Best Walks in the Lake District
The English Lake District needs no introduction – the words of authors and poets have done it justice for hundreds of years. It is a 900 square mile playground of mountains, lakes, woods, rivers and moors. It is home to some of England’s most dramatic scenery; its highest mountain and longest and deepest lakes. Reducing all of that into 10 walks is a near impossible challenge. Are these the best 10? Certainly not, however, they do cover some of the most outstanding landscapes anywhere in the National Park.
While this list concentrates on the high fells of Lakeland (think Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Bowfell), there is equal reward to be found on 10 lower level walks such as the delightful Little Langdale, Loughrigg Terrace and circuits of some of the smaller lakes such as Wastwater and Buttermere.
We recommend that you check the individual routes as to which map you specifically need. The Lake District is split into 4 areas by the Ordnance Survey OS 25k maps, covering the north east, south east, south west and north west. You may find that some of the walks listed below cross two maps. The four OS 25k maps are:
- ORDNANCE SURVEY Explorer OL4 The English Lakes – North Western area
- ORDNANCE SURVEY Explorer OL5 The English Lakes – North Eastern area
- ORDNANCE SURVEY Explorer OL6 The English Lakes – South Western
- ORDNANCE SURVEY Explorer OL7 The English Lakes South Eastern Area
The Lake District BMC Mountain Map map covers the majority of the National Park and is an excellent addition to any map library.
While Alfred Wainwright’s guides are excellent background material, we wouldn’t rely on the hand-drawn maps within when out on the fells.
Check the weather forecast before you set off – Met Office Lake District Mountain Weather
Height Gained – 970 metres, Distance – 7 km, Time –3.5 hours (one way)
No Lake District list is worth its salt without including the county’s highest mountain so, first up is Scafell Pike. Being the highest also means being one of the busiest but this route avoids some of the more crowded paths and is, in our opinion, the best way to reach the summit. The joy of the Corridor Route is that is starts from Styhead Tarn which is equally accessible from Seathwaite or Wasdale Head. In terms of mountain scenery, the Corridor Route is hard to beat as it traverses below the imposing crags of Great End and Broad Crag, crosses deep gills and ravines, and passes through high corries. This is the Lake District at its very best.
Height Gained – 930 metres , Distance – 13 km, Time – 6 hours
The Nations favourite walk – more popular with voters than Snowdon or Ben Nevis; Helvellyn is a legend of the Lake District mainly thanks to its sublime mountain setting. The twin ridges of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge are a unique feature in the Lake District while the vast eastern crags overlooking the idyllic Red Tarn are truly a sight to behold. These are best seen from Catstye Cam, Helvellyn’s quiet neighbour which we’ll also visit on this walk. You will need a head for heights and some scrambling experience for this one – it is best saved for a good day. Patterdale is the obvious starting point.
Height Gained – 720 metres, Distance – 3 km, Time – 1.5 hours. One Way
Sharp Edge is one of the most famed ridges in the country, however, the thrill of scrambling across it is over all-too-soon. That is why we have chosen Hall’s Fell Ridge as our preferred route up Blencathra. Though not as narrow as Sharp Edge, it is quieter and offers more sustained scrambling than its razor-sharp neighbour. The initial climb out of the valley is quickly forgotten once you get your hands on the rock, which then climbs right to the summit. The downside of any walk up Blencathra is they tend to be over too quickly – why not descend to Scales Tarn and add Sharp Edge to this route for a sustained day on one of Lakeland’s finest?
Height Gained – 1460 metres, Distance – 19.5 km, Time –6.5 hours.
You could accidentally drop your camera in Buttermere and it would still take good photo, such is the superb mountain scenery of the valley. Dominating all around is the High Stile – Red Pike ridge, a towering fortress of crags that is home to some of the very best walking in the Lake District. The ridge can be walked from either end but both ends do require some steep climbing up loose scree to begin with – Gamlin End is particularly punishing. There are also two excellent extensions – one to include the interesting Haystacks and the second to continue round to Fleetwith Pike which has a grandstand view at the head of Buttermere.
Height Gained – 1570 metres , Distance –19 km, Time – 8 hours
There are a number of Mosedales in the Lake District though this is by far the best. The Mosedale Horseshoe tends to be quieter than some of the other celebrated Lake District circuits, largely thanks to its isolation at the head of Wasdale. This, however, is no bad thing in our opinion. The walk can include a traverse of the High Level route to Pillar Rock, a legendary spire of crag that needs to be seen up close to be appreciated. Extensions include starting the day with a masochistic climb of Kirk Fell or finishing with the delightful Yewbarrow (or both if you’re feeling particularly energetic!). Be sure to visit the isolated peak of Steeple while you are up there.
Height Gained – 1350 metres, Distance – 17 km, Time –7 hours.
The fells of Coledale dominate the skyline of the northern Lake District, overlooking Keswick. This is another high circuit across some of the more shapely fells of the Lake District and, if you’re serious about bagging those Wainwrights, the Coledale Round can land you twelve in a long days outing. The route is best walked anti-clockwise making the steep ascent of Grisedale Pike early in the day before you embark along the superb ridge above Hobcarton Crag to Hopegill Head. Grasmoor is the days highest point and offers superb views before an undulating ridge leads you back towards civilisation. There are few better places than Causey Pike to soak in late afternoon views.
Height Gained – 870 metres, Distance – 10 km, Time –3.5 hours.
Nothing quite prepares you for the sheer grandeur of the Langdale Pikes as you enter the Great Langdale valley from the east. Though not the highest peaks in the Lake District, their classic rugged profile is unrivalled by all but the highest fells. A circuit of the Langdale Pikes will live long in the memory, more-so if you begin the day with a scramble up Jack’s Rake, a Grade 1 scramble right up the craggy face of Pavey Ark. If the scrambling isn’t for you then alternatives are available including Easy Gully (which has a tricky section near the top) and North Rake. Completing the collection are Harrison Stickle, the enigmatic Pike O’Stickle and the climbers favourite, Loft Crag. The excellent Sticklebarn pub is the perfect haunt to recall a perfect days walking.
Height Gained – 1050 metres , Distance – 16 km, Time –6 hours
Bowfell is regarded very highly among Lake District walkers and justifiably so. Thanks to its peaked summit it has one of the most expansive views in the National Park and probably has the best view of the Scafells. Things liven up after a fairly dull trudge up The Band as you reach the Climbers Traverse. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a climber to use it and you may find you have the path all to yourself. Other highlights include an up-close inspection of Bowfell Buttress and the Great Slab as you climb to Bowfells summit before embarking along the rollercoaster of Crinkle Crags, ticking off as many summits as you care to visit. Be prepared for a short scramble on the famed ‘Bad Step’.
Height Gained – 1400 metres, Distance – 21.5 km, Time –6 hours.
The small village of Kentmere sits at the mouth of the valley of the River Kent, surrounded on all sides by fine, shapely fells. This ring of high, undulating ground forms the Kentmere Horseshoe, a superb route around the valley, crossing no less than eight Wainwrights (with the option to add even more!). Being on the less-popular eastern side of the Lake District you may find this round oddly quiet, even on the sunniest of days. Even the Romans knew this was a good one, as they built a road right along the top as the name of the highest point attests – High Street.
Height Gained – 1600 metres, Distance – 25 km, Time –8 hours.
This is a biggie. Rounding off the list is a traverse of the legendary Coniston fells which includes the brilliant ridge walk between The Old Man Of Coniston and Swirl How and, the fantastic, rocky peak of Dow Crag. The Coniston Fells are a favourite among many Lakeland walkers and justifiably so and this walk covers them all in one memorable outing. You’ll also get to explore some of the Lake District’s mining heritage as you ascend into the aptly named Coppermines Valley and seek out a memorial to some lost airmen of the Canadian airforce.
We had to limit the routes at some point – but here are the ones that almost made it (setting up a sequel eh? Ed.)
Local Information and Recommended Maps and Guidebooks