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All the Walking Routes up Helvellyn

By Dave Roberts   

on February 18, 2023    4.95/5 (37)

All the Walking Routes up Helvellyn

Facts and Figures about Helvellyn

Helvellyn Facts: 
  • Helvellyn is the 3rd highest mountain in the Lake District and England.
  • Helvellyn was recently voted Britain’s most popular walk in a poll.
  • In 1926, an aeroplane was flown up to the summit, and managed to land and subsequently take off again.
  • Helvellyn is classified as a Birkett, Historic County Top, Furth Munro, Wainwright, Marilyn, Nuttall and a Hewitt.
  • The distinctive corries and sharp ridges of the mountain were carved by glaciers during the lat ice age.
  • Helvellyn has claimed a few deaths over the years, the most famous being the artist – Charles Gough, who was virtually unknown until he died on Striding Edge in 1805. He was found three months later, with his loyal dog Foxie surviving quite possibly on the dead artist’s remains!
  • In winter, there are Felltop Assessors  who climb the mountain daily to report on snow and weather conditions.
Where is Helvellyn?

Helvellyn is a mountain in the English Lake District, and lies between Ullswater, Thirlmere and Grasmere and to the north of Ambleside. It’s one of Wainwright’s Eastern Fells.

How High is Helvellyn in metres / feet?
950 metres or 3117 feet
How long will it take to walk up Helvellyn ?

The shortest route from Thirlmere shouldn’t take much more than 3 hours, less if you’re fit.

How Far is it to the top of Helvellyn? 

The shortest route is the direct route from Thirlmere at 3.5km or just over 2 miles.

How hard is it to climb Helvellyn 

Depending on the route taken! All the routes require a significant amount of climbing and a good level of fitness. Striding Edge and Swirral Edge also require some hill walking know how.

What’s the best walking route up Helvellyn?

Absolutely no doubt the best route is – Striding Edge! Couple it with Swirral Edge for an unforgettable day in the hills.

Which is the easiest walking route up Helvellyn ?

The route from Thirlmere.

Map showing all the routes up Helvellyn

View the full route map

All the Walking Routes up Helvellyn Introduction

The mountain of Helvellyn is the highest of Wainwright’s Eastern Fells and the third tallest mountain in the Lake District at 950m tall, making it a Furth Munro. It boasts some of the best scrambling – with the route via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge being one of the best scrambling outings in the Lake District. We’ve also included all the Helvellyn routes avoiding Striding Edge and  Swirral Edge for the non-scramblers, and they have a separate section below. We’ve not included all the possible approaches from the north – which has some epic approaches. Nor the multiple possible approaches to Grisedale Tarn and then on to Helvellyn from numerous locations and start an epic approach from further afield, but we’ve kept it simple! Check the interactive map above for all the routes.

Why is it called Helvellyn?

The jury was out on this for a while, with no reason for the etymology given. It’s still uncertain, but was probably hel felen/felyn in Cumbric(?) With hel being moorland and felen/felyn being yellow. While it’s noted that it’s not clear why it would be called a yellow mountain, languages like Welsh and Cumbric have a loose approach to colours with colour like blue and green sometimes synonymous in place names (e.g. glas is used for blue and green – see Glaslyn – more a green than blue lake).  Anyone looking for an example in a current welsh place name can look at Esgair Felen on the side of Glyder Fawr – which is red scree and hardly yellow.

Recommended Helvellyn Maps and Guidebooks

ORDNANCE SURVEY Explorer OL5 The English Lakes – North Eastern area Map or the excellent Lake District BMC (British Mountain Map)

We recommend the The Near Eastern Fells: Walking Guide to the Lake District (Lakeland Fellranger)  guidebook from Cicerone or the usual Wainwright’s Walking Guide to the Lake District Fells Book 1: The Eastern Fells 

Helvellyn Weather Forecast:

Met Office Lake Distrct Mountain Weather

What about Pubs, Cafes, Parking and Public Transport for Helvellyn?

Check out the individual routes for more information on the local facilities for that walk and whether any businesses are still open in these difficult times or operating under reduced hours.

Helvellyn Via Striding Edge

Height Gained – 850 metres,  Distance – 6.5 km, Time –3 hours.

This is not only the must do route if you’re climbing Helvellyn, but the must-do route for anyone visiting the Lake District. The most popular Grade 1 Scramble in the Lakes, for good reason. The route starts off from the village of Glenridding on Ullswater, first ascending Birkhouse Moor before the route gets interesting over Striding Edge. This is an exhilarating, knife edged scramble thats only for those with a head for heights. It’s best avoided in adverse conditions for one of the alternative routes below.

Helvellyn via Catstye Cam and Swirral Edge

Height Gained – 820 metres,  Distance – 6 km, Time –3 hours.

There are few enough scrambles in the Lakes, and Helvellyn boasts two of them, on the same route. The grade 1 scramble up Swirral Edge is best in combination with Striding Edge for a magnificent horseshoe walk. The walk up Swirral Edge starts in Glenridding, along Glenridding and up the summit of Catstye Cam. That only leaves the final steep ascent via Swirral Edge to reach the summit of Helvellyn.


Helvellyn via Red Tarn and Swirral Edge

Height Gained – 780 metres,  Distance – 6.5 km, Time –3 hours.

Alternatively, Swirral Edge can be approached via Red Tarn Beck and Red Tarn rather than ascending Catstye Cam.

The following are all the routes Up Helvellyn avoiding Striding Edge and Swirral Edge

For walkers who want to avoid any scrambling, these routes avoid these two Grade I scrambles. That doesn’t mean that these routes don’t pose their own challenges such as being significantly longer or involving some trickier navigation. 

Helvellyn from Wythburn

Height Gained – 770 metres,  Distance – 3.8 km, Time –3 hours.

The route from Wythburn is regarded as one of the easier ascents of Helvellyn, with this route starting from the southern end of Thirlmere. Note that it is not an easy walk and all routes up Helvellyn are challenging and should only be attempted by individuals with the skills, fitness and aptitude to do so safely. It can be combined with the next route from Thirlmere to provide a number of ascent and descent options.

Download file for GPS

Helvellyn from Thirlmere

Height Gained – 720 metres,  Distance – 3.5 km, Time –3 hours.

Thirlmere is as picturesque an area as you can find in the Lake District, and it’s often a surprise to hear that the lake isn’t fully natural. It was originally an hourglass shape with a bridge in the middle, with an intriguing photo of the original lake here.

This is Helvellyn’s less glamorous side, though it’s hardly something to be ashamed of considering the sheer quality of the first two approaches. This approach from Thirlmere approaches via Helvellyn Gill and Lower Man to the summit. You can also ascend from Wythburn end, directly to Nethermost Pike, with either routes having their merits. Make the most of this most scenic valley, as it will be ruined if the proposed zip wires are built there.

There are also a number of less frequented routes from Thirlmere, 


Helvellyn via the Pony Path and Keppel cove

Height Gained – 870 metres,  Distance – 8 km, Time –3 hours.

As well as the best scrambling horseshoe in the Lake District, Glenridding also has some plodding approaches to Helvellyn. These routes are recommended for when the weather puts Striding and Swirral Edges out of the picture.  It was reputedly used by ponies to take tourists up to the summit of Helvellyn, and at a lengthy 8km in length, you can see why they needed the ponies. At least it’s easy under foot and makes a steady route – ideally suited to a sore footed descent at the days’ end.

Helvellyn Via Sticks Pass from Glenridding

Height Gained – 920 metres,  Distance – 8.8 km, Time –3.5 hours.

The ascent of Helvellyn via Stick’s Pass from Glenridding is even longer and adds the summit of Raise to the days’ efforts. It’s arguably the same approach to Helvellyn as the previous walk up Keppel Cove, but we think it merits it’s own entry as an alternative ascent route. You can also bag Stybarrow Dodd while you’re at it.

Stick’s Pass can also be reached from numerous other locations including from the north from Great Dodd and Legburthwaite in the west, 

Helvellyn via Grisedle Tarn and Dollywagon Pike from Patterdale 

Height Gained – 950 metres,  Distance – 10.5 km, Time –3.5 hours.

The approach up Grisedale is impressive, with the crags of the Helvellyn range dominating the view, claustrophobically overhead. There’s little wonder that Wainwright’s Coast to Coast route follows this valley! The route sets off from Patterdale, with a choice of route on either side of the valley.

The route bring you up to Grisedale Tarn, eventually, with a steep slog to reach the peak of Dollywagon Pike. It’s then plain sailing across the summit ridge, over High Crag and Nethermost Pike to the summit of Helvellyn.

You can also approach Grisedale Tarn and this route up Helvellyn from numerous other routes. One option is via  Dunmail Rise below,  as well as via numerous routes from Hause Gap from Fairfield and Grasmere.

Helvellyn from Dunmail Raise

Height Gained – 860 metres,  Distance – 6.4 km, Time –3 hours.

This is an alterative approach via Grisedale tarn that works well as the return route on the Thirlmere route above. It certainly contrasts with the Thirlmere route, being a wilder and less frequented route to the summit of Helvellyn. It has the added bonus for Wainwright baggers as it also includes the summits of Dollywagon Pike. High Crag and Nethermost Pike.

Local Information and Recommended Maps and Guidebooks

Recommended Maps

Helvellyn Guidebooks:

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Dave Roberts

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2 thoughts on “All the Walking Routes up Helvellyn”

  1. Just done the Striding Edge route up and if, like me, you’re getting in to a bit of easier scrambling, this is an excellent route. It does get busy though, a bit like a bus queue at times, but that’s no bad thing if you’re about nervous. The challenging bit for me was the final stretch to the summit plateau, which felt almost vertical at times. Challenging with 13 kg on my back.
    Still, I thoroughly recommend.

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