Walks in the Yorkshire Dales: A guide to the best routes to walk

Yorkshire is undeniably one of the best places to visit in England. And, for walking enthusiasts, the Yorkshire Dales is a match made in heaven.

The National Park has thousands of walking routes – from a gentle hike up to Malham Cove, a half-day hike past the Ribblehead Viaduct, to a 24-hour Three Peak challenge. If you are looking for a country holiday to reconnect with nature and outdoor activity, I can safely say that the Yorkshire Dales is a dreamy candidate.

However, to narrow down your options, I’ve curated a guide to the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales. Happy walking!

Best circular walks in the Yorkshire Dales

Bolton Abbey.
Bolton Abbey by Unsplash.

Fewston Reservoir

Distance: 4 miles

Terrain: Easy/Well-surfaced/Steep sections

Facilities: Toilets

It doesn’t get much more circular than walking around a reservoir.

Fewston Reservoir has a mixture of woodland, meadow, and waterside views – ideal rewards for enjoying an entry-level walk in the Yorkshire Dales. You’ll also pass St Andrew’s Church, which cuts a rather gothic picture in its windswept, isolated locale.

If you feel anxious about tackling poorly signposted routes, Fewston Reservoir is a good starting point. The walk is easy to follow and mostly on well-surfaced trails of pavement or gravel. Just remember to pack a picnic to enjoy en-route.

Pateley Bridge via Brimham Rocks

Distance: 9 miles

Terrain: Medium difficulty/Mixed terrain/Steep sections

Facilities: Refreshments/Toilets/Shop

Instead of driving to the renowned Brimham Rocks, why not walk? Pateley Bridge is a nearby country town and is surrounded by villages, hamlets, and typically stunning Yorkshire scenery.

You can start the hike by walking to Brimham Rocks via the country lanes and villages above Glasshouses. At Brimham Rocks, there is a short 1.3 miles loop you can complete to see the rock formations up close. Then, you can return to Pateley Bridge along the River Nidd.

Here is an excellent, more detailed breakdown of the route. It is a fantastic, varied circular route for the more adventurous to tackle.

Bolton Abbey to Barden Bridge

Distance: 7.2 miles

Terrain: Easy/Pavemented

Facilities: Refreshments/Toilets/Shop

The circular loop around Bolton Abbey is well-trodden but incredibly worthwhile.

In approximately 3-4 hours, you’ll pass the Bolton Abbey Priory, the Stepping Stones, Strid Waterfall, and Lud Stream Islands. Once you reach Barden Bridge, it is an easy return on the opposite side of the riverbank.

The path is popular with dog walkers, families, and solo walkers – so you can expect a busy, friendly atmosphere. If you are looking for a safe place to walk as a solo female, the Bolton Abbey loop is my top recommendation. I’ve also written a guide to visiting Bolton Abbey that you can read here.

Best short walks in the Yorkshire Dales

Malham limestone pavement.
Malham pavement by Unsplash.

Malham to Malham Cove

Distance: 2 miles

Terrain: Easy/Pavement/Accessible

Facilities: None

Malham to Malham Cove is one of the most classic short walks in the Yorkshire Dales. Start in the centre of Malham and finish at the base or summit of the cove cliff face.

If you want an accessible walk, the hike to the base of Malham Cove is approximately 2 miles return and entirely on a flat, pavemented route. For those wanting an extra challenge, you can hike up the steep steps to the limestone pavement on the cliff face summit in approximately 10 minutes.

At the top, you’ll have sweeping views over Malham. The limestone pavement was also used as a filming location for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.

Mother Shipton’s Cave

Distance: 1 mile

Terrain: Easy/Pavement/Steps

Facilities: Refreshments/Toilets/Shop

Okay, Mother Shipton’s Cave is just outside of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. However, if you are looking to combine a natural attraction with a short walk, I’d highly recommend a visit.

Mother Shipton’s Cave has attracted visitors since 1630 and famously turns objects into stone through petrification. The walk to the cave is a mile-long wooded track along the River Nidd – perfect for those with children or tired from a long hike the previous day.

You can book entrance tickets online or upon arrival on the day.

Brimham Rocks

Distance: 1.3 miles

Terrain: Medium difficulty/Footpaths

Facilities: Refreshments/Toilets/Shop

If Brimham Rocks caught your eye earlier, but you didn’t fancy the 9-mile loop, this route is a good option.

The route starts and ends at the Brimham Rocks car parks and, although you’ll need to use a bit of navigating, is fairly easy to follow. You’ll pass the Cannon Rocks, 250-year-old oak tree, the Dancing Bear, ET, Druids Idol, Mushroom Rock, and The Gorilla. Got some more creatively named natural phenomena? I won’t hold my breath.

You can view a more detailed route description at the National Trust website or enquire at the Visitor Centre on the day.

Best full day walks in the Yorkshire Dales

Walkers by Ribblehead Viaduct.
Ribblehead Viaduct by Unsplash.

Kirkby Stephen

Distance: 23 miles

Terrain: Easy/Mixed tracks/Steep sections

Facilities: Refreshments/Toilets/Shops

To hike the Kirkby Stephen route, you’ll need a map.

The route zig-zags across moorland and meadows, using a mixture of bridleways, tracks, and country roads. Expect a number of blink-and-you-miss-them turn-off tracks – this route is for those wanting an adventure and to actively navigate a full day walk. However, the terrain itself isn’t challenging and should suit all abilities.

You pass some stunning scenery, including some manmade features like the Smardale Viaduct and St Helen’s Well. There are also many pubs en-route, including The Three Greyhounds in Great Asby.

The Three Peaks

Distance: 25 miles

Terrain: Challenging/Mixed/Steep Sections

Facilities: None

When I say full day, I really mean it. The Three Peaks challenge recommends aiming to complete Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside, and Ingleborough in less than 12 hours. But to complete the walk in under 24 hours is a respectable enough accomplishment.

Walkers start Horton-in-Ribblesdale to summit Pen-y-Ghent, which takes approximately an hour and a half to complete. Then you walk to the Whernside summit in approximately 5 hours and complete Ingleborough in around 3 hours. To ‘officially’ complete the Three Peaks, you have to race (by car) back to your starting point, where you’ll receive your finishing time.

The Three Peaks require training and a strong level of fitness. But if you are up for the challenge, why not give it a go? Just give yourself over 12 hours of daylight to complete the walk, check the weather forecast, and pack plenty of refreshments. Sturdy footwear is also a must.

Settle to Stainforth Circular

Distance: 8.5 miles

Terrain: Medium difficulty/Mixed terrain/Steep sections

Facilities: Refreshments/Toilets/Shops

The 6-hour Settle to Stainforth route is a great full-day hike to mix market towns and moorland views.

The walk starts in Settle, heading up to Bowland moors, Giggleswick Scar, and Jubilee Cave. After a few hours, the track descends into Stainforth, where you can enjoy a well-deserved pub lunch at the Craven Heifer. To return to Settle, you follow the riverside Ribble Way.

Like the Kirkby Stephen walk, you’ll need a map for the Settle to Stainforth. However, you’ll pass so many natural features, including caves, scars, and becks, that it is relatively easy to navigate.

Best multi-day walks in the Yorkshire Dales

Three walkers on moor.

Dales Inn Way

Distance: 76 miles

Terrain: Easy/Mixed

Facilities: Refreshments/Toilets/Shops

A country pub enthusiast? Who isn’t!

You’ll pass 26 inns in 6 days walking the Dales Inn route. You pick an inn to stay overnight and take your pick of pubs to stop at for lunch. As a multi-day walk in the Yorkshire Dales, the Dales Inn is a fun, creative way to explore the countryside led by hospitality.

The circular route starts and ends in Grassington. It passes Buckden, Askrigg, Reeth, West Burton, and Kettlewell – all famous Yorkshire towns with plenty of character. You’ll also pass Cauldron Falls, Bolton Castle, and the Swaledale Museum. Keep your eyes peeled for attractions en-route.

Herriot Way

Distance: 52 miles

Terrain: Easy/Footpath/Steps

Facilities: Toilets

The Herriot Way is dedicated to Alf Wight’s All Creatures Great and Small, passing by many filming locations on the 52-mile route.

You pass through the Wensleydale and Swaledale valleys – with possible stops including the Hardraw Force Waterfall (covered above) and Bolton Castle. The route is known for bleak, humbling moorlands. If you haven’t experienced the scale of the Yorkshire Dales National Park before, the Herriot Way is a good choice.

Walkers typically tackle The Herriot Way over four days, so you’ll need to research the best places to stay overnight. Most pubs double up as country inns, especially in small towns and villages, so you should have plenty of options. Just book in advance in the summer months!

Dales Way

Distance: 80 miles

Terrain: Easy/Footpath/Steps

Facilities: Refreshments/Toilets/Shops

The Dales Way doesn’t just stay in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. In fact, it runs entirely through the width of the National Park and enters Cumbria! The Dales Way is a great multi-day walk to tackle if you want a serious cross-country challenge.

Start your experience with a meal out and a leisurely day in Ilkley, the Spa Town at the trailhead. Then follow the mixed trails of meadows, country roads, tracks, and bridleways to enter the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The route passes Burnsall, Barden, Grassington, Buckden, Dent, and Burneside – finally finishing in the town of Bowness, near Lake Windermere.

You can easily plan overnight stops in country inns along the way. You should allow around 7 days to complete the Dales Way. Of course, allow a little longer if you want to spend time enjoying attractions along the way! You might also want to add a few days in The Lake District at the end.

Best Yorkshire Dales waterfall walks

A waterfall close-up.
Waterfalls by Unsplash.

Ingleton Waterfalls

Distance: 4.3 miles

Terrain: Easy/Footpath/Steps

Facilities: Toilets

Ingleton Waterfalls has waterfalls galore. If you are looking to get a fix of Yorkshire Dales waterfalls, this is your place.

The circular loop takes you on a tour of the area’s most beautiful natural water features. I particularly liked Snow Falls, Pecca Falls, and (of course) Thornton Force. But you’ll pass so many waterfalls that it becomes hard to choose. There are some exposed moorland paths too, which adds to the route diversity.

Ingleton Waterfalls is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and you can spot rare plant life, birds, and trees throughout your walk. For more details, enquire on arrival for specific things to look out for.

Note that refreshments are only available at Ingleton Village at the end of the walk, so I’d advise packing a picnic.

Janet’s Foss

Distance: 4.9 miles

Terrain: Easy/Footpath

Facilities: None

If you are near Malham, Janet’s Foss is a fantastic add-on to exploring Malham Cove and the famous limestone pavement. The waterfall is easily accessed on a short footpath from Malham centre.

The waterfall is geologically renowned for its Tufa deposits from the water’s rich levels of calcium carbonate. Recreationally, it is renowned as a local swimming spot, and mythically, it is also renowned as the home of Jennet, the Queen of Faires. Basically, Janet’s Foss is a strong allrounder to visit.

Make sure to pack a swimming costume, towel, and picnic! The only facilities are in Malham itself.

Hardraw Force Waterfall

Distance: 0.6 miles

Terrain: Easy/Track/Accessible

Facilities: Refreshments/Toilet

Looking for titles? Hardraw Force Waterfall is England’s highest single-drop waterfall.

The quickest route to Hardraw Force Waterfall is by a short, flat track accessed from the Green Dragon Pub. You’ll cross three wooden bridges and follow a picturesque little beck. If you want a romantic, easy waterfall walk, Hardraw Force Waterfall really is the one.

The Hardraw Force Waterfall falls 100ft – which is an impressive sight to behold, especially up close. The entrance ticket is cheap and cheerful, so while it is a paid walk, it is still a budget-friendly waterfall walk in the Yorkshire Dales. Plus, the route is possible to undertake with a wheelchair or pram.

What to pack for a walk in the Yorkshire Dales?

Many walks in the Yorkshire Dales are remote and without facilities.

Pack plenty of refreshments and a portable charger so you can guarantee battery on your mobile to make emergency calls. In warm weather, suncream is a must as many walks are exposed and with no shade.

What to wear for a walk in the Yorkshire Dales?

Yorkshire weather is unpredictable; expect snowstorms one minute, then sunshine the next. Make sure to wear thermal underlayers with layers of warm, waterproof clothing that you can easily remove while hiking.

In summer, a capped hat will help keep you cool.

When to plan a walk in the Yorkshire Dales?

The Yorkshire Dales is best to walk in late Spring, Summer, and early Autumn.

From November to April, snowfall can make trails inaccessible or dangerous, with whiteouts common near the summits of the Three Peaks. It is best to walk outside of these months.

Where to stay for a walking holiday in the Yorkshire Dales?

Grassington, Malham, Kettlewell, and Hawes are good destinations if you want to stay in the National Park centre. If you don’t mind staying on the outskirts, Skipton, Ripon, Harrogate, and Ilkley are good spots to stay.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is one of the best walking destinations in the UK. But, once you’ve got your country fix, don’t be afraid to head into a neighbouring city. Leeds, Bradford, and Manchester are all nearby and have plenty to keep you entertained. 

Got a walking route to recommend? Drop it in the comments below. 

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