Ilkley Moor: A Complete Guide to Visiting Ilkley Moor

Ilkley has just been voted the ‘Best Place to Live in the UK’, and, as a local, I heavily suspect that the moor was a swaying factor.

Ilkley Moor is 1,670 acres of dramatic heather moorland – one of the world’s rarest habitats, according to Friends of Ilkley Moor. You can spot nesting grouse, deer, and even owls around areas like Heber’s Ghyll Wood. Rock climbers can tackle the quarry and the Cow and Calf Rocks. And, fans of The Witcher can visit a filming site just five minutes from Ilkley Crags. Basically, visiting Ilkley Moor is the best. And, to be honest, I understand why visitors flock here in their thousands.

To prepare you for your visit, I’ve compiled a complete guide to visiting Ilkley Moor.

Where is Ilkley Moor?

Ilkley Moor via Google Maps.

Ilkley Moor covers the expanse of land between Ilkley and Keighley and Silsden and Guiseley. I’ve attached a screenshot of Google Maps, so you can see the location above.

Is Ilkley Moor worth visiting?

Yes, definitely! Ilkley Moors is a beautiful area of Yorkshire countryside and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. There are plenty of walks, outdoor activities, historical attractions, and wildlife to keep you entertained.

Places to see on Ilkley Moor

A signpost.
A sign post via Unsplash.

There are many things to see on Ilkley Moor – certainly too many to cover in just one day. I’ve tried to be strict and only pick the absolute best, so these are the crème de le crème of things to do.

Visit White Wells

White Wells is an 18th-century white-washed cottage with an adjoining plunge pool and café.

It was once used as a Victorian hydrotherapy spa and has received many a famous guest, including Charles Darwin in 1859. Nowadays, you can still arrange a private dip in the ice-cold plunge pool, although plunging is a more popular community tradition on New Year’s Day. Apart from grabbing a coffee or warming soup (I’d recommend the pea and mint), White Wells is an amazing viewpoint.

After walking the 15 minutes trail to reach it, you can enjoy a seat on picnic benches outside, sample some natural moorland water from the drinking well, and relax with expansive views over the Wharfe Valley.

Visit the Swastika Stone

Before Hitler ruined the Swastika mark, it was used as a sun-related symbol in many ancient civilisations.

Near Woodhouse Crag on Ilkley Moor, you can walk to the Swastika Stone – a mysterious stone carving believed to have been made between the Bronze and Iron Ages. The atmosphere is quite eery, and the surrounding area is suitably desolate and bleak to provide a dramatic background. The actual marking is fenced off by black railings, so it’s easy to spot.

If you are interested in history and ancient civilisation, I’d recommend visiting it.

Visit the Cow and Calf Rocks

The Cow and Calf Rocks are the darlings of Ilkley Moor. In fact, most visitors start their visit here (and usually at the free car park just in front of them).

The Cow and Calf Rocks are also known as ‘Hangingstone Rocks’ and are located at the top of Hangingstone Road. The rock formation consists of a cliff-style outcrop and a smaller boulder nicknamed the calf. The rock is millstone grit and popular amongst climbers.

Legend blames the giant Rombald for splitting the Calf from the Cow. As the giant ran from his enraged wife, the rock crumbled underfoot – creating the formation we see today. Of course, science has different explanations, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide which story you believe.

I’d recommend exploring the quarry, then the Cow from the ground and the top. To reach the top of the Cow, just head left at the quarry up a narrow track, then walk right once you reach level ground.

Visit Ilkley Tarn

Ilkley Tarn was a Victorian hotspot and is still much-loved today. In Spring and Summer, you can spot tadpoles, feed the ducks, and even cross the stepping-stones onto the tiny islands in the centre. It was a popular Victorian ice-skating rink in winter, although health and safety standards have changed a lot since then!

I suggest packing a picnic and setting aside an hour to visit Ilkley Tarn. It is a short but sweet addition to an Ilkley Moor itinerary and perfect for families or solo travellers.

There are actually two tarns and a boating pond on Ilkley Moor, so you can easily combine all three if you wish. In this case, allow two to three hours to visit.

Start at Darwin Gardens, as the boating pond is just over the road. Then, head down the steps and walk ten minutes up the tarmacked road to reach Ilkley Tarn. Once you’ve finished at the main tarn, head up the steep steps at the East end of Ilkley Tarn, and you’ll reach the second tarn on your left after another 10 minutes or so.

The second tarn is much smaller and quieter – perfect if you want a more natural experience. Plus, it is right under White Wells, so you can always finish your experience with a coffee and cake.

Ilkley Moor walks: 4 best walking routes to try

You can check out my existing guide here for all the best Ilkley Moor walks. But for some quick ideas, these are the top three to try out. 

Three walkers.
Walkers via Unsplash.

Cow and Calf Heritage Walk

Time: 1 hour

If you want a classic tour of Ilkley Moor, I recommend the Cow and Calf Heritage Walk.

As a child, my family used to pack a picnic and walk this route, and it is definitely a personal favourite of mine. The route only takes around an hour, so it is easily squeezed into even the busiest Ilkley itineraries. If you want to beat the crowds, aim to walk in the early morning rather than midday.

You pass Backstone Beck and have many opportunities to appreciate the rugged fauna and disused quarry landscapes. As a rapid introduction to Ilkley Moor, it doesn’t get much better.

Friends of Ilkley Moor do a great route guide which you can find here.

White Wells to the Twelve Apostles

Time: 2 ½ hours

The Twelve Apostles are a great add-on to a visit to White Wells.

Once you reach White Wells, head straight round the back and continue climbing up the hill. Again, Friends of Ilkley Moor has a fantastic route guide that I’ll link here. But, basically, head straight up the steps and keep walking until you hit a path of flagstones. Walking to the Twelve Apostles should add approximately two hours to your overall walking time.

The Apostles themselves are a circle of 12 standing stones that experts believe date back to the Bronze Age. It is unknown what their intended purpose was, but it is an interesting, slightly eerie testament to the ancient civilisations that once resided in Ilkley.

White Wells to Dick Hudsons

Time: 2 hours (one-way)

No, I am not directing you to the house of a personal acquaintance. Dick Hudsons is a Bingley pub that pulls great pints and serves locally revered fish and chips.

Walking from White Wells to Dick Hudson takes approximately 2 hours. However, you’ll pass many interesting attractions en route, including the Twelve Apostles and views of Menwith Hill (also known as the Golf Balls). If you want a ramble-style walk on Ilkley Moor, this is the most rewarding option. You can park a car at the end, take the train back, or attempt a 4-hour round trip walk.

To reach Dick Hudsons, simply continue past the Twelve Apostles, cross a stile, then follow a walled track downhill.

Heber’s Ghyll to the Swastika Stone

Time: 1 hour

To combine woodland and ancient civilisations, walk up Heber’s Ghyll and to the Swastika Stone.

Park on Heber’s Ghyll Drive and follow the well-marked trail up into the woods. The route is very cute, with tiny wooden bridges crisscrossing the stream as the trail zigzags up the hill. If you are visiting Ilkley in Autumn, I recommend choosing this walk, as the orange colours are stunning!

Once you reach the top of the hill, exit onto open moorland through a metal walker’s gate. Take a right and walk for approximately 5-minutes on Millennium Way to reach the Swastika Stone.

To return, use the same route. The walk should take around an hour, although you might want to allow two hours to account for stops on the way.

Ilkley Moor parking: Where are the best spots?

Two parked cars in a field.
Parked cars via Unsplash.

Since Ilkley Moor covers such a vast area, there are a LOT of places to park.

I’ve compiled a comparative table of the main parking areas (just in Ilkley) below:

  Postcode Nearest attraction Positives Negatives
Ilkley Moor car park LS29 8RF Cow and Calf Rocks – Free parking
– Café
– Close to Cow and Calf
– Very busy in Summer
– Only small so can be limited spaces
Craiglands Road LS29 8RH Ilkley Tarn – Free parking
– Close to Ilkley Tarn
– Quiet, residential area
– Street parking so can be limited
Crossbeck Road car park LS29 9TF Ilkley Boating Pond – Free parking
– Close to Ilkley Boating Pond and Tarns
– Quiet, residential area
– Can be busy in summer
– Limited spaces as small area
West View car park LS29 9TY Darwin Gardens – Free parking
– Lots of space
– Close to Darwin Gardens, Boating Pond, and the Tarns.
– Can get busy, especially in summer
White Wells car park LS29 9JS White Wells – Free parking
– Right at the start of the White Wells trail
– Very limited spaces as can only accommodate a few cars
Keighley Gate car park LS29 9QZ Heber’s Ghyll and Swastika Stone – Free parking
– Great for walking to Heber’s Ghyll and the Swastika Stone
– Quite limited, although easy to park on the roadside if busy.

Can you cycle on Ilkley Moor?

Yes, although check on the Bradford Council website here for specific restrictions and conduct requirements.

Can you ride horses on Ilkley Moor?

Three horses and riders.
Horse riders via Unsplash.

Yes! You can access all of Ilkley Moor on horseback – which is great news for riders wanting to experience the countryside with their equine friend.

It can be rough riding off the main tracks, with many hidden drops and rabbit holes. I’ve ridden on Ilkley Moor lots and recommend sticking to the main paths and trails to avoid tricky patches.

Remember that bracken is also toxic to horses in large amounts, which can be a little too dangerously tempting for them when riding through overgrown, narrow paths!

Can you walk dogs on Ilkley Moor?

Dogs are permitted on Ilkley Moor. However, you must keep them on leads between March and July as they can disturb nesting birds and cause young chicks and nests to be abandoned by their startled mothers.

You need to keep dogs under close control when visiting Ilkley Moor even outside of these months. Farmers graze their sheep on Ilkley Moor, and you (and your dog) can face serious repercussions if livestock gets injured.

What to wear to walk on Ilkley Moor?

A male hiker.
A hiker via Unsplash.

When visiting Ilkley Moor prepare for all possible weather and check the weather forecast beforehand.

Always bring a waterproof coat, as Yorkshire is prone to wet, windy weather. And, because of all the rain, it can also get extremely muddy so leave your favourite trainers at home when walking on Ilkley Moor. Instead, wellies or waterproof hiking boots are the best footwear options.

Removable, breathable layers make the best clothing, and, in cold months, consider wearing thermal underlayers.

In Spring and Summer, sun cream and a capped hat are musts, as Ilkley Moor is mostly exposed with no shelter from the sun.

Ilkley Moor is a fantastic place to visit in Yorkshire. Ideally, you should allow yourself two to three days to experience the best of the moors, and don’t forget to explore Ilkley and its local sights.

Bolton Abbey is another beautiful walking destination and only a 20-minute drive from Ilkley. I’ve also written a detailed guide on the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales if you need any extra inspiration. 

Got any more tips for visiting Ilkley Moor? Drop them in the comments below.

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