The Lake District, with its multitude of fells and waters, crags and pikes, all contending for the top spot in the most picturesque and rewarding walks in England, is a destination for any keen walker. That said, if you’re new to the Lakes, it can be a daunting task to design the itinerary that delivers the best possible use of your time there.
If you’ve read any Wainwright’s, the expert voice on the Lakes District, you’ll be familiar with the Lake District on paper, but as a tourist, you may be looking to narrow down your search.
From the well-known Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Coniston Water to the lesser-known Ennerdale and Skiddaw, there’s something for everyone. And, to give you a helping hand, we’ve gathered together our list of 10 best walks in the Lake District to help you pin down a schedule that works for you.
Scafell Pike from Wasdale Head
Distance: 5.4 miles
Time allowance: around 3 hours up; 2 down
Ascent: 3,000 feet
This walk takes you from Westwater, up the three peaks route via Brown Tongue up Scafell Pike. As the most popular route from Wasdale, you may be forgiven for thinking it’s an easy ramble. Not so: it can be a difficult climb, especially in misty conditions. The path disappears halfway up, turning into more of a scramble than a gentle walk.
From Wainwright himself: “sufferers from bad feet must experience an orgy of torture” on this ascent. In short: wear appropriate walking boots!
Helvellyn from Thirlmere
Distance: 2.5 miles
Time allowance: 2 hours
This route is relatively easy and, although it’s still a two-hour solid ascent, it’s by no means as tough as the Striding Edge and Swirrel Edge on the eastern side.
Starting from Thirlmere, ascend via the Helvellyn Gill path. Alternatively, you can take a longer circular route over the Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon, and then back down via Dunmail Raise towards Thirlmere again.
“Legend and poetry,” wrote Alfred Wainwright, “a lovely name and a lofty altitude combine to encompass Helvellyn in an aura of romance”.
Haystacks – Buttermere circular
Distance: 8 miles
Time allowance: 4.5 – 5 hours
“Haystacks stands unabashed and unashamed in the midst of a circle of much loftier fells, like a shaggy terrier in the company of foxhounds, some of them known internationally”
– Alfred Wainwright.
Starting at Buttermere church, where you’ll find free roadside parking, follow Buttermere lakeside route up towards Haystacks.
The climb up Haystacks is best done in an anticlockwise direction with the descent taking you along Innominate Tarn and Blackbeck Tarn. beyond this point is a more gentle walk towards Buttermere Lake, where you’ll find plenty of tea rooms and pubs for refreshment.
This is a difficult route, especially on the descent, so mountain experience is a must. It’s also important that the conditions are appropriate, giving you a better chance of tackling the rough climbs and scrambles.
The difficulty of the walk is matched by picturesque views, some of Wainwright’s favourites in the area. In fact, his ashes were scattered at Innominate Tarn.
Great Gable from Seathwaite
Distance: 4.5 miles
Time allowance: 4-5 hours
One of the most iconic Lake District fells with its incredible panoramic views from the summit over West Water, Crummock Water, Buttermere and Haystacks.
If you do Great Gable on Remembrance Sunday in November, you’ll witness the Fell and Rock Climbing Club remembrance service.
The Old Man of Coniston
Distance: 4.8 miles
Time allowance: 3 hours
The well-known Coniston fell of The Old Man of Coniston towers over the village at nearly 3,000 feet.
There are several routes to choose from too, but the most well-trodden starts in Coniston Village itself. The walk towards the summit takes you in a zig-zag across the old slate mines past Low Water Tarn.
This isn’t a particularly taxing walk, with no need for mountaineering experience. That said, you’ll need a good head for heights, with lovely views over Scafell, Blencathra and Kentmere. On a clear day, you can also see all the way to the Isle of Man.
Distance: 10.5 miles
Time allowance: 6-7 hours
Skiddaw is a very photogenic mountain. With its steep smooth edges and slopes covered in a patchwork of heather, grass and scree. When viewed over a period of time, the mountain seems to change colour depending on the light.
Skiddaw is something of a magical mountain, set far apart from neighbouring peaks. It also allows for outstanding unrestricted views from the summit, its southside views being some of the best in the Lake District.
This route takes you via Jenkin Hill Path, first established as a pony route for tourists during the 19th Century. It’s a bit of a climb, but you’re rewarded with fantastic views at the top.
Distance: 5.6 miles
Time allowance: 3.5 hours
This walk will take you up Thunacar Knott, Thorn Crag, Pike of Stickle, Pavey Ark, Loft Crag and Harrison Sickle, and also includes five Wainwright routes.
Starting in Langdale’s Sticklebran Tavern, the route takes you along the Stickle Ghyll path. Thus begins the climb, towards Stickle Tarn. Walking to the right around the bank you join Blea Rigg towards Bright Beck and then Pavey Ark.
From here an intermittent path takes you to Thunacar Knott and towards Harrison Stickle.
The route takes you on towards the Pike of Stickle and then the ridge of Loft Crag and Thorn Crag.
Over the summit, you head towards Pike How and across the head of Dungeon Ghyll and up to the summit of Harrison Sickle. From there return down between the two summit knolls and towards the Tarn, before traversing back towards Sticklebarn Tavern.
Distance: 5.6 miles
Time allowance: 4 hours
Ennerdale Water, a glacial lake in the northwest of the Lake District, is surrounded by beautiful rugged hills and forests.
Beneath Anglers Crag is a red rock, coming from syenite, a mineral that oxidises into a ruddy hue. The water itself is a reservoir supplying drinking water to the area.
The walk is more of a scramble in places, due to its rough, tiring paths. Start your walk at either Bowness Knott or Bleach Green, and allow around 4 years for the ascent and descent.
Wasdale to Buttermere
Distance: 5.7 miles
Time allowance: 3 hours
The route from Wasdale to Buttermere takes you up the Black Sail pass into Ennerdale. From there, make the climb to Scarth Gap and then turn east up to Wainwright’s favourite, Haystacks.
The ridge walk along High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike is a tiring but worthwhile climb, with stunning views over the entire area.
Eagle Crag from Stonethwaite
Distance: 7 miles
Time allowance: 6 hours
Stonethwaite to Eagle Crag is one of Wainwright’s famous walks, but when done to involve Seargeant’s Crag too, you end up following two Wainwrights in one.
Stonethwaite village itself remains delightfully unspoilt and makes the start of the walk before you head out via the Greenup Gill to Haight Raise. The ascent up Eagle Crag isn’t easy, totalling a climb of 1650 feet, and from below appears far more daunting than the reality with its vertical drops and repelling crags.
The descent takes you over Heron Crag which is extremely precarious in poor weather conditions, so care must be taken.
This is our pick of 10 of the best walks in the Lake District, varying in length and difficulty, ranging from lakes to fells to crags. But if you’re interested in a guided tour of the North of England, we can help you find the perfect tour for you.