7 best walks in the Yorkshire Dales: crashing waterfalls, limestone majesty and vast moorland fells
Our selection of the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales has spectacular day walks, iconic landmarks and immense expeditions to some of the national park's most beloved summits
Adventure’s collection of the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales showcases majestic waterfalls, dramatic gorges, windswept moors and vast skies, for anyone seeking epic days on the fells.
The hikes are suitable for any level of experience; all you need is your best hiking boots, your best backpack and a thirst for adventure. Our selection of the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales include stunning landmarks, like the limestone majesty of Malham Cove, the dramatic architecture of Gordale Scar and the awesome prospect of Hardraw Force waterfall. We venture high to tackle some of the national parks’ most beloved peaks, like charismatic Ingleborough, or the popular Buckden Pike. And, for those who love a challenge, we’ve included a traverse of the superb Howgill Fells and the region’s most notorious undertaking: the Yorkshire Three Peaks.
We’ve plotted each route as a komoot Tour – which you can save to your own device and edit as you please – and combined the Tours into a hiking Collection: Best walks in the Yorkshire Dales. (opens in new tab)
The best walks in the Yorkshire Dales: superb day loops
There are countless wonderful day walks in the Yorkshire Dales, from scenic riverside strolls to wild explorations of its sprawling fells, many of which are far less frequented than those in neighbouring Lakeland. Here, we’ve selected three routes that hikers have enjoyed for generations, starting with a stone-cold classic that’s up there with the finest in the country.
Gordale Scar and Malham Cove
Difficulty: The main challenge here is the scramble up Gordale Scar, which is a short but straightforward grade one scramble beside a tumbling waterfall. It’s perfectly avoidable if you don’t fancy the hands-on-rock action, though it is still worth wandering into the gorge just to take in its majesty. In terms of distance and elevation, this is the easiest walk in our selection.
Few routes in Britain are as varied, or reward you with quite as many scenic treats for so little effort, as this loop from the village of Malham. Tackle it anti-clockwise and enjoy, as you go from one highlight to the next, finishing with a grand climax at Malham Cove. Whether you sample Malham’s delightful pubs and tea rooms before or after your hike is up to you.
The whole walk is sublime, but this is a route characterised by standout moments. The first is the picturesque Janet’s Foss waterfall, set amidst sumptuous woodland. Soon you emerge into open countryside, before entering the jaws of Gordale Scar: a dramatic limestone gorge seemingly plucked from Tolkein’s Middle Earth. Revel in the easy scramble and emerge victorious, not quite believing such a place exists among the surrounding pastures. After a visit to beautiful Malham Tarn, you arrive on the magical limestone pavement above Malham Cove. Descend to the west of this great natural amphitheatre and take in its grandeur, before returning to Malham.
Difficulty: An easy ramble on popular moorland trails, with the town of Ilkley always nearby.
Technically, Ilkley Moor is just to the south of the Yorkshire Dales, but it is such a characterful place to explore that we couldn’t justify leaving it off this list. Part of the mystical Rombalds Moor, Ilkley Moor is full of historical interest. Neolithic stone circles and Roman carvings vie for your attention alongside poems etched into rocks and plunge baths that were once enjoyed by Charles Darwin, among others.
You start and finish in Ilkley, a vibrant town full of great places to eat, drink and shop for all your hiking essentials. The route takes you on an anti-clockwise circuit of the Moor, visiting various sites of interest, such as the impressive, craggy outcrop of Cow and Calf Rocks and the ancient Twelve Apostles Stone Circle. Regardless of the season, you’ll want to bring extra layers. Yorkshire’s unofficial anthem On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at (on Ilkley Moor without a hat) hints at the Moor’s windswept nature.
Great Shunner Fell and Hardraw Force
Difficulty: Shunner Fell is the highest point above Wensleydale so it requires a decent amount of effort, however the gradients that support its huge mass are gentle.
This is a walk that combines a sprawling Pennine giant with England’s highest single-drop waterfall. Great Shunner Fell is a massive upland, the meeting point of five muscular ridges and wild and windswept in character – you may want a down jacket or similar up there. The bulk of its broad summit hides the valleys from view; what you get instead are large skies and distant vistas of the North Pennines, the Dales and the Howgill Fells. Hardraw Force waterfall is a stupendous reminder of the region’s long-vanished glaciers, crashing some 100 feet (30 m) to the pool below.
The route begins in the market town of Hawes, synonymous with Wensleydale cheese. The first half follows the Pennine Way, as you cross the River Ure via the Grade II-listed Haylands Bridge, pass through the tiny settlement of Hardraw and steadily ascend the fell’s south west ridge. After the summit, you leave the Pennine Way behind and return via the south east ridge, making sure to visit the spectacle of Hardraw Force before returning to Hawes.
The best walks in the Yorkshire Dales: hikes up iconic fells
Just as with the Lake District and the Peak District, the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales often hinge on the main objective of a significant summit. The national park is full of beloved and iconic high points. Here are a couple of super routes that take in splendid summits…
Difficulty: Yorkshire’s second highest peak doesn’t give up easily, but reasonably fit walkers should have no trouble. There’s a small amount of straightforward scrambling through the gorge to Gaping Gill, but nothing too troublesome.
Whernside may be higher, but few would contest that Ingleborough is Yorkshire’s most charismatic peak. Its huge, wedge-shaped profile catches the eye from a distance and has lured scores of hiking shoes to its grand summit over the years. As well as its distinctive form, it is characterised by the many karst features found among its limestone bedrock, such as dry rivers, holes, chasms and caves.
This route from the small village of Clapham showcases scenic gorges, a cave big enough to house St Paul’s Cathedral and superb limestone pavements. For many, the highlight is the traverse of the summit plateau, with glorious views across to neighbouring Pen-y-ghent and down onto Ribblesdale.
Difficulty: An easy hill walk; slots nicely into a morning or an afternoon.
Wharfedale is a quintessential Yorkshire Dales valley, with patchwork pastureland, drystone walls, vestiges of an industrial past and charming little settlements. At the head of the valley, above the village with which it shares its name, rises Buckden Pike – the seventh highest peak in the county at 2,303 feet (702 m). Its great stature and position in the centre of the national park make it a wonderful vantage point, with neighbouring Great Whernside rising splendidly to the south east.
Starting in Buckden, this walk leaves the characterful cottages and rough farmland of the valley behind, climbing onto Buckden Pike’s windswept moorland. After enjoying the views from the summit trig point, pause for a moment of reflection at a poignant memorial to the Polish crew of an RAF bomber that crashed here during the Second World War. The descent brings you to Starbotton, where the 400-year-old Fox & Hounds offers refreshment, before you finish with a delightful walk alongside the River Wharfe back to where you began.
The best walks in the Yorkshire Dales: adventurous hikes
Unlike in the Lake District, where individual summits are packed tightly together on rollercoaster ridge lines, the fells of the Yorkshire Dales are broad and sprawling, which makes them gentler but also means that substantial distance must be covered should you wish to claim multiple summit ticks in a day. However, those of an adventurous disposition will not be deterred and a study of the maps reveals many exciting permutations. Here are two classic long expeditions within the national park.
The Traverse of the Howgill Fells
Difficulty: No technical challenges and relatively gentle gradients make this a straightforward but lengthy hill walk. The broad and featureless nature of the Howgills’ sheep-grazed terrain make them a navigational challenge in poor visibility.
Part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park despite being part of Cumbria, the Howgill Fells are unique in character. They’re just as compact as the neighbouring Lakeland Fells to the west, but gentle and serene like their Pennine counterparts to the east. Their rounded forms will be familiar to anyone who has driven along the M6 or travelled by train along the West Coast Mainline between Kendal and Penrith. Grassy slopes rise imperiously, dwarfing the seemingly inconsequential human influence of tracks, trains, cars and lorries, like little toys far below.
Legendary fell walker Alfred Wainwright famously described the Howgills as being like a “herd of sleeping elephants”. A traverse of these noble fells reveals this description to be apt, as their green, velvety folds and wide panoramas make themselves known. The Calf is the highest point, at 2,218 feet (676 m), and rewards with majestic views, particularly to the west where the Lake District’s tumultuous skyline forms an exciting horizon. Bring the binoculars.
The Yorkshire Three Peaks
Difficulty: Easily the most challenging hike on our list of the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales. Although technical difficulties are few, it is a strenuous outing with over 4,500 feet (1,400 m) of elevation gain to contend with – comparable to climbing Ben Nevis – and around 22 miles (37 km) of distance to cover.
The ever-popular Yorkshire Three Peaks takes in the iconic trio of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent in one epic outing. Set in gorgeous Ribblesdale which – with its charismatic family of shapely fells and the spectacular Ribblehead Viaduct – is arguably the most spectacular of all the Dales, this is the kind of hike that will remain etched in your memory for life.
The ascents are short and sharp, each revealing stupendous views across the national park. Circuits usually begin from either Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Chapel-le-Dale or from Ribblehead Station.
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Alex is a qualified Mountain Leader, adventure writer and content creator with an insatiable passion for the mountains. A Cumbrian born and bred, his native English Lake District has a special place in his heart, though he is at least equally happy in North Wales, the Scottish Highlands or the European Alps. Through his hiking, mountaineering, climbing and trail running adventures, Alex aims to inspire others to get outdoors. He is currently the President of the London Mountaineering Club, training to become a Winter Mountain Leader, looking to finally finish bagging all the Wainwright fells of the Lake District and hoping to scale more Alpine 4000ers when circumstances allow. Find out more at www.alexfoxfield.com (opens in new tab)