Waterfall walks in Wales: wild and wonderful walks to stunning cascades and thundering falls
Our guide to waterfall walks in Wales will have you making the most of inclement weather to seek out spectacular sights in Wales’ wildest regions
Unsurprisingly, there are some wonderful waterfall walks in Wales. Much of this great nation’s most famous landscapes have been forged by the elemental power of gravity and water. Both Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons are an open book on the effects of these forces. Freeze thaw cycles, the remorseless erosion of tumbling streams, the verdant valleys frequently rejuvenated by rainfall and the monumental remnants of ancient glaciation.
It’s a continuous and dynamic cycle and is what makes waterfall walks in Wales so special. Proud mountain peaks stand defiant against the weathering of the ages, forcing the moist Irish Sea air upwards, where it cools. Try as it might, colder air can’t hold onto moisture and rain comes down, sometimes as drizzle, other times in sheets. Yet the hills and mountains of Wales drink it in gladly, greedily hoarding it in their vast groundwater reservoirs.
However, as you’ll know if you’ve ever headed out into Wales’ uplands in your best waterproof jacket in a deluge, the mountains can’t hold onto all of it. Water cascades from the glacial cwms, collecting into high mountain llyns or forming streams that rush towards the valleys below. As they continue to gain momentum, some of them drop over an abyss, or cascade down a series of rocky steps, creating incredible waterfalls, some of nature’s most treasured sights.
Now that we’re fully ensconced in autumn’s embrace and winter will be hot (or cold, rather) on its heels, it's the perfect time to grab your best hiking boots and head out on one of the best waterfall walks in Wales. Snow and extreme conditions may render the high peaks out of bounds, but the great waterfalls that thunder at their feet will be at their most spectacular. You might even witness the awesome sight of a frozen or half-frozen cascade.
In this guide, we take you on some of the most beautiful waterfall walks in the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia and to Wales’ highest, Pistyll Rhaeadr, in the Berwyn Mountains. Just don’t forget your waterproof trousers!
Waterfall walks in the Brecon Beacons
Waterfall walks in the Brecon Beacons are rightly famous for their beauty. Here we feature two walks in the picturesque Vale of Neath, which has become known as ‘Waterfall Country’ thanks to the many gorgeous cascades that characterise this region of mossy riverbeds and serene pools. Our third walk is to the pretty waterfalls of Blaen-y-glyn to the east of the Central Beacons massif.
Waterfall walks in the Brecon Beacons: Henrhyd Falls
Henrhyd Falls is the highest in South Wales and one of the jewels in the crown of the Brecon Beacons' Waterfall Country. Here, the Nant Llech plunges 90 feet (27 m) into a gorgeous wooded gorge on its way to meet the River Tawe by the village of Abercraf. It’s a tremendous sight to behold and, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even walk behind the cascade. Once finished with the falls, a ramble through Graig Llech Woods to Abercraf is lovely.
This walks starts from Henrhyd’s car park and immediately makes for the falls. After taking in the sights and sounds, continue west through the wooded gorge, which is a haven for mosses, lichen and liverworts, as well as birdlife, such as woodpeckers, warblers and wrens. At the confluence of the Nant Llech and the River Tawe, cross the Tawe and head along the roads into Abercraf, where the Abercrave Inn is an ideal pit stop. Return back to your start point the way you came.
Waterfall walks in the Brecon Beacons: Four Falls
Waterfalls walks in the Brecon Beacons don’t get much better than this. The Four Falls hike along the Afon Melte in Waterfall Country gives you a lot of bang for your buck. As its name suggests, it takes you to four separate cascades: Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr and Sgwd-yr-Eira. Yet each fall has its own beguiling character, with Sgwd yr Eira thought to be the most impressive. You can even walk behind it and view the world through its veil of falling water.
You begin at the car park for Porth yr Ogof, one of Wales’ largest caves. The route takes you south, along the Afon Melte and into dense woodland, with the sound of thundering water drawing closer. The first fall is Sgwd Uchaf Clun-Gwyn, a tremendous torrent above the smaller cascades of Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn. Next up you’ll hear the roar of Sgwd y Pannwr, an impressive series of crashing falls and swirling pools. Finally, the cherry on the cake is the foaming veil of Sgwd yr Eira. Take care on the sometimes slippery approach and marvel at one of nature’s most stupendous sights. It’s possible to make the return journey on different paths through the woods, or you may just want to visit the waterfalls all over again.
Waterfall walks in the Brecon Beacons: Blaen y Glyn
One of the best waterfall walks in the Brecon Beacons, Blaen-y-glyn is nestled between the Taf Fechan Forest, Talybont Reservoir and the Central Beacons massif in the green heart of the national park. Here, over a dozen charming falls can be seen, as Caerfanell and Nant Bwrefwr cascade down from the uplands above. Once up high, you can take in extensive views from high points Waun Rydd and Carn Pica. When the rivers are in spate, gaiters are a good idea if you value dry feet.
The route begins at Blaen y-glyn Uchaf car park and descends alongside the tumbling steam of Nant Bwrefwr before ascending steadily alongside Caerfanell. You climb out of the cwm and onto the Central Beacons plateau. If it’s dry and visibility is good, you’re rewarded with sumptuous views towards Pen y Fan and its family of peaks. If it’s wet, you'd better make sure you’ve stashed your valuables in your dry bag. After following the escarpment for a while, you drop back down steadily to the car park.
Waterfall walks in Snowdonia
Snowdonia National Park, unsurprisingly, has a wealth of crashing falls, sumptuous cascades and impressive torrents. We’ve picked out two in the vicinity of Betws y Coed. Both make for pleasant afternoon ambles and both throw in a visit to intriguing architectural marvels. Grab your daypack and get among some of the best waterfall walks in Wales.
Waterfall walks in Snowdonia: Swallow Falls
Betws y Coed, nestled in the Conwy valley, is a marvellous base for outdoor adventure, with its many gear shops, guesthouses, restaurants, woodland trails and nearby mountains. From the village is a charming there-and-back-again along the Afon Llugwy to Rhaeadr Ewynnol, 'the foaming waterfall’ in Welsh, but better known as Swallow Falls. Considered as one of Wales’ most beautiful spots, it’s a delightful waterfall set against enchanting woodland.
From Betws y Coed, follow the wide bank west along the burbling Afon Llugwy through woodland. Boardwalks and well-maintained trails make things fairly easy-going, though your best hiking shoes are still recommended, as things can get a little boggy after periods of rainfall. You join a minor road for a while, before picking up the Swallow Falls Trail, which takes you to the falls. After the falls, you have the option of continuing along the river to the Ugly House, a curious and mysterious building that’s well worth a look. Otherwise, it’s a case of reversing your tracks back to Betws y Coed.
Waterfall walks in Snowdonia: Conwy Falls
This is another there-and-back-again amble that departs from the vibrant Snowdonia gateway village of Betws y Coed onto woodland trails and to two absolute gems. Venturing upstream, it follows the River Conwy, first to the achingly scenic Fairy Glen gorge and the on to the cascading Conwy Falls. Refreshment can be found at Conwy Falls Café, a beautiful building designed by Sir William Clough Ellis of Portmeirion fame.
From Betws y Coed, you venture south on a forest track to the west of the river. After about a mile and a half, you arrive at the Fairy Glen, where the locals have installed an honesty box near the entrance gate. It is said that mythical sprites live in the gorge and it’s such a magical place, it’s easy to see why. You continue along the river to Conwy Falls and the café, with the sound of rushing water and birds singing in the trees. Return to Betws y Coed by the same path.
Waterfall walks in Wales: Pistyll Rhaeadr
A selection of waterfall walks in Wales would not be complete without the nation’s highest…
Wales’ highest waterfall belongs not to the Brecon Beacons, nor to any national park at all, but to the lesser-trodden Berwyn range, to the east of Snowdonia. Here is Pistyll Rhaeadr, often championed as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales. It’s an absolutely awesome sight, packing a more powerful punch than the other falls in our list.
You can park by its foot and almost immediately appreciate the grandeur of this torrent as it thumps down a 240-foot (73 m) cliff in three impressive stages. This hike first takes you up alongside the falls, to gain a superb viewpoint above the cliffs. After this, you venture north on a glorious hillwalk to seek out the summit of Cadair Berwyn. Take in the views towards Snowdonia and east to the Shropshire Hills, before descending and heading back to the start point via Llyn Lluncaws.
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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