Lake District Travel Guide: Best Hikes, Beautiful Lakes & Hidden Waterfalls

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The Lake District is well known across the UK as being one of the top places for a staycation rain or shine (and in our case a mixture of both with some snow and strong winds thrown in for good measure).

We recently hopped in the car and drove up to the Lakes for a 3-day camping holiday to try and explore the best that the area had to offer. I can honestly say I don’t know why I’d never visited here before as it’s truly an adventurers playground. With tonnes of hiking options, waterfalls and lakes (obviously) to see, you could definitely stay here for quite some time and not get bored of things to do. As we only had three days we crammed in as much as possible and here are my recommendations for you all!

The top 3 hikes in the Lake District

We’re extremely big fans of climbing stuff (big hills, mountains, trees, you name it) and so for us this holiday was all about the hikes.

Now, there are a lot of hiking options you can do in the lakes and it can seem a little daunting trying to chose which ones you’d like to cram in. I did my research and settled on the three I’ve listed below and, I can confirm after completing all three, you would not be disappointed if you followed these recommendations. Think stunning scenery, challenging scrambles and descents through glorious mountainous valleys. You really can’t go wrong.

Helvellyn via Striding Edge

I’m going to list these hikes in a bit of a weird order. You see, Helvellyn was actually the last hike we did during our visit however we both agreed it was our favourite and so I’m including it here first.

Starting at the village of Glenridding, this hike was a wonderful 13.6km loop that was actually voted Britains best walk in 2018.

You might have noticed the ‘via Striding Edge’ in the title and be wondering what on earth that means, well wonder no more! As you near the summit you’ll reach a scrambling section that takes you across a ridge with some pretty sheer drops on either side (see image below). To me, this is the best part of the entire hike so be prepared to get stuck in and enjoy it!

After conquering striding edge there’s another steeper scramble to the top and then you’ve done it!

The summit of Helvellyn is actually much larger and flatter than I expected, making it the perfect place to pause with a coffee and some snacks – weather permitting – before you continue on the slow descent.

What I loved about this hike was the vast mixture of scenery you’ll experience, from the challenging scrambles of Striding Edge and Swirrals Edge to the picturesque valleys and lively streams you pass on the descent.

Finishing up back where you started in Glenridding, you can walk over to Ullswater to finish the day relaxing by the 2nd largest lake in the district.

For more route information click here!

Old Man of Coniston

Next up we have the Old Man of Consiton which (surprise surprise) starts from the village of Coniston, a charming little slate village nestled between the surrounding mountains and Coniston water.

There are some legends around the name of this hike, with many believing that it’s named ‘Old Man’ due to the summit looking a little like an old man lying down.

I’m here to myth bust this from a sign I read in a car park (very reliable information source) which taught me that it’s actually a mistranslation from the ancient celtic Alt Maen or ‘High Stone’ – a little less fun but at least it’s accurate!

At the time we thought this hike was reasonably challenging but in hindsight we were just a little naive as this was the first hike we completed on our adventure.

In the end, it was actually the easiest of the three with the most difficult being Scafell Pike which is up next.

The route we followed was a 14km loop that took us around some gorgeous tarns (mountain lakes) and across summits with amazing 360 views of the surrounding area.

To start and finish the hike you can park in the car park on Old Furness Road, if there aren’t any spaces left here there’s plenty of free parking throughout the village!

For more route information click here!

Scafell Pike

We just had to climb England’s highest mountain whilst visiting the Lake District and so for my last hiking recommendation, I bring us to the magnificent Scafell Pike.

It was an extremely rainy, windy and all-in-all pretty miserable day but we decided to tackle this famous summit anyway – of course with the premise that if it ever felt too dangerous we would give up and turn back!

This was our longest walk at 15.2km and because of the weather, I pretty much felt as though I was hiking around Mordor, there was even a sprinkling of snow as we reached the summit!

Speaking of the summit, the route we took involved a difficult scramble at the end up the Scree Slopes, definitely not for the faint-hearted and if you don’t feel confident doing some pretty serious climbing there are plenty of other routes you can take to the top.

The descent was definitely my favourite part as we passed by some pretty dramatic scenery including Esk Gorge, a dramatic gorge with waterfalls dropping off into the vast below.

We were both absolutely freezing by the end of it and so stopped in the town of Keswick for some well earned fish and chips – lovely!

For more route information click here!

Rydal: A hidden gem in the Lakes

When I was doing the classic searching of ‘things to do in the Lake District’ (much as you’re doing now I expect), I occasionally came across a photo of an old tiny house next to a stunning little waterfall but I struggled to get much information about its location.

For your reference, here’s my own take on the said photo:

I also came across some shots of a large cave with stepping stones across glass-like water to enter.

Low and behold, these were both located in Rydal, my top hidden gem for the Lake District.

Rydal Waterfall

Technically this is called ‘The Grotto’ but that doesn’t make it very obvious and so for the sake of searchability I’ve lovingly renamed it ‘Rydal Waterfall’.

Set in the gardens of Rydal Hall, the small hut you can find at the Grotto was built on location way back in 1668 as a place where guests to the hall could come and enjoy the view of the waterfall. This actually makes it Britain’s first-ever official ‘viewing station’ and to this day the little hut still attracts visitors from far and wide to come and gaze at the scenery (myself included).

Rydal Caves

Parking at White Moss car park, a 20-minute route will take you around the edge of Rydal Water up to a large cavern reflecting in the glassy water that sits beneath it.

There are stepping stones that you can cross to enter the cave (or if you don’t fancy it, there’s a less daunting path on the right-hand side).

I’d recommend popping Rydal Cave into google maps and following that, as we found after the car park signs to the cave were pretty non-existent – it really is a hidden gem!

Which Lakes should I visit?

While the main purpose of our trip was hiking, we obviously wanted to go and visit some lakes while we were there (it’s the Lake District after all!).

We opted to go and see the largest two, which I’ve popped some more detail about below but I did want to mention that during our hikes we were able to see some of the other lakes from a distance which made for some gorgeous scenery. This included Coniston Water (from the Old Man of Coniston) and Wast Water (from Scafell Pike).

Windermere

The largest and most famous lake of the Lake District is definitely one to tick of your list when in the area.

At 10.5 miles long, it’s actually the largest lake in England and is surrounded by mountain peaks and lakeside villages.

I’d recommend popping into the town of Windermere itself as it’s full of lovely little cafes and restaurants, there’s also a boat you can take to tour the Lake!

Ullswater

The second largest lake in the Lake District is Ullswater and it’s perfectly located for visiting as you finish the Helvellyn hike as it sits right by the village of Glenridding.

A little fun fact is that this lake was scooped out by a glacier during the last Ice Age!

Brothers Water

This one’s a little bit of a bonus as it was actually right next to our campsite (more on that below).

This small lake was perfectly still when we visited, making some gorgeous reflections of the surrounding valleys on the water.

While this lake was lovely, it definitely wasn’t as awe-inspiring as others I’ve mentioned and so I’d only really recommend visiting if you’re already in the area rather than making a special trip.

One slightly morbid fact: the lake was previously called ‘Broad Water’ but was renamed after two brothers drowned here back in the 19 century. Nice.

Bonus – the prettiest road in England

Quite a random addition to the blog post I’m aware BUT I felt like it was important because I’m being deadly serious when I say I think this is the prettiest road in all of England.

Kirkstone Pass runs through a gorgeous mountainous valley and actually lead us right up to our campsite, so it was most definitely an accidental discovery.

If you choose to stay at the same campsite as us then you’ll get used to driving this road every day, but with its sweeping views, babbling brooks and even the occasional mountain goat it just might be worth a detour anyway.

Where should I stay?

Now the answer to this question really depends on what you’re into because honestly, the Lake District has it all, from charming old cottages to beautifully basic campsites.

We opted for the latter and stayed at Sykeside Camping Park, a perfect spot nestled in the heart of the District with many of the popular walks just a stone’s throw away.

I loved how simple everything was when we stayed here, on arrival we chose to put our tent wherever we liked and were left to enjoy the stunning views, nighttime stargazing and the family of sheep wandering around the site (a personal highlight).

There’s a little shop with all the essentials and the Brotherswater Inn provides some fantastic meals if you don’t fancy cooking.

And there we have my Lake District travel guide! I hope you enjoyed it and let me know in the comments if you have any bonus suggestions.

With love,

The Chaos Diaries

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