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Best Walks In The Lake District | 10 Mapped Routes

James Forrest picks out his favourite walks in the Lake District National Park, including epic scrambles, small-but-spectacular fells, long-distance adventures, and iconic Lakeland giants

The Lake District National Park is England’s hiking paradise: where soaring fells, deep lakes, quaint villages, impossibly-balanced dry stone walls and Herdwick sheep. Alfred Wainwright, the great fellwalker and guidebook writer, wrote that in the Lake District he discovered “a spiritual and physical satisfaction in climbing mountains – and a tranquil mind upon reaching their summits, as though I had escaped from the disappointments and unkindnesses of life and emerged above them into a new world, a better world.”

Perhaps you can experience something similar by exploring that ‘better world’ on one of these walking routes. There is something here for everyone. If you’re feeling intrepid, take on an iconic scramble up Blencathra or Helvellyn; if you want to bag England’s highest summit, Scafell Pike is waiting; or if you simply want a little hill with maximum views for minimum effort, Castle Crag and Latrigg are the perfect options.

As part of our recent partnership with route planning app komoot, Outdoors Magic has been championing the finest walking routes across Britain. Previously, we’ve looked at the best walks in the Brecon Beacons and routes in Snowdonia – and now, with the help of Cumbrian resident and peak-bagger extraordinaire James Forrest, it’s time to focus on the north-west of England, with a round-up of the 10 best walks in the Lake District.

New to komoot? For a free regional bundle (worth £8.99) simply follow this link to Komoot.com and create your free account today.

James has also written this useful guide to wild camping in the Lake District for anyone considering overnighting opportunities while on these walks.

 

Best Walks In The Lake District: The Top 10

  1. Scafell Pike via the Corridor Route
  2. Latrigg
  3. Cat Bells
  4. The Langdale Pikes
  5. Castle Cragg
  6. The Cumbria Way
  7. Blencathra via Sharp Edge
  8. Great Gable
  9. Steeple
  10. Helvellyn

Walk 1: The Roof Of England


Scafell Pike is England’s highest, and perhaps most iconic, mountain, with summit views over the whole of the Lake District and along the Cumbrian coastline. On a clear day, you can even see North Wales, the Isle of Man and Norhern Ireland. But standing atop its towering summit is not simply about bagging the country’s loftiest peak. Scafell Pike is also the nation’s greatest war memorial; a place of beauty and grandeur to pay tribute to fallen heroes. In 1919, the mountain was bequeathed to the nation in ‘perpetual memory of the men…who fell for God and King, for freedom, peace and right in the Great War’.

James Says: “Most people opt for the most direct route up Scafell Pike from Wasdale – but the Corridor Route starting in Borrowdale is a superb alternative. It is a long but delightful day in the high fells, ticking off a bucket-list peak.”

 

Walk 2: Keswick’s Best Short Walk


This might just be the best short walk in the Lake District. Climbing Latrigg from Keswick is a classic outing that can be fitted into just a few hours – a walk so good it’s almost become a rite of passage for lovers of Lakeland. At only 368m, Latrigg is a small fell, but it offers big views. The panoramas down to Keswick, over the north-western fells, and across Derwentwater are simply mesmerising.

James Says: “Perfect for a lazy afternoon amble or a family-friendly stroll, Latrigg is a mountain in miniature – all the views with none of the effort. There’s an idyllically-placed bench on the way up too, so why not take a picnic or flask of coffee and drink in the panoramas slowly.”

Walk 3: The Lair Of The Wildcat


Cat Bells is a classic little Lakeland climb that serves up enough drama to make you feel like an adventurer, even if you’ve only got an hour or two to spend in the fells. The short, steep climb offers glorious views across Derwentwater and down the Borrowdale valley, and crescendos with an exciting but short section of scrambling to the bare, rocky dome summit.

James Says: “I know it’s perhaps too low, too easy and too crowded, but I don’t really care. It was the first mountain I ever climbed, aged 8, with my mum, dad, little brother, granny and grandpa. It was the hill that hooked me on the great outdoors. Everyone should climb Cat Bells – it’s a Lake District institution.”

Walk 4: The Jagged Skyline Of The Pikes


If you only had one day to experience the Langdale Pikes, this is the walk you should go on. The so-called Greater Traverse is a bit of an epic, ticking off several summits and notching up a leg-burning 10 miles and almost 800m of ascent. The route follows Stickle Ghyll to Stickle Tarn and then veers right for the easy eastern shoulder up Pavey Ark. The excellent tops of Harrison Stickle and Pike O’Stickle are reached before a lengthy loop home via Rossett Pike and Mickleden valley.

James Says: “The distinctive, serrated skyline of the Langdale Pikes is one the most dramatic sights in the Lake District – and this walk ticks off all of the major tops in one challenging outing.”

Walk 5: The Castle And The Cave


Guidebook author Alfred Wainwright wrote ‘if a visitor to Lakeland has only two or three hours to spare yet desperately wants to reach a summit and take back an enduring memory of the beauty and atmosphere of the district, let him climb Castle Crag’. At just 290m, Castle Crag is tiny in stature but gigantic in charm – the ideal mountain for a quick yet delightful outing into the fells. This route also visits Millican Dalton’s Cave, the summer home of eccentric Millican Dalton, a self-styled ‘Professor of Adventure’ who lived in the twin-entranced cave in the early 20th century.

James Says: “Castle Crag has a bit of everything: eye-watering views of Derwentwater, interesting history (there’s a war memorial on the summit), and a challenging little climb over shifting scree to the summit. You can also look out for the carving ‘Don’t waste words, jump to conclusions’, which Dalton etched into the rock of his cave home.”

Walk 6: Traverse The County Of Cumbria


The Cumbria Way is a low-level trail about 75 miles long across the county of Cumbria. It begins in the quirky market town of Ulverston, heads north via Coniston, Great Langdale, Keswick and Caldbeck before finishing in Carlisle. Most walkers take five or more days to complete the trail, staying in homely B&Bs and eating in rustic country pubs. But alternatively you can opt for a wilder experience, camping along the route and spending one night in Lingy Hut, one of only a few Lake District bothies.

James Says: “There is so much more to the Lake District and Cumbria than the high fells – and this walk illustrates that perfectly. I walked the Cumbria Way in 2017 and, despite being low-level, it still gave me the fix of Lake District beauty and adventure I craved.”

Walk 7: Scrambling The Saddleback’s ‘Edge’


Note: this is a grade one scramble requiring good scrambling skills and a head for heights

Most thrill-seekers visiting Blencathra (also known as Saddleback) scramble up Sharp Edge and down Hall’s Fell ridge. But there is an argument to suggest they are doing it the wrong way around. After all, the ascent of Hall’s Fell is ‘positively the finest way to any mountain top in the district’, as Wainwright put it, with an exhilarating, direct ascent to the summit over a succession of craggy rises and along a rocky arête. Next, after an inevitable snack break on Blencathra’s summit, comes the descent of Sharp Edge, another classic Lake District grade one scramble. It’s one of the best days out you can have in all of Lakeland.

James Says: “This iconic route serves up two ridge scrambles for the price of one. Sharp Edge is the more famous of the two: a knife-edge spine of bare rock that inspires a mixture of excitement and fear in those about to tackle it. It’s certainly not a ridge to tackle in icy or wet conditions, unless supremely confident. But in good conditions the descent, including a nerve-jangling shuffle over the notorious slanting rock of the ‘Bad Step’, is truly glorious. Enjoy!”

Walk 8: A Lakeland Great


The clue is in the name. Great Gable is unquestionably one of the great Lakeland fells. It is a towering, rugged mass of rock and crags and cliffs. It is captivating to look at – an unbroken, devilish pyramid from the south, the dome of a sleeping, curled-up giant from the north. It is a mountain that captures the imagination and fuels passions; a place that demands respect and admiration, and gets it in spades.

James Says: “This route, starting in Seathwaite, is a brilliant way to experience Great Gable. The views over Wastwater from Beck Head are second to none, while the circumnavigation of the mountain on the Gable Girdle path gets you up close and personal with the superlative rock-scenery of Napes Needle.”

Walk 9: A Cloud In The Heavens


All too often walkers tick off Steeple with a short detour on the narrow ridge from Scoat Fell, usually as part of the classic Mosedale Horseshoe hike from Wasdale. But this is to do the mountain a disservice. Steeple is more than worthy of being the primary objective of a day’s walking. The best way up is from Ennerdale, climbing the Long Crag ridge that crescendos gloriously at the exposed top. Surrounded by precipitous drops on all sides, it is a magnificent place to gaze across the beauty of Lakeland.

James Says: “Alfred Wainwright described the summit of Steeple as a ‘thrilling spot’ where ‘one’s feet are on the ground but one’s eyes see as from a cloud in the heavens’ – I absolutely love it, the exposed rocky summit is definitely heavenly.”

Walk 10: Britain’s Favourite Peak


Note: this is a grade one scramble requiring good scrambling skills and a head for heights

Voted Britain’s best-loved walk in a poll by ITV, Helvellyn is home to a horseshoe ridge of legendary quality. First comes Striding Edge, a knife-edge arête with a tantalisingly-good tightrope path edging along the crest, before bagging the summit and completing your high-level loop of Red Tarn via the rocky staircase of Swirral Edge.

James Says: “Tiptoeing along the gnarly ridge of Striding Edge is like travelling along the spiny backbone of a sleeping dinosaur. Your hands will grip bare rock and your legs will turn to jelly as you gaze wide-eyed 1,000ft down to Nethermost Cove. There’s the tantalising taste of danger in your mouth and the tingling sensation of adrenaline in your body, but it never quite feels like the end is nigh. And that’s why Helvellyn is so popular – it hits the sweet spot between challenging and achievable.”

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