As they get bigger and better year-on-year, attending an outdoor festival is quickly becoming must-have experience for anyone even vaguely active. The inspiration you’ll find at these place is in the bucket-load. We’d even go so far as saying that attending the likes of Kendal Mountain Festival, Yestival or Camp Wildfire could change your life, or at least your outlook on life. Bring a bunch of adventure-loving outdoorsy people together, some of which have achieved remarkable things, and what else would you expect?
Here at Outdoors Magic, we’ve been able to attend some of the best outdoor events in the UK for hikers, swimmers, trail runners, mountaineers and music lovers and to help those looking for ideas of what to attend in 2023 we thought we’d curate a top 10 of the ones to watch out for over the next 12 months. Hit it!
10 Best Outdoor Adventure Festivals for 2023
- Kendal Mountain Festival
- OMM Festival
- Above Below
- Fort William Mountain Festival
- Alpkit Big Shakeout
- Wild Goat Festival
- Camp Wildfire
- Love Trails
Kendal Mountain Festival
Location: Kendal, Cumbria
Dates: November 17th-20th 2022
This is a revered international film competition, an art and literature exhibition and also a chance to smash your PB on a 10k trail race. Plus, it’s a very sociable affair; it’s essentially the main annual gathering of the UK’s community of outdoor enthusiasts. Thumbs up to all and more! Founded in October 1980, the Kendal Mountain Festival is still going strong in it’s fifth decade, and it’s progressed from a humble mountaineering film festival to a refined and varied weekend with over 100 guest speakers, events celebrating 12 adventure sports, and competitions in mountain-inspired art and photography.
While a lot of frills have been added to this event over the years, the film element at its core has also bloomed into a prestigious and historic competition. This is where Touching the Void premiered – heck, this is where Free Solo was first shown in the UK! And the production value here has only gone up, expect great seats, huge screens, incredible audio and a programme of interviews with the filmmakers and stars to come with your viewing experience.
Alpkit Big Shakeout
Location: Thornbridge Outdoors, Peak District
Dates: Late Summer 2023
Family friendly, accessible to all skill levels, and extremely densely packed with on and off-site activities, the Alpkit Big Shakeout is the event of choice for anyone who wants to feel like they squeezed as much outdoor fun into one weekend as possible. It’s set in Thornbridge Outdoors, a well-furnished outdoor centre in the Peak District, minutes from a whole network of biking and hiking trails, as well as rock climbing walls and lakes for wild swimming, kayaking, rafting.
Most of these activities can be done solo or pre-booked with an organiser, and you’ll be pleased to know that the whole event is not-for-profit, with all profit going straight to the Alpkit Foundation which has already managed to raise over £100,000 for hundreds of charity projects worldwide. On site, you’ll be able enjoy climbing walls, craft tents, mountain skills training, as well as some live music and adventure films. It’s perfect for a family getaway.
Location: Across the Lake District
Dates: July 5th-9th 2023
Whether you’re looking for your first long-distance hike or ready for your hundredth, Highlander UK is undoubtedly a top tier choice. Launching in 2017, this annual hiking event has quickly become one of the most popular of its kind, popping up all across the world and finally reaching the shores of the UK just this year, where it found a home for the future.
Highlander Lake District is returning from the 5th to the 9th of July 2023, sign up and join a sea of outdoor lovers on the five-day 100km journey or the 50km over three days. Each format takes you on an immense tour of the Lake District, with scheduled stops in pre-prepared campsites where activities, music, and inspiring lectures all await each evening. It’s this impressive infra-structure which qualifies Highlander as a kind of roaming festival in our minds and earns it a spot on this list. Plus once you complete the full tour, you get to call yourself a real-life Highlander forever, so that’s pretty cool.
Location: Grasmere, Lake District
Dates: June 3rd-4th 2023
We were at the OMM festival this year and we had a whale of a time. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that it’s got the best coffee of any festival I’ve been to, and a hearty breakfast sandwich to go with it. OMM is fully staffed by friendly and enthusiastic volunteers and always attended by a warm and welcoming community who are simply thrilled that you’ve shown up too! Set in the heart of the Lake District, the Original Mountain Marathon festival combines two popular running events across two days with the opportunity to camp, attend inspiring talks, participate in workshops and shop around for the latest and greatest outdoor gear.
The first event is the OMM Lite, a customisable adventure race around the fells. Rather than being a linear run, contestants are given a map of the Grasmere trail network with a whole load of checkpoints marked. The aim is to hit as many as you can; some work in groups and go all day, others plan themselves a fun route and get back early to take advantage of the shorter bar queues. It’s a great event for friends and family, as is the Grasmere Gallop, the second big event at the OMM Festival. If you’re galloping, sign up for one of the races ranging from 5 to 42km and prepare to get a new personal best in style.
Above Below Ruckraft Retreat
Location: Dartmoor and Devon Coast / Ullwater, Lake District
Dates: Every weekend of September 2022
The name says it all. Above Below’s Ruckraft Retreat is a hiking and swimming retreat, founded fairly recently to great success and slated to come back bigger and better next year. The premise is a back-to-basics adventure on land and water in Devon (after their fantastic first run, Above Below will also pop up in the Lake District in September this year). A weekend of wild swimming, hiking, and camping with the motto of ‘Enjoyment, not endurance’. Although, having said that, this retreat is not for total beginners, especially on the swimming side of things. The focus is on enjoyment, and certainly none of the expeditions are competitive or even set at a particularly brisk pace, but unless you can already comfortably swim a mile (or ideally more), you will find yourself in an endurance test. The hikes have a very forgiving pace and focus on enjoying the scenery, but good balance is required as things can get a bit scrambly from time to time. Nonetheless, if you’re already an outdoors lover and you’re not super keen on the whole dress up like a scout, have a Nerf war and then party til 3am style of outdoor event, then this is an ideal return-to-nature retreat.
The gear is also minimalist, though you’ll most likely want a wetsuit. The only specialized piece of kit is provided for you, and actually developed by the minds at Above Below. Called the Ruckraft, it’s a nifty ultralight dry bag that lets you chuck everything you’re carrying inside it. you can then attach it to your waist and swim as much as you like while towing your un-flooded possessions. It’s mad fun, and it’s the key gear that allows these retreats to offer hybrid outings which involves a hike and a swim, sometimes going back and forth more than once.
Fort William Mountain Festival
Location: Fort William, Lochaber
Dates: Announced soon.
As with many outdoor events, the Fort William Mountain Festival has a marked intention to inspire people to review their respect for nature and work to protect it. The focus of this fest is on art created to celebrate the mountains and the spirit of adventure, as opposed to having an activity-centered programme. Of course, it’s held in the mountains, and lord knows that anyone with a compass and some motivation can find endless amazing adventures in Fort William – the outdoor capital of the UK (according to them, but it is hard to disagree).
Related: Best Walking Routes around Fort William
Just make sure to plan your activities around the film screenings and photography exhibitions because, as anyone who’s attended something similar already knows, when it comes to films and photos inspired by the outdoors, competition is fierce. Brace yourself for some of the most excellent artworks you’ve ever seen, all displayed in an inspiring setting like no other.
Location: Big Sky Hideaway, Lincolnshire
Dates: June 15th-18th 2023
In the organiser’s own words, Yestival is a celebration of community, positive mindset and adventurous thinking. It started off innocently enough; famed adventurer and motivational speaker Dave Cornthwaite extended an invitation to his followers to follow his SayYesMore motto and take a trip out of the city to join him for a spontaneous weekend of adventuring in nature. A lot of people showed up. Next thing you know, Yestival grows into an epic annual event with some of the most passionate attendees in the game. Devotees will swear down that this weekend in Lincolnshire will change your life.
The showers are heated by grass. It’s just that sort of thing – something that reminds you why you love this planet, why you go outdoors and how much fun it is to meet people like you. During the day, there’s a comprehensive program of talks, walks, workshops and games. As the sun sets, you’ll find a mix of inspirational lectures and comedy, then some chilled out music and a chance to come together, talk about a big life decision or a small moment that stuck with you, and feel the support of this almost sickeningly earnest group of people. Free hugs for all. And there’s alpacas.
Wild Goat Festival
Location: Holker Estate, Cumbria
Dates: August 11th-13th 2023
The first details have been revealed of the UK’s newest outdoor festival, which will make its debut in the summer of 2023. Based in England’s South Lakeland, the Wild Goat Festival will bring families together in the outdoors for a weekend of running, cycling, walking, entertainment and the chance to meet some of sport’s greatest of all time (GOATs) from the world of outdoor adventure and activity. The event will be hosted on the Holker Estate, in thousands of acres of South Lakes countryside, with historic Holker Hall and Gardens as the main hub.
The project is brainchild of athletics legend Steve Cram and promises three days of fun for active families, with a packed programme for adults and children alike. There’ll be social runs and gravel cycle rides with a series of trail races and guided walks, all providing opportunities for participants to explore the estate and the South Lakes landscape. The main event hub will be right next to Holker Hall and Gardens, with camping, speakers and entertainment on the main stage, games, food and drink, and play areas for kids.
Rumour has it that real life goats will be present.
Location: Heritage Pine Forest, Sevenoaks
Dates: August 25th-28th 2023
Another quirky one, but not the unsettling Jim Carey kind of quirky, more like the amusing, even charming quirkiness of Richard Ayoade or Noel Fielding. Branded as a ‘summer camp for adults’, Camp Wildfire embodies the nostalgic spirit of a bushcraft style camp but with the intensity turned up to 11. Most people are dressed head to two in boy- and girl-scout outfits, ranging from impressively faithful to audaciously bejeweled and even a bit racy. Again, it’s adults only.
The activities here range a lot further than your average outdoor festival. Many classics are represented, you can mountain bike or paddleboard, but there’s also just about everything else. I’m talking circus skills, archery battles, make-your-own nipple tassels. There’re parkour classes, drum circles, woof whittling and quad biking. All told, Camp Wildfire has exactly 100 activities on offer. Showing up to all of them will be a bit of a challenge too, since this is a weekend where you play a lot harder than you work. The evenings descend into a mad party with a seemingly endless string of bands and DJ’s – comedy too! It’s a blast. Sign up for sunrise yoga at your own risk.
Location: Gower Peninsula, Wales
Dates: Announcing soon for 2023!
I saved this one for last because it’s a favourite amongst the Outdoors Magic team. We had the pleasure of attending Love Trails this year, so take it from us, this is the UK outdoor event that you absolutely must not miss. Each element is great on its own: exploring the beautiful Welsh coastline, feeling the comradery and support of non-competitive group trail runs, dancing like a maniac to some excellent live music. Put all this together, throw in about a million extra activities from relaxing sunrise yoga to adrenaline-pumping cliff jumping, and you’ve got an unforgettable weekend amongst one of the coolest, friendliest communities in the game.
A great aspect of Love Trails is how much you can customise and manage the intensity of your time there. On the one hand, you can hit one or two 5k jogs per day and wind down with some yoga or a trip to the sauna (which is next to the bar, a fantastic if slightly dangerous choice) before bumping to the evening tunes. Meanwhile, with more planned runs than any human could possibly attend, several of which lead to an activity like rock climbing or coasteering, and free Adidas terrex shoes on loan, there’s nothing to stop you putting absolutely everything into this weekend.
The Best Gear for Festival Life
On a final note about our trip, and some advice for outdoor festivals in general: get yourself a few high-end pieces of a kit and you’ll be sitting pretty for years to come. We received some camping essentials from the Texas-based gear engineers at Yeti, and I have to admit that my wild trips this summer have all felt the improvement from just a couple of key items. The Trailhead Campchair has been my faithful seat, it’s certainly very comfortable, though not he lightest, and it’s primary feature is being completely flipping indestructible.
Similarly, the Rambler drinkware has taken quite a beating while remaining leakless – the vacuum insulated bottle is a crowd favourite, keeping our water icy cool and easily accessible (thanks to the aptly named ‘chug cap’). The standout piece of kit for us, quite surprisingly, is the Camino Carryall tote bag.