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Boasting 16 lakes (or waters), 214 fells (as documented by Alfred Wainwright), and more places of natural beauty than you can shake a stick at, the Lake District is arguably the most captivating national park in the UK. My Lake District road trip route takes you on a scenic journey to many of the tourist hotspots as well as some of the more remote places on the road-less travelled.
Lake District Road Trip Route First Stop – Arnside and Silverdale AONB
This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty teeters on the coastline of Morecombe Bay and spans the border of Lancashire and Cumbria. Known for its limestone pavements, ancient woodlands, meadows, and views that stretch out towards the Lakeland fells, it has won the hearts of photographers and nature lovers.
There are several walks in the area but if you want to take advantage of the panoramas, Warton Crag and Arnside Knott are excellent viewpoints. On a clear day you can see the Forest of Bowland and the Yorkshire Dales as well as the Lakeland fells. If you prefer something less strenuous, a walk along the promenade can be just as rewarding, especially with some local fish and chips in hand! Alternatively, why not take a ride on the TransPennine Express for a real visual feast?
Things to do in Arnside and Silverdale AONB
- Cycle or walk along the promenade
- Take in the stunning sunset over the bay
- Explore the villages of Arnside, Silverdale, Beetham, The Yealands, and Warton
- Visit RSPB Leighton Moss Nature Reserve
- Delve into the past at Heron Corn Mill
Arnside to Grange-Over-Sands via A590 (14.3 miles)
To the north side of Morecombe Bay, Grange-over-Sands is a charming coastal town lined with Edwardian and Victorian style buildings that make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. Brimming with history, ornamental gardens, independent shops, and quaint pavement cafes, the town has a certain je ne sais quoi that draws you into its charms.
Overlooking Grange-over-Sands, Hampsfell is one of Wainwright’s Outlying Fells and stands at 727 feet. The fell features limestone pavements and a stone Hospice at the summit with a fabulous viewpoint from the top. Other places of interest include the Clock Tower, and St Paul’s Church.
Things to do at Grange-over-Sands
- Walk or cycle along the promenade
- Climb Hampsfell
- Visit the Victorian Ornamental Gardens
- Stroll through Park Road Gardens
- Visit Brown Robin Nature Reserve
Grange-over-Sands to Cartmel via Grange Fell Road and Haggs Ln (2.4 miles)
Home to the famous Sticky Toffee Pudding and Cartmel Racecourse, this medieval village is a gem of a place that can’t be missed on your Lake District road trip. With its olde-worlde charm, Cartmel is one of the prettiest villages in Cumbria where you’ll want to linger in one of the local inns or restaurants and browse the village shops.
The village is brimming with history from as early as the 7th century and stands on the River Eea which meanders among cobbled streets and pretty cottages. Dating back to the 12th century, Cartmel Priory houses beautiful stained-glass windows, ornate choir stalls and modern sculptures.
Things to do in Cartmel
- Spend a day at the races
- Visit Cartmel Priory and Gatehouse
- Dine at a riverside restaurant
- Brewery tour and beer tasting
Cartmel to Windermere via A592 (27.4 miles)
Claiming the title of the largest natural lake in England, Windermere is one of the more popular areas to visit on a Lake District road trip. Along its shoreline, you’ll find the towns of Bowness-on-Windermere and Ambleside as well as Windermere village itself. Bowness is a great Lake District town with lots going on as well as plenty of trendy bars and restaurants.
AD – Head over to The Angel Inn to indulge in some hearty pub food by the fire as you soak up spectacular views of the lake and the Langdale Pikes. And if you have one too many glasses of vino, fear not because they have beautiful bedrooms where you can rest your head for the night –even your dog’s welcome to stay! You can book your stay and see all their latest offers here – The Angel Inn.
If you’re a sucker for shopping and eating, Windermere is a great place to satisfy those cravings among a special fell and lakeside backdrop. You’ll find lively streets filled with independent shops, galleries, cafes, restaurants and inns.
AD – The Northern Line is a fabulous shop in Windermere that sells Lake District artwork, homeware and unique gifts, from Herdy hot water bottles and mugs to hand poured soya candles. It’s well worth a look whilst you’re in town or you can visit The Northern Line online.
But if you prefer to be on the wilder side of life, there are still plenty of walks and outdoor activities to enjoy away from the hustle and bustle of the town centres. Gummer’s How, Orrest Head, Stockghyll Force, and Wansfell Pike are among some of the walks you can take during a stay in Windermere.
AD – After you’ve worked up an appetite, The Ambleside Inn will be waiting to serve you delicious homecooked food in their slinky bar. The dog-friendly Inn is located at the heart of Ambleside and is full of character with its toasty log burner and ambient lighting. Stay overnight in one of the newly refurbished bedrooms and wake to heavenly fell views. Find out more about The Ambleside Inn and book online.
Things to do in Windermere and Ambleside
- Visit the Armitt Museum and Library
- Shop and eat!
- Lake cruise
- Activities such as cycling, kayaking, fell walking,
- Explore Stagshaw Gardens
- Visit the World of Beatrix Potter
- Visit Brockhole on Windermere Visitor Centre
Windermere to Grasmere via A591 (8.9 miles)
Grasmere is a vibrant hub and a much-loved tourist spot, understandably so. The village stands at the foot of several impressive fells and is a great starting point for many iconic walks. From Grasmere you can tackle the likes of Helm Crag, Loughrigg Fell and Silver How or you can walk up to Alcock and Easedale tarns. The flatter route around Grasmere and Rydal waters is perfect for beginners or anyone with young children, and it’s definitely worth a trip up to Rydal Caves en route.
Grasmere, once home to William Wordsworth, plays host to Dove Cottage, art galleries, gift shops, cafes, restaurants and, of course, the famous Gingerbread Shop.
AD – Once a coaching inn dating back to 1650, The Swan at Grasmere is so prestigious it was worthy of a mention in William Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Wagoner’. Cocooned by the Lakeland fells, the inn has earned itself an esteemed reputation for serving top-class food in a laid-back setting. Cosy bedrooms are available for overnight stays and can be booked online on The Swan website.
Things to do at Grasmere
- Visit Dove Cottage
- Stroll through the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden
- Walk around Grasmere and Rydal waters
- Visit Rydal Cave
- People watch from one of the cafes
- Fell walking
- Browse the shops
Grasmere to the Langdale Valley via A591 and A593 (8.6 miles)
There is a much shorter route to take to Langdale which is via Red Bank, however, it is narrow and steep and not advisable to use in the winter months.
Langdale is made up of two valleys, Great Langdale and Little Langdale, and possesses some of the most dramatic scenery on this Lake District road trip. Nestled beneath the gaze of the distinctive Langdale Pikes, it’s home to many walking routes for both beginners and more seasoned hikers. Lying between the two valleys there are some fantastic trails to Blea Tarn, a remote and tranquil spot favoured by photographers. You’ll find a handful of cosy inns at Langdale, each promising hearty, homemade food.
The Langdale Valley is a thrill-seeker’s paradise, and the Lake District Adventuring company offers a range of outdoor activities for anyone who wants to get their adrenalin flowing. From gorge scrambling and rock climbing to abseiling down Cathedral Quarry, you’ll be in the very safe hands of highly experienced instructors.
Things to do in the Langdale Valley
- Cycle the Langdale Trail
- Fell walking
- Visit Cathedral Cave
- Cycling and mountain biking
- Stroll around Elterwater
- Walk to Blea Tarn
Langdale Valley to Coniston via B5343 and A593 (7.9 miles)
Nestled beneath The Old Man of Coniston on the banks of Coniston Water, this pretty village has a fascinating copper mining history. With the Eastern Fells and Helvellyn casting their shadow over the water, this is a picturesque setting for a ride on the Victorian Steam Yacht Gondola. It’s no wonder Coniston was the inspiration for Arthur Ransome’s famous book ‘Swallows and Amazons’. In the centre of the village you’ll find real ale inns, cafes and lakeside restaurants.
There are some fabulous walks from Coniston and I’d highly recommend donning your boots and venturing over to Tarn Hows from Monk Coniston. Alternatively, jump in the car and take a short drive to the historic village of Hawkshead where you’ll find the National Trust’s Beatrix Potter Gallery, a local brewery and winding streets lined with gift shops, tea rooms and pubs.
AD – The Coniston Inn provides beautiful accomodation when staying in the area. With lush gardens that sprawl down to the lakeside, heavenly views, and delicious homecooked food, you might just be tempted to stay an extra night. Check availability and the latest offers for The Coniston Inn.
Things to do in Coniston
- Walk from Monk Coniston to Tarn Hows
- Cycle the North Face Trail (for experienced cyclists)
- Sample the local ales
- The Old Man of Coniston hike
- Lake cruise
- Visit Hawkshead Village
- Visit The Ruskin Museum
Coniston to Grizedale Forest via B5285 (7.2 miles)
Stood at the heart of the Lake District National Park, Grizedale Forest is a haven for wildlife and spans more than 24 square km. As well as 10 walking trails and nine cycling trails, there’s a play area, visitor centre, café, Go Ape, and Segway. You can easily spend the day here exploring all the nooks and crannies and going in search of the local wildlife such as deer, badgers, squirrels, foxes, grouse and woodpeckers.
Things to do at Grizedale Forest
- Explore the walking trails and discover the sculptures along the way
- Go Ape
- Wildlife spotting
- Enjoy lunch at the café
Grizedale to Eskdale via A5092 (26.2 miles)
The Western Lake District is one of the more remote areas of the national park and possesses some of the most exceptional scenery. Its ruggedness and somewhat haunting landscapes are well worth travelling those extra miles for.
This route avoids Hardknott and Wrynose passes as not everyone will feel confident tackling their steep and narrow roads. Instead, you will experience what I consider to be one of the most scenic drives in the Lake District, through Ulpha and along breathtaking mountain passes. Although there are some narrow roads to negotiate, it’s much less nerve racking than the passes previously mentioned.
Eskdale lies in a wildly beautiful valley with rugged mountains at one end and the coastline at the other. The River Esk flows beneath forests, fells and gushing waterfalls, and is surrounded by endless walking trails that take you deep into its heart. One of the more familiar walks is from Boot, past St Catherine’s Church and up to Stanley Ghyll Force, or if you enjoy wild swimming, head up to Tongue Pot.
No trip to Eskdale is complete without taking a ride on La’al Ratty on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, a narrow-gauge steam railway that takes you through picturesque scenery.
AD – Cream Tea and Steam Experience at Ravenglass Railway
Explore the Eskdale Valley as you journey along the Ravenglass Railway, disembarking for cream tea and sandwiches at Dalesgarth.
Things to do in Eskdale
- Ride on La’al Ratty
- Swim in Tongue Pot
- Visit Hardknott Fort
- Walk to Stanley Ghyll Force Waterfall via St Catherine’s Church
- Visit Eskdale Mill
- Gorge walking
Eskdale to Wasdale via Bowerhouse Bank (12.7 miles)
Wild and mysterious, Wasdale plays host to some of the Lake District’s most iconic sights including Scafell Pike, Wastwater and the country’s smallest church. Nowhere else will you find such natural beauty with a rugged exterior. The valley is the starting point for many of the greatest fell walks and is popular with more seasoned hikers. As well as England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike, you can tackle many more fells such as Great Gable, Pillar, Yewbarrow, and Scoat Fell.
At the heart of Wasdale, lies Wastwater, the deepest lake in England. Its shoreline is fringed by imposing fells, making it a dramatic setting for wild swimming, kayaking and diving. If gentler walks are more your thing, follow the river from Wasdale Head and up into the Mosedale Valley to Ritson’s Force Waterfall.
Things to do in Wasdale
- Fell walking
- Visit Ritson’s Force Waterfall
- Visit St Olaf’s Church
- Kayaking or swimming at Wastwater
- Mountain biking
Wasdale to St Bees via A595 and B5345 (16.1 miles)
Home to the westernmost point of Cumbria, St Bees Head has gained fame for being the start of the Wainwright Coast to Coast walk. The pretty coastal village has a long sandy beach and promenade which lets you soak up views of the Lakeland fells. At St Bees Head you’ll also find an RSPB nature reserve where you can look out for Kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots, and fulmars.
Things to do at St Bees
- Coastal walk
- Visit St Bees Priory
- Water-based activities
St Bees to Buttermere via A5086 (22.1 miles)
Head inland to the beautiful hamlet of Buttermere which stands between Buttermere Lake and Crummock Water. The valley is fringed by woodland and looming fells that make up some of the most dramatic lakeside walks in the Lake District. Haystacks, Fleetwith Pike, Red Pike, and Rannerdale Knotts frame the lake and cast captivating reflections on the water.
Although this part of the national park is a little further out of the way, it’s dramatic beauty can still draw crowds at weekends so it’s best to arrive early or visit during the week if you want to avoid the busier times.
Things to do at Buttermere
- Fell walking
- Walk to Scale Force Waterfall
- Walks around Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater
- Tuck into a pub lunch
Buttermere to Whinlatter Forest via B5289 (9.6 miles)
Overlooking Keswick, Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake, Whinlatter Forest offers plenty of outdoor adventures for children and adults. As well as the nine walking trails, three cycling trails and two running trails, there are also play areas, Go Ape, Segway, picnic areas, Visitor Centre and shop. The little ones will love the Gruffalo Orienteering Course and sculptures. You can even take a walk with alpacas!
Go Ape Treetop Challenge
With several Go Ape adventures available for both adults and children, this is a great way to spend time with the family.
Things to do at Whinlatter Forest
- Walking, running and cycling
- Go Ape
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Horse riding
Whinlatter to Keswick via B5292 (4.8 miles)
A bustling market town at the heart of the Lakes, Keswick is a much-loved destination for anyone who loves fell walking, shopping, dining out and outdoor adventures. The town centre is filled with independent shops, pubs, restaurants and galleries and its famous market lures visitors from far and wide.
Just a short walk from the town, Derwentwater is a beautiful lake surrounded by distinctive fells, one of the most iconic being Catbells. There’s a whole host of water-based activities available such as kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, windsurfing and sailing. Make sure you walk through Hope Park along the way where you can play mini-golf and admire the manicured gardens.
- Visit Keswick Market
- Fell walking
- Water sports on Derwentwater
- Take in a performance at Theatre by the Lake
- Explore Millican Dalton’s Cave
- Visit Castlerigg Stone Circle
- Shopping and eating
- Visit Hope Park
- Walk along Derwentwater to Friars Crag for incredible views
Keswick to Ullswater via A66 and A5091 (15.5 miles)
Ullswater is the final destination on this Lake District road trip and is a perfect way to end your tour of the national park. Set inside the Eden Valley, Ullswater is enveloped by jaw-dropping scenery and is home to lovable villages and towns including Pooley Bridge, Glenridding, Howtown, Watermillock, and Patterdale. Water lovers often come here to try their hand at kayaking, wild swimming and paddle boarding.
Pooley Bridge is one of my favourite villages in the area as it’s a great starting point for the Ullswater Way walk. You’ll also find several lively pubs here as well as a riverside café.
AD – Gin lovers will also be in their element when they visit Chestnut House, a friendly independent shop that stocks specialist local food and drink and more than 400 gins – no wonder it’s ranked as the number one shop in Cumbria! You can visit Chestnut House on Facebook or take a look at their TripAdvisor reviews to see why the shop has caused such a stir!
Things to do in Ullswater
- Water-based activities
- Hike up Helvellyn
- Visit Glencoyne Bay
- Riverside dining
- Walk up to Aira Force Waterfall
- Lake cruise
- Walk the Ullswater Way
- Drive along the scenic Kirkstone Pass
- Pony trekking
If you prefer to explore by bus or train, read my blog about the different travel options for getting around the Lake District.