A Complete Guide to Climbing the Three Peaks of Scotland, England, and Wales

Hikers on the route up Ben Nevis, Scotland


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If you’re a passionate hiker with a trip to the U.K. on the horizon, consider putting your hillwalking skills to the test by signing up for the National Three Peaks Challenge. This famous multi-peak hike requires participants to summit the highest mountains in Scotland, England, and Wales, usually in just 24 hours. It should be noted that these peaks are the tallest in each of their respective countries and not the tallest in the British Isles: Scotland alone has over 100 mountains taller than England’s highest, Scafell Pike; and 56 taller than Snowdon, the Welsh record-holder. 

Completing the Three Peaks Challenge requires a total walking distance of 23 miles (37 kilometers), and a total ascent of 10,052 feet (3,064 meters). The driving route between the mountains covers 462 miles—a considerable distance in its own right, leaving relatively little time in between journeys for scaling the three peaks. The challenge can be completed by anyone of good fitness and sufficient determination, with no professional climbing or mountaineering experience required. Training and preparation are essential, though, and this guide is a good place to start. 

What Are the Three Peaks?

Ben Nevis

Located at the western end of Scotland’s Grampian Mountains, near the town of Fort William in Lochaber, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain of the challenge and also the highest in the British Isles. With a summit of 4,413 feet (1,345 meters), it has just one main route, starting from the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre. The route is 10.5 miles long and involves 4,435 feet (1,352 meters) of ascent, with deep snow often present on the final section until May each year. Budget 3 pounds (around $4) per car and 10 pounds per coach or minibus to park your car at the visitor center while you climb.  

Scafell Pike 

The second peak of the challenge is also the smallest, England’s Scafell Pike. This mountain is located in Cumbria’s Lake District National Park and offers several different routes. The most popular for hikers taking part in the Three Peaks Challenge is the one that starts north of Wastwater at Wasdale Head. Your hike begins from the Wasdale Campsite car park, and covers 6 miles up and down, with a total ascent of 3,244 feet (989 meters). The summit itself is situated 3,209 feet (978 meters) above sea level. 

Snowdon

Snowdon, the tallest mountain in Wales measuring 3,590 feet high (1,085 meters), is located in the heart of Snowdonia National Park. Llanberis is the closest village and the best base for your ascent. There are many routes up Snowdon, with two of the most popular being the Pyg Track and the Miners Track. Both of these have an ascent of 2,372 (723 meters), and both depart from Pen-y-Pass car park. Parking here fills up quickly, so consider getting to the start using the Sherpa Bus from Llanberis or the other mountain car parks instead. 

Snowy Snowdonia mountains in winter
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How to Do the Three Peaks Challenge

There are two ways to take part in the Three Peaks Challenge: either as part of a professionally organized event or with a self-organized group.

Professional Event 

Whether you’re hiking alone or with friends and family, you can sign up for an official Three Peaks event via the challenge website. There are several different challenge options. The Open National Three Peaks Challenge is held on set dates from May to October and allows individuals to join other hikers and benefit from shared minibus transport between the mountains. There is no minimum booking size for this option, which costs 349 pounds per person. 

Alternatively, groups of eight or more can opt for a Private National Three Peaks Challenge, which costs 399 pounds per person and includes private minibus transport, a mountain leader, food, and drink. These events can be booked at any time throughout the season from April to October. Finally, it’s also possible to sign up for the more leisurely Three Peaks Challenge in Three Days event, which costs 650 pounds per person and includes transport, packed lunches, three nights accommodation, and a full guiding service. This event is held on select dates each year. 

Self-Organized Group 

If you would rather attempt the challenge without professional help (and on your own schedule), you can also organize an independent event. For safety’s sake, it is recommended to do so with a group of at least four walkers and two designated drivers. Your drivers should not take part in the hike, so as to be able to drive you safely from Point A to Point B. You will need to arrange your own transport and accommodation near the start and finish points. If you want to receive official guidance and certificates of completion, you can register your challenge for 6 pounds per person. 

How to Plan Your Timing

For those that want to complete the challenge in the traditional 24 hours, timing is of the utmost importance.

Plan to divide yours as follows:

  • Five hours to ascend and descend Ben Nevis
  • Four hours for Scafell Pike
  • Four hours for Snowdon
  • 11 hours of driving in total (six hours from Ben Nevis to Scafell Pike, and five from Scafell Pike to Snowdon).

If you are planning your own challenge, there is no rule dictating the order in which you have to tackle the peaks; however, beginning with Ben Nevis and ending with Snowdon generally gives the best chance of success.

Exactly when you start depends on whether you care more about climbing during daylight hours, or avoiding peak traffic on the driving sections. For the former, experts suggest starting your Ben Nevis ascent at 5 p.m. This will see you finish your first mountain at around 10 p.m. (just ahead of Scotland’s summer sunset), then climb Scafell Pike from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m., and Snowdon from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. If you are aiming to avoid as much traffic as possible, you can alternatively climb Ben Nevis from midday to 5 p.m., Scafell Pike in the dark from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., and Snowdon from 8 a.m. to midday. 

To date, the record for the Three Peaks Challenge is held by Joss Naylor, who completed the challenge in 11 hours and 56 minutes back in 1971. 

two friends hiking together up a path on Scafell Pike mountain in the lake district.
© Peter Lourenco / Getty Images

Essential Equipment List 

For a successful challenge attempt, you will need to make sure that you have the following equipment: 

  • Walking boots with sufficient ankle protection. Be sure to break them in before your trek
  • Comfortable hiking clothes, including plenty of lightweight layers, waterproof pants and jacket, and cold weather gear (thick hiking socks, gloves, hat, and thermals)
  • Ordnance Survey National Three Peaks Challenge Map with detailed mapping of all three mountains, their various routes, and the roads that connect them
  • Compass
  • Head torch and spare batteries
  • Sufficient water and trail snacks, with main meals and replacement water to be kept in your vehicle
  • Sun protection, including sunglasses and sunscreen
  • First aid kit, including treatment for blisters
  • Safety blanket
  • Emergency shelter
  • A change of clothes for each ascent

Best Time to Go 

The traditional Three Peaks Challenge season runs from April to October, with the optimum months for maximum daylight hours being June, July, and August. These summer months are also typically the warmest and driest in the U.K. If you are an experienced winter hiker, it is also possible to join an official Winter Three Peaks Challenge. Hosted on specific dates from November to March, these private events cost 449 pounds per person and require a group of at least six people. Specialist equipment, including ice axes and crampons, will be required. 

Alternative Challenges

Although the method described above is the most common way to complete the Three Peaks Challenge, it’s also possible to run or cycle the route—including the distance between the three mountains. Because all three are located within relative proximity to the coast, you can also sail the Three Peaks, traveling by sea from Fort William to Whitehaven and Barmouth harbors. There is even an official annual Three Peaks Yacht Race, held every year in June. This race involves teams of sailors, runners, and cyclists. 

If you want to elevate the challenge even further, there are also Four, Five, and Six Peaks Challenges which add Carrantuohill (the tallest peak in Ireland), Slieve Donard (the tallest mountain in Northern Ireland), and Snaefell (the tallest mountain on the Isle of Man) respectively. 

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