Dartmoor National Park: The Complete Guide

Dartmoor National Park

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Dartmoor National Park

United Kingdom
Phone +44 1626 832093

A place that has inspired numerous artists and authors and the site of so many of Devon local myths and legends, the word mysterious always springs to mind when considering Dartmoor National Park and its vast wilderness. Footpaths and trails intersect right across the park making it a haven for ramblers and hikers but also a wonderful place to enjoy cycling and horse riding and, if you’re lucky, you will even catch a glimpse of the free-roaming Dartmoor ponies.

With ancient ruins, historic towns, castles, and stone circles, Dartmoor is as enjoyable for its history as its nature. Enjoy a cream tea or a glass of cider and get to know one of the UK’s favorite national parks.

Things to Do

  • Wild Swimming: Dartmoor is a haven for anyone who enjoys wild swimming with Spitchwick Common along the River Dart being one of the most popular destinations. Some quieter spots include Salmon Leaps and Drewe's Pool which can be found under the imposing Castle Drogo, and the beauty spot Fingle Bridge for paddling.
  • Visit a Castle: Devon has no shortage of castles and forts to explore, with over 20 scattered in and around Dartmoor National Park. Some not to miss include the harbor fort Dartmouth, Castle Drogo (which is the last castle to be built in England), and the medieval motte and bailey Okehampton Castle which was built between 1068 and 1086.
  • Take a Literary Tour: There’s no end to the authors that have called this part of the world home or found inspiration in moors, towns, and rugged coastline. Arthur Conan Doyle set "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in Dartmoor and Agatha Christie lived and wrote her novels in this area. Her holiday home Greenway House is open to visitors with tours available for true fans
  • Wander Buckfast Abbey: The majestic Buckfast Abbey, shop, and gardens nestled in a wooded valley is a truly special place to visit in Dartmoor. Aside from wandering the tranquil space, you can enjoy lunch at The Grange restaurant and treat yourself to the vast range of products made by the monks and nuns of the church including perfumes, soaps, and ales.
  • Visit Dartmoor Prison Museum: Step inside one of the world's most infamous prisons with numerous artifacts and documents on display accounting for over 200 years of history spanning from its period as a Prisoner of War Depot for French and American prisoners of war, to the later convict era to today. Dartmoor Prison is a foreboding sight and an iconic part of Devon's history.
  • Enjoy a Cream Tea: With evidence of cream teas being enjoyed in Devon as far back as the 11th century, it’s fair to say that a good scone with cream and jam is a way of life here. In Devon, the cream typically goes on the scone before the jam whereas, in Cornwall, the opposite is more widespread making for some friendly rivalry. It will be difficult to find a cafe that doesn’t serve cream tea but Fingle Bridge Inn is conveniently located on a hiking trail and has beautiful views of the River Teign and an open fire.
View over Tavy Cleave in the west of Dartmoor National Park
Ben Ivory / Getty Images

Best Hikes and Trails

There is no end to the fascinating and exciting walks you can take through Dartmoor National Park, luckily the Dartmoor tourism board has conveniently organized all of the walks on their website. Here are some favorites:

  • Hound Tor Circular: One of the most popular Dartmoor walks and a must for lovers of mythology and folklore. This three-hour, beginner-friendly route takes you around the park’s most notable tors, the large free-standing rock outcrops that have been the subject of stories for hundreds of years. You'll pass by Haytor, Saddle Tor, Howell Tor, and Hound Tor as well as the Hound Tor medieval village.
  • Wistman’s Wood: Enjoy some forest bathing on a marked path through the lichen-covered centuries-old Wistman's Wood.
  • Two Castles Way: This 24-mile route takes you between Okehampton and Launceston Castles finishing just inside Cornwall with waymarks along the way to guide you. Taking you across a variety of terrain with some small climbs involved, this is ideal for moderate to experienced hikers.
  • Lyford Gorge: The deepest river gorge in the southwest of England, ancient woodland, and the 98-meter-high White Lady waterfall, Lydford Gorge is a beautiful part of Dartmoor to spend the day walking the marked trails and river paths. Make sure to wear good shoes as things get slippery.
  • Dart Valley Trail: You can either walk or cycle the whole trail or just go for a section (the 5-mile Middle Dart Valley Trail) but the full route takes you along the River Dart between the two historic towns of Totnes and Dartmouth, with natural and historic sights along the way including Dartington Hall.
  • The Dartmoor Way: One for the ambitious, the Dartmoor Way is a walking and cycling route that takes you around the circumference of the park treating you to varied landscapes and numerous towns, villages, and hamlets. This route was created so that less popular parts of the park get the attention they deserve and it covers 95 miles if you complete the route.

Where to Camp

It’s possible to wild camp in Dartmoor in certain areas as long as you’re a backpack camper and aren’t coming with a vehicle or multi-person tent and are only planning on camping for a night or two while hiking. You can use the camping map to find spots where you can pitch your tent. It goes without saying that a "no impact" approach is advised which can mean no open fires and no barbecues.

If you’re bringing a vehicle or want to camp for longer (or as a group) then there are a number of wonderful campsites available:

  • Dartmoor Caravan Park: Run by Peter and Sue for over 20 years with their expert knowledge of the area, this friendly caravan park with pitches surrounded by trees for privacy provides everything you need for a stay in Dartmoor. Including free high-speed Wi-Fi, showers and car-washing facilities, and dog-friendly pitches. They service caravan and camper bookings only.
  • River Dart Country Park: Set in 90 acres of parkland with numerous exciting activities on-site including a bike park and supervised kayaking, canoeing, caving, climbing, and zip line experiences making it perfect for families. The campsite is open from May to September and includes serviced pitches for caravan, tent, motorhome, or caravans.
  • Eversfield Safari Tent: For something a little different, stay on a 400-acre organic farm on the edge of Dartmoor in their impressive fully-services safari tents which can sleep up to six people. Surrounded by woodland, this is glamping at its finest. A full breakfast is provided from their farm and many of Dartmoor’s finest walks start right outside the site.

Where to Stay Nearby

Dartmoor has no shortage of rustic and boutique hotels and inns. It’s worth booking as far in advance as possible during the summer and as the area gets busy.

  • The Three Crowns: A characterful partly thatched 13th-century boutique coaching inn in the town of Chagford, the center of Dartmoor National Park. They offer fine-dining and locally sourced light meals and drinks throughout the day and evening and are just a 10-minute drive from Fernworthy Forest and Reservoir.
  • The Oxenham Arms Hotel: A hotel with a lot of history, this is one of the oldest inns in England and has seen the likes of Charles Dickens as famed guests. Once home to a 14th-century pirate, this hotel expertly blends rustic chic and sheer opulence with its antique furniture and original wooden beams. It’s in a perfect location to get on the hiking trails and explore nearby Okehampton Castle with the pleasure of coming back for an award-winning meal from the restaurant.
  • Townhouse Exeter: For people who prefer to be based in the city, this quiet grade II listed guesthouse in the center of Exeter means you have the benefit of enjoying the vibrant nightlife and shopping while being within walking distance of the train and bus station with direct links to Dartmoor National Park. Their freshly made breakfasts, delivered to your room each morning, are a real highlight.
Great Staple Tor at Night
MattStansfield / Getty Images

How to Get There

Devon is well connected to the rest of the U.K. by train and can be reached from London from both Paddington and Waterloo stations. The city of Exeter makes for an excellent entry point but you can also take the train to Tiverton, Newton Abbot, Totnes, or Plymouth. The train between London and Exeter takes between two and a half to three hours.

Devon is also easily reached by car with the M5 motorway leading to Exeter with good connections from the M4. Driving from London will typically take around three and a half hours.

National Express and Megabus also offer coaches leaving London and arriving in Exeter which is ideal for budget travelers.

Once you are in Devon, the public transport network connecting you with Dartmoor National Park and the towns within is extensive. The historic Dartmoor Line train service and Devon bus services make it easy to get around. You can also hire a car from any of the cities, particularly near the airport and train stations for added convenience.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Dartmoor is famous for its beautiful wild ponies and while you may be lucky enough to approach one, you shouldn’t feed them.
  • Rain is liable to fall and any moment, even during the summer so carrying a lightweight rain jacket or poncho is a good idea.
  • Many of the hikes in Dartmoor are suitable for beginner hikers but the ground can be uneven so wear suitable shoes with grip.
  • Dartmoor holds many festivals around the year with the East Devon Food Festival being one of the most popular. Checking what’s on when you’re there will make sure you don’t miss out.
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Dartmoor National Park: The Complete Guide