North York Moors National Park: The Complete Guide

An iconic hill on the edge of the North Yorks Moors National Park.

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North York Moors National Park

Address
United Kingdom
Phone +44 1439 772700

Travel to the northeast of England to discover the 554-square-mile North York Moors National Park, famous for its sweeping fields of purple heather. The national park, established in 1952, is famous as the setting for several novels and films, including Bram Stoker's "Dracula," which was partially written in the seaside town of Whitby.

There are several popular destinations within the park, including Robin Hood's Bay, Goathland, and Pickering. The area is well-known for its hikes, including the famed Cleveland Way, in addition to its beaches and rugged coasts along the North Sea. Whether you prefer to embark on an adventure outdoor or experience local culture, the North York Moors National Park has something for every type of traveler.

Things to Do

The North York Moors National Park consists of scenic towns and villages, beaches and coastline, and vast expanses of countryside, Go shopping in the charming market towns of Pickering, Malton, or Whitby; dine on seafood in the fishing village of Robin Hood's Bay; or take a tour of Castle Howard, featured in Netflix's "Bridgerton." The North York Moors are designated as an International Dark Sky Reserve, boasting lots of spots to stargaze throughout the area. For a dose of history, head to Whitby Abbey, Ryedale Folk Museum, or Levisham Estate.

Outdoor types will enjoy walking, cycling, horseback riding, and trail running, and the long North Sea coastline offers opportunities for swimming, water sports, and boat trips. The North York Moors National Park is known in England as the "capital of cake," which means you can treat yourself after a hike or bike ride at one of the many bakeries and tearooms throughout the villages. Many visitors enjoy a ride on one of the historic steam trains that traverse the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Head to the train station in Goathland, which you may recognize from the Harry Potter films, to board.

Woman walking along path between Whitby and Robinshood Bay in the North York Moors.

Cavan Images

Best Hikes & Trails

The national park isn't necessarily a hiking destination as it lacks mountains and steep ascents. However, there are several popular walking trails throughout the park, including a few that require long-distance treks. The most famous trail is the Cleveland Way, which runs for 110 miles around the national park and can be completed in segments or as a whole.

The North York Moors are also known for fell and trail running, with numerous running events taking place throughout the region each year. Fell running, where a runner creates their own route through the terrain, is a great way to test your endurance. One of the top running routes is the Cinder Track from Scarborough to Whitby.

While the area isn't necessarily mountainous, the trails can be rocky or rough, so it's important to wear sturdy, comfortable shoes. The weather can be unpredictable and visitors should bring along rain gear and layers. Because many of the trails and routes traverse through the countryside, it's important to know the right of way. Check the park's Rights of Way Map, which is updated daily, when planning your walk.

Here are some of the best trails in the North York Moors National Park:

  • Cleveland Way: Officially opened in 1969, the Cleveland Way runs from Helmsley through several towns in the North York Moors, including Saltburn-by-the-Sea and Whitby. It's an accessible trail for all levels of fitness, although you'll need nine days to complete the entire route.
  • Lyke Wake Walk: This 40-mile trail traverses the highest and widest part of the national park and is typically done from west to east. There is no official route, but trekkers can follow the New Lyke Wake Club's map.
  • White Rose Way: The White Rose Way stretches from Leeds to Scarborough, but avid walkers can take up part of the trail in the North York Moors. Look for the part that passes through Dalby and Wykeham Forests for a particularly scenic walk.
  • Esk Valley Walk: Experience some of the most beautiful valleys in England on the Esk Valley trail, which is split into four routes that total 37 miles.

Biking

Biking is particularly enjoyable in the North York Moors thanks to its rolling hills and scenic landscapes. There are three dedicated cycling centers within the national park to help both newcomers and experienced cyclists. While some bikers may prefer to ride on the country roads, there are also opportunities to cycle along miles of bridleways, forest tracks, and disused railway lines. There are numerous bike rental shops throughout the North York Moors, including in Pickering, Scarborough, Thirsk, and Whitby.

  • Moor to Sea Cycle Network: For cyclists looking to enjoy quiet roads and scenic forest trails, the long-distance Moor to Sea Cycle Network connects Scarborough, Whitby, Dalby Forest, Pickering, and Great Ayton over 150 miles. There are 11 routes in total, which can be joined together for those looking to make a lengthier ride.
  • Dalby Forest: Dalby Forest is the prime location for mountain biking in the North York Moors, with options for experienced cyclists as well as families. Look for the accessible 1.7-mile Ellerburn Family Cycle Route or Dixon's Hollow Bike Park, which offers dirt jumps and a track for adventurous riders.
  • Sutton Bank: The area of Sutton Bank, which has its own cycling center, is filled with mountain biking trails that are ideal for families and beginners. One of the most popular is the 3-mile Cliff Trail.

Water Sports

Because the North York Moors National Park includes a long stretch of coast, the area is perfect for those seeking water sports. You can rent a canoe or kayak at Whitby Harbour, or try your hand at paddleboarding or surfing in Sandsend. While many of the harbors along the coast offer great shore fishing, the harbors in Scarborough, Whitby, and Staithes are the best of the bunch. Swimming is, of course, a big deal in the park, even when the water is cold. Whitby and Scarborough have the two best beaches, each featuring long stretches of sand and amenities, though visitors will need to be mindful of the tides.

Scenic Drives

There is a lot to discover in the North York Moors, from the coast to charming countryside towns to vast stretches of moorland. That's all best seen by car, particularly if you want to glimpse the heather when it blooms a majestic purple. There are numerous routes through the national park, and visitors can't really go wrong with any one of them as there's so much to see. For an especially scenic drive, head from Whitby to Hutton-le-Hole along the A174 and the B1460, or follow the Wharfedale Circuit, which stops at Grassington, Bolton Abbey, and Skipton Castle.

The roads in the North York Moors can vary in terms of traffic, but it's always important to be aware of the speed limits, especially on curving sections. There can be layers of fog over the moors during the colder months, so proceed with care. Opt for a GPS addition in your rental car in case cell phone service is limited (it will likely drop out between towns). When in doubt, bring a printed map that leads the way to your destination.

Black Sheep on Spaunton Moor, North York Moors

Richard Pinder / Getty Images

Where to Camp

The North York Moors National Park offers both camping and glamping options throughout the region. For help finding the best possible campsite, use a booking site like Camping.co.uk. If you want to wild camp, be sure to get permission from the landowner first.

  • Middlewood Farm Holiday Park: Bring the kids to Middlewood Farm Holiday Park, where you can rent a caravan, glamping pod, or campsite. Its location near Robin Hood's Bay is great for countryside walks and beach access.
  • Partridge Nest Farm: Located on Eskdaleside, Partridge Nest Farm features camping pods and a vacation cottage for rent.
  • Lawnsgate Farm: Lawngate Farm, near the village of Lealholm, is ideal for family-friendly camping and glamping in the English countryside.
  • Bungdale Head Farm Campsite: This working family farm, found near Helmsley, has spots for tents, motor homes, and RVs. Toilets and running water are available.

Where to Stay Nearby

Whether you prefer to rent a vacation cottage near the North Sea or bunk up in a quaint B&B in a countryside town, there are dozens of great accommodation options throughout the park. For unique housing options, check out Canopy & Stars, a travel site with interesting properties for rent around the U.K., or Sykes Holiday Cottages.

  • Raithwaite Sandsend: This four-star hotel on the outskirts of Whitby features stylish rooms and a restaurant. The best part? It's within walking distance of the beach.
  • Gisborough Hall Hotel: Embrace countryside luxury at Gisborough Hill Hotel, a manor house hotel with comfortable rooms and a good location between the sea and the moors.
  • Grinkle Park Hotel: Located on a 35-acre country estate, this stately house hotel has a real sense of history. Don't miss the hotel's high-end afternoon tea service.
  • Pheasant Hotel: Country walkers will make the most of this hotel, located near Helmsley. The rooms are chic and family-friendly, with a restaurant on site.

How to Get There

The North York Moors National Park is located in the northeast of England and is accessible by car, train, and bus. If arriving by train, the best station to come into from London is York, found on the outskirts of the North York Moors. From there, visitors can rent a car or continue on via train to places like Malton, Scarborough, Middlesbrough, Redcar, and Whitby. Additionally, the TransPennine Express operates trains from Manchester, Leeds, and York into Malton, Seamer, and Scarborough.

A cheaper but slower option is the National Express bus, which offers service to York, Thirsk, Northallerton, Scarborough, and Middlesbrough. From York, Coastliner Buses continue on to Malton, Pickering, Goathland, and Whitby. By car, the A1 and the A64 bring visitors to the outskirts of the region, and smaller roads like the A172, the A171, and the A170 connect the main towns and the coast.

The nearest airports are Leeds Bradford International Airport, Newcastle International Airport, Doncaster Sheffield Airport, and Teeside International Airport. Car rentals are available at each one. For those coming by ferry from the Netherlands, the closest ferry ports are Hull and Newcastle.

Accessibility

All three of the visitor centers in the North York Moors National Park are accessible, and much of the park itself welcomes those with mobility issues or disabilities. The Moors National Park Centre and the Sutton Bank National Park Centre have motorized scooters and manual wheelchairs available for free rental, as well as disabled parking spots. While many of the trails involve going off-road, some of the walking and cycling routes are appropriate for those who have trouble walking or who are in a wheelchair. You can find easy-access walks on the park's official website. Attractions like Castle Howard offer disabled parking, accessible toilets, and ramp access.

Staithes in the North York Moors National Park

Daniel Nicholson / 500px

Tips for Your Visit

  • Take advantage of the national park's three visitor centers. Each features exhibitions, kid-friendly activities, a gift shop, and workshops.
  • Plan your visit around the park's nature calendar, which helps travelers discern when to spot specific animals or plants. The heather, specifically, blooms purple and pink from mid-August through September.
  • Download the PayByPhone app to pay for parking in all of the North York Moors National Park parking lots. Search for the nearest open spot on the North York Moors' website.
  • When planning a visit to one of the area's beaches, use the Tide Forecast to check the incoming and outgoing tides.

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North York Moors National Park: The Complete Guide