The South West Coast Path, an epic 630-mile trail clinging to England’s Atlantic coastline, is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Rugged cliffs give way to white sand beaches, while beneath your feet, waves splash against secret caves. Whether you choose to conquer the whole route, or are looking for a laid-back weekend stroll, you’ll find an adventure for all abilities. Here are our recommendations for the best day hikes.
Minehead to Porlock Weir (Somerset)
Start at Minehead, the very beginning of the South West Coast Path. Take a selfie by the waymarker before slowly but surely ascending almost 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level. From the peak of Hurlstone Point, it’s possible to see all the way to Wales. A very steep walk down the other side brings you to an ancient marshland, where the eagle-eyed might spot rare birds. At the end of this walk is Porlock, a mystical hamlet at the edge of Exmoor, where you can enjoy a pie and a pint in the historic Ship Inn.
Length: 8.7 miles
Duration: 4 hours
This circular hike is, quite literally, a breeze. Depart from Lynton, a Victorian haven of hodgepodge buildings, adorable tea rooms, and a water-powered funicular railway. Following the Coast Path brings you to the Valley of Rocks, Devon’s windswept answer to Monument Valley. There are a couple of sharp ascents before you get back to Lynton, but you’ll explore miles of refreshing woodland, pass by Celtic ruins, and hopefully get to watch some of the wildlife at play.
Length: 10 miles
Duration: 4.5 – 5 hours
It’s said King Arthur’s clandestine conception took place at Tintagel, the Cornish cliffside castle of yore. These three hikes help you discover the fascinating ruin at your own pace. Each walk caters to varying abilities (and attention spans)—but it’s relatively flat throughout, edging along the clifftops and through rolling farmland. Beyond the cozy confines of Tintagel village are the jagged, black shores of North Cornwall, which resemble a hostile alien world.
Length: 8 miles
Duration: 3.5 – 4 hours
Porthcurno to Land’s End (Cornwall)
Porthcurno is Cornwall at its best: the lush countryside turns into glowing golden sand before dissolving into the bright blue English Channel. A rapid scale of the cliff on your right takes you to the Minack Theatre, a jaw-dropping outdoor stage built by an eccentric local woman and her gardener. There are plenty more pirate coves and smuggler’s caves ahead, but be warned that the path can be uneven and steep. The trail evens out when you reach Nanjizal Beach and continue on towards Land's End, the westernmost point of mainland Britain.
Length: 5 miles
Duration: 2.5 hours
Penzance to St. Michael’s Mount (Cornwall)
This short stroll takes you from a modern seaside resort to an isolated fortified island. From Penzance train station, follow the railway along the flat shore promenade, joining joggers and dog walkers battling the relentless Cornish wind. St. Michael’s Mount and its mist-covered castle will soon come into view, but first you must traverse Marazion Marsh, a veritable paradise for birdwatchers. Grab a Cornish pasty in town before catching a boat to St. Michael’s Mount (or cross over the sandy causeway by foot if you time it right).
Length: 3 miles
Duration: 1 – 1.5 hours
Burgh Island to Plymouth (Devon)
Running from Agatha Christie’s favorite Art Deco retreat to the buzzing town of Plymouth, this tricky yet scenic trek is ideal for true pros. You’ll start at sunny Burgh Island Hotel, where a tractor will take you across the soggy sand to the Devon mainland. When you reach the pretty village of Mothecombe, walk along the wooded coastline of the River Erme to the River Yealm (wait until low tide, when the vast riverbed is exposed to the sun). From there, a local ferryman can help you across. The path then goes all the way to the Mount Batten Ferry; you’ll disembark in Plymouth’s historic Barbican.
Length: 22 miles
Duration: 12 – 14 hours
Secreted away by the Dart Estuary and the trees that surround it, Dartmouth is the jewel in Devon’s crown. Fortify yourself with a hot cup of tea in one of its cute cafés before heading to the estuary via undulating farmland and wooden footbridge. Castles, lighthouses, and lifeguard cottages have stood watch over the area for centuries, and you can pick which ones to explore. Stroll back along the River Dart until you reach the starting point, Dartmouth.
Length: 5.7 miles
Duration: 6 hours
Abbotsbury to Golden Cap (Dorset)
Whether you’re an animal lover, photographer, or geography nerd, you’ll find something to entertain you on this walk. Park at Abbotsbury, an eclectic village that has it all—a medieval abbey, a subtropical garden, and even a swan colony. The town is also at the end of one of the UK’s largest tidal lagoons, The Fleet, which are protected from the English Channel by the polished pebbles of Chesil Beach. The path continues all the way to the village of West Bay. "Broadchurch" fans will instantly recognize its miniature harbor as well as the magnificent Golden Cap, the highest point on the entire south coast of England.
Length: 14 miles
Duration: 5 – 6 hours
Dancing Ledge and Chapman’s Pool (Dorset)
If you want to get off-the-beaten track, this roundtrip hike will show you not one, but two secret beaches. From Worth Matravers, walk to Dancing Ledge, an outcrop with a swimming pool carved out by dynamite. You’ll have to conquer a 3-foot rock face to access it, but it’s so worth it. You’ll return to the village on the way to Chapman’s Pool, so stop by the Square and Compass pub—its Dorset ales and hot apple cake are a real favorite with locals. Heading to the coast will take you to Chapman’s Pool, a sleepy beach bordered by wildflowers and sheer headlands.
Length: 8 miles
Duration: 4 hours
Tyneham to Durdle Door (Dorset)
For a walk packed with history (and even prehistory), look no further. Begin in Tyneham, a picturesque village abandoned in World War II because the British government requisitioned it for military training. Take in the salty air at Worbarrow Bay before clambering up the cliff—it is a 33 percent incline, so bring your trekking poles! Your reward is the Iron Age hillfort at the top, Flower’s Barrow, which is gradually falling into the sea. Next up is Lulworth Cove, a perfectly shell-shaped inlet. Ascending the final hill takes you to pristine Man o’War Bay and the iconic Durdle Door, a limestone arch tumbling into the glassine sea.
Length: 6.6 miles
Duration: 3 hours