Yorkshire Dales National Park: The Complete Guide

View across flower filled meadows in the Yorkshire Dales across a valley towards the mountain of Ingleborough.

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Yorkshire Dales National Park

Address
Bainbridge, Leyburn DL8 3EL, UK
Phone +44 1969 652300

Yorkshire Dales National Park, located in the north of England, encompasses thousands of square miles of picturesque countryside and scenic villages. While it's not particularly mountainous, the national park is known for its sweeping moors, rolling hills and walking trails. It is home to the Three Peaks, and has a vast caves system, which can be visited by travelers.

The region is dotted with historic towns, like Ripon and Settle, and there are numerous attractions popular with tourists, including castles, museums and manor estates. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds travel to Yorkshire Dales National Park for a variety of reasons, from enjoying the walking and biking trails to immersing themselves in countryside life for a few days.

Things to Do

Aysgarth Falls in Yorkshire Dales National Park

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Yorkshire Dales National Park is a vast area, comprised of moors, valleys, hills and villages. There is a lot to see and do throughout the park for visitors of all ages and interests, with an emphasis on exploring the natural beauty of the region. The Yorkshire Dales are especially popular for walking and cycling, although there are also plenty of activities for visitors less inclined to outdoor activities, from historic castles to the famed Settle to Carlisle railway.

Explore natural attractions like Malham Cove and Aysgarth Falls, or walk the trails through the Three Peaks. Ingleborough Cave, which has been open to visitors since 1837, reveals awe-inspiring cave formations, while White Scar Caves is the the longest show cave in England.

The Yorkshire Dales is home to several castles and historic homes, including Richmond Castle, Bolton Abbey Estate, Skipton Castle and Ripley Castle. There are also plenty of scenic villages to visit, from Settle to Ripon to Skipton. The Dales themselves are composed of small villages and farmsteads, with small trails connecting much of the area. Head to Swaledale, Wharfedale and Wensleydale for the classic British countryside experience. Local museums include Hawes Ropemakers, Dales Countryside Museum, and Grassington Folk Museum.

The national park is well-known for its cycling trails, with cyclists of all abilities coming to the Yorkshire Dales. The 12-mile Swale Trail is the most famous, and there are also over 600 miles of mountain biking trails or off-road areas. Horseback riding is available at various places around the Dales, and the park is also a designated Dark Sky Reserve, perfect for spotting the Big Dipper.

Best Hikes & Trails

Because the Yorkshire Dales is relatively flat, with hills rather than massive mountains, visitors tend to go on country walks rather than big hikes. There are numerous short walks, as well as some popular long-distance walks, throughout the park. The most famous ascent is the Three Peaks—Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough—which offer a more traditional hiking experience.

Although the Yorkshire Dales are not particularly mountainous, the hill walks can prove challenging, especially in cold or rainy weather. Be sure to come prepared in comfortable, waterproof clothing and solid walking boots with a strong grip. Many of the walking routes in the Dales include stretches of limestone, which gets extremely slippery, and visitors should not enter any of the cave formations without a guide. Take advantage of of the Yorkshire Dales National Park's downloadable Miles Without Stiles routes for those with wheelchairs and strollers.

  • Ilkley Moor and the 12 Apostles: From West View Park, head through White Wells to the 12 Apostles, a standing circle of 12 stones. The walk takes about two hours and brings climbers to the highest point on the moor (although it is a relatively easy trek).
  • The Herriot Way: Named for author James Herriot, a veterinary surgeon who lived and worked in the Dales, this circular walk is 52 miles long and takes four or five days to traverse. Opt to do part of the route, or go all in for the full circuit.
  • Aysgarth Falls: Follow a two and a half-mile loop around the famed Aysgarth Falls. The trek includes scenic woodlands and a pub called the Wheatsheaf, which marks the halfway point.
  • Three Peaks Challenge: Embark on a hike across the Dales' Three Peaks, a route that covers 24 miles and takes about 12 hours. Take the challenge yourself, or do it in an organized group.

Biking

A couple mountain bikes along a rocky path in Yorkshire, England.

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Road cycling and mountain biking are great ways to explore Yorkshire Dales National Park, which is known for its many cycling trails. The park boasts numerous routes for all ability levels, with an emphasis on off-road mountain biking. Look for various bike rental shops in the area, if you need to rent a bike and gear.

  • The Swale Trail: Running 12 miles long, the Swale Trail is an easy mountain bike route running the length of Swaledale, from Reeth to Keld.  The route is targeted to visitors with older children and those with some cycling experience, and offers several stops along the way. Embark on the Viking Challenge for some extra fun along the route.
  • Gargrave Short Circuit: Travel from the small town of Gargrave up into the southern Yorkshire Dales along several quiet roads via the Gargrave Short Circuit. Don't miss the well-known cyclists’ café the Dalesman in Gargrave.
  • Ilkley to Bolton Abbey: One of the most popular routes is a back road that goes from Ilkley to Bolton Abbey, taking cyclists on a relatively easy ride for about six miles. Some opt to extend the route to Wharfedale or to Embsay and Skipton.
  • Malham Tarn: Try your hand at mountain biking at Malham Tarn, which traverses stone tracks and quiet tarmac roads. The circular route, which is good for beginners, runs a little over four miles.

Water Sports

The waterfalls, rivers and lakes in the Yorkshire Dales National Park are popular for swimming, as well as kayaking, canoeing, sailing and windsurfing. Sailing can be found at Semer Water, a post-glacial lake, and at the reservoirs of Embsay and Grimwith, although Grimwith Reservoir is considered the best place to sail in the Dales. The Yorkshire Dales Sailing Club and Craven Sailing Club both offer opportunities to learn to sail or windsurf.

Caving

There are over 2,500 known caves in the Yorkshire Dales, including the longest system in Britain, The Three Counties. Caving is a popular pursuit when visiting the region, and can be safely done in several ways. There are three primary show caves, White Scar Cave, Ingleborough Cave and Stump Cross Caverns, which can be visited with ticketed entry. All are appropriate for kids of all ages. For more adventurous travelers, look for a course with a qualified guide, like Yorkshire Adventure Company, to explore the caverns and rock formations. Experienced explorers can rent caving equipment from Inglesports.

Scenic Drives

Yorkshire Dales National Park is a vast area with lots to explore, including numerous small villages that are best seen on a scenic drive. The roads can be winding and difficult to navigate at certain points, so pick a stretch of road that connects two villages or attractions you most want to see. Some of the most popular are Wensleydale to Swaledale, which traverses Buttertubs Pass, and Stainforth Ribblesdale to Halton Gill via Goat Lane and Silverdale Road.

Most of the back country roads are usually quiet, but pay attention, as you may be sharing them with cyclists, pedestrians, and, occasionally, farm animals. Opt for a GPS addition in your rental car in case cell phone service is limited.

Ribblehead Viaduct, Yorkshire Dales National Park

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Where to Camp

There are several private campgrounds through the Yorkshire Dales, which should be booked in advance, especially during the summer. Wild camping is not permitted anywhere in the Yorkshire Dales without permission from the landowner, so be sure to plan your visit in advance.

  • Kirkby Malham Camping: Located between the villages of Malham and Kirkby Malham, this pop-up campsite is available during the summer months only. It has portable toilets, a supply of water and trash cans for campers.  
  • Rukin’s Park Lodge Campsite: Open from Easter through September, Rukin's Park offers campers an opportunity to pitch a tent alongside the River Swale.
  • Hoggarths Campsite: For a quiet campsite, reserve a spot at Hoggarths, found in Upper Swaledale. It is open from March through October, with portable toilets available until the end of September.
  • Camp Kátur Glamping: A less rustic experience is on offer at Camp Kátur Glamping, which has yurts, safari tents, pods and clear unidomes for rent.

Where to Stay Nearby

The Yorkshire Dales are filled with charming hotels, small B&Bs and holiday cottages. Whether you prefer to stay in one of the villages or in a countryside accommodation, there are plenty of options for travelers. For unique housing options, check out Canopy & Stars, a travel site with interesting properties for rent around the U.K., or Sykes Holiday Cottages,

  • The Traddock Hotel: This Georgian manor house has elegant rooms, its own restaurant and afternoon tea in the garden. The family-run hotel is a great place to stay while exploring the Dales.
  • Yorebridge House: Located in Wensleydale, this five-star property has a historic feel but contemporary rooms. There is a restaurant and bar, as well as private outdoor hot tubs in select guest rooms.
  • The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa: Reserve at room at the Devonshire Arms, located on the Bolton Abbey Estate, not far from Skipton. The hotel has a restaurant, spa, gym and an indoor pool, as well as a popular afternoon tea service.
  • The Craven Arms: The Craven Arms, in Giggleswick, is a historic free house with eight rooms. Be sure to grab a table for dinner at the pub, which serves British classics.

How to Get There

Yorkshire Dales National Park is located in the north of England, and is accessible by car, train or bus. It's near several bigger towns and cities, including York, Harrogate, Leeds, Lancaster, Preston, Darlington and Middlesbrough. There are two National Rail train services covering the Yorkshire Dales area: the Leeds-Morecambe line and the Leeds-Settle-Carlisle line. Other nearby stations include Darlington, Northallerton, Ilkley, Skipton, Penrith and Oxenholme, most of which connect to London.

Buses are also available to most of the nearby cities and towns, and bus services within the National Park run throughout the year. Look for routes on National Express or Megabus when planning a trip to the Yorkshire Dales area. For information on local buses, visit the Dales Bus website.

The nearest airports are Leeds Bradford International Airport, Manchester Airport, Durham Tees Valley Airport and Newcastle International Airport, and travelers can rent cars at all of the airports to then drive to the Dales. The national park is bordered by several major roads, including the M6 on the west, the A66 on the north, the A1 on the east and the A65 and A59 on the south.

Elderly man hiking in the Yorkshire Dales national park, England

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Accessibility

Yorkshire Dales National Park operates under the premise that everyone has the right to access the countryside. Their Miles Without Stiles downloadable routes offer options for wheelchair users, and the national park regularly hosts walks and talks for disabled visitors. The Dales Experience program works with people who often don’t visit the Yorkshire Dales, including people who have a disability, mental or physical health condition. The parking lots also feature disabled toilets, which are open 24 hours a day.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Visit one of several visitors centers in Yorkshire Dales National Park before heading out on a walk or bike ride. The experts in the centers will help you plan your trip, or just offer some ideas on what to see. The centers also sell local souvenirs.
  • There are numerous parking lots available to visitors in the Yorkshire Dales. All the parking lots have 24-hour public toilets. Some toilets require a charge of 20p, so it can be helpful to have coins at the ready.
  • Dogs are welcome in Yorkshire Dales National Park, but it's important to follow some guidelines. Be sure to keep your dog on a leash on public rights of way and in fields where there is livestock, being particularly mindful of sheep.
  • Take advantage of the Mountain Weather Information Service, which details the current ground conditions, visibility, wind speed, wind direction, and temperature in the park. 
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Yorkshire Dales National Park: The Complete Guide