Yorkshire Dales National Park: Top Things to Do
The Yorkshire Dales National Park offers a diverse and captivating landscape, from windswept, craggy hills to vast moorlands and serene valleys. The region is home to ten official dales, each showcasing geological wonders, castles, and remnants of historical innovation. With a plethora of outdoor activities, traditional pubs, scenic drives, and picturesque picnic spots, the Yorkshire Dales is a compelling destination for visitors seeking an authentic English experience.
From high mountain passes to underground caves, the guide to the best things to do in the Yorkshire Dales National Park promises an exploration of the park’s most captivating features and activities. Whether it’s discovering geological marvels, embarking on scenic drives, or experiencing the region’s rich history, the Yorkshire Dales National Park offers a wealth of opportunities for visitors to immerse themselves in its natural beauty and heritage.
- The Yorkshire Dales National Park boasts a diverse landscape, offering captivating geological wonders, historical sites, and a wide range of outdoor activities.
- Visitors can explore high mountain passes, underground caves, traditional pubs, and picturesque picnic spots, making it an ideal destination for those seeking an authentic English experience.
- The guide to the best things to do in the Yorkshire Dales National Park provides an insightful overview of the region’s most compelling features and activities, promising a memorable and immersive experience for visitors.
1 – Discover the Geological Wonders of Malhamdale
Malham Cove is a geological wonder located in Malhamdale, UK. The curved limestone pavement stretches 300 metres across, creating the appearance of a massive paved surface. Deep fissures sink into the otherwise flat limestone, adding to its unique appearance. The edge of the pavement ends abruptly and drops almost vertically to the valley floor, 80 metres below. Visitors can enjoy exceptional views of the patchwork of fields rising and falling over undulating hills from up here on a fine day.
The base of Malham Cove provides a unique perspective of the geology of the area. A monolithic wall towers above, dotted with rock climbers. An underground river reappears at the base of the rock, adding to the geological interest of the area.
Visitors can walk to Malham Cove from Malham village in just 20 minutes, but there’s far more to explore in this remarkable area. Janet’s Foss is an idyllic waterfall at the head of a magical wooded glen. Gordale Scar, a hidden gorge, is peered over by craggy limestone cliffs. Malham Tarn, an upland alkaline lake, is home to unique wildlife. All of these geological wonders are beautiful and are best visited on this wonderful Malham Cove walk.
2 – Take in the Views of Swaledale
Upper Swaledale is the most beautiful part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, according to many visitors. It is the most northerly and least visited of the dales, and its stunning scenery is a patchwork of glistening green fields in stark contrast to the barren brown moorlands that rise above it. The River Swale flows through the valley floor, dropping over waterfalls and gathering in remote pools. Farmhouses that appear unchanged over centuries sit alongside medieval bothies overlooking a rugged land dotted with sheep.
The area around Keld and Muker is the most attractive part of Swaledale, and it’s easy to see why. The 2-week coast-to-coast path goes through here, and it’s a popular spot for visitors. One can drive the 20 minutes between Keld and Muker or stop off for a short stroll along the River Swale to see why this is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Yorkshire Dales.
For a pint and a view, visitors can head to the King’s Head in Gunnerside. They serve Black Sheep Bitter from the local brewery at Masham. The pub is located in a charming village and offers a stunning view of the surrounding countryside.
To make the most of the views, visitors can take a walk along one of the many trails in the area. The Swale Trail is a popular choice, offering stunning views of the valley and the river. Visitors can also hike to Kidson Force, a beautiful waterfall located in a secluded spot near Keld.
3 – Picnic in the Bolton Abbey Estate
For a picturesque setting with a few facilities, the Bolton Abbey Estate is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic. The estate is centred on the Bolton Priory ruins that overlook the River Wharfe, creating an idyllic valley.
Apart from the picnic, there are plenty of activities to indulge in. Visitors can take a short loop walk of the ruins and the Cavendish Pavilion or embark on a half-day hike that ventures into the countryside. The priory is thoroughly photogenic and a must-capture spot for visitors. For those who prefer a refreshing swim, there is a stony beach on the banks of the river.
There is no entry fee to the estate, but visitors must pay for parking, which is discounted if booked in advance of the visit date. The estate has several tea rooms, a brasserie, a gift shop, toilets, and a village shop. Due to its popularity, it is advisable to book ahead during peak season.
Here are some key points to remember:
- Bolton Abbey Estate is the perfect spot for a picnic, with facilities such as toilets, tea rooms, and a gift shop.
- Visitors can enjoy a short loop walk of the ruins and the Cavendish Pavilion or a half-day hike into the surrounding countryside.
- Capture the thoroughly photogenic priory or swim from the stony beach on the banks of the river.
- There is no entry fee to the estate, but visitors must pay for parking, which is discounted if booked in advance of the visit date.
- Due to its popularity, it is advisable to book ahead during peak season.
4 – EXPLORE A NETWORK OF UNDERGROUND CAVES
The Yorkshire Dales National Park has an extensive network of over 2,500 known caves, making it the longest system in Britain. This makes the national park an excellent caving destination for adventurers and explorers.
There are several options for exploring the underground caves, ranging from the easiest to the most challenging. The easiest option is to explore the “show caves,” which involves walking in groups along metal grid flooring within large cave systems. The largest show cave is White Scar Cave. Visitors only need to be able to walk up and down steps and bend to about waist height, and warm clothing is necessary as the temperature is below 10 degrees.
Another option is to descend via winch to Gaping Gill, a massive subterranean chamber large enough to fit St Paul’s Cathedral. Winching is organised by Bradford and Craven Pothole Clubs, but it is only possible one week in May and one week in August, so visitors need to plan their visit in advance.
For those who want to challenge themselves, several companies organise adventure caving tours for beginners. The experience involves wriggling through tiny gaps, descending underground waterfalls via rope, and generally clambering around. Lost Earth Adventures provides all the equipment and guidance visitors need for a great time.
Visitors should note that caving can be physically demanding and requires a certain level of fitness and agility. It is recommended to wear appropriate clothing and footwear and to bring a change of clothes as visitors may get wet. Visitors should also be aware of the potential risks and dangers associated with caving and should follow the guidance of experienced guides and instructors.
5 – GRAB A LOCALLY BREWED ALE IN A COUNTRY PUB
Escape the wind and rain in the Yorkshire Dales by visiting an old English country pub. There are a few excellent local creations and home-brewed ales that you can indulge in. Here are some of the best options:
RED LION IN BURNSALL
The Red Lion is a great traditional Yorkshire pub located next to a grand old bridge by a gorgeous spot on the River Wharfe. It has a wide selection of cask-conditioned real ales and a 16th-century bar. The food menu changes regularly, so there’s always something new to try.
CRAVEN ARMS IN APPLETREEWICK
The Craven Arms in Appletreewick is a pub packed with an old-world atmosphere. It is located in the self-proclaimed “Gateway to the Ales” village. The wood-panelled bar has a range of cask ales from the Yorkshire Dales Brewery. You can peruse the blackboard lit by a gas lamp and select your favourite ale.
LISTERS ARMS IN MALHAM
The Lister Arms in Malham is located in one of the best locations, overlooking the green. The ivory-clad exterior, complete with bunting, exudes all the character you could ask for from a village pub. They offer excellent sharing platters that go well with their home-brewed Freedom Ales or the Blonde from the local Settle Brewery. There’s a courtyard for sunny days where you can relax and enjoy your drink.
Grab a pint of locally brewed ale in one of these country pubs and enjoy the traditional Yorkshire atmosphere.
6 – Summit One or All of the Yorkshire Three Peaks
For those seeking an adventure activity in the UK, the Yorkshire Three Peak Challenge offers an exciting opportunity to hike the three peaks of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. The total hike is 24 miles, with a total ascent of 5,200 feet (1585 metres) and can be completed in under 12 hours. The challenge can be completed as part of an organised event or on your own, with the aim of completing all three peaks in under 12 hours.
If the full challenge seems too daunting, it is still worth considering summiting one of the peaks. Pen-y-Ghent is a popular choice, as it is craggier and more dramatic than the other two peaks, and is slightly lower. The hike can take around 4 hours, and offers a lovely circular route starting from Horton in Ribblesdale.
Below is a summary of the three peaks, including the distance, ascent, and estimated time to complete each hike:
It is important to prepare properly for the challenge, with suitable clothing, footwear, and provisions. The weather can be unpredictable, so it is recommended to check the forecast before setting off. Additionally, it is important to respect the environment and follow the Countryside Code to help preserve the natural beauty of the area.
Overall, whether completing the full challenge or just one peak, the Yorkshire Three Peaks offer a fantastic opportunity to experience the stunning scenery of the Yorkshire Dales and enjoy an adventure activity in the UK.
7 – Photograph the Ribblehead Viaduct
The Ribblehead Viaduct is an impressive feat of engineering and a popular photography spot in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The structure was built over 150 years ago by the Midland Railway and took five years to complete, with over 100 men losing their lives in the process. Today, the Grade 2 listed structure stands imposingly over the Ribble River, with twenty-four massive arches spanning 14 metres across and rising 32 metres above the valley floor. The gentle curves of the brickwork coursing through the valley add a sense of grace and grandeur, making it a must-visit spot for photography enthusiasts.
Visitors with drones can capture stunning aerial shots of the viaduct, especially when timed with a steam train making its journey across the valley floor. Steam trains operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays only, so it’s worth checking the train timetables beforehand.
8 – DRIVE OVER THE BUTTERTUBS PASS
One of the most scenic drives in Yorkshire is over Buttertubs Pass. This pass, rising to a height of 526 metres, connects Swaledale and Wensleydale and offers breathtaking views of the wild moors. The road is wide and easy to drive, with lanes going in either direction. Visitors can park at the summit to truly appreciate the stunning scenery of this remote place.
Driving from Middleham up the Coverdale Valley and down into Kettlewell is another great option. This tributary valley of Wensleydale is a picturesque corner of the dales that not many people visit, so visitors can enjoy the drive all to themselves. The road is single lane part of the way, so it is recommended to take time and enjoy the scenery.
Overall, driving over the passes that climb the high fells and connect the dales is a must-do activity when visiting the Yorkshire Dales. The roads disappear up and down the valleys, past babbling brooks and through tiny villages, making for a truly unforgettable experience.
9 – Cycle in Swaledale
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is a great place for cycling enthusiasts. The park offers a variety of options for both experienced cyclists and beginners looking for a scenic outdoor adventure. In 2014, the Tour de France began in Leeds and continued through the Yorkshire Dales, showcasing the park’s beauty and challenging terrain.
For experienced cyclists looking for a challenge, there are plenty of lung-busting climbs, with the highest being Fleet Moss. Running between Hawes and Oughtershaw, the 589-metre summit of the pass is the highest in Yorkshire. The cycle route climbs 303 metres with gradients of up to 20%.
But for novices, Swaledale is a great option. As the most northern of the dales, the roads are quieter, and there are plenty of options. Cyclists can take a ride along the road on the valley floor, head off along the specifically designed 20-kilometre Swale Trail (a mix of road and unsurfaced tracks), or head out of the valley and up onto the passes.
Dales Bike Centre is a great place to hire bikes for a ride in Swaledale. They offer road bikes for touring, mountain trail bikes for going off-track, or e-bikes to help get further and higher. Maps are provided with all the tracks in the area, and the staff can help pick a route that is just right for each cyclist.
Overall, Swaledale is a great option for novice cyclists looking for a scenic and enjoyable ride in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
10 – Dinner and Music at Remote Tan Hill Inn
Tan Hill Inn, situated at 528 metres, is Britain’s highest public house. It is located in a beautifully desolate moorland scene that offers a panoramic view of the surrounding area. The pub is a popular spot for hikers, cyclists, and lost drivers searching for a place to rest, eat, and drink. The pub’s rugged atmosphere is filled with the chatter of hardy patrons telling their day’s stories while enjoying their pint glasses getting refilled.
The newly constructed outdoor pods are an innovative pivot for a traditional old pub. These pods offer a unique experience to enjoy the endless vista of nothingness while having a pint of their homemade Kings Pit ale. The food served at the pub is excellent, and the live music every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday adds to the overall experience.
If the weather is good enough, visitors can enjoy their pint of ale outside while listening to live music. The pub’s remote yet inviting setting offers a unique experience that is hard to find elsewhere.
11 – VISIT MAGNIFICENT RUINS AT FOUNTAINS ABBEY
Fountains Abbey is a towering ruin located in the picturesque valley of Studley Royal Park. The abbey was built in 1132 by monks who joined the Cistercian order after being expelled from York. What started as a small church alongside timber houses, expanded into a massive church over the next 100 years. The church’s fate rose and fell for a couple of centuries until it came to a sticky end in 1540, when Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church and passed all its land to the crown.
Today, the ruins are some of the finest in the UK and are owned by the National Trust. Visitors can easily spend half a day ambling under the crumbling arches, strolling along the river edge, or pottering amongst the trees that line the deer park. The views across sweeping green fields to the ruined abbey are incredibly photo-worthy, making it a great spot for a picnic.
Entrance to Fountains Abbey includes access to a grand water garden, and visitors can enjoy a decent café, plenty of information about the site, toilets, and a play area. It is recommended to wear sturdy shoes when exploring, as the abbey ruin is nearly 900 years old and there are steps and stairs which have been worn unevenly over time. There are some gentle and steep slopes throughout the estate, so visitors should take time and care when exploring.
12 – Clamber up Brimham Rocks
Brimham Rocks is a fascinating collection of geological wonders located on the eastern edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. These rocks were formed over 325 million years ago and have been eroded into unique and intriguing shapes. The rocks are often smooth and cylindrical, rising like oddly-shaped skyscrapers into the sky.
This other-worldly scene offers an excellent half-day out in Yorkshire. Visitors can take an easy stroll between the rocks, try scrambling up them, or hike over the surrounding moorlands. The National Trust owns the area and has put a café and toilets on the site. Entrance is free, but there is a charge for parking (£6 for up to 4 hours, £9 for the day or free to members).
Visitors should come from mid-August to late September when the grey/black rocks stand in beautiful contrast to the purple heather. It is advisable to avoid wet days as clambering can be slippery and dangerous.
Below are some key details about Brimham Rocks:
|Eastern edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park
|Over 325 million years ago
|£6 for up to 4 hours, £9 for the day or free to members
|Café and toilets on site
|Best Time to Visit
|Mid-August to late September
|Avoid wet days as clambering can be slippery and dangerous
Overall, Brimham Rocks is a must-visit destination for those looking to explore the geological treasures of Yorkshire.
Other Places to Visit in the Yorkshire Dales
If you have more time to explore the Yorkshire Dales, there are many more places to visit that didn’t quite make it to the top ten list. Here are some additional recommendations that are worth checking out.
Sedbergh Book Town
Book lovers will enjoy visiting Sedbergh, England’s official Book Town since 2003. This small village has several bookstores selling books on different themes. One must-visit store is Westwood Books, which houses about 70,000 titles and is located in a former cinema.
While the Yorkshire Dales has many waterfalls, most are privately run and require an entrance fee. Aysgarth Waterfall is a great option as the only charge is for parking (National Trust). Another option is to do the Malham Cove walk and see the idyllic waterfall of Janet’s Foss for free.
Skipton & Richmond Castle
There are a few castles dotted around the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Richmond Castle is one of the oldest castles in Britain, with construction starting in 1071. The well-preserved keep sits 100 feet above the market town. Skipton Castle is one of the most complete medieval castles in the country and one of the few that is still fully roofed. The highlights include its drum towers, Tudor courtyard, and imposing gatehouse.
Wensleydale is known for its cheese, and the local creamery is based in Hawes. While the coffee shop onsite is not great, there is a cheese room where you can pick up a sharp cheddar. Unfortunately, the creamery has chosen to focus on knick-knacks and tourist tack rather than their delicious cheese.
The kids will love Forbidden Corner, a 4-acre garden filled with strange and bizarre objects. There’s a labyrinth of tunnels, carved wooden statues, dead ends, and tricks to avoid. Nearby is the Druid’s Temple, a 19th-century folly styled on Stonehenge. Sit in the stone circle and pretend to call the mystics.
Settle to Carlisle Steam Railway
The Settle to Carlisle train line is a great way to see the grand scenery of the Yorkshire Dales. Carriages that ran throughout the golden age of rail, and featured in the Harry Potter movies, glide through the area. For the most picturesque section (from Hellifield to Carlisle), a steam engine is used. Puffing your way over the Ribblesdale Viaduct must be great. The service currently runs only on Tuesdays or Thursdays, so book ahead.
For the adventurous, try your hand at climbing. Beginners can head to Twistleton Scar before migrating to something much more challenging like Malham Cove, Gordale Scar, or Almscliff Crag. Check out Lost Earth Adventure for guided climbs.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE YORKSHIRE DALES
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is a vast and beautiful area that stretches for two hours from north to south. To make the most of your visit, it is important to stay near the places you want to explore. The park offers a variety of landscapes, from rugged hikes around the three peaks to geological wonders in Malhamdale, and quaint villages, ruined abbeys, and lovely pubs in Wharfedale. For those seeking to get away from the crowds, Wensleydale and Swaledale offer stunningly gorgeous countryside for a weekend break.
For those looking to undertake the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, YHA Malham is an excellent option. Located in the heart of Ribblesdale, this B&B offers clean, comfy, and cosy rooms with unbeatable views. They also offer pods for those who want a unique experience. The delicious breakfasts will fuel you for a day of hiking.
THE LISTER ARMS
The Lister Arms is an ivy-clad 18th-century inn located on the village green in Malhamdale. This country pub has warm fires for the cold days, an inviting rear courtyard with quality food, and beer tables in the sun out front. The rooms are modern but with a stylish old country feel.
DEVONSHIRE FELL HOTEL
The grand Devonshire Fell Hotel is beautifully set in the Duke of Devonshire’s estate in Wharfedale. The hotel has gone for a colourful styling amongst the surrounding patchwork fields and dry stone walls. With loads of attractions nearby, there are few better locations from which to explore the Yorkshire Dales.
STONE HOUSE HOTEL
The Stone House Hotel is an Edwardian House tucked into a secluded spot in upper Wensleydale. This place has all the grandeur you need, with old-world charm oozing out of the oak-panelled property thanks to a real log fire complete with a billiard room. The food is good, and there’s a barn to store your bikes.
The Punchbowl Inn is a 17th-century coaching inn located in Swaledale. This inn may have individually styled rooms providing contemporary luxury, but the real joy of staying here is the remarkable views. The Coast to Coast walk comes through this most picturesque of valleys, so there’s plenty of great walking or cycling right outside the front door.
MAP / THINGS TO DO IN YORKSHIRE DALES
The Yorkshire Dales is a rugged part of Wales with many attractions. A map is available to help visitors find the best things to do in the area. To use the map, click on the top left corner to display the list of locations, and then click on each location to see further information. Visitors can also open a larger version of the map in a new tab or save it to Google Maps by clicking on the top right corner.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE YORKSHIRE DALES
The Yorkshire Dales is best visited from May to early July when the weather is dry and the hills are covered in wildflowers. The days are longer during this period, providing ample time to explore the area. September and October are also good options to visit the Yorkshire Dales. During mid-July to the end of August, the weather is better, and the heather is beginning to flower on the moors. However, this is the peak tourist season, and the area will be crowded. It is advisable to book your trip in advance during this period. You can find all the trip tools on the BOOK page.
The winter months can be cold and wet, but it can be a great time to explore the area in lovely winter light. It is advisable to book late and wait for a window of good weather if you plan to visit during this period.
Overall, the best time to visit the Yorkshire Dales is during the summer months, when the weather is pleasant and the hills are covered in wildflowers. However, if you want to avoid the crowd, it is best to visit during the shoulder season.
TOURS OF THE YORKSHIRE DALES
Explore the Yorkshire Dales with ease by joining a day tour from neighbouring cities such as Manchester and York. Alternatively, driving is also a viable option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Recommended Activities for Adults Visiting the Yorkshire Dales National Park
The Yorkshire Dales National Park offers a wide range of activities for adults to enjoy. Some of the most popular activities include hiking, cycling, bird watching, and fishing. The park has a number of walking trails that cater to all levels of fitness. Visitors can also hire a bike and explore the park on two wheels. For those interested in wildlife, there are several bird watching spots in the park. Fishing is also a popular activity in the park, with several rivers and streams offering excellent opportunities for anglers.
Map of Attractions in the Yorkshire Dales
Visitors to the Yorkshire Dales National Park can find a map of attractions on the park’s official website. The map highlights the various attractions in the park, including walking trails, cycling routes, and tourist hotspots. The map is available for download and can be accessed on a smartphone or tablet.
Unique Attractions in the Yorkshire Dales
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is home to several unique attractions that visitors should not miss. Some of the most popular include the Aysgarth Falls, Malham Cove, and the Settle to Carlisle Railway. The Aysgarth Falls is a series of waterfalls that offer stunning views and is a popular spot for photographers. Malham Cove is a large limestone cliff that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The Settle to Carlisle Railway is a historic railway line that passes through some of the most scenic parts of the park.
Places in the Yorkshire Dales Suitable for a Day Out with Dogs
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is a great place to visit with your furry friends. Some of the best places to take your dog for a day out include the Bolton Abbey Estate, the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, and the Grassington to Burnsall walk. The Bolton Abbey Estate is a large estate with plenty of walking trails that are perfect for dogs. The Ingleton Waterfalls Trail is a scenic walk that passes through several waterfalls and is suitable for dogs of all sizes. The Grassington to Burnsall walk is a picturesque walk that passes through several villages and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Best Indoor Activities in the Yorkshire Dales for a Rainy Day
If the weather takes a turn for the worse, there are still plenty of things to do in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Some of the best indoor activities include visiting museums and galleries, exploring historic buildings, and trying out local cuisine. The Dales Countryside Museum is a great place to learn about the history of the park, while the Mercer Art Gallery is home to a collection of art and artefacts from the region. The park is also home to several historic buildings, including Bolton Castle and Skipton Castle. Visitors can also sample some of the local cuisine at one of the many cafes and restaurants in the park.
Towns in the Yorkshire Dales to Visit
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is home to several picturesque towns that are worth a visit. Some of the most popular include Grassington, Hawes, and Settle. Grassington is a charming town with a cobbled square and several independent shops. Hawes is a market town that is home to the famous Wensleydale Creamery. Settle is a historic town that is home to several independent shops and cafes.