Grisedale Valley on a misty August day

3 stunning Lake District walks for adventurous explorers

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Discover three outstanding Lake District walks ideal for adventurous hikers looking to explore the exciting peaks of this National Park for the first time.

For me, walking in the Lake District conjures up images of striking peaks, windswept fells and glistening tarns. It is one of Britain’s most staggering landscapes – truly wild and at the mercy of the elements – but also inviting and enveloping, with its picturesque villages and lowland lakes.

Now if I’m honest, it’s the wild and rugged part that lured me here. So I knew that even on my first trip, I wanted to take on some Lake District walks that packed a punch. But I also wanted to experience some of the outstanding diversity of this region. We headed here with a bunch of exciting highland and lowland routes planned and set out to explore as many as possible.

In this ancient landscape, shaped many thousands of years ago by glaciers and by wind, rain and snow ever since, nothing stays the same for very long. Adventure on foot and the landscape ahead of you changes hour by hour from luscious peatland to rolling fell, glacial karst to rocky mountaintops stripped bare. And that’s all before you head downhill past rugged stone farmhouses and into the quaint villages, sheep-cropped meadows and along sparkling lakesides. That said, the weather doesn’t stay still either. Despite an August visit, we experienced almost every season – we roasted in the sun at times, were blasted by freezing winds or were soaked at others. But at the end of the day, that’s part of the beauty of this place. You’ll never see two days the same.

Our research paid off – some of our walks were outstandingly good. So much so, I’m sharing them here as three of the best Lake District walks out there. They’re ideal for ambitious walkers who, like us, are happy to cover a lot of ground in one day to experience the very best of this region.

Here’s what to look out for;

  • An Ambleside icon – The Fairfield Horseshoe and Loughrigg Fell
  • A twist on the Old Man Coniston – with Low Water, Blind Tarn and Goat’s Tarn
  • Mighty Helvellyn and Grisedale tarn
Walking up Grisedale valley

A quick note on Lake District walks

As I always like to mention, my walking guides are intended as inspiration for your route-planning rather than a definitive guide. Please be sure to research each route before embarking upon it, and use your judgment to determine if it’s right for you based on your ability, experience and the conditions on the day. You’ll want an Ordnance Survey map and/or GPS mapping app to plan these routes – and you’ll need to be sure you’re properly prepared and kitted out before heading out in the mountains, whatever the time of year.

It’s worth noting that these are long and challenging Lake District walks – from 12-17 miles in length depending on how you plot your route.

Check out my Beginner’s guide to walking in the Lake District in summer regardless of when you’re visiting – it’s packed with advice on how to get around the National Park as well as what maps you’ll need and where best to park.

An Ambleside icon: Fairfield horseshoe with Loughrigg Fell

I quickly discovered that horseshoe walks are the Holy Grail in the Lake District. The name indicates a circular route – perfect for daywalkers. There’s no need to get the bus home or embark on a multi-day point-to-point adventure to enjoy.

Fairfield horseshoe is a stunner. Starting and finishing conveniently in Ambleside, it combines a challenging climb with spectacular views across high peaks beyond. Not to mention silvery Lake Windemere winding south. It’s a classic route for good reason – but we gave it a twist that I’d highly recommend.

Rather than completing the horseshoe, there’s an easy descent to the popular village of Grasmere followed by a stroll along its waterside. A rolling ascent and descent of Loughrigg Fell offers an alternative route back into Ambleside and a chance to explore a different upland landscape.

Climbig up towards Fairfield from Ambleside
Heading up towards Fairfield from Ambleside

The route

With a start and finish in Ambleside, you’ve got your pick of parking locations. It’s also an irresistible option if you’re staying in town as you can begin at your front door.

The route heads out of town on Nook Lane, a quiet back road that climbs steeply out of the town centre. At the head of the road, the Fells beyond become visible and you step out on the footpath for the first time, joining the route to Fairfield.

You’re now on a path that will take you up and over Low Pike, High Pike, Dove Crag, Hart Crag and then on to the high point of this walk – Fairfield itself. Descending on the far side of this peak is gentler, and it’s an easy path to Great Rigg. Here take leave of horseshoe and follow the main path down into the valley and the village of Grasmere.

Once in Grasmere, follow the lakeside path that leads you to the foot of Loughrigg Fell. A steep uphill section takes you to Ewe Crag, near enough the highest point on this Fell. From here, the main path takes you across the undulating terrain of the Fell before gently descending into Ambleside and the walk’s end.

Grasmere tarn in the Lake District UK
Grasmere Water from Loughrigg Fell

Why you’ll love the Fairfield Horseshoe and Loughrigg Fell

Fairfield Horseshoe is nothing short of majestic. Whilst the peak was shrouded in mist and cloud as we hiked, there was no denying even on a grey day that the surrounding landscape was anything less than spectacular. Deep valleys sweep down on both sides of the ridge, etched with meandering streams that cut through the heather and peat. Over Low Pike and High Pike there are some scrambling sections, not too technical but enough to add a little more excitement to the route. Higher up, a windswept and rocky landscape emerges that’s more reminiscent of the Alps than the lowland landscapes of the Southern Lakes.

Heading down from Fairfield you’ll find easier walking down to Great Rigg, and then a winding path down into the village of Grasmere. If you’re in need of a little pick me up, you’ll find a few bakeries and cafes here for a sweet treat but you can be content that much of the day’s most challenging walking is already under your belt.

A stroll along the waterside in Grasmere is a complete contrast to the high mountain paths tackled earlier in the day. But the last stretch up and over Loughrigg Fell adds yet another landscape into the mix. Whilst it’s high enough to be classified as a Wainwright, it’s very much an upland fell rather than a mountain peak, and it rolls and ripples towards Lake Windermere, revealing enticing views as it goes.

Loughrigg Fell heading in the direction of Ambleside
Heading down off Loughrigg Fell in the direction of Ambleside

A twist on the Old Man of Coniston

The Old Man of Coniston is a classic Lake District walk for good reason. A challenging peak perched above the likable village of Coniston, it’s an irresistible adventure for anyone visiting this part of the world. There are a variety of routes up and down but what I like best about this one is that it includes a challenging climb that passes some really interesting spots. The descent is gentler and offers excitingly different views – across rolling lowland and out to the coast – as well as two atmospheric tarns perched high above the valley.

The route

Following Low Water Beck, this route leaves the village of Coniston in the direction of Coniston Coppermine. After the cottages and youth hostel close to the mine entrance come into view you join a wider, but meandering path that takes you to Low Water, a spell-binding tarn that indicates you’re not far from the peak of the Old Man. A steep climb and a bit of a scramble takes you swiftly up to the trig point at the top.

Having reached the Old Man of Coniston by one of the most direct (but by no means less interesting) routes, it’s time to take a gentler descent and explore more of this area. The main path takes you next to Down Crag, then on to Buck Pike and Brown Pike as it slowly descends and becomes part of a wider track known as the Walna Scar Road. You’ve bagged several Wainwrights along the path so far, but I now encourage you to go a little off-piste and explore a few tarns before taking the more obvious route down into the valley.

The Old Man of Coniston from Walna Scar Road
The Old Man of Coniston from Walna Scar Road

The first is Blind Tarn, a few hundred meters off the path a little below Brown Pike. There’s no official path here, but it’s a well-frequented route – just follow the path. It’s a rather magical, mirror-like pool sheltered from the main path and makes a great lunch stop or – I imagine – an incredible bivvy location in good weather. Returning to the Walna Scar Road, pick up a path on your left after about half a mile that takes you to Goat’s Water – which if conditions are clear you will have seen on your way down from the Old Man. Another spectacular natural pool, it’s only about a ten-minute walk from the road.

Exploring complete, you can pop your map away and enjoy the gentle descent on the rocky road back down into the village of Coniston.

Why you’ll love an alternative route around the Old Man of Coniston

I don’t know about you, but I love a challenging start to a walk, and this one packs a punch. You get a steep climb as well as an eye-opening insight into the industrial heritage of the Lake District heading up from Coniston through the Coppermines. From the whitewashed cottages close to the mine entrance that starkly contrast against the landscape to the now-ruined buildings and remains of an aerial tramway as you head further up, there’s much to discover about this lesser-known park of Lake District history.

The three tarns – Low Water, Blind Tarn and Goat’s Water – for me make this walk extra special. These high mountain pools are absolute perfection even on an overcast day. The crystal-clear water and mirror-like surface draw you in, enticing you to stop and sit awhile. Blind Tarn is the smallest but most alluring, the sheltered location away from the main path makes it feel that little bit more magical. Hop up onto the very low ridge that shelters in from the valley beyond and you’re greeted with a spectacular view down to Coniston Water.

Lastly, there’s a treat in store if you follow the Walna Scar Road. Whilst it’s not challenging walking, the landscape to the left is nothing short of stunning. At first glance, it’s simply a valley bottom laced with meandering streams. But look closer and you’ll see the hummocky peatlands forming beautiful, organic patterns. Look towards the horizon and you’ll see the sea glinting, not many miles away.

Mighty Helvellyn and the Grisedale valley

There are few peaks in Northern England more iconic than Helvellyn. This long circular route takes in several Wainwrights as well as the picturesque Grisedale valley and a rocky climb to Grisedale Tarn.

I won’t lie – we walked this on a mucky August day when the cloud remained incredibly low and kept the peaks hidden from view. We absolutely didn’t see it at its best. But we still loved it. Atmospheric, challenging but not relentless, and packing high peaks, bucolic valleys and alluring mountain tarns. If you can fall for this landscape on a day like this, you know you’ll love it even more on a better one.

Walking up past Grisedale Tarn
Walking up past Grisedale Tarn

The route

There are two options for this route, starting either in Glenridding on the banks of Ulswater or close to Grasmere. Glenridding offers better parking, but approaching from Grasmere may be easier for folks staying in the Southern Lakes.

From Grasmere

The starting point of this route is a few miles outside of Grasmere en route to Keswick, at the foot of Raise Beck. There is no car park here, but it’s very common to park on the roadside here. We had no trouble parking, and despite arriving early other walkers were already parked up. That said, this spot may not suit everyone.

A quick – and quickly ascending climb up Raise Beck from the road brings you to the fringes of Grisedale Tarn, where you join the circular route. Here you head towards Helvellyn first, a steep winding climb up to Dollywagon Pike but then a gentle route via Nethermost Pike. Having reached the high point of your walk early on, you can admire the view (if you have one, we didn’t!) and enjoy the panorama to the north as you continue to White Side. If you like bagging Wainwrights you can take a quick detour to Raise before continuing on the main valley path down into Glenridding.

From here, you’re heading to the Grisedale Valley. We cut off the corner aiming first for pretty Lanty’s Tarn and then Braesteads Farm where you can join a well-paved route heading up the valley. After a couple of miles, the path narrows and rises steeply for the last stretch up to Grisedale Tarn. You emerge on the far side where a winding path takes you back to the start of your walk.

Cottages on the way up into Grisedale valley
Cottages on the way up into Grisedale valley

From Glenridding

This option has a gentler first few miles, taking in the Grisedale valley first. The last couple of miles up to Grisedale Tarn are steep and followed but a steep but short climb from the waterside to Dollywagon Pike.

From here, you’ll follow the succession of peaks along the main path – first to Helvellyn and finally to White Side and Raise. Just below Raise you’ll find the main path that meanders back into Glenridding.

Why you’ll love this Helvellyn circuit

There’s much to like on this Lake District walk. Aside from the grand dame that is Helvellyn itself, there’s the magical Grisedale Tarn to encounter – delightfully atmospheric on a misty day. Then there’s the ridge of peaks that guide you to, and beyond Helvellyn, with supreme views on clear days. And then there’s the charming Grisedale valley.

For me, it was the Grisedale valley that surprisingly captured my imagination the most. For much of this part of the path, the walking is relatively easy giving you plenty of time to soak up your surroundings. And what mighty fine surroundings they are. The surrounding peaks tower above the valley road, whilst at its foot lush green pastures envelope you. The odd stone farmhouse and fields of grazing livestock contribute to this Lake District idyll, whilst all the while the road winds slowly uphill, promising even more adventures to come.

This is a long walk with some big climbs but well worth the miles underfoot. You could just head up Helvellyn if you prefer something shorter, but exploring some of the surrounding landscape puts this special peak in context and offers up an exciting variety of scenery.

And there’s much more

We loved these walks.

But there is so very much more to the Lake District.

I’d highly recommend these walks to adventurous hikers who want to get a feel for this wild part of the UK. But I warn you … it’ll leave you wanting more! We can’t wait to return and explore some more.

Have you walked in the mountains of the Lake District National Park? What adventurous Lake District walks would you recommend to those who want to explore?

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Lake District walks for adventurous hikers
3 stunning Lake District walks for adventurous hikers
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