24 mountains, 50 miles, 4 days – backpacking made easy on the Lake District Hostel Hop

Walk the best bits of England's most mountainous National Park on a backpacking trip with a twist – introducing four days of hiking heaven the Lake District Hostel Hop

Lake District Hostel Hop

by Oli Reed |
Updated on

What's the hardest thing about backpacking through mountains? For us, it's carrying big piles of camping kit on your back for days on end. So to solve that problem we've created a multi-day hiking route through England's finest mountains called the Lake District Hostel Hop, which you can do with a relatively small and lightweight pack on your back.

The beauty of this 4-day route is that instead of camping you'll take advantage of the Lake District's extensive network of youth hostels. The YHA currently has 18 hostels in the Lake District, ranging from smaller buildings available for private group hire, all the way up to larger hotel-like options offering en-suite private rooms, cooked meals, and well stocked bars.

Langdale YHA Lake District
YHA Langdale ©LFTO

The Lake District Hostel Hop visits four of the larger and most popular hostels – Langdale, Borrowdale, Keswick and Helvellyn – linked together by four days of classic hillwalking through some of the National Park's most iconic peaks.

All four hostels offer dinner, bed, breakfast and the option to buy snacks and even a packed lunch in peak seasons, meaning all you need to carry is your walking kit and a few spare clothes in a fairly lightweight backpack. We first walked this route a few years ago, starting in Langdale then walking roughly in a clockwise direction (see map below) to knock off the other hostels over four very memorable days.

Walking in the Lake District with the Langdale Pikes behind
Walking in Langdale ©LFTO

So if you fancy a backpacking trip with a twist, taking out a lot of the hassle and removing a lot of the weight from your back, read on for details on how to plan and walk Trail magazine's Lake District Hostel Hop.

Day 1 – YHA Langdale to YHA Borrowdale

Looking over Pike of Blisco and Great Langdale from Crinkle Crags Lake District

Distance: 23km (14¼ miles) | Wainwright summits bagged: 7

We kicked off at YHA Langdale, a converted Victorian mansion. When we unfolded our map, the 23km route ahead looked intimidating. Our concern was the monstrous amount of ascent and descent along the way, but we needn’t have worried. By setting off at 8am we gave ourselves plenty of time.

Once we turned off for the valley of Little Langdale, with its mighty views of the Coniston Fells, it was classic hillwalking all the way. We began the long trawl up the criminally underrated 705m pyramid of Pike of Blisco – the big ascent of the day – and an hour later were at the summit shelter with its massive views of the Langdale Pikes.

Bad Step Crinkle Crags Lake District
The Bad Step, Crinkle Crags ©LFTO

The rippling backbone of Crinkle Crags followed, then the highlight of the day: Bow Fell and its Great Slab. The view towards the Scafell massif is the finest you’ll experience from any felltop. We then tottered over Esk Pike, rambled over Allen Crags and dropped into the leafy depths of Borrowdale. By 6pm we were sipping a pint of Cumbrian ale at YHA Borrowdale hosteland awaiting a three-course meal.

Day 2 – YHA Borrowdale to YHA Keswick

View from Cat Bells to Skiddaw and Blencathra Lake District

Distance 17.5km (10¾ miles) | Wainwrights bagged 4

The Borrowdale to Keswick section is shorter, but still a cracking walk. We started with a steady climb towards the slate mines of the Honister Pass and ended with a spectacular skywalk over the Newlands Fells, with massive views across Derwent Water, Keswick and the northern Lakes.

Walking on the western shore of Derwent Water Lake District

Once you’ve climbed up to the sparkling viewpoint at Dale Head, your route lies along the ridgeline that rises and falls like a big dipper above Derwent Water. You’ll knock off the trio of High Spy, Maiden Moor and the perennially popular Cat Bells, before joining the Cumbria Way and curving around the head of the lake towards the taverns and chip shops of Keswick.

Day 3 – YHA Keswick to YHA Helvellyn

Summit of Raise looking towards Helvellyn Lake District

Distance 24km (15 miles) | Wainwrights bagged 8

After an early start, we soon found ourselves staring up at the northern tip of the Eastern Fells, which run between the Ullswater and Thirlmere valleys, bisecting the National Park. They’re home to the greatest single mass of high ground in the Lakes, and today we planned to walk straight over them.

The route from Clough Head to Helvellyn is hillwalking ecstasy. The ridge is wide, with simple navigation in clear conditions. By the time we arrived at the 950m summit of Helvellyn, England’s third highest mountain, our day was almost done – but not quite. Our bed for the night lay over 600m below at YHA Helvellyn, and reaching it involved descending the steep ridgeline of Swirral Edge.

Helvellyn Swirral Edge and Catstyecam Lake District

We steadied our nerves, focused carefully and were soon descending into the Glenridding valley. At a height of 300m this is the most rural hostel of the four. Book your evening meal before you arrive, though, or you’ll need to walk to Ullswater for some grub.

Day 4 – YHA Helvellyn to YHA Langdale

Hiker on Striding Edge Lake District

Distance 17km (10½ miles) | Wainwrights bagged 5

If you’ve never scrambled over Striding Edge, you’re in for a treat at the start of day four. It’s a ridgeline that tingles the nerves of beginners yet still provides a buzz for seasoned mountaineers. There are short sections that require extreme caution but in decent weather it’s more invigorating than intimidating.

The scene changes completely after the summit plateau. The western side of the Helvellyn range shares few characteristics with the rocky eastern approaches, and classic fellwalking terrain lies ahead. We descended lazily over Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike, then dropped steeply to Grisedale Tarn before making one last big ascent up to Fairfield.

The Fairfield Horseshoe best lake district walks

With the whole southern Lake District stretched out before us, it hammered home the enormity of the walk we were completing. And an hour or so after passing through the idyllic village of Grasmere, we collapsed back into YHA Langdale.

So there it is: 50 miles, 24 mountains, four YHAs and one lightweight backpack. Four days of walking through England’s greatest mountains. Go for it!

Start planning your own Lake District Hostel Hop by booking your accommodation now at www.yha.org.uk

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