Best walks in the Lake District

The mountains of the Lake District offer the most spectacular walking routes in England.

On the nose of Fleetwith Pike high above Buttermere

by Trail magazine |

The Lake District National Park is home to England’s highest mountain Scafell Pike, plus many more iconic peaks including Helvellyn, Blencathra, the Langdale Pikes and Cat Bells.

There are so many great walking routes in Cumbria it can be hard to know where to start, so Trail magazine has picked out 10 of the best Lake District mountain walks to help you get started.

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1. Helvellyn via Striding Edge

On Striding Edge looking towards Helvellyn
On Striding Edge looking towards Helvellyn

There is a reason this is the most famous of all Lake District scrambles. This ascent of Helvellyn is classic of a mountain day will get you puffing on the climb up to your first ridge of the day. There’s no doubt about it, Striding Edge is a thriller.

The Grade 1 scramble is enough to require respect but is wide enough to be a manageable challenge for most. If this route doesn’t get you into scrambling, nothing will. There’s something magical about picking your way through the tangle of rock with careful foot and hand placements that connects you to the mountain. The 12km route reaches the top of Helvellyn at 950m and descends by Swirral Edge, your second ridge of the day.

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2. Cat Bells

Summit of Cat Bells best lake district mountains
On the summit of Cat Bells looking over Derwent Water and Keswick to Skiddaw and Blencathra

No trip to the Lakes is complete without a quick blast up Cat Bells. This small peak overlooking Derwent Water provides stunning views of the northern Lakes and is a great introductory hill for beginners to sample their first small steps into mountain walking.

Starting from Hawes End, its 451m summit is reached in no time at all, with various options from the top. Even for seasoned hillwalkers, it is a great little hill, oozing with character, with easy access from the A66, for when time is short.

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3. Great Gable

Windy Gap and Great Gable from Green Gable
Windy Gap and Great Gable from Green Gable

This historic hulk of a mountain can be tackled via many routes, and on a fine day, the views from its 899m summit rival that of any in the Lakes. One superb option for a great mountain day out is the route from Seathwaite via a (usually) easy scramble up Sour Milk Gill path, over the summit of Green Gable and then down from the summit of Great Gable past Sty Tarn, and via the footpath following Taylorgill Force.

The mountain has been a training ground for some of the earliest climbers who cut their teeth on classic climbs like Great Gable and Kern Knotts, and every Remembrance Sunday (November) hundreds of people make the ascent for a service held at the summit.

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4. Scafell Pike

Scafell Pike & Sca Fell as seen from Kirk Fell
Scafell Pike & Sca Fell as seen from Kirk Fell

No list of must-do Lakeland walks could omit the highest peak in England. There are many well-trodden routes up Scafell Pike, some include Grade 1 and 2 scrambles, others are just fine mountain walks.

Surrounded by peaks, the views are incredible and you can include several summits in one outing. Start at Wasdale Head and you can experience the birthplace of British climbing at The Wasdale Head Inn.

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5. Blencathra via Sharp Edge

Negotiating the 'Bad Step' on Blencathra's Sharp Edge
Negotiating the 'Bad Step' on Blencathra's Sharp Edge

From Threlkeld in the north of the Lake District you can squeeze two of the Lakes most exciting ridges into a neat 10km walk to remember. Sharp Edge is not that technically difficult and is classed as a Grade 1 scramble (the lowest level) but it does require a head for heights!

That moment when you pop out on Blencathra (868m) is a feeling like no other and you will go home glowing with a sense of achievement and exhilaration… but if you include Hall’s Fell ridge as your descent , the fun isn’t over yet – this airy ridge isn’t quite so pointy as the first, but it will still have you reaching for the rock. This is a great walk to do if you want to test your mettle and if conditions are good!

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6. Langdale Pikes via Jack’s Rake

The rugged skyline of the Langdale Pikes
The rugged skyline of the Langdale Pikes

There are few more iconic mountain profiles in England than the Langdale Pikes, cutting an instantly recognisable figure on the skyline when approached from the southern Lake District. There’s plenty of variety to be found when exploring these peaks, from the cliffs and gullies of Pavey Ark to the perfect rocky summit cone of Pike of Stickle and the Neolithic axe factory on the steep slopes below slopes below.

Climb the steep path beside Stickle Ghyll to Stickle Tarn, then if you’re feeling brave tackle the Grade 1 scramble of Jack’s Rake to the summit of Pavey Ark. From there, the summits of Harrison Stickle, Loft Crag and the Pike of Stickle are just a short walk away before descending back to the valley.

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7. The Old Man of Coniston

Heading up Coniston Old Man from Low water
Heading up Coniston Old Man from Low water

Possibly the perfect beginner mountain, offering everything from dramatic cliffs and hidden tarns to historic mines and aircraft wrecks. The most popular way to climb the Old Man is directly from Coniston village, with huge views over Coniston Water opening up behind as you ascend.

The awesome mountain tarn of Low Water is a great spot for a rest (possibly even a wild swim in summer) before making the final push to the mountain’s giant summit cairn. There are plenty of great options for onward routes from the top, including a descent via Dow Crag to the west, or carrying on north for a full round of the Coniston Fells taking in Swirl How, the Prison Band and Wetherlam.

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8. High Street via Riggindale

Looking over to the RIggindale Crags from Kidsty Pike
Looking over to the RIggindale Crags from Kidsty Pike

The plateaued summit of High Street marks the highest point in the Lake District’s Far Eastern Fells and is named after the Roman Road which once ran over the summit, linking together the towns of Penrith and Ambleside. The most spectacular route of ascent is up the broad Riggindale ridge from the secluded shores of Haweswater.

Until recently this was the home of England’s last resident eagle, who sadly disappeared in 2016. This is a great hillwalk rather than a daring scramble, but if you link it with a descent via Mardale Ill Bell and the Nan Bield Pass, you’ll mix in plenty of dramatic and rocky scenery too.

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9. The Buttermere Fells

Admiring Fleetwith Pike from the edge of Buttermere
Admiring Fleetwith Pike from the edge of Buttermere

In terms of spectacular Lake District scenery, Buttermere takes some beating. An idyllic lake framed by mountains, including two of the most distinct in the National Park. Fleetwith Pike may only be 648 metres tall but its shapely north-west ridge forms the backdrop to many a Lakeland postcard, while neighbouring Haystacks (587m) cuts a craggy silhouette against the skyline.

The best way to get to know these fells is with a long route that also takes in Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag, giving you great views into the Ennerdale valley and the nearby peaks of Great Gable, Pillar and Scafell Pike. There are even two bothies tucked beneath Fleetwith Pike’s summit, which are great options if you want to turn this into an overnight trip.

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10. Fairfield Horseshoe

Heading down from Fairfield towards Rydal, Ambleside and Windermere
Heading down from Fairfield towards Rydal, Ambleside and Windermere

This is one of the Lake District’s classic hillwalking rounds, a peak-bagging circuit that starts and finishes in the picturesque town of Ambleside which is overflowing with great gear shops, pubs and B&Bs.

If you’re into bagging Wainwright fells (the 214 peaks included in Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells) this walk chalks off eight of them with relatively little effort, in the sense that there isn’t much ascent and reascent between each peak. The horseshoe is named after the 873m mountain of Fairfield, the highest point of this route and a fantastic viewpoint where you can look south down the entire stretch of Lake Windermere or north to the famous ridges of Helvellyn.

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