December 22, 2023

The Complete Guide to the Lake District National Park

Everything you could possibly want to know about the Lake District National Park, broken down by adventure, naturally. (Oh, and our favourite places to refuel, obviously).
Written by
George Beesley

Why the Lake District?

We believe it's a myth that all the best adventure destinations are abroad. People flock to the Alps and the Rockies for their epic mountain ascents, view-studded climbs and naturally, the skiing. But did you know we have all of that on our doorstep, in the Lake District National Park?

Yes, even the skiing. Ok ok, maybe it's only one hill and there's only snow on it a handful of days a year, but the other stuff can totally compete with what's on offer abroad.

With 16 stunning lakes to play with, 214 Wainwrights, god knows how many epic climbs like this one and enough country pubs to shake your walking poles at, the Lake District is one of the most diverse, epic adventure playgrounds in the world.

I lived there for some time a few years back, so I could well be biased, but somehow I think you'll love it too. We've broken it down by adventure, as that's obviously what we're all about. If you're keen for accommodation and food recommendations, just scroll on down to 'eating and places to stay'.

Lake district wild swimming


Scafell Pike

Though it isn't actually one of my favourite hikes, it simply has to be ticked off if you're visiting the Lake District, doesn't it? Whilst the climb might not be in my top 10, the views are (literally) unrivalled.  

There's a few ways up, the Wasdale Head route being the most common for those doing the National 3 Peaks, and the Corridor Route a more winding, harder-to-navigate, but less steep way up. They're all pretty technical though, with huge amounts of stone and scree covering the top of the fell, so take care!

Lake District National Park

Fairfield Horseshoe

Now this is one of my favourites. Starting and finishing in Ambleside, the Fairfield Horseshoe route takes you around the fells of Nab Scar, Low Pike, High Pike, Heron Pike, Hart Crag, Great Rigg, Fairfield, and Dove Crag. It's not to be undertaken lightly.

At 16.4 miles and with 1080m of total ascent, this is a good day's hike for experienced walkers and map-readers alike. In the mist, Fairfield can be pretty uncompromising, but get a good day and you'll have some of the best mountain views you've ever experienced.


Now we couldn't write a guide to the Lake District without including Catbells, could we? At just 451m, Catbells is one of the best 'first mountain climbs' to take youngsters and new adventurers on. That's not to say it isn't popular with well-seasoned hikers too though, Catbells is a classic for everyone.

With incredible views of Derwentwater and the surrounding fells, Catbells is a quick way to gain some height and see the National Park from a different perspective. Once you're done, drop down to the lake for a swim and some coffee and cake at the Lingholm Estate.


lake district wiev lake

Tarn Hows Circular

One of the most beautiful walks in the Lake District. Only 2 miles long, so a perfect early morning or evening stroll, or a day with the kids and a leisurely picnic. Our top tip? Go in October, the trees in Autumn in the Lake District are like nothing else.


Tarn Hows Circular

Helvellyn (Swirral and Striding Edge)

When people tell me they want to climb Scafell Pike, I tell them to climb Helvellyn instead. Of course, doing both would be the best option, but if it were toss up, I'd go with Helvellyn.

Packing in 2 epic ridges, one for the ascent and one for the descent, incredible views of red tarn and one for the best views around, Helvellyn is absolutely my favourite Lake District fell.

If you're going to tackle the ridges, make sure you go up on a clear day. Visibility is key when you're scrambling up a narrow ridge. It's not for the fainthearted, but boy does it feels like an adventure.

Helvellyn (Swirral and Striding Edge)

Cumbria Way

If you're up for a longer adventure, walking the Cumbria Way is an incredible way to see the whole national park, meandering up from Ulverston in the South, to Carlisle in the north. It's usually done over the period of a week or so, but there are no rules to these things.

Some run it in 2 days, others wander over a few weeks. Highlight include the climb over Stake Pass and the back of Skiddaw, passing the Old Dungeon Ghyll pub and skirting Tarn Hows. It's the best way to see the Lake District, and all the food, hike and swim spots covered in this article.

Cumbria Way

Climbing & Bouldering

The Lake District has one of the biggest climbing scenes in the UK, with a huge range of routes for total beginners and experienced climbers alike. Beginners might want to book onto a session with an instructor, Keswick Extreme offer great introductory courses. Here are some popular favourite spots:

Napes Needle, Great Gable

An iconic route. A 20m high rock pinnacle teetering off the southern flank of Great Gable. The route is graded as hard severe, with the final moves onto the summit block the most testing. Experts will tell you it's the descent that's the tricky bit though, so do the research beforehand!

Borrowdale Valley

Home to some of the finest beginner and intermediate crags you'll ever find. Easy to access, low-level and fast-drying, this set of crags make for a great climbing base if you're staying in the area. Shepherd's Crag, Little Chamonix and the Bowder Stone are all popular.

Langdale Boulders

Two rocks with traditional prehistoric 'cup and ring' markings that date back 2,500-5,000 years. Epic scenery that makes for a great day of bouldering.

Gimmer Crag

Known as the jewel of Lake District rock climbing and for good reason, despite the walk there (which we'll forgive due to its proximity to two great Langdale pubs) access is good and the crag has an excellent sunny aspect. There are hundreds of routes for beginner's and intermediates alike. An all-round winner.


Gorge Scrambling

If you haven't tried gorge scrambling before, now is the time. Also referred to as gorge walking, gully bashing and ghyll scrambling, they all describe an epic water-based adventure that involves hiking up to the top of a ghyll and sliding, jumping, swimming and scrambling your way down.

Jumps into plunge pools, natural slides and waterfall climbs are all part of gorge scrambling, and boy is it an adrenaline rush!

Via Ferrata

If you're not a regular climber with your own kit, but want to get some awesome climbs under your belt, Via Ferrata is a great way to go.

The Honister pass is the main place for this in the Lake District, with standard and extreme options available. Sessions are usually a few hours and see you climbing the old Honister slate mine via fixed steels anchors and ladders. An experience you won't forget.

Mountain Biking

If mountain biking is your bag, or you want to try it for the first time, there are hundreds of trails for all different abilities in the Lake District. Standard mountain bikes and e-bikes are available in most of the towns and are an epic way to see the national park.

A loop around Derwentwater is popular for beginners, and the marked trails at Whinlatter and Grizedale Forest are popular with new and experienced riders alike. Muncaster Fell, Witherslack and Nan Bield Pass are also popular.

Bikes threw forest

Wild Swimming

Wild swimming has exploded in popularity over the past 18 months and if you're a fairly new convert, you'll be dying to find the best waterfall pools and crystal clear lakes to explore. Here are some of my favourites:


I've said Buttermere, but to be honest a swim in any of the lakes in the National Park will be a real treat. Buttermere is simply my favourite.

Nestled in a valley below the Honister and Newlands passes (either of which makes for one of the most scenic drives you'll ever experience in the UK), Buttermere is a slice of heaven.

Surrounded by pines and pebble beaches, and flanked by the infamous peaks of Red Pike and Haystacks, Wainwright's favourite fell, Buttermere is a swim you won't forget.

If you combine the swim with the 5-mile walk loop around the lake, there are hundreds of spots to get in and out. Otherwise, the beach area just down from Gatesgarth is a lovely spot to wade in and have a picnic.

Lookign over lake

Derwentwater (St Herbert's Island)

Wake up early enough and you'll be joining the Keswick locals on their morning lap. A swim from the landing docks out to St Herbert's Island is a good distance, however, so make sure you've got the right kit and know what you're doing.

Alternatively, rent some Canadian canoes for the day from Derwentwater Marina and paddle over to the island for a picnic and a swim. Serious Swallows and Amazon vibes and a great day out.

Lake District National Park stunning views

Black Moss Pot

My all-time favourite Lake District swim. Lonely Planet agree too, naming it one of their top 10 spots to go skinny dipping in the world (the world!). Crystal clear mountain spring water isn't known for its warmth, but this is the kind of tip that will wake you up more than any amount of coffee ever will. Plus, there are some epic rocks for jumping in.

Top tip: get there first thing in the morning with the chance of having it to yourself. You'll think you're on a different planet.

Tongue Pot

A meandering series of emerald-coloured pools sit below a gushing waterfall and steep rock sides. There is no better place on Earth to cool off in my opinion. If you're coming down from Scafell Pike, be sure to come down this way for a post-summit dip.

Tongue Pot Lake view

Stickle Tarn

A Lake District classic. A hike up from the infamous Old Dungeon Ghyll, or the newer but equally delightful Sticklebarn, will take you to the wonder that is stickle tarn. Or, if you're coming down from Pavey Ark, it makes a great post-hike dip en route to the pub.

Water doesn't get cleaner or fresher than this. It's a mountaintop tarn, so it might be a little chillier, but the views make it one of the best swims in the Lake District.

overlooking lake


Not much of an adventurer or having a rest day? No problem, the Lake District National Park has some of the prettiest towns and villages to explore, packed with local history.


Wander around the quaint village of Grasmere and you'll find its famous Grasmere Gingerbread, established in 1954 by Victorian cook Sarah Nelson.

The village will also treat you to a number of other riverside cafes, restaurants and cute shops, as well as an abundance of local history.

The famous landscape painters Alfred and William Heaton Cooper lived in Grasmere (where their work is still celebrated at the Heaton Cooper Studio), along with poet William Wordsworth (of "I wandered lonely as a cloud" fame), who declared it "the loveliest spot that man hath ever found." We definitely agree.


Bowness-on-Windermere is the town that sits on Lake Windermere. With over 10,000 registered boats, the town is a haven for boating holidaymakers. The land is flatter here, with more focus on the water than the fells making it a popular destination for families with children.

Indeed Arthur Ransome based his book Swallows and Amazons partly on Lake Windermere, so it is popular with rowers, sailors and windsurfers. There are loads of places to stay, from basic campsites, to cottages, to luxury spa hotels. A great base for South Lakes adventures.


A delightful South lakeland village that was once home to and inspiration for the works of Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth.

Visit the carefully preserved Old Grammar School that Wordsworth attended, or the Beatrix Pottery Gallery, both now owned and managed by the National Trust as a way of showcasing the work of these local artists.


In contrast to the family, day-tripper scenes of Windermere, Keswick is known as the adventure hub of the Lake District. Surrounded by the towering northern fells of Skiddaw, Grizedale Pike, Blencathra and the Borrowdale valley fells, Keswick is sort of a British Chamonix.

Packed with hikers, fell walking enthusiasts and even more enthusiastic fell-runners. Oh, and dogs. There's probably a 1:1 dog:human ratio in Keswick.

There are over 20 walking shops in Keswick (all dog friendly), so it's definitely the place for some kit upgrades. The Main Street also has a market on Thursdays and Saturdays and you'll find the streets bustling with life.

Perhaps Keswick's main draw, however (apart from the fells obviously, which always win) is its infamous Theatre By The Lake. It's named "the most beautifully located and friendly theatre in the UK'' and we wouldn't disagree. Nestled on the banks of Lake Derwentwater, the theatre is home to an excellent rotation of plays and performances. A must visit if you're there.



The Lake District is gradually turning into a place for foodies. This is great news for me, someone who spends 50% of their time outdoors, and 50% eating yummy food. Here are some of my favourite spots to refuel in the Lake District:

Fellpack & The Round, Keswick

Two sister restaurants run by an enigmatic bunch of young adventure enthusiasts that have moved from all over the country to set up base in the Lake District. Grace Dent agrees that this is one of the best places in the Lakes for post or pre-adventure fuel.

Fellpack serves up fresh, bold and innovative takes on the classics in handmade pottery, whilst The Round is a casual hangout for some of the best burgers and cocktails you'll ever try.

Hamburger at resturant

Chesters by the River, Elterwater

Vegans and vegetarians unite, along with all you sceptical meat-eaters, Chesters will change your life. Ok, maybe that's a bit OTT, but it will definitely make your day.

Tucked away in the Langdales behind the shores of Elterwater, Chesters by the River serves up incredible vegetarian salads, pizzas and weekly specials, with a menu that changes every week.

It serves up unbelievable cakes and insanely good coffee. Worth a day trip in itself. It also has a gorgeous shop attached, featuring locally sourced homewares and books.

Old Stamp House, Ambleside

Recently named as the best restaurant in the world by TripAdvisor in their annual Travellers’ Choice Awards, the Old Stamp House is undoubtedly an unforgettable place to eat.

For those looking for something a little more high-end, the Old Stamp House is Ambleside's Michelin-starred restaurant. Tucked away in William Wordsworth's old stamp office, the restaurant is bursting with history as much as it is flavour.

Indeed, head chef Ryan Blackburn has created something seriously special here. Local rare-breed meats and foraged goods are whipped up into dishes you won't forget.

George and Dragon, Clifton

Local ales and excellent pub grub on an old country estate near Askham Hall. The site has been serving food and accommodating people for over 800 years and calls itself 'more than just a local.'

Most of the food they cook is grown and reared less than 20 miles from the pub, which is part of a dedicated sustainable approach from the team. Right up our street!

Punch Bowl Inn, Crosthwaite

With enough award-winning, locally sourced food to make your mouth water just peering at the menu, the Punch Bowl Inn is a real treat for anyone staying in the Windermere and Kendal area.

Its quaint outdoor terrace and woodburning stoves make this little hideaway perfect for summer and winter adventures, and if you're lucky, you can even book rooms there too.

Punch Bowl Inn, Crosthwaite

Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater

Imagine the perfect pub. Open fires blazing, the wild outdoors rattling at the windows. Beers brewed at the on-site microbrewery. Epic pub classics. That is the Kirkstile.

Renowned for its excellent beer and well-executed pub dishes, the Kirkstile is a must-visit for walkers in the Loweswater area (Grasmoor, we're looking at you).

Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater

Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, Langdale

A social hub and watering hole for climbers across generations. Famously one of Chris Bonnington's favourite spots, and the place he tested out his lectures in the early days. The Old Dungeon Ghyll is far from fancy, and probably one of the only old-style, traditional climbers pubs still to exist in the UK.

Serving home-cooked, unfussy food and real ales in a down-to-earth atmosphere, the Old Dungeon Ghyll is a must-visit for Langdale hikers and climbers, and is just across the road from the Great Langdale National Trust campsite.

Places to Stay

There are so many incredible places to stay in the Lake District but we've tried really hard to pick our top spots. There are so many more amazing campsites, hostels, cottages and hotels though, so do hit us up if you want some more recommendations.


Great Langdale National Trust Campsite, Langdale

The campsite is nestled in the stunning Langdale valley at the foot of the towering Langdale Peaks. A beautiful grass site with plenty of trees and great National Trust facilities.

It's just across the road from The Old Dungeon Ghyll and Sticklebarn, because every great campsite must be in proximity to excellent pubs, am I right?

Great Langdale National Trust Campsite, Langdale

Fisherground Campsite, Eskdale

Away from the crowds of the main Lake District towns and villages, Eskdale is truly in the middle of nowhere.

The campsite, once included in the '50 World Best Campsites' is an excellent base for adventure and an awesome site for kids, too,  with rafts on the pond, a treehouse, a zip wire, Tarzan ropes, and an adventure course.

Waterside House Campsite, Ullswater

Waterside House is one of the few campsites in the Lake District that actually backs directly onto the lake. Scooped out by a glacier in the latest Ice Age, Ullswater is a real beauty and often overlooked by tourists heading to Windermere and Coniston.

Hire canoes, rowing boats and paddleboards directly from the site and hit the lake before coming back for a BBQ with a stellar view.

Waterside House Campsite, Ullswater


Sally's Cottages, Sykes Cottages and Lake Lovers, as well as a myriad of others, all operate cottage rentals in the Lake District. There are thousands to choose from, but here are our top 2.

The Love Shack, Cunsey

A modern timber log cabin and RIBA award winner close to Beatrix Potter's old home, The Love Shack is nestled in the pines near lake Windermere and virtually invisible to passers-by thanks to its natural exterior and moss roof. A very cool stay if you're staying in the Lake District for a special occasion.

The Love Shack, Cunsey

The Boat House, Lingholm Estate, Derwentwater

A very modern timber and glass structure on stilts above Derwentwater, the Boathouse is the Lingholm Estate's latest addition.

With incredibly sleek furnishings and uninterrupted views of the lake, this place has to be my ultimate bucket list stay in the Lake District. What's more, the Lingholm Kitchen is right on your doorstep for brunch, coffee and cake.

The Boat House, Lingholm Estate, Derwentwater


Another Place, Ullswater

Another Place is a stylish and relaxed hotel on the shores of Ullswater. Hire paddleboards, relax in the onsite spa or chill out in the smart interiors of the bar, restaurant and hotel rooms.

The Drunken Duck Inn, Ambleside

Run by the same crew as Chesters by the River, The Drunken Duck Inn is an upscale country pub with a sense of Lake District belonging. The food is seriously good, but not fine-dining pretentiousness. Wash down with ales from the on-site microbrewery.

The Drunken Duck Inn, Ambleside

The Yan at Broadrayne, Grasmere

A quirky, boutique hotel in the middle of the fells near Grasmere with 7 rooms and a gorgeous wood-burning stove adorned bistro.

The Yan at Broadrayne, Grasmere

So that's it. Everything you could ever want to know about the Lake District, and then some. But if you do still have some questions, don't be a stranger, reach out and send us a message. We love nothing more than helping you get out into the great outdoors.

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Article Author
George Beesley
Adventurer & Founder of Call To Adventure
George just bloody loves a bit of adventure! Imagine someone who not only hikes up mountains for breakfast but also bikes across continents. Got a case of wanderlust? This guy's been to over 50 countries and comes back with stories that'll make your grandma want to go bungee jumping.

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