What is the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge?
The Yorkshire 3 Peaks walk tackles the three peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in one 25-mile circular route. Whernside is the highest point in Yorkshire, and the whole route is contained within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The challenge is to complete it in under 12 hours, and as they say in these parts, it’s a reet grand day out in one of the loveliest areas of North Yorkshire.
We’ll warn you though, it’s seriously tough. You’ll face 1585m (5200ft) of total climbing with an equivalent amount of often steep descent. This on top of the distance makes it a proper adventure challenge. Don't fancy going it alone or can't be bothered with all the route planning? Why not book onto our guided Yorkshire Three Peaks trip.
Whernside is the highest summit at 736m (2415ft)
Ingleborough comes a close second at 723m (2372ft)
Pen-y-ghent is the lowest summit at 694m (2277ft). Don’t let that fool you though as it’s definitely not the easiest!
Traditionally the starting point and endpoint of the route is the Pen-y-ghent café in the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale. The café offers a check-in system for Yorkshire Three Peaks challengers, with the option of posting a note with your start and finish times through the letterbox if it’s shut.
Walkers who’ve used the checking system and who complete the route in under 12 hours are invited to join the ‘Three Peaks of Yorkshire’ club. However, at the time of writing, the café has been closed for some time due to overcrowding and littering during the pandemic, so it’s worth checking before you go.
There’s a car park at Horton-in-Ribblesdale and also the option of street parking but please be considerate. If you need to drop out, the railway line runs from Ribblehead back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
It’s estimated that around 200,000 walkers attempt the Three Peaks Challenge each year, which places pressure on an already fragile environment. On average it costs £35 to repair each metre of path. If you decide to take on the challenge, you can help by packing out litter, sticking to marked paths and following the Countryside Code.
Giving a donation to help maintain the paths will help ensure the challenge is there for future adventurers. Check out the Yorkshire Dales National Park website for more info on how to donate.
Yorkshire Three Peaks Route
The Yorkshire Three Peaks roughly form a triangle with a couple of roads and the river Ribble separating them. Traditionally the starting point is Horton-in-Ribblesdale, to tackle your first peak; the steep stepped profile of Pen-y-ghent.
From Pen-y-Ghent summit it’s worth taking the short detour to the impressive sinkhole of Hull Pot but be aware that there’s a fair old distance to walk to reach Whernside, the second peak, crossing rough, often boggy moorland, although there have been improvements to this section in recent years with paved paths being constructed.
After reaching the impressive many-arched Ribblehead Viaduct a long, steady climb will bring you onto Whernside summit ridge. After the trig point, there’s a steep, stepped descent to Philpin Farm. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to grab a cuppa and maybe a cheeky cake here as they serve refreshments at weekends between April and October plus Bank Holidays.
This leaves the steep slopes of Ingleborough to be faced, and you’ll certainly feel the impact on tired legs. Once you’re at the top, on a clear day you can see Morecambe Bay and the Lake District but don’t stop for too long to celebrate as you’ve still got six miles to get back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. It’s thankfully all downhill, but if time’s short you may need to get a jog on to finish in under 12 hours!
You don’t have to start in Horton-in-Ribblesdale with Pen-y-ghent. In fact, you might have a better experience if you don’t. If you tackle the Yorkshire Three Peaks walk on a summer weekend, expect to feel like you’re doing the conga as you’ll be following a line of people all day. We were stuck in a queue for twenty minutes waiting to tackle the gnarly bits on Pen-y-Ghent.
If walking in crowds is not your bag (and we hear you), start from Chapel-le-Dale, or near the Ribblehead viaduct. There’s limited free parking so you’ll need an early start, which we recommend anyway to avoid those pesky crowds.
You could always do the three peaks the other way round, starting with Ingleborough and finishing with Pen-y-Ghent. This would cut out some of the crowds, although sadly not all as some charity challenge organisers have started doing this.
There’s plenty of bed and breakfast and hotel accommodation in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and the nearby villages of Ingleton, Settle, and Chapel-le-Dale; some will cook you a really early breakfast and prepare you a packed lunch if you ask nicely. The Old Hill Inn in Chapel le Dale and the Golden Lion Hotel in Horton are popular spots.
There are also campsites at Horton-in-Ribblesdale and Ingleton. We’d recommend booking your accommodation well in advance, especially in summer as it gets very busy; the Pennine Way also passes through Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
Most kit lists start with a good pair of boots, and while they’re ideal for this sort of terrain we know some experienced hikers find trail shoes comfiest for longer distances so we’re not going to preach. Just make sure whatever footwear you use has a good grip and some support, okay?
Here's some other things we recommend taking along with you:
- A good set of waterproofs, hat and gloves. If the weather closes in, the temperature can drop like a stone; hypothermia isn’t fun
- Warm layers like a fleece or down jacket, it's always chillier on the tops, even in summer.
- A map is essential; the OS Explorer OL2 Yorkshire Dales covers the whole route.
- A GPS is always useful but shouldn’t be relied on; take a compass too and know how to use it. This may sound like overkill but you can lose visibility in the blink of an eye on the tops.
- You’ll need to take enough water as you won’t pass many places to refill and you can’t rely on refreshment stops being open.
- Plenty of snacks
- First aid kit
- Emergency blanket. Again, this might sound like overkill but whenever we're out walking we should always have one of these, you never know what might happen.
- Headtorch in case you start or finish in the dark
- A spare pair of socks wouldn’t go amiss in case you get soggy boggy feet.
- Trekking poles may help with the steep downhills if you suffer from joint issues.
So, what do you think? Will the Yorkshire three peaks challenge feature in your 2022 walking plans? Let us know in the comments below and feel free to share this article with anyone you think may be interested. You might even find yourself a walking buddy to take it on with!
Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge FAQ
How long does it take to walk the Yorkshire 3 Peaks?
The traditional challenge is to complete the Yorkshire three peaks walk within 12 hours. However, it’s a big ask considering it’s a 25-mile walk, even longer if you visit Hull Pot. You could easily take more time and appreciate those lovely views.
The three peaks route would make a cracking weekend walk if you want to fully enjoy it.
Can you do Yorkshire 3 peaks in a day?
It’s doable if you’re fit, but it’s a full day out. You don’t have to stick to the 12-hour limit. Doing it in summer and starting early will give you around 15 hours to play with.
Which of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks is easiest?
Whernside is the easiest of the three peaks to climb. it’s a massive beast of a hill but with a relatively gentle ascent and descent. Pen-y-ghent is much steeper with a little hands-on scrambling. Ingleborough has some almost vertical summit slopes which are particularly taxing if it’s your last peak of the day.
What order do you do the Yorkshire Three Peaks?
The traditional order is to summit Pen-y-ghent first, then head to Whernside before crossing to Ingleborough. This isn’t set in stone though. Starting with one of the other peaks can help avoid the crowds setting off from Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
Can I walk the Yorkshire Three Peaks the other way around?
You can certainly walk it anti-clockwise if you prefer; like we said some charities are doing this already. Walking it this way round means a gentler climb up Ingleborough but a steeper climb up Whernside and a bit of a scramble down the gnarly bits on Pen-y-Ghent.
It's easily doable though.
How difficult is the Yorkshire 3 peaks challenge?
It’s a tough day out that’s for sure, but it's a great challenge. Although the peaks aren’t particularly high, you’ll still face three big climbs and some steep downhills. Added to the almost marathon distance, it’s a challenge of epic proportions.
How fit do you need to be for Yorkshire 3 Peaks?
If you’re a regular hillwalker you’ll be fine, but if you’re not used to longer distances you’ll need to train. Drop-out rates are high and are mainly due to walkers underestimating the challenge.
Walk over plenty of rough, boggy, and rocky terrain to build fitness and endurance. Think hills. The more you can find to walk, run or cycle up, the better.
Can you do the Yorkshire 3 peaks on your own?
You can, but we’d recommend that you’re a reasonably fit hillwalker who’s used to long solo walks in hill country. There’s very little out there so if you get into difficulties you’re on your own. A walk with friends is always more fun.
A lot of walkers complete the Yorkshire 3 Peaks walk as participants of an organised charity challenge group. This could be an option if you’re not used to walking alone as the navigation is taken care of and they’ll have refreshment stops along the route so you can get away with carrying less water.
Is the Yorkshire Three Peaks harder than the National Three Peaks?
This is one that's up for debate. The walking distance is very similar for both challenges, although the National Three Peaks involves a lot more ascent and descent. You do get the chance to rest though as you're driven from peak to peak whereas the Yorkshire Three Peaks is a constant 12-hour slog.
What makes the National Three Peaks tough is the sleep deprivation aspect - if you're not one of those sleep anywhere types (and not many of us are) it can be hard to force your body to keep going on very little sleep over the 24 hour period.
The best way to find out is to try them both! Book onto our guided National Three Peaks in 24 hours trip and let us know what you think!