It can take a lifetime of commitment to cover every fell in the Lakes, and not all of us are blessed with the time. So for those saving their epic multi-day expeditions for a later date, here are five of our favourite day-hikes in England’s most imperious national park.
Best for: Families
Hostel base: YHA Keswick
Distance: approx. 3.5 miles
(from Hawes End landing stage)
A high, handsome hill gazing across the wide expanse of Derwentwater, Catbells provides arguably the most rewarding all-ages walk in the Lake District. Alfred Wainwright himself described it as “one of the great favourites, a family fell where grandmothers and infants can climb the heights together, a place beloved”. Make a day of it by catching the launch around the lake from Keswick and disembarking at Hawes End, from where a good path zigzags and climbs up the flank of the hill. There’s a short steeper section not long before you reach the 451-metre-high summit, but nothing to be unduly worried by, and the views from the top are superb. To continue, carry on south across Catbells before the path veers east at the Hawes Gate saddle, descending back down to the water’s edge. The final stretch is along a gentle lakeside trail.
Best for: Scaling the heights
Hostel base: YHA Eskdale
Distance: 9 miles
Lakeland visitors are often drawn to Scafell Pike, largely because it’s England’s highest mountain. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it’s fair to point out that a) it’s not the most attractive fell and b) it can get crowded. So opting instead for its slightly smaller sister Scafell – just 14 metres shorter at 964 metres – can be a very smart choice, particularly on a pleasant day when it serves up fantastic panoramas of the rest of the national park. This walk from Eskdale begins at the Woolpack Inn, a five-minute stroll from YHA Eskdale, and climbs up to Scafell via the fell-top of Slight Side on the mountain’s southern flank. There’s then the option of descending via a more westerly trail to reach the nearby village of Boot, a mile and a half from the hostel.
Great Gable Circular
Best for: Hardened hill-walkers
Hostel base: YHA Borrowdale
Distance: approx. 12 miles
The names given to some Lake District fells seem arbitrary or opaque. Not so the mighty Great Gable. Reaching almost 900 metres in height, it stands over the valleys in bulky majesty, solid and dependable. There are myriad routes to its summit, but this long, full-day circular from YHA Borrowdale is one of the most enticing for experienced fell-climbers. It’s absolutely vital that you have the proper hill-walking experience – traversing its southern slopes requires a very steady nerve and strong scrambling skills, and the walk as a whole is best reserved for fine days. Needless to say, however, the rewards are spectacular, and most of the tough sections are in the first half of the hike. You’ll need to have full route details, but in broad terms you’ll ascend via Seathwaite and Stockley Bridge, and return via Green Gable, Brandreth, Grey Knotts and Honister Pass.
Best for: A mammoth undertaking
Hostel base: YHA Ennerdale
Distance: 18 miles
Our property at YHA Ennerdale gives endless opportunity for Lakeland walks. Some are short – hostel-to-hostel hikers can reach the remote YHA Black Sail in under 90 minutes, for example – and some are long. Very long. This epic all-day route should only be attempted over summer when daylight hours are at their longest, although there are various points at which the walk can be shortened if needed – be sensible if you’re unsure. Good stamina is essential, although when you have the likes of Red Pike, High Stile, High Crag, Haystacks, Green Gable, Great Gable, Kirk Fell and Pillar to look forward to, the riches in store are phenomenal. Allow around fourteen hours between leaving the hostel and returning.
Best for: Wainwright enthusiasts
Hostel base: YHA Buttermere
Distance: 8.5 miles
That Alfred Wainwright requested that his ashes be scattered close to the summit of Haystacks says it all. It might not be the largest fell in the Lakes – in fact, at 597 metres, it’s not even in the top 100 – but its crags, tarns and pleasingly nobbled appearance make it one of the best loved in the national park. This walk from YHA Buttermere skirts the southern shore of Buttermere Lake itself before making a gradual ascent up to the summit of Haystacks and looping around the fell-top area before leading down again to Buttermere Lake, where you’ll trace the northern shore to return to the hostel. On a clear day, it’s a walk that grants superb views of the higher tops. golakes.co.uk
Two other superb Lake District adventures!
Exploring Honister Slate Mine
Hostel base: YHA Honister Hause
This still-working slate mine offers a great range of activities, from via ferrata and underground tours to the nerve-wracking Infinity Bridge. honister.com
Canoeing on Wast Water
Hostel base: YHA Wasdale Hall
The deepest lake in England is an excellent place to try out open canoeing, with experienced instructors on hand. westlakesadventure.co.uk
IMPORTANT NOTE: These overviews give you a sense of each walk, but it’s important to fully research your route before you go and take the right maps with you. Our hostel staff will be delighted to share their local knowledge and walking advice.