This circular Malham Cove walk is our favourite in the Yorkshire Dales. It passes idyllic Janet Foss waterfall, the striking gorge of Gordale Scar, remote Malham Tarn and the limestone pavement of Malham Cove itself.

By: Mark Barnes | Published: 4 Sep 2021

Malham Cove is a geological wonder and an excellent location for getting outdoors in the UK.

The curved limestone pavement stretches 300 metres across and drops 80 metres vertically to the valley below. Formed at the end of the last ice age, it’s an imposing and intriguing sight. You could walk to Malham Cove from the carpark in 20 minutes, but there’s far more to explore in this remarkable area.

Janet’s Foss is an idyllic waterfall at the head of a magical wooded glen. Gordale Scar is a scenic gorge hidden beneath craggy limestone cliffs. Malham Tarn is an upland alkaline lake, home to unique wildlife. All these impressive geological features can be visited on this interesting Malham Cove walk.

The walk is circular and takes 3 to 4 hours to complete. There is a tricky scramble over a waterfall, but this can easily be avoided with a detour around it. As a reasonably long walk with the odd short steepish ascent, a good level of fitness is required.

This guide includes instructions, maps and like most of our other hiking posts, some great spots for a post-walk pint. If you only do one walk in the Yorkshire Dales, this is it.

For more in the area, read our guide to the best things to do in the Yorkshire Dales.

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A great circular walk visiting all the best geological wonders of Malham.


12.25 kilometres via Gordale Scar scramble (14.25 kilometres skipping the scramble)


3 hours 15 minutes via scramble (4 hours skipping the scramble)


370 metres (+/-)




May to August


This magnificent circular walk in the Yorkshire Dales visits Janet Foss waterfall, Gordale Scar, Malham Tarn and Malham, with a total of 370 metres of ascent and descent.

There are a couple of short steep climbs, and an optional scramble up Gordale Scar. If you choose to avoid the scramble, there is nothing technically difficult, and the walk can be completed by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness.

If you take on the scramble up Gordale Scar, the walk is just over 12 kilometres and takes around 3 hours and 15 minutes. If you take the detour, it’s just over 14 kilometres and takes around 4 hours.

Whichever route you choose, we suggest adding an additional hour to snap the superb scenery, enjoy a picnic in an idyllic location and savour the strange wonders that line the route.


The walk begins in Malham village; a lovely collection of houses along a little stream nestled amongst the splendid, rugged scenery of the Yorkshire Dales.

There is a large National Park Car Park (Postcode: BD23 4DA) but many visitors park by the side of the road that comes from Kirkby Malham. On sunny summer days, parking can be tricky, so try to come early (or late) to grab a spot.

Below are the instructions for the walk, but you can also find the entire route on the map at the end of the post. Download it onto your phone and track your process as you do the around.

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From the National Park Car Park walk into Malham, and as you pass the Buck Inn, turn right, cross the stone pedestrian footbridge over Malham Beck, turn right again then follow the Pennine Way through a wooden gate, keeping the stream on your right. After passing through a pair of kissing gates, turn left at the sign pointing towards Janet Foss (marked 1 on the map).

Keep on this path (stone wall to your right, fence on your left) till you go through a kissing gate and into a National Trust-owned wood. The path now winds through a stunning little wooded ravine. In spring, bluebells rise above a carpet of green and the aroma of wild garlic drifts on the breeze under a leafy canopy.

Ascending gently, the path reaches Janet’s Foss, a small but beautiful waterfall that drops over a moss-covered wall into a lovely pool. It’s a gorgeous spot and on a hot day, it’s a great spot for a quick dip.


Continue past the waterfall, turn right on the road until you reach a lay-by. Gordale Refreshments – an excellent food van operated by the local farmer – is often parked here and does excellent egg rolls and bacon butties. Cross the bridge (2 on the map) and just a few metres further along the road, turn left on a wide rocky track signposted to Gordale Scar.

The track heads into the dramatic gorge which slowly encroaches on the path as overhanging limestone cliffs and rocky buttresses tower over you.

Before long, the route appears blocked by a massive boulder with a tiny waterfall flowing over it.

It’s decision time. For the adventurous with sure footing and a sense of adventure, you can scramble over the rock on the left-hand side of the waterfall. It’s not easy, but you can spend a little time watching other people do it to see how it feels for you. If you decide to pass on the scramble, turn around and take a 2-kilometre detour.

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If you decide to scramble over the waterfall, the path continues climbing once you get to the top. While still steep and rocky, it gradually becomes easier. After passing another waterfall, the path climbs stone steps on your left and rises out of the valley.

The rocks give way to grassy hills and reaching the top of the valley, the path crosses a stone wall with a sign pointing to Malham Tarn. Follow the grassy path across the fields until you reach Street Gate (3 on the map).


If you decide to avoid the scramble, head back to the stone bridge (2 on the map), cross it and going straight on through the wall, follow the sign to Malham Cove (purple route on map).

The path (Hawthorns Lane), heads along a field (wall on your right), passes through the wall, then across a field, until it meets the hills. Follow the trail hugging the base of the hill (wall now on your left) which bends right until meeting a road (Malham Rakes).

Turn right on the road (almost going back on yourself) and ascend the hill you have been walking around. Continue for quite a distance until the road veers left as a wide gravel path continues straight on. Take the gravel track for 300 metres to the crossroads at Street Gate (3 on the map).

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At Street Gate, head straight along the gravel track with the wall on your right. The path veers away from the wall and just before crossing a cattle grid at the Great Close Plantation, turn left and follow the indistinct path, keeping the wall and the plantation on your right.

When the path meets the Pennine Way, go straight over and bearing left, come to the southern edge of Malham Tarn (5 on the map).

Malham Tarn is one of only two natural lakes in the Dales and one of only eight upland alkaline lakes in Europe. Its low pH makes it rich in submerged aquatic plants and it attracts crayfish, otters and many breeding birds.

Sitting on its banks makes a lovely spot for a picnic. It may be tempting to go for a swim but please don’t as you may introduce foreign bacteria into this special conservation area.

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From the southern edge of Malham Tarn, head south to Water Sinks car park. Just after the car park, turn right on the road, go through a gate and over Malham Beck. Past the beck, turn left at the signpost pointing to Malham Cove (1.5 miles). After 100 metres when the path splits, take the left fork signpost to the cove.


It’s worth taking a short detour left off the path here, to the spot where Malham Beck disappears underground (marked with a star on the map). It doesn’t reappear until it can be seen miraculously gushing out the bottom of Malham Cove.

Continue along the path always heading downhill. Malham Cove is well-signposted and there is simply nowhere else to go. The path drops gradually at first, but after a big zig-zag (6 on the map), it passes over a stile, steepens and descends quickly into the gash of Ing Scar, a dry and rocky valley.

The path then flattens and after going over two more stiles you arrive at the top of Malham Cove.

The limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove is remarkable. Deep fissures sink into the otherwise flat limestone surface, creating huge natural paving blocks. The edge of the pavement suddenly ends and drops almost vertically to the valley floor, 80 metres below.

The views from up here on a fine day are exceptional with a patchwork of fields rising and falling over undulating hills.


From the top of Malham Cove, turn right and make your way across the limestone pavement. At the end when you have reached a wall (7 on the map), turn left, go through a kissing gate, and descend the man-made steps.

Reaching a wood, the path bends left and then right before splitting. Bear left to get a closer look at the cliff face of Malham Cove. Bear right to follow the well-signed path back into Malham.


It’s worth taking the left fork and exploring the mighty cliff of Malham Cove before heading back to the village. The 80-metre-high rock face stretches for 300 metres and is an imposing sight. Rock climbers from across the region come here to scale this monolithic wall of rock. Grab a seat, rest your feet in the clear waters of the beck and watch them race up.

Back in Malham, there are plenty of places for a post-walk rest. Beck Hall has a garden that runs beside the stream, ideal for lunch in the sun. The Lister Arms has a home-brewed Freedom IPA which we highly recommend. Perched at tables on the edge of the village green, it’s a perfect way to end this Malham Cove Walk.


The map below contains the two walking routes as well as the re-fuelling options. The red route scrambles over the waterfall in Gordale Scar, the purple route detours around it. Use the numbers to help track your location on the circular walk.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


The village of Malham has a National Park Visitor’s Centre which is open from 10am to 5pm, with a large car park and toilets. The village of Malham has some great pubs, a garden bistro, a tearoom, take away and gift shop.

There are not many other facilities along the rest of the walk. Gordale Refreshments is a food van run by a very friendly couple which is often parked in a dedicated lay-by at the entrance of Gordale Scar. Sometimes there’s an ice cream van at Water Sinks car park.


There’s a good reason Malham can get very busy. Not only are the geological wonders exceptional but the village itself is pretty and blessed with some great places to stay. Here are some recommendations from us for an overnight trip to Malham Cove.



The YHA Malham is an excellent youth hostel. The accommodation includes dorms, private rooms with shared bathrooms, and atmospheric pod cabins. It’s ideally situated in Malham village only a 15-minute walk from Malham Cove.



This ivy-clad 18th-century inn on the village green is everything a country pub should be. Warm fires for the cold days, an inviting rear courtyard with quality food and beer tables in the sun out front. The rooms are modern but with a stylish old-country feel.



Resting by a stream, Beck Hall could not be better placed amongst the rugged Yorkshire Dale scenery. The rooms are elegantly modern with a wooden alpine vibe. Have a glass of wine in the garden or enjoy their excellent food after a long day exploring the area.



A country cottage with five rooms in an idyllic location, Green Grove Country Hall is a little gem. Built using local stone, it has a range of spacious rooms and does an excellent breakfast. It’s 5 miles from Malham, so if you want to lose the crowds, its perfect.


01 – This Malham Cove walk is mostly easy to follow, but there are lots of crossing paths on the top of the moorland which can be difficult to follow in cloudy conditions. Bring a physical map (OL2) or download our map to use on your phone.

02 – If you are using a phone to navigate make sure it is fully charged, and/or take a spare battery with you.

03 – The trail is a mix of easy walking tracks and hard stony paths. We suggest using waterproof footwear with a good grip, ideally walking boots or shoes.

04 – Weather conditions in the Yorkshire Dales can change dramatically. Make sure you take a waterproof jacket and some warm clothes. The walk is not in the shade, so if you’re blessed with a hot day, bring sunblock and a hat.

05 – There is often a van for refreshments at Gordale Scar, but not always, so don’t rely on it and make sure you take plenty of food and water. Walking for 3 to 4 hours is tiring and consumes many calories.

06 – While swimming in Malham Tarn is unsafe, you can take a dip in the pool at the bottom of Janet’s Foss. So, bring a towel and your swimming gear.


If you’re looking for outdoor adventures in the UK, here are some more of our guides you might be interested in.

Visiting the Yorkshire Dales National Park

How to visit the Blue Lagoon in Abereiddy

7 Great walks on the Pembrokeshire Coast

Visiting Rhossili Bay and the Gower Peninsular, Wales

Where to stay in the Peak District

Where to stay in Pembrokeshire

complete guide to the best things to do in Northumberland

Visiting Dorset’s Jurassic Coast


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