Soak up wild and epic landscapes, enjoy a night out on a moorland pub and experience geological wonders in our guide to the best things to do in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The Yorkshire Dales has many moods.

Wild and serious in the windswept craggy hills traced with drystone walls; remote and lonely in vast moorlands with nothing but swaying grasses; stoic and defiant in old-world villages nestled into serene valleys.

The 10 official dales, or valleys, that make up the Yorkshire Dales are more than just the geological wonders that provide towering limestone karsts or mysterious disappearing rivers. They’re the home of castles and industry; remnants of invention and independence that give this wild, epic landscape it’s personality.

With a host of outdoor activities, the most earnest pubs in the country, incredible scenic drives and picturesque picnic spots, there are things to do in the Yorkshire Dales for everyone.

From the high mountain passes to the depths of underground caves, here is our guide to the Yorkshire Dales National Park.


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old wooden sign post for the Pennine Way
IN THIS GUIDE

PLACES TO VISIT IN THE YORKSHIRE DALES


1 – DISCOVER THE GEOLOGICAL WONDERS OF MALHAMDALE

The curved limestone pavement of Malham Cove has been described as one of the geological wonders of the UK. Stretching 300 metres across, deep fissures sink into the otherwise flat limestone, creating the appearance of a massive, paved surface.

The edge abruptly 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.

The base of the pavement also provides a unique perspective of the geology of the area. A monolithic wall – dotted with rock climbers – towers above with an underground river reappearing at the base of the rock.

You could walk to Malham Cove from Malham village in just 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 a hidden gorge peered over by craggy limestone cliffs; and Malham Tarn an upland alkaline lake home to unique wildlife. All are beautiful and are best visited on this wonderful Malham Cove walk.

2 – TAKE IN THE VIEWS OF SWALEDALE

If we had to pick the most beautiful part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, it would be upper Swaledale. The most northern and least visited of the dales, it’s a patchwork of glistening green fields in stark contrast to the barren brown moorlands that rise above it. 

The River Swale traverses the valley floor as it drops over waterfalls and gathers in remote pools. Farmhouses that appear unchanged over centuries sit alongside medieval bothies overlooking a rugged land dotted with sheep.

In our opinion, the area around Keld and Muker is the most attractive part of Swaledale. The 2-week coast-to-coast path goes through here and it’s easy to see why. Simply drive the 20 minutes between Keld and Muker or stop off for a short stroll along the River Swale to see why this is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Yorkshire Dales.

For a pint and a view head to the King’s Head in Gunnerside. They serve Black Sheep Bitter from the local brewery at Masham.

3 – PICNIC IN THE BOLTON ABBEY ESTATE

There are lots of valleys and remote places to visit in the Yorkshire Dales, but for a gorgeous setting with a few facilities, head to Bolton Abbey Estate. The estate is centred on Bolton Priory whose ruins peer over the River Wharfe as it babbles through the idyllic valley.

Apart from spoiling yourself with a picnic straight out of a Jane Eyre novel, there are plenty of things to do. Walk the short loop of the ruins and the Cavendish Pavilion or the half day hike that ventures into the surrounding countryside. Capture the thoroughly photogenic priory or swim from the stony beach on the banks of the river.

There is no entry fee but there is a charge for parking which is discounted if you book in advance of the date of your visit. There’s a village shop, several tea rooms, a brasserie, a gift shop and toilets. It’s a popular spot so book ahead in peak season.   

4 – EXPLORE A NETWORK OF UNDERGROUND CAVES

The Yorkshire Dales National Park has over 2,500 known caves forming the longest system in Britain. This makes the national park an excellent caving destination. Fortunately, there’s a range of options based on how adventurous you want to be.

The easiest to explore are the “show caves.” These involve walking in groups – usually along metal grid flooring – within large cave systems. The only physical requirement is to be able to walk up and down steps and bend to about waist height. It’s below 10 degrees down there, so warm clothing is necessary. The largest show cave is White Scar Cave.

Another option is to descend via winch to Gaping Gill – a massive subterranean chamber, large enough to fit St Paul’s Cathedral. Winching is organised by Bradford and Craven Pothole Clubs, but it is only possible one week in May and one week in August, so you need to plan your visit in advance.

Finally, if you want to challenge yourself, several companies organise adventure caving tours for beginners. The experience involves wriggling through tiny gaps, descending underground waterfalls via rope and general clambering around. It’s a lot of fun providing you’re happy to get wet and don’t mind confined spaces. We had a great time with Lost Earth Adventures who provide all the equipment and guidance you need.

5 – GRAB A LOCALLY BREWED ALE IN A COUNTRY PUB

There are few better things to do in the Yorkshire Dales than to escape the wind and rain in an old English country pub. Serving either home-brewed ales or a few excellent local creations, here are some of our favourites.  

RED LION IN BURNSALL

When we staggered over the finish line from our 100-kilometre charity walk a few years ago, we celebrated (collapsed) at the Red Lion. Next to a grand old bridge by a gorgeous spot on the River Wharfe, it’s a great traditional Yorkshire pub. The food menu changes regularly, and the 16th-century bar has a wide selection of cask-conditioned real ales.

CRAVEN ARMS IN APPLETREEWICK 

The village of Appletreewick is the self-proclaimed “Gateway to the Ales”. For a pub packed with old-world atmosphere, grab a pint at the wood-panelled bar in the Craven Arms. Peruse the blackboard lit by a gas lamp and select from a range of cask ales from the Yorkshire Dales Brewery.

LISTERS ARMS IN MALHAM

The village of Malham is lovely and the Lister Arms occupies one of the best locations overlooking the green. The ivory clad exterior, complete with bunting, exudes all the character you could ask for from a village pub. The excellent sharing platter goes well with their home-brewed Freedom Ales or the Blonde from the local Settle Brewery. There’s a courtyard for sunny days.

6 – SUMMIT ONE OR ALL OF THE YORKSHIRE THREE PEAKS

The national three peaks challenge attempts the summits of Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike in 24 hours. Not to be outdone, Yorkshire has its own version. The Yorkshire Three Peak Challenge is a 24-mile hike ascending a total of 5,200 feet (1585 metres) over the three peaks of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.

There’s no driving between the mountains, so it’s just one long day of walking. The goal is to complete them all in under 12 hours either as part of an organised event or on your own. But if all that sounds too much, just pick one and you’ll still have a great (and probably more enjoyable) day in Yorkshire’s beautiful high mountains.

Our favourite is Pen-y-Ghent. Craggier and more dramatic than the other two, it also has the added bonus of being slightly lower. Ascend from Horton in Ribblesdale taking the lovely circular route. Expect it to take around 4 hours.

7 – PHOTOGRAPH THE RIBBLEHEAD VIADUCT

Over 150 years ago, the Midland Railway began the construction of the Ribblehead Viaduct. Part of the Settle to Carlisle trainline, it took 5 years to build and over 100 men lost their lives in the process.

Today the grade 2 listed structure stands imposingly over the Ribble River as it winds between the three peaks. Twenty-four massive arches each span 14 metres across and rise 32 metres above the valley floor. The gentle curves of the brickwork coursing through the valley add a sense of grace and grandeur, making it one of the best photography spots in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

If you happen to have a drone, bring it along and check the train timetables to coincide with a steam train making its journey across (Tuesdays & Thursdays only). 

8 – DRIVE OVER THE BUTTERTUBS PASS

From the seat of your car, some of the best scenery in the Yorkshire Dales unfolds before your eyes. Roads disappear up and down the valleys, past babbling brooks and through tiny villages. The most scenic drives in Yorkshire are over the passes that climb the high fells and connect the dales.

The best known is Buttertubs Pass. Rising to a height of 526 metres, it crosses the wild moors between Swaledale and Wensleydale. It’s a good road, easy to drive, with wide lanes going in either direction. Most importantly, however, the views are excellent. Park at the summit to truly appreciate this wild, rugged, and remote place.

Another great option is the drive from Middleham up the Coverdale Valley and down into Kettlewell. A tributary valley of Wensleydale, not many people come here, so you’ll probably have this picturesque corner of the dales all to yourself. Its single lane part of the way, so take your time.

9 – CYCLE IN SWALEDALE

With its long windy valleys and high passes, the Yorkshire Dales National Park offers some of the best cycling in the UK. It’s perfect territory for pros and beginners alike. So impressed with the options available, the 2014 Tour de France began in Leeds and continue through the Yorkshire Dales.

There are plenty of lung-busting climbs for the experienced cyclists up for a gruelling challenge; the highest being Fleet Moss. Running between Hawes and Outershaw, the 589-metre summit of the pass is the highest in Yorkshire. The cycle route climbs 303 metres with gradients of up to 20%.

But if you are novices like us, Swaledale is a great option. The most northern of the dales, the roads are quieter and there are plenty of options. Take a ride along the road on the valley floor, head off along the specifically designed 20-kilometre Swale Trail (a mix of road and unsurfaced tracks), or head out of the valley and up onto the passes.

We hired our bikes from Dales Bike Centre, who helped pick a route that was just right for us. They offer road bikes for touring, mountain trail bikes for going off-track, or e-bikes to help get further and higher. Maps are provided with all the tracks in the area.

10 – DINNER AND MUSIC AT REMOTE TAN HILL INN

At 528 metres, Tan Hill Inn is the highest pub in Britain. Set at the top of a beautifully desolate moorland scene, nothing but windblown grasses and a few sheep frame the view for miles. It feels remote yet inviting.

The chatter of hardy patron’s fill the pub with a rugged atmosphere. Hikers looking for a bed for the night, cyclists taking a break from the hard climb, lost drivers stopping off for food. The retelling of the day’s stories mingle with the clink of pint glasses getting refilled. There’s live music every Thursday, Friday & Saturday, the food is excellent, and the newly constructed outdoor pods are an innovative pivot for a traditional old pub.

If the weather is good enough, we recommend grabbing a pint of their homemade Kings Pit ale, finding a seat outside, and staring at the endless vista of nothingness.

11 – VISIT MAGNIFICENT RUINS AT FOUNTAINS ABBEY

In 1132, monks expelled from York came to the beautifully enclosed valley of the River Skell. Here they joined the Cistercian order and built a small church alongside their timber houses. Over the next 100 years, the church would be massively expanded into Fountains Abbey. Its fate would rise and fall for a couple of centuries until it came to a sticky end in 1540 when Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church and passed all its land to the crown.

Today these UNESCO listed towering ruins are some of the finest in the UK. Owned by the National Trust, they are set within Studley Royal Park in a thoroughly picturesque valley. You could easily spend half a day ambling under crumbling arches, strolling along the river edge or pottering amongst the trees that line the deer park. It’s great for a picnic and the views across sweeping green fields to the ruined abbey are incredibly photo-worthy.

Access to a rather grand water garden is included in the entrance price and like many National Trust owned properties there’s a decent café, plenty of information about the site, toilets and a play area.

12 – CLAMBER UP BRIMHAM ROCKS

There are a fantastic collection of geological treasures on the eastern edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Formed over 325 million years ago, the eroded Brimham Rocks have been transformed into weird and intriguing shapes. Often smooth and cylindrical, they rise like oddly shaped skyscrapers into the sky.

This other-worldly scene makes for an excellent half-day out in Yorkshire. Take an easy stroll between the rocks, try scrambling up them, or hike over the surrounding moorlands. It’s all owned by the National Trust who have put a café and toilets on site. Entrance is free, but there is a charge for parking (£6 for up to 4 hours, £9 for the day or free to members)

Come from mid-August to late September and the grey/black rocks stand in beautiful contrast to the purple heather. Avoid wet days if possible as clambering can be slippery and dangerous.

OTHER PLACES TO VISIT IN THE YORKSHIRE DALES

If you’re a regular reader of Anywhere We Roam, you may have noticed that we like to be selective about what we recommend doing, picking out the best things for a great experience. However, there are many more things to do in the Yorkshire Dales that we couldn’t quite squeeze on to the list. If you have more time, here are some more recommendations.

SEDBERGH BOOK TOWN

Since 2003, Sedbergh has been England’s official Book Town. This tiny village has several stores selling books on different themes. Make sure you check out Westwood Books. Based in a former cinema, it moved here from Hay on Wye in 2005 and has about 70,000 titles.

AYSGARTH WATERFALL

The Yorkshire Dales has plenty of waterfalls, but many are privately run and there is a charge to see them. Ingleton Waterfall is a rather staggering £8 per person, Hardraw Force is £4. Both are nice enough, but it’s probably better to head to Aysgarth where the only charge is for parking (National Trust). An even better option is to do the Malham Cove walk and see the idyllic waterfall of Janet’s Foss for absolutely nothing.

SKIPTON & RICHMOND CASTLE

There are a few castles dotted around the edge of the Dales. Construction of Richmond Castle began in 1071 making it one of the oldest castles in Britain. The well-preserved keep sits 100 feet above the market town. Skipton Castle is one of the most complete medieval castles in the country and one of the few that is still fully roofed. The highlights include its drum towers, Tudor courtyard and imposing gatehouse.

WENSLEYDALE CREAMERY

Wensleydale is known for cheese and their local creamery is based in Hawes. Sadly, they’ve chosen to focus on knick-knacks and tourist tack rather than their delicious cheese. The coffee shop onsite is dire, but there is a cheese room where you can pick up a sharp cheddar served with noticeable disinterest. Pick up some cheese, get in and get out.

FORBIDDEN CORNER

The kids will love Forbidden Corner; a host of strange and bizarre objects spread across a 4-acre garden. There’s a labyrinth of tunnels, carved wooden statues, dead ends and tricks to avoid. Nearby is the Druid’s Temple, a 19th-century folly styled on Stonehenge. Sit in the stone circle and pretend to call the mystics.

SETTLE TO CARLISLE STEAM RAILWAY

It was not running on our visit, but the Settle to Carlisle train line looked pretty cool. Carriages that ran throughout the golden age of rail, and featured in the Harry Potter movies, glide through the grand scenery of the Yorkshire Dales. For part of the journey they are pulled by a diesel engine, but for the most picturesque section (from Hellifield to Carlisle) a steam engine is used. Puffing your way over the Ribblesdale Viaduct must be great. The service currently runs only Tuesday or Thursdays so book ahead.

OUTDOOR CLIMBING

If hiking, caving, scrambling, and cycling is not enough adventure for you then try your hand at climbing. Beginners head to Twistleton Scar before migrating to something much more challenging like Malham Cove, Gordale Scar or Almscliff Crag. Check out Lost Earth Adventure for guided climbs.

WHERE TO STAY IN THE YORKSHIRE DALES

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is large, taking 2 hours to drive from north to south. It’s important to stay near the things you want to do (see map above).

For rugged hikes around the three peaks stay around Ribblesdale, for geological wonders try Malhamdale and for quaint villages, ruined abbeys and lovely pubs Wharfedale is a good option. If you want to leave the crowds behind head further north. Wensleydale is pretty but even better is Swaledale, a remote and stunningly gorgeous slice of British countryside.

Here are just a few recommendations from us:

RIBBLESDALE

YHA MALHAM

In the heart of Ribblesdale this B&B, offering room and pods, just seems to do everything right. Clean, comfy and cosy with delicious breakfasts and unbeatable views. It’s also in the perfect location for undertaking the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge.

HOTELS.COM / BOOKING.COM

MALHAMDALE

THE LISTER ARMS

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.

HOTELS.COM / BOOKING.COM

WHARFEDALE

DEVONSHIRE FELL HOTEL

Beautifully set in the Duke of Devonshire’s estate, this grand hotel has gone for a colourful styling amongst the surrounding patchwork fields and dry stone walls. With loads of attractions nearby, there are few better locations from which to explore the Yorkshire Dales.

HOTELS.COM / BOOKING.COM

WENSLEYDALE

STONE HOUSE HOTEL

An Edwardian House tucked into a secluded spot in upper Wesleydale, this place has all the grandeur you need. Old world charm oozes out of the oak-panelled property thanks to a real log fire complete with a billiard room. The food is good and there’s a barn to store your bikes.

HOTELS.COM / BOOKING.COM

SWALEDALE

PUNCHBOWL INN

This 17th-century coaching inn may have individually styled rooms providing contemporary luxury, but the real joy of staying here are the remarkable views. The Coast to Coast walk comes through this most picturesque of valleys, so there’s plenty of great walking or cycling right outside the front door.

BOOKING.COM

MAP / THINGS TO DO IN YORKSHIRE DALES

We have included our list of the best things to do in the Yorkshire Dales on a map to help you find all the main attractions dotted along this rugged part of Wales.

To save the map, make sure you are logged in to your Google account, then click on the star to the right of the title. To locate the map go to your Google Maps app, select saved, then maps.

BEST TIME TO VISIT THE YORKSHIRE DALES

The best time to visit the Yorkshire Dales is from May to early July when the days are long and dry, the hills are dotted with wildflowers, and the school holidays have not yet begun. September and October are also good options.

From mid-July to end of August the weather should be better and in August the heather is beginning to flower on the moors. However, this is also peak tourist season. The area will be busy so make sure to book your trip in advance. All our trip tools can be found on our BOOK page.

Winter months can be cold and wet, but if you can book late and wait for a window of good weather, then this could be a great time to explore the area in lovely winter light.

WHERE NEXT?

If you’re looking for more adventures in the UK, we’ve covered some of the quaintest villages and historic towns; the beautiful coastal regions and mountain getaways. Here are some more guides from us.

A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE GORDALE SCAR & MALHAM COVE WALK
SEE THE BEST OF THE PEMBROKESHIRE COAST ON THESE 7 CIRCULAR WALKS
15 BEST LAKE DISTRICT WALKS FROM EASY STROLLS TO CHALLENGING WAINWRIGHTS
COMPLETE GUIDE TO VISITING RHOSSILI BAY AND THE GOWER PENINSULA, WALES
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN PEMBROKESHIRE – HOTELS, HUTS AND B&B’S
COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN NORTHUMBERLAND
HOW TO SPEND A WEEKEND IN BOOK-LOVING HAY ON WYE
TRADITIONAL CHARM AND MODERN GEMS IN THE BEST COTSWOLDS VILLAGES
OUR GUIDE TO PORTHCURNO BEACH AND ITS MAGICAL COASTLINE
HOW TO SPEND A FEW DAYS VISITING DORSET’S JURASSIC COAST

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