The Yorkshire Dales National Park, located in the north of England, is one of the most naturally stunning areas of the country. It covers 841 square miles of moors, valleys, idyllic country villages, phenomenal rock formations and charming waterfalls. Despite attracting over 8 million visitors a year, the National Park is so vast and varied that on many of its hiking trails you can go a full day without seeing another person! If you’re looking for a getaway without crowds, the Yorkshire Dales has got you covered.
The Yorkshire Dales, unsurprisingly, are mostly in North Yorkshire, although they stretch into the neighbouring counties of Cumbria and Lancashire. The National Park is easily accessible by car or public transport from the nearby cities of Manchester, Leeds and Bradford.
Given its size, it can be tricky choosing what to do on your trip to the Yorkshire Dales. Having lived in Yorkshire for three years, I have spent many of my weekends exploring the national park, and have listed out my favourite things to do in the Yorkshire Dales, whether you’re visiting for an afternoon or a full weekend.
1 – Malham Cove
Arguably the most otherworldly landscape in Great Britain, Malham Cove is a huge limestone formation just a short walk from the nearby village of Malham. Research revealed that this staggering cliff-like formation is the result of a waterfall carrying the melted water from glaciers in the last ice age over 12,000 years ago! Today, visiting Malham Cove is one of the most popular things to do in the Yorkshire Dales.
The best way to enjoy Malham Cove is on a circular hike starting and ending in Malham village. The hike is 7.6 miles, and aside from the initial steep climb up Malham Cove, is fairly flat and easy. The hike also takes in the gorgeous Janet’s Foss (a small waterfall rumoured to be home to a fairy) and the magnificent Gordale Scar, which is another one of the most amazing natural formations in the Yorkshire Dales!
If you’d prefer just to visit Malham Cove by itself, the cove is 0.6 miles away from Malham village. The hike up to the top is extremely steep, so bear that in mind and take your time. It is absolutely worth the climb for spectacular views over the surrounding countryside and the amazing rock formations.
Harry Potter fans will be excited to find out that some scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were filmed here. If you look closely enough, you’ll see Harry camping at Malham Cove in the movie!
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2 – Tan Hill Inn
If you love old and cosy pubs, you’ll adore the Tan Hill Inn. Standing at 1732ft above sea level, this pub is the highest in Great Britain! This brings its own set of challenges as the area is often covered in snow. In fact, people celebrating New Year’s Eve in the pub in 2009 were stuck there for three whole days due to getting snowed in! Fortunately, the Inn offers accommodation as well as a place to eat and drink, and they’re dog friendly.
The building dates back to the 17th century, and its original purpose was as a place to stay for workers digging coal pits nearby. The last nearby mine closed in 1929, but the Inn’s popularity with local farmers enabled the Tan Hill Inn to stay in business. Over the years, the pub has become a major attraction for visitors to the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Their daily menu serves up classic pub food of good quality, and their traditional Sunday lunches are exceptional! Although the prices aren’t cheap, you’re paying for the pub’s location, which truly is spectacular.
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3 – Grassington Festival
If you’re looking to visit the Yorkshire Dales in summer, try to plan your visit for the last week in July or the first week in August to coincide with the Grassington Festival. This two-week arts and music festival has been entertaining locals and visitors alike for over 40 years! The festival has a whole host of artsy offerings, such as live music, dance, theatre pieces, stand-up comedy, workshops, walks, talks, and creative challenges. There are different events every day, so check what’s on before your visit on the Grassington Festival website.
Most of the entertainment takes place on a makeshift stage in the village square. Snag a table outside The Devonshire pub to enjoy the performances with a pint of local ale in hand.
Even if you can’t make it to the Grassington Festival, Grassington itself is a very idyllic Yorkshire Dales village worth stopping at to explore and take some photos.
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4 – Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge
For hardcore hiking enthusiasts, nothing is more exciting than the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge. This 24-mile hike involves reaching the summits of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in under 12 hours. The challenge includes 1585m (5200ft) of ascent and circles around the valley of the River Ribble, offering great views. Participants can either complete the challenge by themselves or join an organised event.
Participating in an organised event costs £70 per person, but is a much easier and safer option than going alone. As part of the event, everybody is allocated to groups of around 10 people. Each group also gets a mountain leader to help with navigation. The events run between April and October each year, and it’s not recommended the challenge is attempted outside of these months due to limited daylight hours and unreliable weather.
5 – Black Sheep Brewery
From Wednesday to Sunday, this iconic brewery opens up for guests to sample their famous Black Sheep beer. Their visitor centre, the ‘Black Sheep Baa…r’ serves a range of their best cask and keg beers overlooking the village of Masham and the River Ure. They also hold a monthly pub quiz at the bar.
Before sitting back in the ‘Baa…r’, embark on a brewery tour to learn the history of the Black Sheep Brewery. The tour, which lasts around 1 hour, takes you on a journey of the brewery from its origins to the present day, followed by an in-depth insight into how the brewery makes their beers. Adult tickets cost £9.50, and tours run daily at 11 am, 12.30 pm and 2 pm.
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6 – Bolton Abbey Estate
Nestled on the banks of the River Wharfe, the 30,000 acre Bolton Abbey Estate has so much to explore that you could easily spend a couple of days here! The Estate, managed by the Devonshire family since 1755, has been an inspiration for many creatives over the years, most notably the artists’ Turner, Ruskin and Royle, as well as the poet Wordsworth. The best way to discover the estate is by heading out on some of its 80 miles of footpaths.
Arguably the most popular hike is to Simon’s Seat, which trails through the ominously named Valley of Desolation. Far from desolate, this stretch of the walk is abundant with nature and greenery. At the head of the valley you’ll come up close to a breathtaking waterfall. Continue the hike up to Simon’s Seat, a rocky outcrop sitting 485 metres above sea level. Here, you’ll get amazing views over the valley below.
After the hike, wander around the Priory Church and ruins, which lies at the heart of the estate. The ruins are of an Augustinian Priory, which was occupied by canons who lived and worshipped here from 1154 until 1539. Its riverside setting makes the Priory Church and ruins a great place to relax for a while and enjoy a picnic.
Entry to the estate is free, but car parking spaces cost £10 each.
7 – Wensleydale Creamery
Most people will be familiar with Wensleydale cheese, but it originally comes from the small Yorkshire Dales village of Hawes in Wensleydale. Nowadays, the cheese is made across the UK, but lots of people still argue that the original is the best. In fact, in 2013, the Wensleydale Creamery’s Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese was granted European Protected Geographical Indication status. A visit to the Wensleydale Creamery is the perfect way to spend an afternoon in the Yorkshire Dales.
The Wensleydale Creamery’s award-winning Yorkshire Cheese Experience takes you on an interactive journey through the cheese-making process, including watching Wensleydale cheese being made on site. If you’ve never tried Wensleydale before, the 1897 Coffee Shop which is onsite is the perfect place to sample this creamy and crumbly cheese.
8 – Pennine Way
Stretching 268 miles across the north of England, the Pennine Way was England’s first national trail. Spanning from the Peak District in the Midlands to the Scottish Borders, this mammoth of a hike also covers a good stretch of the Yorkshire Dales. Walking the entire trail will take you around 19 days. Don’t worry though – if you don’t have quite that much time, there are lots of hikes in the Yorkshire Dales taking on a small section of the Pennine Way. The Pennine Way trail passes lots of picturesque Yorkshire Dales towns and villages, such as Malham, Hawes and Skipton.
If you want to enjoy a multi-day hike without worrying about the weather, May-September is the best time to head out. Most of the one-day hikes are fine any time of year. No matter the time of year, pack waterproof clothes and hiking boots. The paths can get boggy even in summer, and standard trainers won’t quite cut it!
If you’re planning to walk the entire thing, you’ll need a good level of fitness and hiking confidence. The combined ascent of the Pennine Way is higher than that of Mount Everest! Some sections of the trail can be very remote, so paper maps and a compass are essential.
About the authour: Ella is a London-based travel blogger who spent 3 years living in Yorkshire. As an avid reader, she spent as much time as she could
exploring Yorkshire, the Yorkshire coastline, and its surroundings to learn more about her favourite literary figures. You can read more about her travels over on her blog, Many More Maps.