10 great day hikes in Wales
give the crowds the slip in this country of lonely moors and mountains, cliff-rimmed coastlines and tucked-away valleys. Mostly you’ll share the trails with nothing more than the odd unruly sheep. Here we bring you our pick of the best day hikes for when lockdown restrictions ease on 6th July.
Snowdon has the height edge – but for equally phenomenal views and far fewer crowds, opt instead for the challenging ramble up to 893m (2930ft) Cadair Idris. Bang in the heart of Snowdonia National Park, this hulking, sheer-flanked, gold-green crag looks like a figment of Tolkien’s imagination. It’s a mountain of myth, too: named after a 7th-century giant called Idris. Sleep on its slopes and legend has it you will awaken either mad or a poet. There are several ways to climb it, but the tough six-mile Minffordd Path (allow five hours return) is arguably the most dramatic, with the added bonus of a stop-off for wild swimming at Llyn Cau, a glacial cirque lake rimmed by ragged 400m-high (1312ft) mountain walls.
A trail atop a meadow-covered ridge
The isolated path in Llyn-y-Fan Fach © Kerry Walker / Lonely Planet
It might feel like the road to nowhere as you swing along the narrow, steeply hedgerowed single-track lane. But eventually you will emerge to bleating sheep and a delightfully remote car park in Llanddeusant, the trailhead for this spectacular four-mile trail. Out on its lonesome in the Black Mountain range in the Brecon Beacons National Park’s western reaches, Llyn-y-Fan Fach has a primeval, almost brutal, beauty to it. Glacier-eroded peaks rear above this steel-blue lake, the backdrop for the Lady of the Lake legend, which appears in the medieval Welsh folk epic, The Mabinogion. Follow the river upstream to the lake, ridge and upland moors beyond.
The Golden Road
Sheep and wild ponies are more commonly glimpsed than fellow walkers in Pembrokeshire’s deliciously wild and remote Preseli Hills, where scudding clouds cast shadows across the bare moors and crags. Topping out at 536m (1759ft) with the summit of Foel Cwmcerwyn, these hills hide a sensational prehistoric landscape, liberally sprinkled with hill forts, standing stones and burial chambers. Lore has it that the bluestones of Stonehenge hail from here. The seven-mile, west–east Golden Road, part of a 5000-year-old trade route between Wessex and Ireland, runs along the spine of the hills, taking in cairns and the stone circle of Bedd Arthur in its stride.
A sandy path with blue skies overhead
A path through the dunes at Ynyslas © Kerry Walker / Lonely Planet
A spirit-lifting expanse of sky, sand and pounding surf awaits at Ynyslas in Ceredigion, where rippling dunes form an integral part of the Dyfi Unesco Biosphere Reserve. This nature reserve draws wetland birds like ringed plovers and shelducks, as well as dolphins, porpoises and otters. Boardwalks thread through the dunes, which are brushed with breeze-bent marram grass and, in summer, freckled with wildflowers like Marsh and Bee orchids and sea pink. It’s a tranquil place to wander down to the wide, long, shell-strewn beach, with the dark peaks of Snowdonia looming in the distance. Or walk a three-mile (one way) stretch of the Ceredigion Coast Path to Borth, where very low tide reveals the petrified tree stumps of a prehistoric forest.
Pembrokeshire is rightly celebrated for its castaway beaches, high clifftops and magnificent 186-mile coast path, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020. But if you have neither the time nor the stamina for the full coastal shebang, one of the most memorable short hikes loops around the headland of Dinas Island. Dodge the high season and you’ll have the three-mile circular trail largely to yourself. Fringed by jagged, gorse-clad cliffs, the coast is imprinted with smugglers’ coves bearing the full brunt of the Irish Sea. Most are only accessible by boat, so content yourself with the views from Dinas Head (where dolphins and seals can sometimes be spotted) and Needle Point (occasional puffin sightings). In the hamlet of Cwm-yr-Eglwys, you’ll find the ruins of medieval St Brynach’s Church. End your walk with sunset and a pint at The Old Sailors.
Mountain meadow in an orange light
The high-elevation landscape of Pen-y-Fan © Kerry Walker / Lonely Planet
The bald, fin-shaped peaks of the Brecon Beacons, with their glacier-carved valleys and upland moors, top out at 886m-high (2907ft) Pen-y-Fan, where the trails get chockablock when the sun’s out. Just one valley over and tucked away among woods is Waterfall Country. Pick a fine day and pack sturdy boots to hit the 5.5-mile Four Falls Walk, which dips deep into thick pine forest and a ferny gorge ripe for a fairy tale. Steps and footbridges lead to a series of falls, the most impressive of which is wispy Sgwd-yr-Eira (Waterfall of the Snow), which you can walk behind. Get here first thing to experience the falls at their quietest.
The wild Llŷn Peninsula is where Cardigan Bay slings its northern hook into the Irish Sea. The rumpled massif of Snowdonia puckers up to the east, while Ireland is but a pebble’s throw west across the wave-tormented sea. For an overview, strike out on the two-hour, 2.7-mile circular trail to Mynydd Rhiw. Though modest in height, this 304m-high (997ft) lump of ancient rock has a pinch of everything that makes the peninsula special. Beginning at Plas yn Rhiw car park, the path clambers up and over sheep fields, dry-stone walls and heather-brushed moors to the ridge-top trig point. From here there are spirit-lifting views of Snowdonia, the great golden arc of Porth Neigwl (Hell’s Mouth) and offshore Bardsey Island, where 20,000 saints are said to lie buried. Keep an eye out for Neolithic axe factories on the descent.
St Davids Head
Topped off by a gigantic medieval cathedral, St Davids is Britain’s smallest city (population: 1800), the birthplace of Wales’ patron saint and a pilgrim magnet. A four-mile circular walk sidesteps the crowds milling around this coastal honeypot and heads up and over stile and through kissing gate to St Davids Head. Starting at mile-long Whitesands Bay, the gorse-draped promontory is a remarkable place for a coastal romp, packing in dramatic sea cliffs, deliciously hidden coves like Porthmelgan, views across the sea to Ramsey Island, an Iron Age hill fort and a Neolithic burial chamber.
A sheep and ewe look at the camera
In some remote parts of Wales, you’ll see more sheep than hikers © Kerry Walker / Lonely Planet
Twm Siôn Cati’s Cave, Cambrian Mountains
Barren, sparsely populated and often silent but for the piercing whistle of red kites wheeling overhead, the Cambrian Mountains are Mid Wales at its wildest, starkest and off-the-radar best. Perfect, in fact, for a bandit seeking a hideaway, such as Twm Siôn Cati, a 16th-century outlaw of Robin Hood–like status. This 2.5-mile circular walk at RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas reserve takes you deep into ancient oak and alder woods, which are misted with bluebells in late spring, along a fast-flowing river and deep into a boulder-strewn valley. Steps twist steeply up to Twm Siôn Cati’s lair at roughly the halfway point. Scramble into the cave to see elaborately etched graffiti, some dating to Victorian times.
Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey
If ever you’re going to fall head-over-heels in love with the Welsh coast, it will surely be at Llanddwyn on Anglesey, with its wide-open skies, shifting sands and painterly light. The romantic ruins of St Dwynwen’s Church have attracted pilgrims for centuries due to their association with St Dwynwen, Wales’ patron saint of lovers (a Welsh St Valentine of sorts). Beginning at Newborough Forest car park, this 3.5-mile circular walk delves into shady Corsican pine woods where red squirrels scamper, emerging at one of the island’s loveliest dune-flanked beaches, and crossing over to Llanddwyn, a rocky spit of land that becomes an island when cut off at very high tide.