Get active or not with our favourite activities in the Lake District. From adrenaline-charged climbs to family-friendly vintage steamboats, there’s an activity in the lakes for all types of adventures.
We’ve been going to the Lake District for more years than we’re like to count, yet we never get tired of those scenic fell trails, the mountain-framed lakes and the charming Lakeland villages.
Apart from delighting in the excesses of natural beauty, there are plenty of other great Lake District activities to partake in.
Get the adrenaline pumping on a narrow ridge of a tricky scramble; scale heights on the iron road of a via Ferrata; or jump down narrow waterfalls on a ghyll scrambling exercise.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for family-friendly activities in Lake District, take a scenic trip on a vintage train, hop on board a traditional steamboat, or take to a serene lake with a paddle and a kayak to soak up beautiful mountain views.
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01 – GHYLL SCRAMBLE IN LANGDALE VALLEY
Ghyll scrambling involves climbing up narrow ghylls (canyons), sliding down waterfalls and jumping into deep pools with the assistance of ropes and protective equipment. Under the instruction of a guide, you’ll be set small challenges based on your level of comfort while enjoying an exhilarating activity in the Lake District.
Heavy-duty wetsuits are provided to lessen the shock of that fresh Lake District water, as well as knee pads, gloves, wetsuit boots and a helmet.
During the 3-hour activity, climb over slippery boulders, leap into narrow pools, slide down waterfalls and climb canyon walls attached. Stickle Ghyll in the Langdales is one of the best places to try ghyll scrambling due to the high levels of water throughout the year. We recommend Crag Adventures for this great group activity in the Lake District.
02 – MOUNTAIN BIKE AT GRIZEDALE FOREST
Grizedale Forest is one of the best places for mountain biking in the Lake District. A series of MTB trails have been cut through the forest floor, catering to all levels of experience. Beginners can try the 17-kilometre Hawkshead Moor Trail while experts will want to try the quick blast of jumps on the 1-kilometre long, but very steep, Black Trail.
Bikes can be hired from BikeTreks located right next to the visitors centre.
Grizedale Forest also has some great walking trails and a Go Ape Adventure Centre for a fun outdoor adventure in the Lake District. The visitor centre has recently been upgraded and a new café is opening in July 2022 making it an excellent half-day out for all the family.
There are also plenty of other MTB opportunities in the Lake District. This easy-ish classic loop takes you around the stunning scenery of the lower Langdale Valleys, or if you’re seeking a test of stamina and riding skills, the challenging route up Helvellyn could be for you.
Lake District Bike Hire charge around £30 per day, decreasing slightly the longer you hire their bikes. They’ll also deliver to you anywhere in the lakes. To remove all the effort and just enjoy the superb scenery, hire an e-bike and meander along winding lanes conserving all your energy for your stop at the next cosy country pub.
03 – HIKE SCAFELL PIKE
Reaching almost 1,000 metres, Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England and the heart of the most rugged scenery in the Lake District. Hiking up is a challenge but the sense of satisfaction is immense.
Standing on the summit of massive boulders, craggy flanks cut by giant ravines point towards other towering mountains. On a clear day, the view from the top is breathtaking. On a not-so-clear day, it is an excursion to an otherworldly place; a high, wild and rocky escape.
The Wasdale Head route is the shortest and fastest way to the summit. However, we suggest you take the Corridor Route from Seathwaite. The route takes advantage of an interconnected series of mountain shelves which steadily gain height. The path is a wonderful nature trail requiring consistent, but achievable effort, rather than a steep slog.
The hike takes longer but the views and varying landscapes are much better. All the details are in our guide to hiking Scafell Pike.
04 – PICNIC & SWIM AT RYDAL WATER
As the name Lake District suggests, the area is packed with bodies of water. From large lakes to tiny tarns (small glacial lakes in the mountains) there are hundreds of places to go for a wild swim. The water can be chilly, but after a long day exploring the mountains, there are few better ways to relax and recharge.
Rydal Water is a great family-friendly destination in the Lakes. It’s low in altitude and sheltered on all sides by mountains making it slightly warmer and more serene than many of the other lakes in the area. With a gentle shelving beach for easy access and plenty of grassy banks, Rydal is perfect for a swim and a picnic – the best Lake District outdoor activity.
It’s a 20-minute walk along a lovely track from the White Moss car park, yet still feels quiet and out of the way. You can find all the details on our guide to wild swimming in the Lake District.
05 – VIA FERRATA AT HONISTER SLATE MINES
At the top of the Honister Pass, amongst the debris of the last remaining slate mine in Britain, one of the most thrilling Lake District activities takes place: Honister’s Via Ferrata Extreme.
Over three hours, scale the edge of Fleetwith Pike using vertical ladders, overhang descents, a nerve-testing bridge and a cargo net climb. It ends with a scramble up the peak with remarkable views over Buttermere and a strong sense of satisfaction.
Clipped onto iron rails throughout the ascent, no climbing experience is necessary. As long as you have a reasonable level of fitness, a good head for heights and a strong sense of adventure, Honister’s Via Ferrata Extreme is one of the best activities in the Lake District for a safe rush of adrenaline. Although it is mentally and physically challenging, the guides at Honister Slate Mine do a great job of putting you at ease.
If this sounds a bit too much, there’s a slightly easier Via Ferrata Classic. Both are great to do as a group activity so you have someone to take photos of you.
06 – CANOE ON CONISTON WATER
In the 1950’s and 1960’s Coniston Water was the scene of numerous world water speed records. Its reputation for being a flat, sheltered lake ideal for taking to the water persists to this day.
The Coniston Boating Centre at the northern end of the lake rents motorboats, rowing boats, kayaks and paddle boards, but our favourite is the good old-fashioned Canadian canoe. A little larger and more ‘boat like’ they are perfect for exploring the lake, heading over to islands, or just soaking in those Lake District views.
Keep an eye out for The Old Man of Coniston and Dow Crag on the western side, and grand houses surrounded by Grizedale Forest on the east.
Taking to Coniston on a canoe is a great activity for groups and families.
07 – ASCEND CATBELLS
Catbells is not one of the highest peaks, but it stands imperiously over Derwentwater. Viewed from Keswick its sides are steep and sleek and from its summit, the 360-degree views are excellent. It is rightly one of the most popular walks in the Lake District.
The trail to the summit is short, but it’s a steep climb. Rising in two stages it zigzags along the mountain’s crest, providing impressive views on both sides the whole way up.
It’s an energetic climb and you may need your hands in a couple of places. But there is nothing too difficult and it’s a great hike for anyone with a good level of fitness. All the details plus a map are in our guide to hikes in the Lake District.
08 – DRIVE HARDKNOTT PASS
Hardknott Pass is the most dramatic and remote pass in the Lake District. Open only to smaller vehicles, this thin strip of worn asphalt has 30% gradients which twist through a series of sharp hairpin turns. Driving it is one of the most fun activities in the Lake District.
Although few people stop at the top of the pass, it’s a wild barren place well worth exploring. Hardknott Roman Fort was founded in the 2nd century to protect the strategic road. The 15-minute hike up to the top of Border End rewards with magnificent views over the Scafell massif, the most imposing in the region.
If you make it up Hardknott Pass, don’t relax too much on the way down. We saw one man sitting dejectedly on the side of the road, staring at his car balanced on a large boulder with all four wheels completely off the ground. Take those corners carefully and avoid icy conditions.
09 – SCRAMBLE STRIDING EDGE ON HELVELLYN
Helvellyn is the third highest mountain in the Lake District but it punches above its weight. The best ascent is via the thin precipitous ridge of Striding Edge. This narrow arête is considered one of the easiest Grade 1 scrambles in England making it perfect for adventurous beginners.
There are several paths to choose, so if the trail over the top looks too difficult, it’s possible to skirt the ridge and find a section that looks more achievable. No special equipment or knowledge of climbing is required, all you need is a good head for heights, steady foot placement, and a reasonable level of fitness.
It’s a great adventure to undertake with someone who can give you moral support along the way. Once at the top, the views of the crinkling ridges of the Lake District make it all worthwhile. Descend via Swirral Edge, a much wider ridge that will feel like a breeze after tackling Striding Edge on the way up.
10 – LEAP INTO BLACK MOSS POT
There are many great wild swimming spots in the area, but Black Moss Pot is one of our favourite Lake District activities. Tucked into the folds of the Langstrath Valley, under the flanks of the mighty Scafell Massif, this narrow channel of turquoise water is remote and beautiful.
Wedged between two craggy ledges, with a waterfall at one end and a rocky beach at the other, it’s not only the ideal place for an energising swim; it’s also a playground outdoor family adventures. Paddle in shallow water, put in some lengths between the canyon walls, or leap from the high ledges.
The pool is a beautiful 45-minute walk along a river through a wonderful valley. As an added bonus, it starts and ends in the quaint village of Stonethwaite, where the traditional local pub has been invigorating swimmers and walkers for centuries. You can find all the details in our Black Moss Pot guide.
11 – TAKE THE ULLSWATER STEAMER TO HOWTOWN
Of all the Lake District activities to enjoy in this excellent national park, taking a boat cruise is one of the most popular. Over 1 million people board every year to watch the magical scenery of the Lake District float by.
Our favourite destination for a boat trip is Ullswater, where the wood-panelled steamer employs all the vintage charm necessary. Ullswater is more remote with fewer crowds and the scenery is more dramatic with higher mountains tightly surrounding the tear-shaped shoreline.
There’s a choice of routes connecting Glenridding, Howtown and Pooley Bridge. For a great Lake District activity, we recommend getting the steamer from Glenridding to Howtown (45 minutes) and then doing the 3 to 4-hour walk back on the lovely undulating path by the side of the lake. It’s a relatively easy walk, suitable for the whole family.
12 – WALK FROM GRASMERE TO HELM CRAG
There is no better way to see the Lake District than on foot which we have covered extensively in this guide to the best hiking routes in the Lake District.
One of the best short yet exhilarating walks is up Helm Crag from Grasmere, one of our favourite villages in the Lake District for its peaceful vibe, connections with William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and the famous Gingerbread Shop. Towering crags rise all around the village, dwarfing slate buildings nestled in beautiful mountain scenery.
A track of rock and stone winds its way from the village, up through narrow cracks and around rocky towers. At the top, there is a strange finger of rock that only the very confident or slightly mad will want to attempt. Either way, Helm Crag is one of those Lake District activities that over-delivers.
13 – KAYAK ON DERWENTWATER
Just a 10-minute walk from the centre of Keswick, Derwentwater is framed by the imposing crag of Catbells. It’s a stunning location with a moody disposition that can be perfectly still in the early morning, which is the best time to hit the water on a kayak.
Several places provide kayak hire at Derwentwater including Derwentwater Marina and Nichol End Marine both on the western end of the lake.
There are some lovely islands in the centre of Derwentwater which add to its picture-perfect charm. Landing is not permitted on the islands in order to protect the wildlife, however, admiring from up close on a kayak is a great way to see them.
14 – RIDE THE ESKDALE OR HAVERTHWAITE RAILWAY
The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway is only a twenty-minute journey, but the old-world carriages transport you to a bygone era as it navigates a beautiful green valley near Windermere. The journey starts at Haverthwaite with one stop at Newby Bridge, before ending at Lakeside on the southern end of Lake Windermere.
For even more dramatic scenery head to Eskdale. The most remote Lake District valley, it is surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the fells. This narrow-gauge steam train, built in 1873, is known as ‘La’al Ratty’ which means little railway in old Cumbrian dialect. It travels 7 miles from the coast at Ravenglass to Dalegarth, which nestles under the flanks of Scafell.
If you’re not blessed with good weather, a vintage rail journey is a great family activity.
15 – ROCK CLIMBING ON GREAT GABLE
There are few more adventurous activities in the Lake District than rock climbing. The steep craggy faces and pointy needles are the perfect playground on which to try out your skills. There’s a whole range of different activities from easy Grade 1 scrambles that can be attempted without equipment to more challenging scars and crags where you might want a bit of help.
Two of the most difficult are the multi-pitch climbs on Dow Crag and the highly polished Napes Needles on Great Gable. Lost Earth Adventures organises multi-day courses as well as day trips that can be tailored to your abilities. There are also climbing walls in Keswick & Ambleside if you want to start with something in a safer environment.
MAP / LAKE DISTRICT ACTIVITIES
Our list of the best Lake District activities are dotted around the area. Use this map to help familiarise yourself with the location of your next Lake District activity.
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.
WHERE TO STAY
The Lake District is a large area with lots of different regions. Some are great if you want the facilities of large (but sometimes busy) towns; others are great for getting away from it all in remote areas.
We have put together a guide on all the different regions of the Lake District to help you decide where to stay.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
MORE READING FOR THE LAKE DISTRICT
We’ve been to the Lake District many times, and never run out of fantastic things to do. From adventurous scrambles to relaxing wild swimming, here are more of our guides from the lakes.
LAKE DISTRICT WALKS
15 of the best walks in the Lake District
The exhilarating walk up Blencathra
Wild swim in Black Moss Pot
The best Lake District views and photography spots
Exploring the Langdale Pikes, Lake District
The best things to do in the Lake District
Our pick of the best Grade 1 scrambles in the Lake District
Best locations for wild swimming in the Lake District
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