One of the best places to experience the full breadth of the British countryside is the Yorkshire Dales. This article is packed with fun things to do in Yorkshire Dales National Park to inspire your visit to “God’s Own Country”.
Wild moorland strewn with heather, crumbling castles, ancient dry-stone walls, unique geological formations, and tinkling waterfalls characterizes the Dales. After a day of exploration, you can wind down in a cozy tea room or hole up in a classic English pub.
Here is the full lowdown on where to go in Yorkshire Dales and how to plan your visit.
Where is the Yorkshire Dales National Park?
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is located in northern England, the United Kingdom. It’s cradled between four other beautiful parks.
Northumberland National Park sits to the north with the North York Moors National Park to the east, the Peak District National Park to the south, and the Lake District National Park to the west.
Leeds is the nearest large city to plan your trip from. It’s also possible to use York, Newcastle, Manchester, or Darlington as a starting point.
How to get to the Yorkshire Dales National Park
Leeds Bradford International Airport is the closest airport to the Dales. Located 14 miles south of the park perimeter, it will take 30 minutes to reach the national park by car.
However, you are likely to find better connections at Manchester Airport. This is especially the case if you are flying in from outside of Europe. This requires a 1 hour 30 minute-drive (66 miles) to the national park.
Bordered by the A1, M6, A65, and A59 the Yorkshire Dales National Park is easily accessible via car. Then, you can either self-drive around the park or switch to public transport. Local buses operate or you can hire a bicycle for shorter journeys.
If you are travelling without a private vehicle or rental car, you can reach the park by train.
There are two National Rail services: the Leeds-Morecambe line and the Leeds-Settle-Carlisle line. These connect such cities as Leeds, Harrogate, Darlington, Northallerton, Ilkley, Skipton, Penrith, and Oxenholme with smaller towns.
You can take the train to your chosen town within the park and then swap to a local bus. The Dales Bus links larger towns on the border of the park with market towns and villages. You can access the network map and see seasonal schedules on the Dales Bus website.
Best Hotels Near Yorkshire Dales National Park
- Marske Stables – This stunning hotel is in Marske on the edges of the Yorkshire Dales. It’s in a beautiful farmhouse with a country setting and modern and stylish apartments with comfortable beds, soaking tubs in the bathrooms, full kitchens, and a living room area. Apartments start at $235 per night. Book a stay at Marske Stables here.
- The Wensleydale Hotel – The Wensleydale Hotel is located in the town of Middleham on the edges of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. This is a pub-hotel, but the rooms are updated and very stylish. The pub and restaurant are also well worth a visit if you don’t plan to stay. Rooms are affordable and the location is perfect for driving straight into the national park for a day of walking. Rooms start at $144 per night. Book a stay at Wensleydate Hotel here.
- Ivy Cottage Bed & Breakfast – This is the sweetest little Yorkshire Dales B&B. Located in the town of Reeth right in the middle of the National Park, the views from this B&B are absolutely breathtaking. The rooms are full of natural light and comfortable beds. This is an ideal location if you want to walk straight out of the front door and start walking or cycling. Rooms start at $105 per night. Book a stay at Ivy Cottage B&B here.
Fun Things to Do in Yorkshire Dales National Park
Whether you’re seeking adventurous, historic, or relaxing things to do, the Yorkshire Dales has plenty of options available. This guide has something for all types of travellers: families, couples, and solo explorers alike.
1. Hike to the top of Malham Cove
First and foremost, Malham Cove is one of the significant places of interest in Yorkshire Dales.
This limestone amphitheater was formed over the millennia by erosion and glacial meltwater from a former waterfall. It sits along the line of the Middle Craven Fault. The cliff face registers 70 metres (230 feet) and is topped by a striking limestone pavement.
Film buffs may recognise this landscape. The amphitheatre featured as a filming location in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part II and Wuthering Heights with Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes.
You can hike from Malham village to the top of Malham Cove – this is the only way you’ll be able to fully appreciate the eroded pavement. Rest assured, the trail is not challenging. From the summit, you have the option to return to Malham village or extend your hike.
Follow the trail north to Malham Tarn. This glacial pool is one of only eight upland alkaline lakes in Europe. Alternatively, you can opt for the circular walk that takes you to Gordale Scar and Janet’s Foss. This is one of the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales as it gives you a sense of everything that the region is known for.
Gordale Scar is a deep gorge that joins Malham Cove on the Middle Craven Fault. Torrents of glacial meltwater cut down through faults in the rock to create what you see today. The trail takes you within touching distance of the icy plumes.
The Gordale Beck winds its way down to Janet’s Foss, a beautiful waterfall in Yorkshire Dales named for the Queen of the Fairies. If you conclude your venture of Malham Moor here you can brave a dip in the woodland-shrouded pool. Or, at least go for a paddle to rest your feet.
2. Explore caves beneath the moors
Beneath the rolling hills and limestone cliffs, the Yorkshire Dales hides a treasure trove of caverns and subterranean passages. In fact, the national park is England’s premier caving zone! Registering 56 miles, the Three Counties cave system is the longest of its kind in the nation – and it continues to grow.
Many of the caves in the national park are only attainable to advanced cavers. However, the three “show caves” are open to the public.
With a length of 100 metres, White Scar is the longest of these show caves and most visually astonishing. An 80-minute guided tour gets you up close with thousands of stalagmites and stalactites, calcite formations, and skinny passageways. There is even an underground waterfall.
Stump Cross Caverns and Ingleborough Cave are worthy contenders as an alternative to White Scar. Whichever you elect to visit, you will need sturdy footwear and warm layers.
3. Find your favorite waterfall in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
Yorkshire might not have quite the same reputation as Bali when it comes to chasing waterfalls but God’s Own Country does its best to compete. You already know about Janet’s Foss but there are numerous other waterfalls in the Yorkshire Dales.
Cotter Force near Hawes is a dainty but dashing waterfall that sees six channels of water spill out from the forestry. It’s one of the most accessible natural attractions in the Dales and is suitable for wheelchairs, prams, and pushchairs.
Aysgarth Falls is a triple-tiered waterfall in Yorkshire Dales that has caught the creative eye of poets and artists such as William Wordsworth and J.M.W. Turner. The falls are particularly stunning following heavy rainfall. Fortunately, that’s something that England excels at!
For those with a larger appetite for falls, the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail is a circular walk that takes you past a grand total of six falls that stud the rivers Twiss and Doe. You will need to allow around 3-4 hours to complete the 4.5-mile hike and pay a modest admission fee in order to see these natural wonders.
4. Attend a cheese factory tour
The Yorkshire Dales is where the nation’s creamiest, crumbliest, cheese originates from. You can visit the original Wensleydale Creamery in the village of Hawes and enrol on the Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese Experience.
This interactive factory tour includes a demonstration of the cheese-making process and insight into the fascinating history of the products. Did you know that Cistercian monks were behind the conception of Wensleydale cheese?
Plus, you’ll pick up some un-brie-lievable cheese-pairing tips and tricks along the way.
Besides the tour and demo, the creamery has a gift shop where you can purchase souvenirs or splurge on a hamper. Check out the various blends – such as Wensleydale with cranberry and the smoked variety. Furthermore, the factory frequently runs events so it’s always worth checking what’s on Yorkshire Dales during your visit.
5. Wander around the ruins of Bolton Priory
The ruined Bolton Priory (or Bolton Abbey), a 12th-century Augustinian church, is one of the best places of interest in Yorkshire Dales for history enthusiasts. Situated on the banks of the River Wharf, the abbey is a joy for photographers and a firm favourite with families.
Beyond the priory, you can follow a series of nature trails that take you through the Strid Wood past such attractions as gorges, heritage bridges, and an aqueduct. These walks vary from one to four hours subject to how much time you want to spend.
There is also a stepping stone bridge that lets you embrace your inner child and leap your way across the River Wharfe.
6. Stargaze with the pros at the Dark Skies Festival
As an official International Dark Sky Reserve, the Yorkshire Dales is one of the best places in the United Kingdom to spend a night under the skies.
The Dark Skies Festival generally takes place in early spring and offers a full programme of stargazing events. These typically include twilight nature walks, wellbeing and mindfulness sessions, and guided stargazing workshops with astronomers and professional telescopes.
Events occur at numerous venues across the national park. If you choose to visit during early spring, check out what’s on Yorkshire Dales and sign up in advance as the events do sell out.
Even if you visit outside of the festival, I urge you to tilt your head after dark to see the night sky completely void of urban pollution.
7. Sneak a side-trip to Nidderdale AONB
Nidderdale is a nature preserve that sits east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Its swathes of rugged moorland and romantic valleys earned it the protected status of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
In terms of where to go in Yorkshire Dales for flora and fauna, Nidderdale is one of the leading destinations. Gouthwaite Reservoir is the habitat of Common Buzzards, Peregrines, Merlins, Red Kites, and Golden Eagles. Meanwhile, the dense Hackfall woodland is a sanctuary for birds, moths, and rare plants and trees.
Nidderdale is one of the few areas in the United Kingdom where adders – our only venomous snake – dwell. As a bashful species, they’re rare to see but keep your eyes peeled in summer for sunbathing adders.
The area is crisscrossed with walking trails that range from easy, one-hour rambles to moderate, four-hour hikes. It’s a prime destination for cycling, canoeing, and horse trekking.
8. Linger in a traditional Yorkshire market town
You will encounter postcard-pretty villages and towns while exploring the moors, forests, and valleys of the Yorkshire Dales. It’s worth carving out at least a few hours of your itinerary to experience one or two more thoroughly.
Grassington sits on the banks of the River Wharfe and is the quintessential Yorkshire market town. It comprises stone-built houses, cobblestone streets, tea rooms, pubs, and gift shops where you can pick up all manner of toffees and trinkets. If your visit falls on the fourth Sunday of the month you can stock up on fresh produce at the Grassington Farmers Market. Grassington is also a popular spot for wild swimming!
Equally picturesque, Pateley Bridge features an idyllic high street bursting with curiosities. Once you’ve exhausted yourself pottering around the boutiques and trails alongside the River Nidd, refuel at one of the numerous tea shops. Wildings Tea Room is a peaceful nook on the riverside.
Kirkby Lonsdale is a larger town on the western edge of the national park. The town is brimming with restaurants, pubs, and riverside walks along the Lune. You can grab a pint at the town’s brewery – easily one of the most attractive things to do in Yorkshire Dales National Park after a long hike.
Besides its market squares, pubs, and antique shops, Middleham offers some of the best views in the Dales. Soak up 360-degree views from the handsome ruins of Middleham Castle – the childhood home of Richard III.
9. Tackle the Three Peak Challenge
One of the more grueling things to do in the Yorkshire Dales is to embark on the Three Peak Challenge.
This hiking trail takes you to the summit of the three tallest peaks within the national park: Pen-y-ghent (694 metres), Whernside (736 metres), and Ingleborough (723 metres). Usually tackled in this order, the route in its entirety is 24 miles (38.6 km) and includes an elevation gain of 1,585 metres (5,200 feet).
The “challenge” is to complete the full circuit within 12 hours or less. However, you may be pleased to hear that you can choose to spread it over a leisurely two or three days. If you’re not much of a hiker or are visiting on a limited timeframe, then Pen-y-ghent provides the easiest conditions that are suitable for all the family.
You may complete the Three Peak Challenge independently or with an organised walking group. Group hiking events led by local guides typically run seasonally from April until late September.
10. Hop aboard the Settle to Carlisle Railway
The Settle-Carlisle Railway is one of the most scenic train journeys in the United Kingdom. One-third of the line between Settle and Carlise passes right through the heart of the Yorkshire Dales and provides incredible views of the national park without you needing to pull on your hiking boots.
The complete journey from Settle, in the Yorkshire Dales, to Carlise, in Cumbria, takes around 1 hour 40 minutes. It includes stops at such towns as Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Ribblehead, and Dent. Along the way, you’ll see major natural and manmade attractions including the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the Westmorland fells, and the 24 arches of the Ribblehead Viaduct.
The railway line is part of the English mainline which means that tickets are affordable and you can purchase via the Trainline and use your railcard if applicable.
Alternatively, if you’re seeking a touch of luxury, you can snap up tickets to ride the steam train. This limited service is provided by private operators such as Northern Belle and operates exclusively in the summer months.
You can ride the Settle-Carlisle Railway as a day trip or use it as the gateway to your next great English national park – the Lake District.