The Great Outdoors curates the best walks in the Peak District for beginners – so lace up your boots, grab your waterproofs and get out there.
Ease yourself into the great outdoors with the best walks in the Peak District for beginners. The first landscape in England to be designated a national park, the Peaks makes up for in character and charm what it lacks in elevation. It’s also accessible from the major surrounding towns and cities, nestled between Manchester and Sheffield – about 20 million people live within an hour’s journey of the Peak District.
That makes it the perfect place to hike your first hikes and learn to love being outdoors. If you’re looking for something more mountainous, explore one of the 6 best routes in Snowdonia, host to the most majestic mountain ranges in Wales which lie only a few hours from Manchester.
Words: Francesca Donovan | Main image credit: Francesca Donovan
For now, back to bimbling along quiet lanes under big skies resting on rolling hills – before stopping off to refuel in a village pub.
The Peak District is divided into two areas known as the Dark Peak in the north and the White Peak in the south, so-called for their geological differences. The gritstone of the Dark Peak provides all the earthy escape you could ask for on a day’s hike. Sweeping vistas and high moorland plateaus with rocky escarpments give way to friendly towns and villages. Here, you’ll meet fellow walkers come rain or shine, but the open spaces of the Kinder plateau provide enough respite from the everyday. A train line between Manchester and Sheffield, stopping in Edale, serves this area well.
The White Peak walking routes tend to trace tracks through farmland and through spectacular limestone scenery, including some incredible steep gorges. Some are accessible by public transport from towns such as Buxton. But if you do reach your walk by car, just remember to car share where possible and to respect the roads and those who live there by only parking in permitted spaces.
Best walks in the Peak District for beginners
- Win Hill
- Bamford Edge
- Ladybower reservoir
- Baslow Edge and Curbar Edge
- Chee Dale
- Three Shires Head
- The Roaches
- Mam Tor
If you want to jump to a route, there are some key features to look out for on this list. From the shortest walk to the longest walk on our round-up of the best walks in the Peak District for beginners, there’s something for everyone. Check out the easiest route if you’re – or if you’re feeling more adventurous, the Shutlingsloe route is the most challenging in terms of ascent and mileage. While it’s subjective, the Bamford Edge route has the best photo ops for those who see a big rock and must stand on it.
1. Win Hill
Start/finish: A6013 layby | Maps: OS Explorer OL1 – The Peak District, Dark Peak (1:25k scale) | Distance: 3 miles/5km | Ascent: 1086ft/331m | Duration: 3 hours | Transport: None to start
Many people approach Win Hill from Hope in the Edale valley, but this is a slightly easier circuit for those new to hillwalking. It benefits from a pretty woodland ascent and decent that is less exposed and is easier on the joints. Still, it is a relatively steep hike up to the top. But it’s worth the effort as you’ll enjoy big sky vistas from Win Hill itself, as well as riverside rambling on the low ground. Handily, there’s a pub en route with a dog-friendly beer garden serving good grub and plenty of options on tap. Favoured by cyclists, they even have a small mechanic stand.
2. Bamford Edge
Start/finish: Heatherdene car park | Maps: OS Explorer OL1 – The Peak District, Dark Peak (1:25k scale) | Distance: 3 miles/5km | Ascent: 866ft/264m | Duration: 2 to 3 hours | Transport: None to start
Bamford Edge offers highly Insta-worthy views over Ladybower reservoir and up to Win Hill as well as the surrounding low-level woodland and hills. It’s particularly pretty during the heather season when the purple blooms appear in mid-July. After a quick ascent up through Priddock Wood you can walk a there-and-back route along the edge and appreciate the views along the way. Alternatively, you can descend quickly and follow the road around to your parking spot. The paths on the edge are easy to follow and, bar some gritstone mounds, are generally good practice to upskill to sure-footedness.
3. Ladybower Reservoir
Start/finish: Fairholmes car park | Maps: OS Explorer OL1 – The Peak District, Dark Peak (1:25k scale) | Distance: 10 miles/16.5km | Ascent: 879ft/268m | Duration: 5 to 6 hours | Transport: None to start
By far the longest route on this list, the Ladybower reservoir circuit takes in some beautiful woodland scenery in the Peak District. While it doesn’t boast the elevation of Bamford Edge, it is certainly a big day out for a beginner. It’s a great first foray into tackling longer mileage. Be prepared with a good pair of walking boots, plenty of water, and appropriate clothing to be outdoors for hours on end. Meanwhile, the navigation around the reservoir is simple so you can focus on putting one foot in front of the other. The views over Howden reservoir to Upper Hay feel wilder than other parts of the Peaks, while still sticking to an easy track. Should this distance feel a little far for now, head south and enjoy the 9km circular around Ladybower reservoir instead. This heads towards the A6013 so feels less quiet but should only take about three hours and still boasts scenic views.
4. Baslow and Curbar Edges
Start/finish: Curbar Gap car park | Maps: OS Explorer OL1 – The Peak District, Dark Peak (1:25k scale) | Distance: 3 miles/5km | Ascent: 335ft/102m | Duration: 2 hours | Transport: None to start
Unlike most edge walks, this figure-of-eight along Baslow and Curbar edges provides plenty of variety – and all on very manageable footpaths. Navigation is common-sense simple, too, so you can spend your time appreciating the great outdoors. Keep your eyes peeled for the resident Highland cows on Curbar and the views down to the Chatsworth Estate. On the return, the direct path back to the car park features the Eagle Stone – great for a low-stakes bouldering session. Likewise, the gritstone rock formations along Baslow Edge are great for scrambling and photo ops. These should keep you occupied in place of any great elevation.
5. Chee Dale
Start/finish: Millers Dale car park | Maps: OS Explorer OL27 – The Peak District, White Peak (1:25k scale) | Distance: 5 miles/8km | Ascent: 945ft/288m | Duration: 3 to 4 hours | Transport: None to start
Quieter than Dove Dale, this rambling walk through a steep limestone ravine offers respite from the everyday. With stepping stones to skip across – in waterproof boots, ideally – it’s a good opportunity to unleash your inner child. And there’s plenty of nature to spot here, from wild garlic in the spring to bats in the dusky hours. There is some uneven terrain on the riverside walkways and the water levels can make things muddy. It’s worth avoiding after particularly heavy rains as you might find the stepping stones underwater! This route also takes you into upland hillwalking territory, as you’ll return via Blackwell Dale. Of course, you can just retrace your steps instead, if you prefer.
6. Three Shires Head
Start/finish: Gradbach car park | Maps: OS Explorer OL27 – The Peak District, White Peak (1:25k scale) | Distance: 3.7 miles/6km | Ascent: 637ft/194m | Duration: 2 hours | Transport: None to start
It wouldn’t be a round-up of Peak District bimbles without a nod to Three Shires Head. This is a place packed with history. As a three-county border (Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire), it deserved its reputation for lawlessness. Bare-knuckle boxing, illegal coin counterfeiting, and escapes from the constabulary all occurred here at this packhorse bridge. You can almost hear the tired ponies lapping away at Pannier’s Pool, the other less-famous waterfall. This is a popular place for a swim in the summer months, meaning it does get busy, and do beware the motorised dirt bikes that frequent the dirt tracks. It’s a straightforward circular walk through lanes, tracks and fields from Gradbach where there is a tearoom and toilets.
7. The Roaches and Hen Cloud
Start/finish: Roach Road layby | Maps: OS Explorer OL27 – The Peak District, White Peak (1:25k scale) | Distance: 4.5 miles/7km | Ascent: 335ft/102m | Duration: 3 hours | Transport: None to start
Like the Dark Peak edges, the Roaches offers sweeping views to the reservoir below with relatively little effort required. Reaching the trig point requires a little scamper over some rocky terrain but, with no hands required, it doesn’t constitute a scramble. However, as one of the most beloved climbing areas in the White peak, there’s plenty of vertical interest here. We’ve included Hen Cloud on this route for the quieter views and to get some elevation in the legs. Extend the route further to take in the magical Lud’s Church, a moss-covered gorge teeming with life tucked into ancient woodland towards Gradbach.
8. Mam Tor
Start/finish: Edale train station | Maps: OS Explorer OL1 – The Peak District, Dark Peak (1:25k scale) | Distance: 3 miles/5km | Ascent: 335ft/102m | Duration: 2 hours | Transport: Northern trains services run between Manchester and Sheffield stopping at Edale every hour
Named ‘the Shivering Mountain’ – even though it doesn’t quite meet the technical requirements – Mam Tor is a classic hike in the Peaks and a great way to get used to some elevation. The route isn’t fully way-marked from Edale station – or on the descent – so some basic navigation is required. On the ascent, you’ll find the path can get a bit muddy so a good pair of walking boots are also recommended. But you’ll be rewarded with iconic Peak District views down into the Edale valley and along the Great Ridge. You can drop down into Edale from Hollins cross but we advise you extend the circular by walking all the way along the ridge to Losehill Pike. There’s a fantastic stone marker that will point out what you’re looking at as you admire the panoramic scenery and the ridgeline offers some respite from the ascent and descent.
Start/finish: Trentabank car park | Maps: OS Explorer OL27 – The Peak District, White Peak (1:25k scale) | Distance: 3.5 miles/6km | Ascent: 1020ft/311m | Duration: 3 hours | Transport: None to start
This unique hill lies on the edge of the Peak District, above Macclesfield Forest. Its outlying position gives panoramic views across the Cheshire Plain and towards the Roaches. The walk up through the forest is on easy, way-marked track with towering trees and good views over to Tegg’s Nose, Manchester and, on a clear day, Wales. Some say Shutlingsloe looks like a witch’s hat due to its rocky aspect. This does, however, mean it’s a steeper climb to the top. To make it easier on the legs, start from Standing Stones car park at the top of Macclesfield Forest. Bear in mind, this route takes you across farmland and can get boggy. If you want a longer walk, include Bottoms reservoir and stop off at the pub for refreshments.
While these are some of the best walks in the peak district for beginners and have been curated for those setting out on their hillwalking journey, they vary in distance, terrain and navigational requirements. A moderate or higher level of fitness and sure-footedness is recommended. Likewise, any time spent outdoors can be unpredictable in terms of conditions, so consider a good pair of walking boots and a waterproof, and remember to pack water.
Want to hike further? Explore these top hillwalking tips – whether you’re a newbie or an enthusiast returning to the Peak after a forced hiatus. Or, head out on one of our recommended family-friendly walks in the Peak District. Many of the best walks in the Peak District for beginners are also suitable for adventurous young souls!