Exmoor wild ponies.
© Exmoor Pony Centre.
Exmoor wild ponies.

Best UK Walking and Hiking Destinations with Kids

By Rhonda Carrier

While often recoiling at the very words, my kids have often been tricked into long walks or even hikes by the promise of something enticing waiting for them at the other end. In Iceland, it was hot rivers in which to bathe, but it could be something as simple as ice cream from a van by the beach, fish and chips in a pub garden or a field full of donkeys to coo over.

Whether you're toting a baby or toddler in a child-carrier or moving shoulder-to-shoulder with a mooching teen dealing with WiFi withdrawal symptoms, walking or hiking is a great way to spend quality time with your kids in the great outdoors, benefiting from fresh air and muscle-toning, brain-soothing movement. We've picked our favourite spots around the UK, most of them by their very nature in remote locations away from the crowds yet within easy reach of a good choice of self-catering accommodation including lodges and cabins.

Exmoor, Devon and Somerset 

You'll have no trouble getting the kids out exploring this hilly open moorland when you tell them about the wild ponies that roam free here. Ponies being ponies, they can never reliably be found in one place, but likely spots for sightings include Molland Moor, Porlock Hill and Winsford Hill. In any case, you can hedge your bets by also scheduling in a visit to the charity-run Exmoor Pony Centre, which works to protect this endangered rare breed.

South West Coast Path, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset

England's longest way-marked footpath, this 1,000km National Trail is rugged and challenging due to the many river mouths it crosses, meaning lots of climbs and descents. But it rewards you with some of Britain's most spectacular landscapes, including two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Jurassic Coast and the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape. For a gentle intro with young kids unused to walking, try the stretch from Land’s End to Sennen Cove, where you can explore the lifeboat station.

South Downs Way, Hampshire and Sussex

Another one of England and Wales' 15 National Trails and the only one to fully lie within a National Park has plenty to beguile you as you walk, including traditional wooden windmills (many of them still producing flour), hilltops perfect for kite-flying, the remains of a Roman villa, a light railway with steam trains and an arboretum. One of the classic South Downs walks is from East Dean to Eastbourne's Beachy Head and the National Trust's Birling Gap.

New Forest, Hampshire

Another place to see wild-roaming ponies – around 5,000 of them graze around the National Park, where their grazing supports rare plant species such as wild gladiolus and chamomile – the New Forest is full of great family walks. A great one with tiny kids is the Bolderwood Deer Watch Trail, which culminates in a viewing platform from which you can spy fallow deer in an open forest.

 

Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk

This fascinating area of woodland was the site of the UK's most significant UFO incident, in 1980, and there's a fabulous 5km UFO Trail taking you through the trees to a UFO-themed play area and an idyllic picnic area.

Luds Church, Peak District

This atmospheric, myth-shrouded geological wonder with its covering of bright green moss, ferns and grasses came about through a land-slip, which created a vast chasm in the gritstone rock. Kids love the variety of landscapes you pass through to get there, including a field of wildflowers, gurgling brooks and the Black Forest.

Snowdonia National Park, Wales

There are seven routes to ascend Wales' highest peak (1,085m), with the Llanberis Path, the Py Track (ascent) and Miners Track (descent), and the Snowdon Ranger Track the best options with children. The latter is one of the most straightforward and quietest routes, with its own youth hostel should you choose to stay over; the second half of it is challenging, though.

Dalby Forest, Yorkshire Moors

On the southern slopes of the North York Moors National Park, this gorgeous woodland has 12 walking trails to suit different abilities, including an interactive Gruffalo-themed trail, plus a fantastic adventure playground. You can stay on-site, in a lodge on the Forest Holidays site with its ranger-led outdoors activities.

Scafell Pike, Lake District 

Ascending England's highest mountain, at 978m, is not to be taken lightly, but hardy kids are perfectly able to tackle some of the routes to the summit – the shortest runs from Wasdale Head, but the Corridor Route (from Borrowdale via Styhead Tarn) is a much gentler climb without adding too much time. Expect a fair amount of boulders and rocks to work around or even climb over. The National Trust's Wasdale campsite at the foot of Scafell Peak includes glamping pods.

Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Between Edinburgh and Inverness, this stunning area offers both gentle rambles and challenging walks, but all reward you with the most glorious views. For an easy jaunt with younger kids, try the Glenmore Phototrail from the Glenmore Forest Park Visitor Centre, enjoying ancient Caledonian pinewoods that conceal Loch Morlich with its sandy beach. 

See our recommendations and tips for active family holidays in the UK.

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