You’ll need your own transportation for this walk. Head for Wasdale Head, past Wast Water in the SW corner of the Lake District. You can park in the National Trust parking lot just after the end of Wast Water on your right or continue to Wasdale Head for free parking on Wasdale Head Village Green.
Total Gain: 923m
|Type of Hike||Loop|
|Toilets||At car park|
|Backcountry Campgrounds||At car park|
|When to Do||When Dry, no fog|
What a wonderful walk this is! Getting to the trail is one of the joys, especially if you take the steep and narrow Hardknott Pass to get there.
Beware that this path isn’t as heavily used as many in the lakes. On some days you may not see many others on the trail with you. In addition, the trail is hard to follow in many places, but luckily the route is pretty clear and you should be able to find your way again.
We like to start at the National Trust parking lot, as there is wonderful shade for the car on warm days and toilet facilities at the end of the car park. There’s also a campground here that is quiet and a great base for a weekend in this area.
From the car park, we prefer to tackle this route clockwise, as it makes the end of the walk a pleasure when the body is tired. It also allows the opportunity for a refreshment stop at Wasdale Head Inn.
To follow this route from the National Trust car park cross the bridge and turn left when you reach the road. Here you’ll be heading back on the road you came in on, beside the lake on your left and Yewbarrow on your right.
After 1.1 miles (1.75km) walking above the lake, you come down to the edge of the water and just before a bridge there is a car park on your right. Go through the car park and a path goes off from the rear of the parking lot. The path is a smaller dirt path and soon goes through a wooden swinging gate and then up some stone steps. We prefer to take the path on the right through the gate where the path splits before the next gate, as it gives better views on the way up.
After another 825 yards (750m) the path splits again, take the lower left-hand branch of the path, as the right-hand path goes over Yewbarrow. After going through another gate in 325 yards (300m) the path branches again, but also gets fainter. Head on the rough path that goes slightly uphill. Follow the faint trail as it continues around Yewbarrow – you can usually find clear bits of trail ahead.
As you come around the corner ahead of you there is a saddle. Head for it, it’s a bit boggy in places, but is passable. Just before the saddle take the right hand path up to the saddle. There are beautiful views to the right of the saddle, and it feels very much like a high alpine pass. From the saddle, take a path to the left, away from the edge of the ridge, but up towards Red Pike. The path is very faint at times but the route is fairly obvious.
At 3.9 miles (6.25km) you’ll come upon a flattening of the path and enjoy the stunning views in all directions. Continue uphill towards Red Pike. You can choose to go up to Red Pike or take a path going left to go around. Take either one.
From Red Pike the whole horseshoe path trending to the right is clear, though the actual path is at times faint. There are two paths coming down off of red pike. We prefer to take the lower, left-hand one.
As you head towards a boulder field before Black Crag it’s easy to get too low on the approach and get off-track. If entering low on the right, walk upwards to the crest and follow the cairns across the boulder field.
From Black Crag, head downhill by either going ahead in a steep path or to the right. If going right, tread carefully over the boulder field. You can see glimpses of the path on the boulders with smaller brown stones switchbacking down only for part way before coming back to the main path.
At 5.25 miles (8.5km) come down to Wind Gap. There’s a steep route down from here back to the valley if necessary, though the best is still yet to come. So keep ahead and up Pillar. There is a semi-decent path on the right-hand side, though it is steep and needs hands occasionally.
Come to another boulder field and with your head up you can see a path in the rocks. At 5.6 miles (9 km) reach the broad top of Pillar. Explore the views from each side and take a break at one of the wind-breaking stonewalls.
From the summit continue downhill towards the SE on a clear path. After the first downhill you come to a saddle and see a small path heading off to the right. Take this if you want to an easier path through a boulder field. We like this path (we don’t really like boulder fields at all), but unfortunately this path soon leads to a smaller boulder field in any case. Here you will go through on the left side before skirting the bottom of yet another boulder field. Following this, you’ll find another path through a boulder field that angles to the left towards a visible path closer to the ridge.
At 6.2 miles (10 km) re-join the main path and continue downhill. In half a mile (850 m), after coming down a steep pitch and going roughly 100 yards, you come onto a flattened saddle and need to take the faint path that goes off on the right. There is a cairn here now, though some people destroy them, so it may be gone in the future. This is a shortcut down the valley and back to your car. If you’re tired, like us, then take this path and after 100 yards take the right hand path that goes down on the right-hand side of the valley, looking down on the main route as it goes along the valley bottom. As the path peters out partway down, we then head downhill and pick our path on the less steep grassy areas.
After re-joining the other path, you find that at 7.5 miles (12 km) you’ll cross a stream on rocks, though after heavy rains your feet may get wet. Continue on downhill and eventually the path levels out on the left-hand side of the valley. Cross a couple of gates, the second one taking the path along the left of a stonewall.
At 8.75 miles (14.1 km) another path comes from the left. Continue ahead as the path goes right with a stream on your right. Pass a stunning arched bridge, go through a gate and then go left to a parking lot and the Wasdale Head Inn (as well as their bar and beer gardens). This is a great place to stop to celebrate all your hard work with a relaxing drink.
Go through the parking lot onto a tarmacked road back towards the lake where you parked your car. You will pass a free parking lot on the village green on the way.
When the road goes right you have a choice: follow the road, which is a clear route back to where you parked your car. This route has no stream crossings but is a bit boring. You can also take the path through the gate to the left that is a bit more direct but does have some wet patches.
We like paths, so we usually take the path on the left through the gate, which is a quicker than the road. There are some wet patches to cross as well as a dry streambed (for the streambed follow the cairn and wooden post on other side for direction).
Pass the gate and enter a lovely camping area. Keep straight ahead along the road with campsites on your right. Follow the road as it curves to the right and then take a path to the left to the car park.
- If you are comfortable driving on narrow, steep roads then the drive here is spectacular, especially Hardknott Pass coming from Ambleside.
- The Wasdale Head Inn has drinks and some picnic tables to enjoy the views while you have your well-earned drink!
- There is a fine campground by the parking lot, which would make an excellent base to explore the area.