The Yorkshire Dales National Park packs a whole lot of scenery into its 841 square miles. There are sloping green valleys (known as ‘dales’) and the windswept moors immortalised by the Brontë sisters. The agricultural traces of dry stone walls and hay meadows. Silvery brooks and quiet waterfalls. It’s excellent walking territory.
The Dales is criss-crossed with hundreds of different routes, from easy day hikes to long distance trails. One of the most famous is the Pennine Way, the UK’s first national trail - an arduous 268 mile hike from the Peak District through the Dales to the Scottish Borders.
If you want to stay exclusively within the confines of the Dales National Park, we recommend the Yorkshire Three Peaks route. We think it’s one of the best hikes in the UK! It’s a scenic circular hike that takes in some of the tallest peaks in the national park. Set out early and you might even be back in time for your (Yorkshire) tea.
What is the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge?
The Yorkshire Three Peaks is a 24-mile long circular hike within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. As the name suggests, it involves summiting two of the park's tallest peaks, Ingleborough (723m) and Whernside (723m), and the nearby Pen-y-Ghent (694m).
You can take part in the organised Three Peaks Challenge, where competitors aim to complete the route within 12 hours. Or you can complete the challenge at your own pace, over a day or two - there are several campsites and inns along the route.
The Yorkshire Three Peaks Route
Distance: 24 miles
Time: 12-24 hours
You’ll begin the walk at the small village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale. There’s a village car park where you can leave your car, or you can catch the train in - Horton Station has direct links to Leeds and Carlisle.
Walk south out of the village and across a small stream. Follow a minor road up towards Brackenbottom and you’ll soon see a footpath sign for Pen-y-Ghent, the first of the three peaks you’ll be climbing.
Pen-Y-Ghent is the smallest of the three peaks, with a flat plateau at the top. The initial ascent through the fields to it is gentle, but it’s a steep, rocky climb up to the summit. You’ll descend down the northern slopes, passing the intriguingly named Hunt Pot, a surface fissure with a gushing waterfall.
Follow the track over Whitber Hill, passing Birkwith Cave after around a mile. The path will take you back onto a road (the B6479), which you need to follow towards the Ribblehead Viaduct. But you’ll soon be back on a path, which runs alongside the railway before veering off towards Grain Head.
You’ll see a signposted path on the left which will lead you up to Whernside. It’s a long, steep ridge but the summit rewards with amazing views of the other two peaks - on a clear day you can see across the moors to Morecambe Bay.
Descend along the ridge path, then follow the left hand path to Bruntscar. Then it’s another bit of road walking - you’ll pass Old Hill Inn before turning onto a grassy path. The fields carpet a bed of limestone, and the region’s known for its sinkholes (or shakeholes, as they’re called here). You’ll pass one known as the Braithwaite Wife Hole, which is allegedly named because a local nasty named Mr Braithwaite threw his wife into its depths.
Finally, the third and final summit to Ingleborough. The climb up to the plateau starts off gently but your legs will be burning soon enough. After that, descend on the eastern path. On misty days it can be difficult to find. If this is the case, the Yorkshire Dales National Park authorities recommend navigating from the trig point using a bearing of 070’. Once the ground steepens then change your bearing to 100’.
Once you’ve descended, you’ll drop into Sulber Nick, a small valley. Walk back across the fields to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
How to Train for the Three Peaks Challenge
We’ve got plenty of tips on how to train for your next big trek, beginning with the obvious - get walking! Make sure you’ve done a couple of decent day hikes before you start off along the Three Peaks trail, so your muscles don’t cramp up in protest. This is easy enough if you have access to the countryside, but you might struggle if you live in a city.
If that’s the case, our 7 tips for city dwellers training for a mountain hike will help you out. Staircases are your friend and the gym…well, that’s open to debate.
As long as you have a decent level of fitness, the Three Peaks Challenge is an achievable one. And because it can be done in a day, you won’t need to carry any heavy kit on your back.
Refreshments & Pit Stops
On a twelve hour trek, you’ll want a backpack stuffed with hiking snacks. Standard suggestions include dried fruit, nuts and sandwiches. However, there are plenty of Yorkshire delicacies which are perfect for long distance hiking - parkin, fat rascals and pork pies to name but a few!
Horton-in-Ribblesdale has several options for the necessary post-hike meal. The best option is Helwith Bridge Inn, a cosy real ale pub serving hearty dishes that really hit the spot after a long blustery walk on the moors.
The Old Hill Inn is slightly more upmarket, serving locally sourced British dishes and decadent desserts. Located between Whernside and Ingleborough, it’s also a good accommodation option - especially if you plan on breaking up your walk into two days. If you just want a quick bite somewhere (or if you forgot your lunchtime sandwiches), then Goat Gap Cafe is a decent place to stock up.
Inspired? Why not check out our range of trekking and hiking holidays in the UK?