The UK's Most Beautiful National Parks (and their Walking Routes)

Smash your 10,000-a-day step count in the UK’s most beautiful national parks. Hike the rugged edges of Snowdonia, ramble through the heather in Dartmoor or stroll alongside the waters that give the Lake District its name. Depending on your starting point, these are perfect for a day trip or weekend staycation.

We're all for discovering walking routes, but if you're anything like us, and have covered virtually every possible acre within your local area, then look no further. We've rounded up nine of the UK's best National Park walks - set to stretch your legs and fill your lungs with some great British country air. Since these parks are any true explorer's playground, we've scouted out some of the lesser-known walking routes - which will save you from any lycra-clad side eye.

Misty lakes, mountains and forests within and surrounding UK national parks

Cairngorms National Park

Scotland

The UK's largest (and arguably wildest) park, the Cairngorms is situated in the heart of the Scottish Highlands and is home to four of the five highest mountains in the UK. Between the alpine peaks, large lochs and dense forests, don't be surprised if you spot a wildcat or mountain hare.

Walk: Ballater to Cambus

Distance: 8km

For a lesser-trodden trail, head to the charming village of Ballater and follow the first part of the Deeside Way. With wide paths, this 8km ramble takes you alongside the River Dee and offers breathtaking vistas of Balmoral Castle. For a quick sugar fix, stop by at Dee Valley Confectioners - its cappuccino fudge is pretty spectacular.

Dartmoor National Park

Devon, England

With 954sq km to explore, this Devonshire moorland is best known for its ancient myths and local legends. Peppered with rugged valleys, rippling rivers and granite tors, Dartmoor is not only southwest England's answer to a Narnia, but also a geology nerd's paradise. Stomp around the prehistoric rock formations or, if you're more of a thrill-seeker, bike around the scraggy landscape.

Walk: Wistman's Wood Walk

Distance: 8km

Owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, this woodland is famous for its twisted oak trees and granite boulders painted with moss, ferns and holly. To see this majestic wonder, you'll want to base yourself at Two Bridges Hotel - parking for guests is free and only a small price for visitors (refundable with the purchase of any food or drink). When first setting off, head through the small car park gate and cross the main road.

Snowdonia National Park

Gwynedd/ Conwy, Wales

Straddling the counties of Gwynedd and Conwy, Snowdonia has some 14 peaks to discover, with Snowdon topping the popularity chart. There are plenty of gorges and cliffs, which in some instances would require ropes and crampons, but there are also more scenic options - set your sat nav for hidden hamlets and shallow shores.

Walk: Llyn Ogwen Circular

Distance: 4.6km

Escape the crowds and take the less strenuous hike around lake Llyn Ogwen. This walk is the perfect way to experience all the mountainous scenes, minus the gruelling climb. You'll want to start at Ogwen Cottage and Ranger Base. Although the route is marked, be aware that the beginning of the trek is quite challenging; you'll need to scale the large boulders in order to get onto the wide flat path.

Yorkshire Dales National Park

North Yorkshire, England

Fringed with charming castles, abbeys and a surprising amount of stone walls, this place is recognised for being the official home of Wensleydale cheese. With three peaks, Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside, there is a landscape for every explorer to discover. Astrology lover? The Dales are not yet swamped by electric lights, so switch off your head torch and gaze skyward.

Walk: Malham Tarn Walk

Distance: 5.8km

Malham Tarn is nestled over 377m above sea level, making it the highest marl lake in Britain. Besides its pretty impressive credentials, its expansive surrounds are scattered with craggy buffs and wildlife. To pick up the trail, park at Water Sinks Gate Park and head towards the water's edge.

South Downs National Park

Hampshire/ West Sussex/ East Sussex, England

This National Park extends across 1,620sq km, covering the Itchen Valley of Hampshire all the way to the chalky cliffs of the Seven Sisters in Eastbourne - the perfect place for chugging ocean air. Plan ahead for pub pit-stops.

Walk: Seven Sisters & Friston Forest Circular

Distance: 13km

Okay, so the Seven Sisters might be a tad more on the touristy side, but it's a walk you've got to experience. This hike will take you through the Birling Gap, Seven Sisters and Friston Forest. With a wide availability of parking options, the choices of where to set off are endless. Shove a pair of binoculars (and snacks) in your bag to make the most of the spectacular scenery.

Lake District

Cumbria, England

Located in north west England, the Lake District is home to England's 10 highest mountains, 16 lakes and 197 tarns - there's little surprise it's ranked as England's largest and most beautiful National Park. This place is a photographer's dream. Beyond all its visual splendour, the geological character of this park is suggested to have taken 500 million years to create, making its trails feel all the more awesome.

Walk: Black Combe, from Whicham

Distance: 14km

Avoid the crowds and take this hike the park's southwest coast. Expect to see 17th-century churches, sea views and moody lakes. Park up on the A595 layby (it's free) and head towards Black Combe, there you'll be rewarded with views across to the Isle of Man.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

Pembrokshire, Wales

Recognised as the only national park in the UK to consist entirely of wild and maritime landscape, this park joins more than 50 wide, sandy beaches. You'll want to charge your camera; there are endless photo opportunities here. If you fancy a challenge, hike the entire distance of the park - this would take approximately 15 days (weather and stamina depending).

Walk: Strumble Head

Distance: 9km

This walk isn't for the faint-hearted, the narrow coastal path leading to the rocky headland requires a certain degree of endurance - but it's worth it for the rewarding sights of bottlenose dolphins and seals. A pair of binoculars would be well put to use here. Start at the memorial stone and follow the path for St Gwyndaf Church, Llanwnda.

New Forest National Park

Hampshire, England

Originally a hunting ground for William the Conqueror, the New Forest remains virtually unspoiled. With woodland, heathland and river valleys, it's home to an array of wild animals. Expect to cross paths with deer, horses and cattle. Grab your walking boots (and preferably a raincoat) - plenty of tea rooms and pubs provide shelter and sustenance.

Walk: Solent Way Walk

Distance: 96km

Hankering for an off-grid adventure? Look no further. This 96km route stretches from Milford-on-Sea all the way to Emsworth Harbour in Chichester. Enjoy the tranquility of this trail; you'll stroll among fishing villages, marinas and sweeping shores.

North York Moors National Park

North Yorkshire, England

Spanning 1,436sq km, the North York Moors is recognised for its coniferous forests and heather moorland. With the highest point in the park (Urra Moor) clocking in at 454m, it doesn't take a genius to imagine just how wonderful the views are - or how achy your calves will be the following day.

Walk: Rievaulx Abbey to Helmsley Circular

Distance: 11km

Set off from the market town of Helmsley and hike to one of the UK's most ancient monastic centres. If you're a lover of architectural design, you won't be disappointed.

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