North York Moors

Five long-distance trails in National Parks

Published: 28 June 2024

This year we’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Act that enabled the creation of National Parks. Founded on the desire to protect nature and give more of us access to the great outdoors, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 also gave us National Landscapes, National Nature Sites and National Trails—the country’s long-distance walk network. 

As they wend their way from town to moor, farm to coast, long-distance walks give us the opportunity to connect deeply with Protected Landscapes. This month, we’ve picked five National Trails worth considering if you’re up for the challenge.

1. A National Park on foot

The South Downs Way

The only National Trail to sit entirely within a National Park, the South Downs Way covers 100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne. It follows chalk ridges and paths through woodland and chalk grassland right to chalk cliffs at the coast.

Along the way, the trail passes country parks and nature reserves as well as some of the National Park’s favourite landscapes like Old Winchester Hill and Devil’s Dyke.

2. One for wildlife lovers

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path is a challenging but rewarding 186 miles of breathtaking coastal scenery taking in cliffs, beaches and coves in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. 

From the path, there are year-round wildlife-spotting opportunities from grey seal pups in the autumn to spring migratory birds nesting in the coast’s cliffs. Keep an eye (and an ear!) out for gannets and terns, puffins and choughs. The National Park also promises a rare glimpse of aquatic mammals including porpoises, orca and dolphins.

3. In the footsteps of pioneers

The Pennine Way

Passing through three National Parks and two National Landscapes, the Pennine Way covers 268 miles of upland from Derbyshire to the Scottish Borders. Summer is the perfect time to walk the Pennine Way, as its hilly paths can become boggy in winter.

The first National Trail to be designated, the Pennine Way takes in many walks that are spectacular in their own right. It encompasses ascents of Kinder Scout, the site of the mass trespass that was pivotal to the success of the campaign for the 1949 Act, Pen-y-Ghent, and Cross Fell, the highest point in the North Pennines National Landscape.

4. Highlights of the Yorkshire Coast

The Cleaveland Way

Another of the original National Trials designated by the 1949 Act, the Cleveland Way covers 109 miles of northern England. The trail circles the North York Moors National Park, taking two diversions outside to visit the northern coastal sights of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Whitby and Scarborough.

Through the National Park, the trail takes in the beautiful heather moorland and rugged heathland of the North York Moors, home to wildlife such as hares and ground nesting birds. Once it reaches the coast, the trail follows cliffs for great views and popular destinations like Robin Hood’s Bay.

5. A walk through time

Hadrian’s Wall Path

Following the iconic roman ruin of Hadrian’s Wall, this path travels from coast to coast on a relatively short but varied pass through cities, hills, moorland and many historic sites and museums.  

Along its 84 miles, the trail passes Sycamore Gap within the boundaries of Northumberland National Park. Its western end in Bowness-on-Solway takes in the vitally important saltmarshes of the Solway Coast National Landscape, home to great numbers of coastal wildlife.