Wild camping, horseshoe walks, scrambling, kayaking, cycling, paragliding and even skiing... the Lake District has it all. James Forrest gives us 35 adventure ideas to make the most of being outdoors in this glorious place.
1. Get jelly-legs on a glorious knife-edge ridge walk
Not for the faint-hearted or vertigo-sufferers, the magnificent Sharp Edge on Blencathra or Striding Edge on Hellvelyn offer adrenaline, excitement and superb views.
Plus they are a rite of passage for any self-respecting Lake District adventurer. Possibly the finest routes up any mountain in England.
2. Wild camp on a mountain top
Who needs over-priced hotels or boutique B&Bs when you can sleep under the stars in the stunning high fells?
Go for a hike, choose a camp, pitch up your tent and watch the sunset over the surrounding peaks as you tuck into a well-deserved dinner.
Wild camping in the Lakes
3. Get up close and personal with bare rock on a climbing adventure
If you’re a climbing guru, tick off a classic like Dow Crag, Gimmer Crag or Esk Buttress, or visit the birthplace of the sport at Napes Needle on Gable Girdle.
If you’re a beginner sign up for a guided trip with one of a hundred different providers, or if (when?) it’s raining head bouldering at King Kong Adventure Climbing Wall in Keswick.
4. Climb England’s highest mountain
At 978m, Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in Britain, elevating it to the top of many visitors’ to do list – and you basically have to tick it off, don’t you?
Climb it from Wasdale or Borrowdale for a long, but epic, day of mountain walking. The summit is a memorial to those fallen in the First World War, so remember to spend a few minutes in quiet self-reflection.
5. Hit the water in a kayak or sailing boat
Hire a kayak to explore the bays and islands of the beautiful Derwentwater in the North Lakes; or, if you’re a fan of the recent film, rent a sailing boat and pretend you’re in the Swallows & Amazons. Just don’t fall in, the water WILL be cold.
6. Indulge in a futuristic forest experience
Fed up of all this self-propelled adventure? Then head to Whinlatter Forest, grab a two-wheeled electric Segway and head out on a forest safari - without barely breaking a sweat.
It’s all about balance on these two-wheeled electric contraption: lean forward, you go forward, lean backward, you slow down, you get the idea. It’s easily the coolest way to get around, and kids will love it.
7. Brave the cold and discover the world of wild swimming
Wetsuit recommended – no, essential. Head out independently to Coniston Water or Ullswater or Sprinkling Tarn (see wildswimming.co.uk for more options), if you know what you’re doing, or for the fitness freaks of you out there take on an organised event like the Great North Swim, which takes place in Lake Windermere every June.
8. Take on a leg-burning cycle over one of Lakeland’s famous mountain passes
See far more of the Lake District in a day than you ever could on foot, and in a far more healthy and eco-friendly way than in a car.
Hop on a road bike and get the best views by struggling up and over one or more of Lakeland’s famous mountain passes – Hardknott, Wynose, Whinlatter, Honister and Kirkstone.
9. Stand proud on top of an epic mountain summit
Climbing mountains is really what adventuring in the Lake District is all about – and the options are plentiful.
Everyone has a different favourite, but you could do worse than start with guidebook author Alfred Wainwright’s top six – Scafell Pike, Bowfell, Pillar, Great Gable, Blencathra and Crinkle Crags.(Just as an aside, my favourites are Steeple and Hopegill Head!)
Standing atop an epic mountain
10. Face the fear and get your via-ferrata on
Seven times the height of Big Ben – that’s how the folk at Honister Slate Mine describe their award-winning via ferrata attraction, which allows tourists to climb a series of rungs, ladders and bridges while connected to a continuous safety cable.
It’s a great way to experience the sensation of being exposed on rock face for those that don’t fancy full-on rock climbing.
11. Buy a Wainwright guidebook and start peak bagging
Alfred Wainwright, the beloved writer of the Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells, is a folk hero in the Lake District. He is the face of the fellwalking movement.
Pick up one (or more) of his books and it’ll be crammed full of route inspiration and witty insights. It’ll be a great motivator too, encouraging you to explore new areas and discover new mountains. How long will it take you to walk them all?
12. Stay in a rustic, remote hostel
Make a weekend of it and head out on a two or three-day adventure, with overnight stays in the charming Black Sail YHA or Skiddaw House, or both. It’ll be cheap and charming and you probably won’t want to leave.
13. Watch the night sky from wild Ennerdale
Lower Gillerthwaite Field Centre in Ennerdale is a designated Dark Sky Discovery Site – one of a nationwide network of places that are great for star-gazing.
It is described as “endowed with a most spectacular night sky due to its remoteness, mountainous terrain and lack of light pollution”. Special events are held throughout the year.
14. Take on a multi-day trek
Explore the very best the Lake District has to offer with this 73-mile, five-day hike from Ulverston to Carlisle, via Coniston, Dungeon Ghyll, Keswick and Caldback. You can stay in hostels, B&Bs or for real adventurers there is the wild camping option.
Multi-day trek - Cumbria Way
15. Whizz around woodland on an adrenaline-fuelled mountain bike trail
Head to Whinlatter or Grisedale Forest and enjoy one of the waymarked, off-road mountain bike trails, featuring muscle-burning ascents, high-octane downhills, technical features and fun contouring sections through woodlands and conifer forest.
A variety of grades are available meaning there is something for everyone from total beginners to seasoned experts.
16. Speed things up and go for a fell run
Ditch your walking boots for some running trainers and head to the hills for the freedom and excitement of fell running. Feel your lungs heave as you slowly plod uphill and then run with abandon as you fly downhill.
Go it alone or sign up for an organised event – and when you’re back at home google the “Bob Graham Round” to read about the incredible fell running feats of the ultra fit.
17. Get your ghyll scrambling on
Get up close and personal with a picturesque Lake District mountain beck, traverse deep pools, climb small waterfalls, and swim and jump in at your leisure. It will be wet, it will be cold, but it will be an exciting adventure. Numerous activity providers available.
18. Explore the wonders of the Langdale Pikes
Why not spend a weekend exploring the craggy, lumpy tops of the distinctive and glorious Langdale Pikes, one of Lakeland’s best loved regions?
Gaze over at the imposing wall of Pavey Ark from Stickle Ghyll; stand tall atop the summit of Harrison Stickle; and watch climbers on Gimmer Crag from Pike O’Stickle. And when you’re finished enjoy a refreshing pint at one of the lovely pubs or hotels in the Dungeon Ghyll valley.
19. Spend a night bivvying in the middle of nowhere
What is stopping you? Buy a cheap bivvy bag from alpkit.com, pack your bag and head out for a night of adventure under the stars. Sleeping wild is a magical, life-affirming thing – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Want more advice? Read Alastair Humphries brilliant Microadventures book for the inspiration you need.
20. Go on an epic scramble
More exciting than a hike, less scary than rock climbing, scrambling is the perfect middle-ground option for those seeking a dose of adrenaline and adventure. Classic options include Jack’s Rake on Pavey Ark or Hall’s Fell Ridge up Blencathra.
Scrambling Jacks Rake
21. Walk around – not up – Great Gable
Walking around Great Gable
It might seem odd to not visit the summit – but the Gable Girdle, a full circumnavigation of the mountain combining the classic north and south traverses, is one of the Lake District’s most adventurous hikes. Scramble around the Great Napes, gawp at climbers on the teetering tower of Napes Needle and feel very small beneath the towering mass of Gable Crag.
Volunteering with Fix the Fells
22. Do some voluntary work and help repair a mountain path
Get active in the outdoors and make a difference. Become a regular volunteer “lengthsman” with Fix the Fells, which works to maintain and repair upland paths from erosion, or join the Friends of the Lake District’s “fell care days” for a one-off experience.
23. Release your inner monkey at a high ropes course
Swings, climb, balance and fly through the ancient British woodland canopy at Treetop Treks in Windermere, which includes a 350m canopy tour, 34 fun elements and climaxes with an epic 250m triple zipline descent. Oh, and your connected throughout to a continuous cable meaning you’re perfectly safe.
24. Get BIG views from a SMALL mountain
You don’t have to spend hours and hours toiling upwards to get great views in the Lake District. Try Castle Crag, Loughrigg or Latrigg to minimise the ascent and maximise the panoramas.
25. Escape the crowds at Back O’Skiddaw
The grassy, rounded hills of Back O’Skiddaw (to the north, or “back of”, Skiddaw) are not typical of Lakeland. They are not spectacular or grandiose, but this remote, little-visited corner of the national park is perfect for dodging the crowds that plague some parts in summer.
26. Forget posh B&Bs and sleep in a bothy instead
What is a bothy? It’s a shelter such as a shed or hut that is left unlocked and is free to use. They are rudimentary and basic with few facilities, but simultaneously charming and idyllic. There aren’t many in Lakeland, however, Warnscale Head bothy and Lingy Hut are well worth a visit. Check out www.mountainbothies.org.uk for more info.
27. Walk or run around Ullswater
In 2016 the Ullswater Way walk was launched – a 20-mile circular route that circumnavigates beautiful Ullswater, taking in the area’s best scenery including Aira Force waterfall and the summit of Gowbarrow.
Walk it in a leisurely 48 hours with a night in a B&B or hostel, or go crazy and run the whole 20 miles in a day.
28. Enjoy a classic Lake District horseshoe walk
Horseshoe walks are the perfect way to experience the joys of fell walking: get high, stay high, ogle epic ridge views all day and tick off multiple summits. Popular options include the Fairfield Horseshoe, the Newlands Horseshoe and the Buttemere Horseshoe: which will you choose?
Walking Fairfield Horseshoe
29. Go on a Twizy adventure
Hire a funky Twizy, a two-seater electric car that has a bespoke cartoon Herdwick sheep paint job and offers a gentler, greener way of touring around the national park. Operated by Co Wheels Car Club, these “cars-in-sheep’s-clothing” have a range of 40 miles on a full charge, so get exploring.
30. Get lost in a forest
Ditch the paths and just wander through a forest, like Grisedale Forest or Whinlatter Forest. Look up at the tree canopy, listen to the sounds and breathe in the fresh air. Maybe you’ll spot a red squirrel or a deer? And, undoubtedly, it will help wash away those everyday stresses and make you feel happy.
31. Stand up on a lake
It is the fastest growing watersport in the world and it has arrived in the Lake District. Head to Derwentwater or Windermere to hire a paddleboard and experience what it’s like to walk on water (sort of).
Hopefully you’ve got good balance – fall in and it will be outrageously cold.
32. Take a hike...with an alpaca
Fed up of walking with your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/mum/dad/siblings/dog (delete as appropriate)? Then do something completely different and take a hike with a cute alpaca at Lingholm Estate on the western shores of Derwentwater.
33. Do something extreme
If you want to take things up a notch (or seven), then the Lake District can deliver. Options include quad biking, off-road 4x4v safaris, paintballing, zorbing and even gyroplane flights.
34. Go skiing
Believe it or not, you don't have to go to the Alps to go skiing. You can do it right here in the Lake District on Raise, near Helvellyn. There is a hut and a button-lift.
The catch? You have to carry your skis and boots up from Glenridding. It's worth it thought - definitely one of the top Lakeland adventures out there.
Skiing on Raise
35. Go paragliding
Ever wanted to see the beauty of the Lakes from a bird's eye view? Well, this is your chance. Go on a tandem paragliding flight or even learn to fly yourself.
Disclaimer: obviously, all of these activities can be dangerous – always seek professional advice in advance, know your own capabilities and limits, and adhere to safety guidance.
By James Forrest
Mountain-loving, wilderness-seeking, hiking addict from the Lake District, James is on a crazy mission to make his life more adventurous, to explore the great outdoors, and to climb as many mountains as possible.