The path less trodden: National Parks’ hidden gems

Whether it’s secret mountain pools, enchanting woodlands or rare wildlife, those with vivid imaginations can find their daydreams realised by the hidden gems of Britain’s National Parks. All found off the beaten path, those looking for some mindful exploration through mesmerising countryside will undoubtedly be soothed by these serene beauty spots.

The Cairngorms

Situated in Scotland, the Cairngorms is Britain’s largest National Park and features its highest mountain range, offering breathtaking mountainous landscapes that are great for hillwalking, climbing, cycling and even skiing. Home to a varied selection of wildlife, including red squirrels, pine martens and golden eagles, the Cairngorms has everything for those dreaming of immersing themselves in nature.

Hidden gem:  Creag Bheag

A chance to experience spectacular Scottish scenery steeped in fascinating folklore, Creag Bheag combines rustic woodland with expansive views across the Cairngorms. Imagine yourself exploring the fragrant pine forest of Kingussie, climbing the impressive summit of Creag Bheag, and marvelling at misty mountains and sprawling vistas along the way. You can also look out for the well-kept greens of the Kingussie golf course, or explore the Highland Folk Museum, an outdoor living history museum which delves into the region’s captivating past.  

Creag Bheag, Cairngorms

Lake District

The Lake District is home to awe-inspiring landscapes, high fells, deep glacial lakes and quaint rural villages. Now a World Heritage Site, the rugged yet beautiful National Park has the highest mountains in England, the largest being Scafell Pike, and is one of Britain’s most scenic spots in any season.

Hidden gem: Ennerdale Water

If you're longing to experience utter tranquillity you've hit the jackpot, as Ennerdale Water is the National Park’s most remote lake. Offering a peaceful slice of Britain’s vast countryside, those planning on visiting Ennerdale can expect crystal-clear waters, wonderful forest walks and outstanding views of the surrounding hilly landscape. This Lake District secret is so remote that it cannot be reached by road, although active adventurers can hop on a bike and enjoy the 10-mile cycle path that connects it to Whitehaven.

Ennerdale Water, Lake District

The Peak District

View from the inside Thors Cave looking onto the valleys of the Peak District Credit to Rebecca Read/VisitBritain

From breathtaking views of stunning limestone valleys and rugged gritstone landscapes to magnificent stately homes, the Peak District has a contrasting range of natural beauty. Nestled in the heart of the country, highlights include Edale’s Kinder Scout and the Castleton caves, the only place in the world where the semi-precious mineral Blue John is mined. The Peak District was also the UK’s first National Park, founded in 1951.

Hidden gem: Thor’s Cave, Wetton

Hidden away behind the Staffordshire village of Wetton in the Peak District, Thor’s Cave is a fascinating geological finale to a relaxing countryside walk. After strolling along a quaint country path, you will see the wonderful arched mouth emerge in the distance. Reached by a stepped path, the natural limestone cavern has an inviting entrance that leads to a space that’s occupation dates back to the Stone Age. As well as exploring this ancient habitation space, you will be treated to stunning views of the valley below to boot!

Thor's Cave, Peak District

Northumberland

Ancient monuments, rolling moorland and the uplands of the Cheviot Hills make Northumberland National Park – Europe’s largest International Dark Sky Park – as tranquil as the stars are bright! The remote heather-covered hills, iconic Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site and unspoilt historic islands mean it’s a must for scenery-centric bucket lists.

Hidden Gem: Hareshaw Linn, Bellingham

Dream of walking through the charming woodland, crossing quaint bridges and marvelling at the deep green waterfall at Northumberland’s Hareshaw Linn. A secluded spot brimming with flora and fauna, if you're a fan of the great outdoors you can spot rare ferns and lichen, as well as red squirrels and wood warblers. Those travelling in autumn can also look forward to dazzling leaf displays as the hills become a kaleidoscope of reds, golds and yellows.

Hareshaw Linn, Northumberland

Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

One of Scotland’s best-loved landscapes, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is home to dramatic mountain ranges, extensive forests and multiple stunning lochs in addition to Loch Lomond itself -  the largest lake in Britain. From the rugged mountains in the north to the rolling lowland hills in the south, this expansive landscape illustrates the beauty of countryside life in Britain.

Hidden Gem: Loch Katrine

One of the lesser-known areas of this vast National Park is Loch Katrine, found nestled between mountain and woodland. You can look forward to taking in revitalising waterside views from along the banks of this stunning 13-km loch and seeing the mountains reflected in its peaceful waters. Alternatively, hop aboard a cruise to see the sights. Whether enjoyed on foot, by bike or by boat, this picturesque spot is a tranquil gem with complete with lush pine forests and even the chance to spy grazing deer.

Loch Katrine, Trossachs

North York Moors

A place of extraordinary heritage with countryside to match, the North York Moors have rolling hills, deep wooded dales, captivating coasts, ancient abbeys, tumbling streams and timeless villages – this is a National Park mixing both unexpected and quintessential beauty. There is also a heritage railway system, part of the English National Parks Experience Collection.

Hidden gem: Hayburn Wyke

Found along the Cleveland Way National Trail, hidden beyond deer-dwelling woodland, the secret cove of Hayburn Wyke offers a pebbled paradise, home to a host of shallow rock pools at the foot of dramatic cliffs. A place to explore from both above and below, those longing for a relaxing coastal walk you can dream of strolling along the clifftops, discovering an old railway line and wandering through ancient woodlands, full of stunning native trees in all their autumnal glory.

Hayburn Wyke, North York Moors

Norfolk Broads

Winterton-On-Sea, Norfolk

A spot known for its idyllic and vast waterways, endless autumn skies and some of our rarest wildlife, the Norfolk Broads National Park is a unique part of Britain. Along the 200km of waterways and between the vast reed beds, you will find majestic windmills and ancient monasteries. Keen-eyed nature lovers may also spy the otters, swallowtail butterflies, kingfishers and seals that call this area home.

Hidden gem: Winterton-On-Sea 

Nestled between sweeping sandy beaches and the natural beauty of the Norfolk Broads, Winterton-On-Sea is a picturesque British seaside village ideal for those longing for a taste of the quiet life. Lighthouses, traditional thatched cottages and inviting sand dunes pepper the area, as well as a 14th century historic church with a tower that is sometimes open to the public, offering sweeping panoramic views of the lowland landscape.

Winterton-On-Sea, Norfolk Broads

The Yorkshire Dales

Home to the Three Peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, The Yorkshire Dales National Park showcases the best of the British countryside. An area known for its rich farming heritage, the patchwork landscape has everything from lush heather moors and a labyrinth of caves, to rolling valleys embellished with traditional field barns and drystone walls – giving a fascinating look into Britain’s countryside, both past and present.

Hidden gem: Crackpot Hall, Swaledale

For epic autumn scenery with a side of local history, walk to the fascinating ruins of Crackpot Hall. Tucked away at the foot of rolling hills, Crackpot Hall is the ruins of an 18th century smallholding, abandoned in 1953. Offering staggering views in several directions, this site overlooks Swinner Gill, where sweeping valleys were once home to a thriving lead mining industry, the remains of which can still be seen today.

Crackpot Hall, Yorkshire Dales

Snowdonia

It is widely known that Snowdonia is home to the highest mountain in England and Wales, but this National Park has much to offer in addition to its awe-inspiring peaks. From picturesque villages to fast-flowing waterfalls and a coastline of fine sandy beaches, this is a truly enthralling landscape.

Hidden gem: Castell y Bere

Those longing to discover Wales’ history and stunning landscapes can plan a visit to Castell y Bere, the remote ruins of a medieval castle. A wild, rugged beauty spot within Snowdonia National Park, the castle walls rise from a rocky outcrop in the Dysynni Valley, offering a chance to retrace the footsteps of Welsh kings of the past. Add in the spectacular countryside surroundings, which come alive with colour in the autumn, and the fortress of Castell y Bere is a must for history fans wanting to get off the beaten path!

Castell y Bere, Snowdonia

The Pembrokeshire Coast

Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire

Towering limestone cliffs, golden beaches and hilly volcanic headlands make up Britain's only fully coastal National Park, the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales. The beautiful beaches, cliffs, harbours and coves along its 186-mile coast path offer unforgettable views and experiences, providing an abundance of opportunities to spy incredible marine wildlife such as seals, dolphins and basking sharks.

Hidden gem: Marloes Sands

With its rock pools, crystal-clear waters and an inviting sandy coast, all surrounded by charming craggy cliffs, Marloes Sands is a slice of tranquillity in Wales. The curved coastline is almost a mile long, ideal if you're dreaming of feeling the sand between your toes on a quiet coastal stroll. This secluded Welsh secret is only accessible on foot but is a worthwhile trip, if not for the serenity, then for the small neighbouring bay of Albion Sands where a historic shipwreck comes to light at low tide!

Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire Coast

The Brecon Beacons

The Brecon Beacons National Park, located in south Wales, has four dramatic mountain ranges, rolling hills and historic man-made landscapes. It is also one of the best places in the world to see dazzling stars, as the entire park’s unaffected night sky is an International Dark Sky Reserve.

Hidden gem: Llyn y Fan Fach

A stunning lake at the foot of the Brecon Beacons awe-inspiring mountains, Llyn y Fan Fach, and its nearby sister lake Llyn y Fan Fawr, is an unforgettable spot ideal for adventure hunters dreaming of remote landscapes. Sitting more than 500 metres above sea level, on the north ridge of the Western Beacons, this off-the-beaten-track hike rewards you with expansive views across the mountains.

Llyn y Fan Fach, Brecon Beacons

Dartmoor

From vast wild moorlands to imposing rock formations and river valleys that cut deep through the landscape, Dartmoor National Park offers a mix of relaxing surroundings and active adventures. Tackle the hills on two wheels, amble along miles of walking routes or come face-to-face with some of the region’s rare wildlife.

Hidden gem: Wistman's Wood

If you’re dreaming of visiting Dartmoor, why not plan to explore Wistman’s Wood, an enchanting wood that seems to belong in a fairy tale.  Home to a carpet of deep green moss underfoot and finger-like branches of dwarf oak trees and corkscrew branches above, the fascinating Wistman’s Wood is one of only three remote, high-altitude oak woods in Dartmoor.

Wistman's Wood, Dartmoor

The New Forest

Bolderwood, New Forest

Marvel at the endless woodlands and wild heathlands, as well as the ponies, cattle and sheep that roam this truly unique landscape. Once a royal hunting ground, the New Forest National Park covers ancient woodlands, wild open heathlands and stretches of beautiful coastline in southern England. Dream of walking amongst the animals for a true reconnection with nature.

Hidden gem: Bolderwood

Bolderwood is just the spot for those wanting to admire the elegant wild deer of Britain. This luscious woodland area of the New Forest is situated along a historic coaching route, home to walking trails, cycling routes, a wildlife viewing platform and many areas to tuck into a delicious British Picnic.

Bolderwood, New Forest

Exmoor

With a unique mosaic of expansive moorlands, woodland valleys, rolling hills and dramatic coastline, Exmoor National Park is a firm favourite among walkers. Keep an eye out for Exmoor ponies and red deer by day and marvel at the stars by night, as you explore this ancient and wild landscape. 

Hidden gem: Cow Castle

Found high on Exmoor, Cow Castle is an impressive Iron Age fort nestled alongside the soothing River Barle valley. But history is not all this hidden gem has to offer, for beneath the ancient fort is a wild landscape, babbling river and even a deep pool, a secluded spot for wild swimming. Those planning an adventure here should note that this site can only be found on foot, lying two miles from the small village of Simonsbath.

Cow Castle, Exmoor

South Downs

Dream of discovering the world-famous white cliffs, rolling green hills, ancient woodland, rich wetlands and lowland heaths of the South Downs. Stretching across the south of England, the South Downs National Park – with its long distance paths, cycle routes and rare wildlife – is a real haven for outdoor enthusiasts and culture seekers. Get inspired by the rolling hills, dramatic cliffs and picturesque villages found throughout the National Park.

Hidden gem: Long Man of Wilmington

Standing as the tallest chalk figure in the UK, the Long Man of Wilmington is an interesting highlight along the South Downs. With a past that is riddled with mystery, this historic site is surrounded by lush green countryside, rolling hills and postcard-perfect villages – ideal for a stress-busting stroll in southern England’s countryside.

Long Man of Wilmington, South Downs
23 Sep 2020(last updated)