Dartmoor and Exmoor
Why we love Dartmoor and Exmoor
Is this England’s wildest corner? With heather-strewn moors, tangled oak forests and looming peaks, Dartmoor and Exmoor can feel like the edge of the world. They’re a nature-spotter’s joy, grazed by wind-tousled ponies and statuesque red deer – and an adventurer’s paradise, a landscape to climb, hike, cycle, scramble and splash.
Dartmoor and Exmoor are two separate national parks: the former is wholly in Devon, while the latter crosses the border into Somerset too. But they are easy to travel between, and both have their own charms: while Dartmoor’s deep valleys and granite peaks are inland, Exmoor has 37 miles (59km) of coast to explore, and was Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve – renowned for its dazzling stargazing.
From cross-country pony treks to enchanted forest walks, here’s how to explore these untamed parks for yourself.
Escape the ordinary
Feeling adventurous? From mountain bike trails and high ropes courses, to gorge scrambling, hiking and abseiling – this landscape is made for exploring. Dartmoor’s many granite outcrops (known as ‘tors’) are rock climbing hotspots, while activity centres offer bushcraft tours, orienteering and more.
Make a four-legged friend
Ponies have roamed Exmoor and Dartmoor for thousands of years – but where to find these hardy herds? For guaranteed sightings, the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust arranges free guided walks in Bellever Forest, while the Exmoor Pony Centre hosts riding treks from its Winsford Hill base.
Get wet and wild
For a fresh perspective, head to the water. A kayaking tour of Exmoor’s coast reveals secret coves and secluded bays, while Wimbleball Lake offers paddleboarding, canoeing and sailing. Dip a paddle into Porlock Bay’s wildlife-rich saltmarshes, or snag trout and salmon on a River Exe fishing trip.
Look out for letterboxes
Since the 1800s, Dartmoor hikers have been ‘letterboxing’. This adventurous hobby entails searching the moors to find secret boxes, which have ink-stamps hidden inside. How many can you collect? You’ll need compass and map-reading skills, and a clue-book from the Dartmoor Letterboxing Club.
Go off-road on the moors
Only the hardiest 4x4 can reach Dartmoor and Exmoor’s untamed corners – where ponies mooch, red deer graze, and raptors hunt for their prey – so join an off-road wildlife tour with an expert guide. They know this land inside-out, and will regale you with myths, legends and animal sightings.
Follow a star trail
Thanks to its open vistas and low light pollution, Exmoor boasts some of the world’s best stargazing. In October, the Dark Skies Festival hosts astronomy talks and activities, while the Exmoor Dark Sky Discovery Trail – available year-round – is a two-mile (3km) hiking route to the finest after-dark spots.
Things to do in Dartmoor and Exmoor
Featured things to do
In spring, the landscape softens before your eyes – with perky snowdrops, wild daffodils and fields full of lambs. Why not try a photography workshop or painting course to capture its beauty?Learn more about springtime in Exmoor
The long summer days are perfect for hiking, so spend a week walking the Two Moors Way – a 100-mile (160km) coast-to-coast route, encompassing both Dartmoor and Exmoor.Learn more about the Two Moors Way
For Exmoor’s red deer, October is rutting season: the stags’ annual battle for status. It’s a bellowing, antler-clashing spectacle, so join a safari-style tour for a peek at the action.Learn more about Exmoor’s stag-spotting tours
When winter fog descends on the gnarled, tangled oak trees of Wistman’s Wood, it looks like a fairytale forest. Rare lichens cling to the branches, adding to its otherworldly feel.Learn more about Wistman's Wood
Places to stay in Dartmoor and Exmoor
Farmstays and B&Bs
Make yourself at home! For a local welcome, you can’t beat a family-run B&B, farm campsite or rural pub-hotel.
Some of the region’s finest mansions have been transformed into lavish hotels, with award-winning restaurants too.
For a quirky stay, take your pick from cute thatched cottages, silver airstream caravans and vintage train carriages.
Getting to Dartmoor and Exmoor
Plymouth and Exeter are the region’s largest cities; depending on your destination in Exmoor or Dartmoor, the driving time ranges from 20 minutes to two (or more) hours. Trains connect Plymouth with Exeter (one hour), London (three hours) and Bristol (two hours 20 minutes), while Heathrow and Gatwick airports can be reached by road in three to four hours. Southampton Airport is a two- to three-hour drive away.
While a hire car will give you the greatest freedom, it’s easy to explore Dartmoor and Exmoor by public transport. Dartmoor> is served by both trains and buses, including the hop-on-hop-off Dartmoor Explorer, while Exmoor has several bus routes. If you’re hiking long-distance, book a luggage transfer to carry your bags.
Want to know more?
For insider tips and the top places to visit, head to Dartmoor and Exmoor’s official websites.