Snowdonia National Park is one of the best places in the UK to get your boots on and get hiking. From short, easy strolls along sweeping beaches and meandering streams, to white-knuckle scrambles up exposed ridgelines — there’s something for everyone. It’s the variety that makes it so special, along with the relative accessibility and sheer number of routes to choose from.
But if you only have a few days in the area you can’t possibly do everything. So, here are my top picks of three superb hikes that offer drama, stunning scenery, variety and some opportunities for wild swimming thrown in there too!
The Snowdon Horseshoe via Crib Goch
Time needed: 6-8 hours
Start point: Pen-y-pass
Climbing Snowdon comes with a couple of warnings: it’s horribly busy, and you can catch a train to the top! There. I said it.
The first time I hiked it I was unaware of the swarms of people I would encounter at the top. There was a foot of snow on the ground, and the train wasn’t running because of it. It was early May! But the less than ideal conditions did little to dampen the determination of the British spirit, and thus, the summit was packed with people. I vowed never to revisit Snowdon.
However, I did visit it again. And I absolutely loved it!
This time, the sun was blazing, it was late May, the train was running, and all the kids were off school for their half term holidays. It was mayhem! But I knew it would be. So we opted for a more exciting route on Snowdon, and possibly one of the best routes in the UK: the Snowdon Horseshoe via Grib Goch.
Grib Goch also comes with a warning. This iconic ridgeline is highly exposed on both sides and a slip, especially to the north side, would not end well. If you have a problem with heights, this is not the hike for you. But if you are able to keep your cool in ‘airy’ environments, then the scrambling is easy enough and you can use your hands to stabilise yourself along the whole ‘scary’ section, if you need.
The first section of the hike is done on the Pyg Track, which is plenty wide enough for you to share with all the families, school groups and dogs. But as soon as you start to gain elevation the trail forks away from the main route and rises up through a steep scramble to the ridge.
Once you’ve tackled Grib Goch ridge you’ll find yourself joining hundreds of other people in a bid for the summit! If you have the time (and inclination), the top of Snowdon is only a little way off the trail. Otherwise, bypass it, along with the toilets and cafe, and head south east off Snowdon via Y Lliwedd.
This section of the horseshoe is even quieter than Crib Goch and offers some more superb scrambling before the descent back down to Llyn Llydaw below. Stop here for a well deserved swim, then join the Miners Track back to Pen-y-Pass.
It’s a big day. You need to have a head for heights and a stomach for crowds. And there are sections where extra care must be taken. But if you’re up for the challenge then the breathtaking views and exciting terrain are well worth the effort.
- If you’re lucky enough to have good visibility, take your time to enjoy the view! You’ll need to stop to do this as negotiating sections of the route needs all your attention.
- Get to the car park before 8am. We got there at 8.15am and it was full. There’s other parking opportunities nearby that add another couple of kilometres to your route.
Tryfan North Ridge Scramble
Time needed: 4 hours
Start point: Layby parking on Lake Ogwen
You won’t get much hiking done on the Tryfan North Ridge. To the summit it’s almost all scrambling, followed by scampering down the backside and then a hike out through the bowl. But it’s a LOT of fun. More fun than Crib Goch? I think so. Less scary? Hmmm, it depends on the route you take! Less exposed? Mostly, yes. More scrambly? Sure is. Less busy? Definitely. It’s just good clean rock scrambling fun!
Let’s be clear, though. I’m not the only one who loves this route. It’s one of the best scrambles in Snowdonia so you’ll be sharing it with plenty of other rock scrambling lovers. But, the beauty of Tryfan’s North Ridge is that there’s no specific route. This means you don’t need to worry about holding people up, or getting stuck behind over-cautious clamberers.
Sure, you need to stay in the general vicinity of the ridgeline and scramble upwards. Stray too far to the sides and you’ll find yourself having to scale up some steep and sketchy flanks that usually require ropes to ascend safely. But stick to the ridge and you can pick and choose your route, depending on how easy or challenging you want to make it.
Once at the top you’ll be met by striking views of the valleys and lakes below, and by Adam and Eve. These are two standing rocks that daring scramblers leap between in a bid to win the freedom of Tryfan, whatever that may mean!
The descent down the backside of the ridge takes you to Llyn Bochlwyd — a wonderful spot for a swim and a waterside picnic. Or continue on the path that leads back down to Llyn Ogwen where you’ll cross a shallow stream that forms perfect little bathing pools here and there.
If you only have time to do one of the three hikes listed in this article, I vote this one!
- This route can become much more tricky and potentially dangerous in wet conditions. Check the forecast before you go. And if the weather does take a turn for the worst then be sure to take extra care.
- If you’re new to scrambling, then try to stick to the obvious route as much as possible. Once you’ve done it once, you can always go back for more to tackle a more challenging route.
Time needed: 4-5 hours
Start point: Minffordd car park
I’ve hiked Cader Idris a number of times on different routes and in a wide variety of conditions. A winter sunrise with the mountain to ourselves. In gale-force winds that made the waterfalls fly upwards and forced us to retreat back down off the mountain. And in the middle of summer, summiting at sunset (with the midges!). It’s a beautiful hike that offers stunning views over the Barmouth Estuary, Llyn Peninsula, and Snowdon (visibility permitting). And although it doesn’t have the obvious scrambling opportunities that the above routes do, it has its own charm and appeal that keeps me going back time and again each time I visit the area.
Cader Idris can be approached from a few different sides. But the Minffordd Path is arguably the most varied, and probably my favourite. It includes a steep ascent that follows a gushing gorge through woodland up to Llyn Cau, which is wonderful to swim in on a hot afternoon. Once at the lake, the trail leads up to the southern ridge. And once on the ridge the walking is easy and the route-finding is straightforward.
You won’t find a cafe at the top of Cader. Nor will you get the crowds, at whatever time of year you go. But it’s still a popular route, so unless you start very early or late in the afternoon, you should expect to see a good handful of fellow hikers.
The summit does offer, however, a very basic stone shack which provides welcome respite from sideways rain or snow and a good sheltered spot for lunch.
Complete the horseshoe along the north ridge which descends steeply back to the basin to rejoin the woodland track back to the car park.
- You have to pay for parking — either 4 hours, or a whole day. So if you’re confident you can keep a good pace (and want to save some pennies) then the route is very doable in 4 hours.
- The route down along the north ridge is not totally obvious. So be sure to have a map and compass, or GPS.