The Lake District National Park, in North West England is the largest national park in the country, occupying 885 sq mi (2,290 km2). It is considered one of England's most scenic regions and is the country's premier destination for hiking and climbing. The park lies entirely within the modern county of Cumbria, shared historically by the counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire. Known as much for its mountain peaks (called fells) as its lakes, the park is home to England's tallest mountain, Scafell Pike, and its largest lake, Windermere.
- 1 Windermere and lake of the same name
- 2 Ambleside at the top of Windermere – a major tourist centre
- 3 Keswick on the shores of Derwent Water, the heart of the northern Lakes
- 4 Coniston, village on the shores of Coniston Water
- 5 Hawkshead, village to the north of Esthwaite Water
- 6 Grasmere and lake of the same name
- 7 Glenridding on the shores of Ullswater
- 8 Kendal on the eastern edge of the Lake District
- 9 Penrith – the northern gateway to the lakes
- 10 Eskdale Green – a small village in the western lakes
- 11 Bowness-on-Windermere – at the middle of Windermere (lake)
- 12 Ravenglass – the only coastal town in the national park
The Lake District comprises 16 lakes, 53 tarns, and several “waters”. All possess their own unique features and provide a comforting sense of permanence, standing as they do, framed by glorious backdrops of mountains, fells, and woodland. Despite the name the "Lake District" there is only one body of water that carries the name "lake" - Bassenthwaite; all the rest are "waters" and "meres".
- Bassenthwaite Lake
- Coniston Water
- Crummock Water
- Derwent Water
- Ennerdale Water
- Esthwaite Water
- Rydal Water
- Thirlmere (now a reservoir with limited access)
- Wast Water (England's deepest lake)
- Windermere (England's largest lake)
Hills or mountains in the Lake District are known by the local name of Fells. The Lakeland Fells are England's only true mountain range and though not high by world standards (i.e. none being much over 3000 feet or 1000 metres) they nevertheless offer a huge number of challenging and rewarding hillwalks. All can be walked (as opposed to "climbed" with ropes, etc.) and due to the long tradition of recreational walking here there is an exceptional network of paths and routes. Additionally there is free access to virtually all areas above the "intake wall" (i.e. the last wall as you climb out of the valley).
According to the most respected authority (guidebook author A. Wainwright) there are 214 fells, most of which offer a number of routes, plus many opportunities to ridge-walk between the fells.
The highest is Scafell Pike (pronounced "Scaw-fell"). This "highest" designation leads to a lot of traffic, and visitors who want to experience a high Lakeland Fell may want to choose another. Some of the slightly smaller fells are in fact much more rewarding to climb as well as offering better views. Great Gable and Helvellyn are popular choices. Less well-known hills include Grisedale Pike, Fairfield, and Bowfell.
The main attraction is the lakes and fells carved by glacial erosion and providing dramatic and inspiring scenery although much modified by man's intervention mainly by farming. It is the former home of cultural luminaries such as William Wordsworth and John Ruskin, and the walks and fells are famously documented by Alfred Wainwright.
First settled in the Stone Age (some residents still exist) and occupied by the Romans the area was heavily influenced by the Norse in their occupation circa 900 AD. They cleared the woods to produce charcoal to smelt lead in Glenridding and copper in the Borrowdale Valley and Coniston. They introduced the Herdwick sheep to the fells and left a legacy of language such as 'gill' gorge, 'beck' stream, 'tarn' lake, 'dale' valley and 'force' waterfall; of them all 'thwaite', a clearing in a wood, is the most common.
The Agricultural Revolution and the Enclosure Acts in the 18th century saw the erection of the dry stone walls which are a predominant feature on the fellsides. In the 19th century, tourism began with the arrival of the railway in the town of Windermere where it terminates.
The destination is popular with national and international visitors and this can easily cause congestion in busy periods at the most popular locations. Visitor attractions are numerous and not limited to scenic attractions.
The high speed West Coast Main Line skirts the eastern edge of the Lake district with stations at Oxenholme and Penrith. Fastest journey times from London are 3 hours to Penrith and 2hr 40min to Oxenholme.
Windermere station is most conveniently located for the Southern Lakes. The train from here travels to Oxenholme station on the main West Coast line. As of May 2018 4 trains Monday to Saturday run through to Preston, and 1 of these continues to Manchester. On Sundays 1 service runs through as far as Preston. On Saturdays and Sundays a small number of early morning and late evening services are operated by rail replacement bus. The Leeds-Settle-Carlisle line also links the lakes to Yorkshire, as does the line from Leeds to Barrow via Hellifield.
For the northern lakes, it is best to travel to Penrith, from where it is possible to catch a Stagecoach bus X4 or X5 to Keswick and Ullswater. Wright Bros operate a daily service on route 888 in the summer direct from Newcastle to Keswick.
The South and West Lakes are accessed by one of the most scenic railways in the country. Starting from Carnforth the line travels across the Lake District peninsulas by a series of impressive viaducts to Barrow in Furness. The Cumbria Coast line then travels via Millom to Whitehaven, and re-joins the West Coast Main line at Carlisle. At Foxfield the old market town of Broughton in Furness and the Duddon valley is accessible. From Millom northwards some of the most interesting of the western valleys can be seen and accessed from such as Drigg, Seascale and Ravenglass stations. Onward travel in such as the "Wasdale bus", or by taxi may be necessary for those without bicycles. Further north the line literally runs along the beach at Braystones and after a superb serpentine section next to the Irish Sea it passes through St Bees with its Heritage Coast and ancient priory, and thence to Whitehaven.
M6 motorway and enter the park via either the A590 from Junction 36 for the South Lakes, or the A66 at Penrith from Junction 40 for the North Lakes. Alternatively the A65 from Leeds connects to the A590 at Junction 36.
The closest airport to the Lake District is at Carlisle, which reopened for passenger traffic in spring 2019. The airport is served Loganair from Belfast, Dublin and London . However, intercontinental and international flights generally use Newcastle, Durham Tees Valley, Glasgow, Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester airports, which are about a 2-hour drive away from the Eastern lakes and 2.5 hours from the Western lakes. Regular trains run from Manchester Airport station to Oxenholme & Penrith. Monday to Friday 3 services run direct to Barrow-in-Furness - increased to 4 on Saturday. Newcastle airport is on the Metro and after travelling to Newcastle City, the Tyne valley line can be used to get to Carlisle. Birmingham airport is linked by the AirRail Link automatic people mover to Birmingham International train station which features regular direct services to Oxenholme and Penrith operated by Avanti West Coast.
Fees and permits
There are no fees or permits to enter the National Park. You may see a road sign as you enter the park, but there is no fence or entry control.
Entry to private land in the park is restricted as elsewhere, keep to roads, marked trails, public footpaths and public bridleways except where you are specifically allowed to stray away from them.
The area is served by multiple bus routes, many of them operated by Stagecoach. However, as this is a rural area, and routes are necessarily limited to the roads in the valleys, it is sensible to plan your travel in advance.
This also applies to getting around by car, with journey times being extended due to the slow winding roads. Bringing your own car to the lakes is the most popular option, but motorists may encounter hefty parking fees and restrictions in large towns, or even at the base of popular hill walking routes.
The beautiful coastal railway, travelling between Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness allows access to many of the rarely visited seaside towns and villages. The "Lakes Rover" ticket offers good value for rail travel around this area.
It is also possible to travel the lake district by bicycle - however it's only recommended for very experienced and well-prepared cyclists. Be prepared for rain, wear high-visibility clothing and fit lights, as the weather in this part of the country changes very quickly and rain can cause road-conditions to be slippery and visibility is greatly reduced. Also be particularly cautious of traffic - although the roads are not busy, local drivers who are familiar with the roads tend to drive very fast so take particular care when approaching blind corners. Although bike-rental is available in some larger towns in the region, the bikes available are generally sub-standard mountain-bikes - a high-quality road, hybrid or touring bike is more highly recommended. Bikes can be carried on all trains operating in the region (although a free reservation must be acquired before boarding).
The National Park features an extensive network of footpaths throughout the valleys and on the fells (the local term for mountains), allowing excellent access. Surprise View in Borrowdale, with views over Derwentwater, Keswick and Skiddaw.
- See also: Hikes in the Lake District
- Go walking: Most visitors spend their time walking on the Fells, Peaks or Lakes. The Lakes are also a pleasure to sail on. The park has over 200 fells, all of which are open to visitors. Maps (available in most shops locally) show the huge network of footpaths which both cross the fells and run through the valleys. The district is mapped on four sheets by the Ordnance Survey - NW, NE, SW, SE. There are many guidebooks available locally which suggest walks. See also the Itinerary Hikes in the Lake District.
- Go cycling: Cycle touring in the Lake District is now very popular, with shorter family-friendly routes around the outside of the National Park, and more challenging routes inside the National Park. Routes from Keswick include a circuit of the Skiddaw range, while routes from Ambleside include challenging rides over Kirkstone Pass or around Coniston Water. Various cycle maps and guide books have suggested routes.
- Mountain biking: The Lake District offers exceptional landscapes for mountain biking in England. In Whinlatter Forest Park near Keswick and Grizedale Forest, there are purpose-built trail centres which offer everything from blue to black graded trails. There are also many natural trails, the routes of which can be found in maps sold in the many cycle stores (Keswick in particular has a lot) in the county.
- Boat trips can be taken on many of the lakes, including Windermere, Ullswater, Coniston and Derwentwater.
- Ullswater Steamer. Stops at Glenridding, Howtown, and Pooley Bridge.
- Keswick Launch. offers both clockwise and anticlockwise circuits of Derwentwater.
- The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway is a small narrow-gauge steam railway, connecting the mainline station of Ravenglass on the coast to Boot station in the Eskdale valley.
- The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway is a tourist steam railway at the foot of Lake Windermere.
- Walk the Coast To Coast Walk.
Traditional pubs tend to be more prevalent than restaurants in this region, and most of them will serve traditional English food at lunch and dinner time. With so much sheep farming in the hills of the lake district, roast lamb is a favourite local dish. Cumberland sausage is a speciality throughout Cumbria, and locally-caught Borrowdale trout is also popular.
This region presents many opportunities to drink a traditional English ale in a traditional English pub. This can be a very satisfying way to replace lost calories after a long day walking in the hills.
Pubs in remote areas can develop a surprisingly lively scene in the evenings, if they are popular with mountaineers. Otherwise you will need to head in to larger towns if you are looking for night life.
The best thing about Cumbria is the staggering number of breweries - around 25.
A selection of country pubs are:
- The Three Shires Inn, in Little Langdale
- The Swinside, in the Newlands Valley
- The Mill Inn, in the hamlet of Mungrisdale
- The Bridge Hotel, in Buttermere village
- The Fish Hotel, in Buttermere village
- The Salutation, in Threlkeld
- The Swan, at Thornthwaite
- The Britannia, in Elterwater
- The Old Dungeon Ghyll, in Great Langdale
- The New Dungeon Ghyll, in Great Langdale
- The Riverside Bar of the Scafell Hotel in Rosthwaite
- The Boot Inn, in the village of Boot
The most common accommodation option in the area is the Bed & Breakfast, many of which can be found in the villages, towns and many farms. Please see the individual town or village articles for listings.
- Youth Hostels The YHA has a variety of accommodation. From the impressive Waterhead Youth Hostel  on the shores of Lake Windermere to Black Sail  converted shepherd's bothy only accessible on foot.
- Pod-Camping. Camping Pods are an innovative alternative to tent camping. They are eco-friendly and have the advantage of lockable doors. They are designed to sleep a family of four. Pods are wooden tents. You will need to take everything that you would for a camping holiday, minus the tent.
- Camping Barns An excellent alternative to self-catering or Youth Hostelling. Camping Barns  are normally converted farm buildings or barns and are usually owned by the farmer. The Camping Barn is a stone tent: facilities vary, but most have only minimal facilities.
- The Grange Hotel. A 4-star hotel in the seaside town of Grange Over Sands. Featuring a spa, beauty salon, swimming pool and jacuzzi, the Grange Hotel offers top class accommodation and is also regularly used as a wedding venue.
- Heart Of The Lakes. A holiday home rental agency. It rents out many beautiful cottages around the Lake District. It offers many 5-star cottages.
- Lakelovers Lake District Cottages, Lakelovers House, 2 Victoria Street, Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 1AB, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. This is the Lake District’s oldest holiday letting agency. They offer hundreds of self-catering properties.
- Sally's Cottages. A holiday cottage agency based in Keswick, the Lake District. It offers a friendly, local service as well as pet friendly, large group and short break accommodation.
- Matson Ground. Offers seven self-catering holiday cottages and apartments near Windermere and Ullswater in the Lake District.
The mountains of the Lake District present a serious threat to safety for walkers, and underestimating them can be fatal. Be sure to follow sensible safety precautions while walking .
Some of the area's mountain passes are extremely steep, with sharp corners and uneven road surfaces. Drivers should exercise extreme caution, particularly in poor weather conditions.
Police signs in Lakeland car parks warn you not to leave valuables on show in your car.
Because of the mountainous nature of the terrain, mobile (cell) phone reception is notoriously poor in the Lake District. Drivers or walkers who are in trouble often find it difficult to get a signal.
From the Lake District, the natural extended itineraries would take you either north, through Carlisle into Scotland, or south towards the big cities of Manchester and Liverpool. Or, for those interested in touring more of England's parks, the Yorkshire Dales are just east of the Lake District.