Our favourite Lake District cycling routes holiday cottages

Our favourite Lake District cycling routes

Kim Brough 01 June 2023

You've just arrived at your holiday cottage in the Lake District, the sun is shining overhead, and you want to get out and about on two wheels instead of four. But where should you go to find the best Lake District cycling routes? 

Even with its famously hilly terrain, the national park has a wonderful mix of cycling to suit everyone, from leisurely flat and family-friendly routes to more challenging mountain bike rides and intimidating road cycling climbs. We’ve gathered some of our favourites for you to enjoy.

Before you go: ensure your bike is suitable for the terrain and that you have a map of the route, food and water, and always wear a helmet. Always let walkers and horse riders know that you're approaching and pass with care. These tips ensure everyone has a lovely time exploring the Lakes. 

Jump to:

Windermere West Shore

People with bikes getting on a boat

Distance: 8 miles return
Difficulty: Suitable for beginners
Best for: A lakeside ride

The peaceful western shore of Windermere is the ideal place to explore by bike, with beautiful lake views to be enjoyed from bridleways, which have gentle slopes and are mainly traffic-free.

The route can be accessed from Wray Castle by car, Bowness-on-Windermere on the ferry, or Brockhole on its Bike Boat on selected weekends and daily over the summer holidays. Stop for refreshments at Wray Castle or Claife Viewing Station.

If you love this route, browse our other bike rides around Windermere.

Don’t miss:

  • Wray Castle, a quirky folly with gorgeous grounds on the shores of Windermere
  • Claife Woods, one of the best places in the Lake District to see wild deer
  • Claife Viewing Station with its pretty stained-glass windows looking over the lake

Grizedale Forest 

A group of young bikers hit the trails

Distance: Varies
Difficulty: Easy to challenging
Best for: Family bike rides

There are plenty of excellent family cycle routes in the Lake District, and Grizedale Forest offers some of the best. This is the perfect traffic-free environment for young cyclists, with its gentle Goosey Foot Tarn Trail (2 miles) and family-friendly Mushroom Cycle Trail. Look out for the wooden mushrooms along your way through the forest!

There are also a number of graded orienteering trails and longer routes for more experienced riders (one passing all the famous forest sculptures). Adrenaline junkies will love the North Face Mountain Bike Trail and severe black trail known simply as 'The Black'. There really is something for everyone here.

Don’t miss:

  • The incredible art sculptures dotted around the forest
  • Pretty picnic spots where you can take a break and enjoy refreshments in the heart of the forest
  • Red squirrels hopping through the trees – there is a thriving population in Grizedale

Whinlatter Forest

A lone biker in the woods

Distance: Varies
Difficulty: Moderate and challenging
Best for: Beginner and advanced mountain biking

Whinlatter is England's only true mountain forest and is home to the longest purpose-built mountain bike trails in the Lake District. 

Routes include the Quercus Trail (2-mile and 4.6-mile options), mountain bike orienteering trails, and the more difficult Altura Trail for experienced riders with excellent off-road skills and higher levels of fitness. Some great climbs will bring you incredible views above the forest canopy, and lead to rewarding descents through the trees.

Don’t miss:

  • Alpacas in the forest! Guided walks are available from Alpacaly Ever After – a great pre- or post-ride activity
  • A stop-off at Noble Knott with its glorious views over Bassenthwaite Lake
  • Wildlife in the trees and on the ground: look out for owls, red squirrels, deer and ospreys

The Torver Trail 

A jetty on Coniston Water

Distance: 6 miles return
Difficulty: Suitable for beginners
Best for: An easy bike ride

Coniston once had its own railway line connected to the Furness Railway, which was abandoned in 1958. However, in recent years, parts of the track bed have been converted to form a cycle path: The Torver Trail!

This lovely railway route begins at the lakeside car park on Lake Road, Coniston, and is mainly off-road with gentle hills. It heads south along the western shore of Coniston before moving inland to Torver.

The easiest return route on this trail is back the way you came. There is also a (busy) on-road alternative, which is only suitable for experienced and confident riders.

Don’t miss:

  • A refreshment stop at the Wilsons Arms in Torver
  • Clues to the route’s original use as a railway line, including the old railway bridges
  • Views over Coniston Water at the start and end of the route

The Grasmere Trail 

Loughrigg Terrace near Grasmere

Distance: 10 miles return
Difficulty: Moderate
Best for: Exquisite scenery in the heart of the Lake District

This stunning route takes you from Ambleside to Grasmere and back (or vice versa) and is mostly off-road or on quiet lanes, leading you along Rydal Water and Grasmere, and across the lower slopes of Loughrigg Fell.

The route is uneven and undulating, taking in some short steep hills and descents. It is well signposted as it’s also Route 6 on the National Cycle Network. What could be more inviting on a pleasant day than to stop for a picnic on the tranquil shores of Grasmere?

Don’t miss:

  • Rydal Caves, remnants of an old quarry with impressive caverns in the hillside
  • Tasting a piece of Grasmere Gingerbread® from the world-famous shop
  • Bridge House in Ambleside: a quirky building on a tiny bridge over the river

Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell Cycle Loop

A view of Ullswater from Pooley Bridge

Distance: 17.3 miles
Difficulty: Challenging
Best for: Demanding road cycling

Ullswater in the south-east of the Lake District offers some scenic but challenging terrain for cyclists. This particular road-cycling route takes you away from the lake to wonderful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. 

Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell are both surrounded by a network of quiet lanes at a fairly high level, which makes the area perfect to explore by road bike. Start out and finish at Pooley Bridge, where you can stop for some after-ride refreshments at a choice of local cafés or pubs.

Don’t miss:

  • Characterful stone-built cottages dotted all along your route 
  • Chestnut House in Pooley Bridge with its gin wall and shelves stocked with local produce
  • A relaxed sail on the Ullswater Steamers, an amazing way to wind down after a tough ride

The Eskdale Trail 

A view of Ravenglass over the estuary

Distance: 8.5 miles one way
Difficulty: Suitable for many abilities with one challenging section
Best for: 
Coast and countryside views

The Eskdale Trail is a waymarked cycling route with no cars, which reaches from Dalegarth in the Eskdale Valley to the coastal town of Ravenglass. The route is suitable for most ages, with one difficult section that may be a challenge for some.

The scenery of this area is impressive, with far-reaching coastal views from Ravenglass at one end, and up towering mountains at the other. The one-way route also has an excellent return journey on a charming miniature steam train, so you don’t have to pedal all the way back!

Don’t miss:

  • The return steam train ride on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway (book at least 24 hours in advance)
  • A slight detour (by foot) to the thundering Dalegarth Falls
  • Ancient Roman ruins, including an impressively preserved bath house, at Ravenglass

A tour of Borrowdale and Derwentwater

Cyclist on terrace of Catbells over Derwentwater

Distance: 16 miles
Difficulty: Challenging
Best for: 
An exciting technical mountain bike challenge

If you're looking for an invigorating mountain bike ride around classic Lakeland scenery, the Borrowdale Bash delivers on this and more. Starting in Keswick, the route forms a loop around Derwentwater – best biked in a clockwise direction – and takes in Watendlath, Rosthwaite and Seatoller to the south.

You'll see some of the area's most iconic views, including Ashness Bridge and Surprise View and, although the route isn't particularly remote, it delivers steep climbs and technical descents. This one isn't for the faint-hearted!

Don’t miss:

  • Birkett’s Leap, largely considered the best bridleway in the Lake District
  • Ashness Bridge and Surprise View – take a moment to admire the panorama over Derwentwater
  • Elevated views of the lake and Skiddaw from the terrace along the foot of Catbells

Langdale Cycle Trail

Cyclists near Langdale

Distance: 11 miles
Difficulty: Moderate with some steep sections
Best for: Riverside riding

Take in the fantastic scenery of Great Langdale on the Langdale Cycle Trail, which winds through tranquil woodland and a fascinating slate quarry and follows a crystal-clear river for much of the way.

Begin your ride at Stickle Ghyll car park and be aware there’s a steep climb near the beginning of this route, perfect for getting the hard part out of the way. Be sure to stop and look back when you reach the top for fantastic views. Chesters by the River is a café and acts as the turnaround point on this trail – grab a refreshing drink before returning the way you came to Stickle Ghyll car park.

Don’t miss:

  • The Trevor Woodburn Memorial Bridge, which looks down on Skelwith Force
  • Elterwater village, sitting in a beautiful location near the lake of the same name - perfect for a refreshments stop
  • Quarries outside Elterwater that offer clues to the area’s industrial heritage

Ennerdale Valley Cycle Routes

A bike by Ennerdale Water

Distance: Varies
Difficulty: Moderate
Best for: A remote and tranquil ride

The valley of Ennerdale boasts more than 10 miles of forest roads, which, with beautiful scenery and very little traffic, makes it a perfect place to explore by bike.

From Bowness Knott car park, a rough track slopes down to the lake, and then you can enjoy a 3-mile bike ride to the Irish Bridge over the River Liza, do a short loop through the forest (7.5 miles), or climb to the top of the valley (11.5 miles). The long route through the valley is a particularly good option if you want to gain height without too much effort: the gradually ascending path makes the uphill reasonably easy.

Don’t miss:

  • The silence: with no public roads through the valley, Ennerdale is one of the most tranquil Lake District locations
  • The stunning location of Black Sail Youth Hostel, the YHA’s most remote accommodation, is awe-inspiring
  • Picking up some refreshments at the community-owned café, The Gather, in Ennerdale Bridge

Keswick to Threlkeld Railway

A mother and daughter on bikes on a bridge looking at a flowing river

Distance: 6 miles one-way
Difficulty: Easy
Best for: A flat cycling route

This disused railway cycle route is a pleasant, fully paved path that forms part of the C2C. It’s ideal for families and those after easy cycling options in the Lake District. The path enjoys views towards Latrigg, Skiddaw, and the river, with interesting information boards along the way.

Starting at either Keswick or Threlkeld, you can opt for the one-way option, or a there-and-back-again route. There are opportunities at both ends to pick up some refreshments at pubs, cafés and restaurants.

Don’t miss:

  • The Bobbin Mill Tunnel, an excavated railway tunnel complete with enclaves that workers would crouch inside to avoid passing trains
  • Herons, squirrels, deer and dippers can all be seen around the surrounding forest and river
  • The Keswick Railway Station and Hotel, which has housed guests as varied as royalty and World War II evacuees

Electric and mountain bike hire in the Lake District

Two women on Cyclewise bikes at Whinlatter Forest

There are plenty of locations where you can hire mountain bikes and electric bikes in the Lake District. So there’s no need to bring your bike on holiday with you.

Holiday cottages close to cycle routes 

If you're planning a visit to the national park, our range of self-catering cottages with bike storage provides plenty of options for your stay. There are even many properties right next to these Lake District cycling routes!

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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