Few English counties have such a range of natural beauty, open space and historic places as Yorkshire. One of the most popular – yet unspoilt – areas is the Yorkshire Dales National Park, a must-visit location for anyone who enjoys countryside, hiking, or just getting away from it all.
What Is The Yorkshire Dales National Park?
The Yorkshire Dales is one of two national parks in Yorkshire (the other is the North York Moors). Situated to the north of Leeds and Bradford, and to the east of Manchester, it covers large sections of North and West Yorkshire, as well as a small part of the neighbouring county of Cumbria.
It is an area of hills and dales, rivers and waterfalls, characterised by breathtaking scenery. There are remote villages, historic abbeys and country pubs. And lots of opportunities for outdoor activities.
Countryside Of The Yorkshire Dales
The countryside is varied, with hills, farms and desolate moorland. A particular feature of the landscape is the many rivers that run through the valleys, and the waterfalls of all shapes, sizes and even colours… (Read more about the Waterfalls of the Yorkshire Dales.)
This is classic limestone country, with ravines and cliffs, such as the awe-inspiring Malham Cove. Below ground are networks of caves, some of which – like the spectacular White Scar Cave – are open to visitors.
Outdoor Activities In The National Park
This is a walker’s paradise, with a mixed terrain, and solitude almost guaranteed. I enjoyed hiking the Dales Way, a 125 km path taking in rivers, moors and woodland. Elsewhere, the Pennine Way crosses the Dales, and there are numerous footpaths for those who want a shorter or less challenging walk.
Cycling, fell running and climbing are popular activities. There are also opportunities for caving and potholing. And the national park is designated as a Dark Sky Reserve; wide skies and stargazing are the reward for those who choose to stay overnight.
Heritage In The Yorkshire Dales
Strange as it may seem, the Yorkshire Dales was once a much busier landscape than it is now. As you explore you are likely to see remnants of mills, lead workings and other fragments of the industrial past. One well-known reminder of this era is the Ribblehead and Dent Head viaducts: trains still cross these bridges on the Settle to Carlisle Railway, one of England’s most iconic train journeys.
In the Middle Ages much of the commercial activity was centred around the religious foundations. Today you can explore the ruins of once powerful monasteries such as Fountains Abbey or Bolton Priory. (Read more about the Abbeys of Yorkshire).
Traditional Towns And Villages
One of the pleasures of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is the many small towns and villages, with spectacular settings, quaint houses and independent shops. Hawes is easy to get to, and has shops, cafés and other facilities for tourists, including the Wensleydale Creamery where you can sample (and buy) the region’s famous cheese. Another good centre is Masham, with a market, breweries and an annual Sheep Fair.
Elsewhere try Hardraw for the tallest waterfall in England, or Malham for its nearby limestone rock forms and peregrine falcons. Or wander off the beaten track to find traditional villages, tiny hamlets and isolated pubs.
How To Visit The Yorkshire Dales National Park
- A surprising number of towns and villages of the Yorkshire Dales can be reached by train or bus. If you don’t mind a few hills, you can extend your exploration on foot or by bicycle. Alternatively, you may choose to rent a car.
- It is easy to take a day trip to the Dales from a number of nearby towns and cities, including Leeds, York, Manchester, Penrith or Darlington.
- Although you won’t find any large hotels inside the National Park, there is a wide choice of accommodation. This includes boutique hotels, B&Bs, self catering cottages and campsites.
- There are National Park Visitor Centres in Grassington, Hawes, Malham and Reeth, and at Aysgarth Falls.