The best mountains to climb in the UK
From K2 to Kilimanjaro, there are dozens of famous mountains across the world that each year attract thousands of visitors in attempts to scale their heights.
With the world’s highest peaks reaching over eight thousand metres, such mountains are a serious – and expensive – challenge, with only the experienced able to attempt them.
Luckily, the UK offers a blend of challenging as well as more manageable climbs, often with stunning countryside views that can take your breath away (if the incline hasn’t already done that).
From novice climbs in the Lake District to the UK’s highest elevations in the Grampian Mountains, the country offers up great hiking and climbing opportunities, whatever your level of experience.
To aid you further on your climbing journey, we’ve complied a list of the best mountains climb in the UK, helping you to choose the best for you based on location, height, difficulty and natural surroundings. Grab your hiking boots, walking poles and your route guide – it’s time to head skywards.
Ben Nevis, Grampian Mountains, Scotland
Standing at 1,345m, Ben Nevis is the UK’s tallest peak. Located in the Highland region (near the town of Fort William), the area has beautiful views over lakes, rivers and various other mountains, such as the nearby Ben Macdui (the country’s second highest mountain).
The height alone makes it a reasonably challenging peak, but there are routes suitable for all levels of experience. The “easier” Mountain Track route (also known as the Pony Track) starts at Glen Nevis and is walkable without any specialist equipment, and can take between five to eight hours. More experienced climbers will want to head to the North Face, where there are no actual walking routes – just climbing and mountaineering ones.
Snowdon, Snowdonia National Park, Wales
The tallest peak in Wales (known as Yr Wyddfa in Welsh) attracts over 500,000 visitors per year, thanks to the stunning surroundings of Snowdonia National Park that include valleys, lakes, forests and even Conwy and Caernarfon Castle, two Unesco Heritage Sites. Unlike many other national parks in the UK, this 823-square-mile site also contains coastal areas, with the villages of Harlech and Aberdyfi providing excellent beaches.
With a height of 1,085m, reaching Snowdon’s peak is no mean feat. There are six routes to the summit, and while the park’s official websites ranks them all as being hard or strenuous, some are known to be easier. The Llanberis Path is considered the easiest (and most popular), usually taking five to seven hours over a distance of nine miles. The Ryd Ddu Path is one of the quietest routes, while the Watkins Path is well known as the most difficult: you start just over sea level, therefore climbing almost the entire 1,085 metres on your steep ascent.
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Scafell Pike, Lake District
The Lake District is England’s premier destination for mountain climbing. The national park is home to some of the most picturesque lakes, mountains and forests in the UK, with Windermere, Helvellyn and Grizedale among them (Wastwater, the deepest lake in the UK, sits at the foot of Scafell Pike). Away from nature, it’s also home to some of the most charming market towns you could imagine, including Kirkby Lonsdale and Bowness-on-Windermere.
There are three main routes up to the top of the mountain, which lies at 978 metres above sea level. The shortest and most direct route starts at Wasdale Head and includes 700 metres of vertical ascent over a distance of 2km, after which the mountain starts to flatten out. Conversely, the longest route (which takes a full day) begins at Borrowdale, running alongside the River Derwent and passing Styhead Tarn, a mountain lake near the top of Sty Head Pass.
Catbells, Lake District
Having sung the praises of Scafell Pike, there is one better place to start (especially if you’re a novice). Catbells stands at just 451 metres tall, making it a far more manageable task for novices – or those just wanting a slightly more relaxing walk or hike. Overlooking the popular market town of Keswick, and with amazing views over the town, Derwent Water and Barrowdale, Catbells is among the most popular fells in the area. For the best view of the peak itself, visit Friars’ Crag.
The main walking route covers roughly three-and-a-half miles and takes three hours (plus any stops you make). It starts at Hawes End Landing Stage, which can be reached with a short shuttle bus from Keswick.
Slieve Donard, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland
The highest mountain in Northern Ireland, Slieve Donard stands at 850m, making it a reasonably challenging task even if you’re an experienced climber. Located near the seaside town of Newcastle in County Down, the mountain provides scenic views over the Irish Sea – on a clear day, you can also see Newcastle Beach, Donegal, the Isle of Man and parts of Wales and Scotland.
There is a well-defined trail starting at the Donard car park, which should take four to five hours overall and passes the iconic Mourne Wall. Alternatively, the “Bloody Bridge” route is roughly one kilometre longer overall, following the Bloody River until reaching the Bog of Donard, where there’s a moderately steep climb before the summit.
Pen-y-Ghent, Yorkshire Dales
The lowest of Yorkshire’s Three Peaks, Pen-y-Ghent only has an elevation of 694 metres but offers scenic, panoramic views over the surrounding Yorkshire Dales. The national park features several natural and manmade attractions, including the Aysgarth Falls, Malham Cove and the Ribblehead Viaduct. The other two main peaks, Whernside and Ingleborough, are often climbed together as part of the Three Peakschallenge.
Starting from Horton-in-Ribblesdale, the main route takes you gently up Brackenbottom Scar, and then follows the Pennine Way to the summit; on the way back, you can follow the Horton Scar Lane back into town. The route is roughly six miles, usually taking between three and four hours to complete.
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