Your Guide to Long Distance Hikes in the UK
For a relatively small island, there are dozens of long distance hikes in the UK. Most of these trails venture through our National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). There are 16 official National Trails in the UK, although there are many other famous hikes such as the West Highland Way and Cape Wrath Trail that are not included on this list.
However, as a starting point to long distance hikes, the National Trails are often cited as the most popular. These paths stretch over 2,500 miles through every kind of British landscape imaginable. Each year, it’s estimated that 85 million people visit these trails for either a short walk or an extended hike.
Many of the paths in the UK have a historical basis. They often follow old pilgrim’s routes, ancient walls, well-worn public byways, and natural features through the British countryside. The surface quality of these trails is greatly varied. Route-finding on these paths is also changeable.
Clearly, there is a huge range of long distance hikes in the UK. As a general rule, a long distance walking trail is classified as anything longer than a 20-mile path away from main roads. That leaves a lot of lee-way for what a proper walking trail can actually be! With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into some of the long distance hikes in the UK.
Most Popular Long Distance Hikes in the UK
With so many long distance trails to choose from, the options can be overwhelming. Here are some of the most popular walking trails in the UK for you to try.
2 . Wainwright’s Coast to Coast
Location: St Bees Head to Robin Hood’s Bay
Length: 190 Miles
Walking Time: 12-15 Days
The Coast to Coast path is one of the most celebrated long distance hikes in the UK, if not the world. It was made famous by the rambling legend Alfred Wainwright who was one of the early hill walking enthusiasts in England.
This trail does exactly what it says on the tin; it crosses the width of England from the coast of the Irish Sea to the coast of the North Sea. The trail passes through three of the UK’s greatest National Parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors.
However, this is no walk in the park! Wainwright split the trail into 12 distinct sections. Strong hikers can complete it in the 12 allocated days, but most walkers take their time to enjoy the beauty of the route. Intermediate hikers should allow for around 2 weeks to complete.
2 . John Muir Way
Location: Helensburgh to Dunbar
Length: 134 Miles
Walking Time: 8-11 Days
The John Muir Way is a relatively modern addition to the long distance hikes in the UK. It spans the lower belt of Scotland from coast to coast. It is named after John Muir, a man who has since become immortalised by our American relatives across the Atlantic.
John Muir was essentially the creator of the National Park system in the United States and has many trails named after him. However, he was originally born in Scotland hence the name of this trail! The route links together his birthplace with the port he departed to America. This is a fully marked trail popular with both walkers and cyclists.
3 . West Highland Way
Location: Milngavie to Fort William
Length: 96 Miles
Walking Time: 6-9 Days
The West Highland Way is one of Scotland’s first long distance walking routes. The trail follows old cattle paths and walking trails deep into the Scottish countryside. Along the way, hikers will be greeted by glistening lochs, high fells, rugged moorland, and magical pine forests.
This trail is one of the most popular long distance hikes in the UK because of its welcoming attitude to wild camping. Wild camping is legal in Scotland whereas it is a technical grey area in England and Wales.
That means many hikers can set out on the West Highland Way with tents and camping equipment on their backs. There’s no need to stay in designated campsites and bunkhouses (although this is still possible). Instead, hikers can pitch up in most places near the trail and have a full wilderness experience.
4 . Hadrian’s Wall Path
Location: Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway
Length: 84 Miles
Walking Time: 5-8 Days
Hadrian’s Wall Path is a brilliant long-distance hiking trail that takes in wonderful countryside views alongside historical remains. The path follows the near 2000-year-old wall built by Emperor Hadrian at the height of the Roman Empire. The wall was originally built to deter any northern tribes from attacking the southern garrisons.
Today, you can follow this trail across the neck of England from coast to coast. The trail rises onto the spectacular ridges of Northumberland National Park, following the remains of the wall the whole way. In places, some of the forts and guard towers are still in excellent condition and there are plenty of options for historical sightseeing along the trail.
5 . South Downs Way
Location: Winchester to Eastbourne
Length: 100 Miles
Walking Time: 7-10 Days
This trail holds the gauntlet for being perhaps one of the most quintessentially English hiking paths on this list. The South Downs Way runs 100 miles across Hampshire and Sussex. From the old Saxon capitol of Winchester to the holiday hotspot of Eastbourne on the south coast.
The trail generally follows the ridge of the downs, cutting through forests, rivers, pastures, and areas of bucolic farmland. Along the way, you can stop off in small villages and stay the night in historic stone-walled pubs.
The trail gradually gets more dramatic as it surges towards the south coast. The final stretch of the route includes an immense up-and-down slog at the Seven Sisters. These chalky headlands offer far-reaching views across the English Channel and easily contribute to it being one of the best long distance hikes in the UK.
6 . South West Coast Path
Location: Minehead to Poole Harbour
Length: 630 Miles
Walking Time: 30-50 Days
This trail is one of the longer and more challenging hiking routes in the UK. However, this extra difficulty comes with heaps of rewards. The trail stretches from the north coast of Somerset around the north coast of Devon, into Cornwall, then back around the south coast of Devon before finishing in Dorset.
It is a mammoth route that takes in some of the most famous British coastal sights including: the UNESCO World Heritage tin mines, the Lizard Peninsula, Land’s End, Exmoor National Park, the South & East Devonshire AONBs, the Dorset AONB, and the Purbecks – to name a few.
Despite all its beauty, this is a long and arduous trail. The numerous ascents and descents are said to be a height many times greater than Mount Everest! Instead, most hikers opt to do shorter sections or split the trail up over multiple years to better appreciate this special trail.
7 . The Pennine Way
Location: Edale to Kirk Yetholm
Length: 268 Miles
Walking Time: 16-26 Days
The Pennine Way is a massively popular hike that has the unique feature of crossing through both England and Scotland. The trail begins in the hiker’s town of Edale in the Peak District. It then winds its way north through the Yorkshire Dales and Pennines AONBs before terminating in Northumberland National Park.
The trail largely follows the Pennines, a mountain ridgeway that is often called the “backbone of England” due to its central location in the country. This is one of the best long distance hikes in the UK because it was Britain’s first declared National Trail. It is a tough trail but immensely rewarding given the jaw-dropping landscape it traverses.
8 . The Thames Path
Location: Kemble to Charlton
Length: 184 Miles
Walking Time: 12-18 Days
Have you ever wanted to walk the banks of England’s most famous river, from source to mouth? Now you can, thanks to the National Trails walking path. This route runs from the fringes of the Cotswolds, through the Home Counties, and into the heart of London, one of the greatest cities in the world.
Hikers on this trail can expect peaceful glades and tranquil water meadows on the outer reaches. As the route approaches London, you will experience many historic towns and quaint villages before passing through the iconic capital city of London.
The path is mostly flat and well-paved making it an excellent option for walkers who are less confident on challenging trails. Many sections of the river path can be reached by overground trains or from the London Underground.
9 . The Cumbria Way
Location: Ulverston to Carlisle
Length: 73 Miles
Walking Time: 4-7 Days
This walking path takes in the highlights of the UK’s most popular National Park – the Lake District. The trail begins in the town of Ulverston just north of Morecambe Bay. It then wiggles its way north through the fells and waterways of the Lake District before finishing in the historic city of Carlisle.
On this trail, you can expect to see post-glacial landscapes, towering mountain scenery, and pastoral English countryside. The Lake District is a beloved feature of the British landscape and has been the inspiration for many writers and poets including Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth. A hike on The Cumbrian Way can’t help but spark the imagination with its wonderful landscapes. For that reason, it must be one of the best long distance hikes in the UK.
10 . Offa’s Dyke Path
Location: Chepstow to Prestatyn
Length: 177 Miles
Walking Time: 12-17 Days
This intriguing walking path loosely follows the divide between England and Wales. It also traces the remains of Offa’s Dyke, an earthen mound that acted as a defence for Offa of Mercia’s Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the 8th century.
The Offa’s Dyke Path covers eight Welsh counties and two AONBs (the Clwydian Range and the Wye Valley). This is a famous trail for fell runners who try to complete the route in less than a week. For any hikers, this is a wonderful route to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace over a fortnight.
You will require different skills to complete some of the long distance hikes in the UK. For example, you may need to be a strong navigator to walk some of the trails (Wainwright’s Coast to Coast). Fortunately, the National Trails are marked and signposted by Natural England. So, if you are following one of these routes, simply look out for the acorn symbols!
These long trails are challenging and require some training before they are attempted. Be sure to go on smaller training hikes and get used to walking long distances in your hiking gear. The better prepared you are, the more likely you are to enjoy one of these amazing long distance hikes in the UK.