With two national parks, a stunning stretch of heritage coastline and acres of ancient forest to explore, Yorkshire is one of the UK’s best holiday destinations for spending time in the great outdoors.
From tackling the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge to cycling through Dalby Forest and surfing the waves at Saltburn, we have compiled all the best outdoor activities to try during your next short break or holiday. There are also lots of organised courses and specialist outdoor activity instructors if you fancy trying something new on your Yorkshire getaway.
⛰️ Climbing in Yorkshire
🚴 Cycling in Yorkshire
🎣 Fishing in Yorkshire
🏄 Yorkshire watersports
🏞️ Caves and gorges
🦙 Animal adventures
🏊 Wild swimming
Climbing in Yorkshire
There are a selection of hills and mountains to tackle throughout Yorkshire, including the famous Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge which comprises climbing Pen-y-Ghent (694m), Whernside (736m) and Ingleborough (723m) back-to-back within 12 hours. This trio of peaks circles the Ribble Valley within the Yorkshire Dales National Park and there are wonderful views from each of the summits.
Highlights include seeking out Hull Pot, a natural slope and waterfall on the banks of Pen-y-Ghent and passing by the magnificent Ribblehead Viaduct on route to the top of Whernside which is the highest mountain in Yorkshire. Other great Yorkshire peaks include:
A distinctive witches hat-shaped hill in the North York Moors near Great Ayton that is surrounded by bluebell-filled woodland. The quickest route to the top of Roseberry Topping is just 1.3 miles in total but a gentler walk through Newton Woods is much more scenic and a great choice for families.
Great Shunner Fell
The Pennine Way walking route passes over this Yorkshire Dales mountain which lies in between Hawes and Keld, and marks the highest point in Wensleydale with a challenging climb to the top. The name Great Shunner Fell means ‘Big Lookout Hill’ and the vast views from the summit of the surrounding landscape are extra special.
The highest point of the North York Moors, Urra Moor and the adjoining Cold Moor are both incredibly peaceful and atmospheric with ancient earthworks to seek out, spectacular moorland views to soak in and rocky crags to clamber over. Look out for the Wainstones, a set of high sandstone crags with twin pillars known as the steeple and the needle which can be climbed as an additional challenge.
This Yorkshire peak stands high above the wildflower meadows in Muker and is separated from Great Shunner Fell by the Buttertubs Pass. The usual route to the top is from the Buttertubs which is a series of distinctive 65-foot-deep limestone potholes and at the summit of Lovely Seat is a stone-built chair where you can stop and enjoy the view from the top.
Cycling in Yorkshire
Whether you fancy mountain biking through the forest or tackling a traffic-free trail with the kids in tow, there are lots of cycling routes to try in Yorkshire. Bike hire is available throughout the county and many holiday cottages also come with secure storage for cycles if you’re planning on bringing your own along with you.
Le Tour de France Grand Depart in 2014 and subsequent annual Tour de Yorkshire races have showcased the sheer volume of road cycling routes that Yorkshire has to offer throughout the Dales, Moors, Wolds and Coast. Popular road cycling routes include:
- Danby to Whitby - 15 miles of peaceful country roads that take you through pretty Esk Valley villages such as Egton, Aislaby and Ruswarp to the popular seaside town of Whitby.
- Buttertubs Pass - known as the Cote de Buttertubs for Le Tour de France, this is a ride up one of the highest roads in Yorkshire climbing from Hawes to Thwaite and Muker in Swaledale.
- Castle Howard circular - starting and finishing at Castle Howard, one of Yorkshire’s best-loved stately homes, this 23-mile road cycling route takes in the best of the Howardian Hills passing through pretty villages like Slingsby and Hovingham along the way.
From former railway lines to peaceful canal towpaths, there is a selection of traffic-free trails in Yorkshire where children can safely cycle without the fear of passing cars:
- The Cinder Track - families can enjoy a scenic cycle along the Yorkshire Coast by following this 21-mile former railway line that connects Whitby to Scarborough. Places that you can stop at en route include Robin Hood’s Bay and Ravenscar, home to a colony of around 300 grey seals.
- Leeds to Saltaire - this gentle cycle ride follows a 12-mile section of the historic Leeds and Liverpool canal towpath past historic buildings and through tranquil countryside. The model Victorian village of Saltaire is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so well worth exploring.
- Nidderdale Greenway - this 4-mile stretch of disused railway weaves its way through rolling green countryside and connects the popular spa town of Harrogate to the pretty village of Ripley where you can explore the grounds and gardens of the beautiful Ripley Castle.
Yorkshire hosts the annual Ard Rock mountain biking festival in and around the Swaledale village of Reeth and there’s plenty of rocky terrain around here for serious cyclists to explore. Dalby Forest is also a top spot for mountain biking in Yorkshire with a series of trails to follow:
- In total there are 50 miles of woodland cycling trails at Dalby Forest suitable for a range of mountain biking abilities and a cycle skills area where you can determine your own level.
- Experienced riders can try their hand at a tricky 4-mile course that was used in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup while the easy-going Addlestone Cycle Trail is perfect for families to go mountain biking together.
- Another great family-friendly mountain bike route in Yorkshire is the valley bottom Swale Trail which runs for 12 miles between Reeth and Keld.
Whether you prefer catching salmon in a river, casting your line into the still waters of a tranquil lake or heading into the North Sea on a boat trip from Whitby, there are lots of ways to go fishing in Yorkshire. Here are some of our favourite ways to catch a fish:
- The River Wharfe runs through Grassington and with day fishing permits available from the post office in this cobbled Yorkshire Dales town, it’s the perfect scenic spot to try and catch some local brown trout.
- The River Esk, which runs down the North York Moors and out to the North Sea at Whitby, is one of the best places in Yorkshire to catch sea trout and salmon with day permits available in the villages of Egton Bridge and Danby.
- A section of the River Ure between Hawes and Aysgarth in Wensleydale is another great choice for fishing with brown trout and grayling regularly caught here. You can also combine a day of fly fishing here with a wonderful waterfall walk.
Lakes and reservoirs
- The North Yorkshire Water Park at Wykeham features a trio of lakes stocked with pike, perch, roach, trout and bream. It’s up to you whether you find a peaceful spot on the woodland banks or hire a boat to head deeper into the water.
- Kilnsey Park Fly Fishery is part of a glorious country estate near Skipton with two spring-fed lakes that are both around an acre in size. Lessons are available for fishing beginners, and you can catch a range of rainbow, blue and golden trout up to 20 lbs in size.
- Scaling Dam Reservoir is surrounded by the heather-clad moorland of the North York Moors and has a visitor centre where you can stock up on fishing supplies and an accessible platform for disabled visitors. It’s popular for pike fishing and you can enjoy stunning countryside views from the fishing jetty.
Watersports such as surfing, paddleboarding and canoeing have grown in popularity in recent years and taking to the water is one of the most exhilarating ways around to get some exercise in the great outdoors.
Luckily, with a long stretch of glorious heritage coastline and plenty of lakes, rivers and reservoirs to choose from, there are lots of places to try out a range of watersports in Yorkshire.
With an array of sandy beaches that are backed by high cliffs and North Sea waves to ride, the Yorkshire Coast is one of the best places in the UK to go surfing. Here are some of Yorkshire’s top surfing hotspots:
- Saltburn - located right at the top of Yorkshire’s coastline, Saltburn is a handsome Victorian seaside town that is best known for a funicular railway that will take you down to the dog-friendly beach below. Surf hire and lessons are available from Saltburn Surf School to help you ride the wonderful waves.
- Scarborough - one of Yorkshire’s most popular seaside resorts is also one of the county’s biggest surfing hubs. The gentle waves at Scarborough’s South Bay beach are suitable for beginners while North Bay is the better option for more experienced surfers. Dexters Surf Shop is the best place to go for equipment hire and lessons in Scarborough.
- Cayton Bay - this peaceful cove near Scarborough is away from the main hustle and bustle of the main resorts and home to some of Yorkshire’s biggest waves. Scarborough Surf School runs equipment hire and courses from here and if you do happen to go on a rare occasion when the sea is too calm to surf, you can also try coasteering with them at nearby Thornwick Bay.
Canoeing and Kayaking
Here are some of our favourite spots for canoeing and kayaking in Yorkshire:
- Scar House Reservoir has an idyllic Upper Nidderdale location to the north of Pateley Bridge. If you fancy canoeing or kayaking on its peacefully still waters, lessons and courses are available through the How Stean Gorge Adventure Club. The calm environment of Scar House Reservoir means it’s a great option for beginners.
- The scenic Ripon to Boroughbridge section of the River Ure is one of the most popular Yorkshire kayak and canoeing locations and several outdoor adventure companies offer organised trips along the gentle 7-mile stretch of water. Paddle along the river from Ripon in a Canadian canoe with Alfresco Adventures or take a kayak trip with Live for Today.
If you fancy trying out paddleboarding in the sea, there are lots of places along the Yorkshire Coast where you can give it a try including Whitby and Scarborough. One of our favourite seaside SUP spots is from the sandy beach at Filey where you can get full instruction from Bay Watersports who are based here.
However, if you prefer the still waters of a lake, here are a couple of the options available:
- Lost Earth Adventure offers stand-up paddleboarding courses at a secret Nidderdale lake which is nestled deep in the countryside and far from the madding crowds. Much of the water here is only accessible by paddleboard or canoe so it’s a perfect way to get up close to some local Yorkshire Dales wildlife.
- Ellerton Lake in Richmond is one of the region’s top paddleboarding spots with equipment hire and lessons available from SUP Active Yorkshire. There’s plenty of space at this spring-fed 60-acre lake with small and quiet bays that are just right for beginners.
Caves and gorges
Adrenaline junkies will find a series of underground caverns to crawl along and deep gorges to scramble through in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The right equipment is needed to attempt any of these activities, and we would always recommend using a specialist company to safely organise your thrilling cave and gorge experience.
How Stean Gorge
One of Yorkshire’s most spectacular natural features, How Stean Gorge is a dramatic limestone ravine located in the heart of Nidderdale. The narrow 20-metre gorge was carved out naturally over thousands of years and is now a hub for outdoor activities in Yorkshire. There’s a series of footpaths and bridges across How Stean Gorge that anyone can follow, or you can abseil into the ravine itself for a thrilling adventure. How Stean offers organised gorge walking experiences where you can scramble over boulders in the water, jump into deep plunge pools and experience waterfalls cascading over you as you slide through the water.
Located at the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park close to the waterfall trail at Ingleton, Beezley Falls is a perfect location for a canyoning adventure. The upper section of the falls is a more extreme canyoning experience with dramatic cliff jumps, large rocks to slide down and even a zip line that will take you right into the waterfall. The lower falls are much gentler so are perfect if you want to try canyoning for the first time as a family.
Stump Cross Caverns
Buried deep beneath the Yorkshire Dales National Park are the magical Stump Cross Caverns, a series of ancient natural rock formations that you can walk through and explore. Various family-friendly pathways and trails mean that visitors of all ages can head into the showcaves at Stump Cross Caverns. If you fancy exploring further though, special caving experiences are available with experienced instructors who will take you deeper underground into a maze of secret caves and tunnels.
White Scar Cave
The longest showcave in England is filled with amazing natural rock formations and decorated with beautiful stalactites. You’ll be provided with safety equipment to walk through White Scar Cave where you can watch underground waterfalls thunder into deep rocky pools and uncover fascinating rock formations like the Witch’s Fingers, the Judge’s Head and the Squeeze which you’ll need to pass through sideways.
If you fancy enjoying an animal adventure during your next Yorkshire getaway, whether it’s riding on a pony or trekking with a llama, there are several options available to you.
Trekking through the Yorkshire countryside on horseback is an exhilarating way to soak up some stunning national park scenery and options are available for both experienced riders and absolute beginners.
- If you’re looking for a challenging ride you can head to Middleham, the home of around 500 racehorses, and test your skills at the nearby Middleham Gallops with a trusty steed from the Kilnsey Riding and Trekking Centre.
- The Masham Riding and Trekking Centre is based on the sprawling Swinton Estate where there are nine trekking routes of varying difficulty that crisscross through 22,000 acres of Yorkshire Dales countryside. Shire horses and Welsh mountain ponies are available to ride with special lessons and training available.
- Located in the middle of the North York Moors, Bilsdale Riding Centre runs daily 2-hour rides which follow a series of bridleways, forestry paths and green lanes around stunning heather-clad moorland. The fairly gentle pace means there’s plenty of time to make the most of the stunning scenery surrounding you.
Llama and Alpaca Trekking
Guiding one of these gentle animals through the Yorkshire countryside is the perfect way to spend a relaxing day in the great outdoors.
Located on a working farm in the Nidderdale countryside close to Brimham Rocks, Nidderdale Llamas offer half and full day treks along with shorter family taster experiences. You’ll guide your loveable llama or alpaca on a scenic North Yorkshire walk and spend lots of time getting to know them. The pack of llamas all have their own personalities and you’ll be matched with the animal that’s most suited to you.
Based on the edge of the Howardian and Hambleton Hills close to Malton and York, Beacon Alpacas run regular meet and greet sessions with their fluffy flock of animals along with daily 2-hour walking sessions. The alpaca walks take place around the Hambleton Hills and a highlight is looking across the Vale of York, as when the weather is clear you can see the White Horse at Kilburn. There will be regular snack breaks where you’ll get to feed and stroke your friendly alpaca during the gentle afternoon outing.
Wild swimming has become increasingly popular in recent years due to the many benefits this outdoor activity can bring to mind, body and soul. There are lots of scenic spots in Yorkshire where you can enjoy wild swimming at the base of a wonderful waterfall or float along a gently flowing stream.
The enchanting Janet’s Foss waterfall gently cascades into a beautifully still plunge pool that was once used as a sheep dip by local farmers and is now a popular spot for wild swimming. Janet’s Foss is named after a fairy queen who is said to live behind the waterfall and the pretty woodland setting with Malham Cove close by makes it a magical place to spend some time.
The lovely Thomason Foss waterfall lies between Goathland and Beck Hole in the North York Moors National Park. There’s a rocky walk to get to Thomason Falls which is a little off the beaten track but you’ll be rewarded with a hidden gem of a pretty waterfall and a serene pool of water that’s perfect for swimming in.
One of the most popular visitor attractions in the Yorkshire Dales National Park is the sprawling ruins of Bolton Abbey which are set within extensive woodland grounds on the banks of the River Wharfe. Not only is there a beach along this stretch of the river and a series of stepping stones to paddle around, but head a little further upstream and there’s a deeper pool for wild swimming.
Plan your Yorkshire getaway
If you have been inspired to get out and try some of these Yorkshire outdoor activities, you’ll find a range of luxury cottages dotted all over God’s own country.
Browse a range of Yorkshire holiday homes to find your perfect base for exploring the Moors, Dales, Wolds and Coast and for even more getaway inspiration, read our ultimate guide to the best things to do in Yorkshire.
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.