(The Gear Loop) - The best camping spots in the Lake District almost guarantee a reinvigorating, inspiring wild sleep. A slumber beside its lakes, tarns and beneath the famous fells of Britain’s most beloved national park is the stuff that camping dreams are made of.
Of course, we say "almost guarantee" as there’s one thing you can’t count on in Cumbria… the weather.
However, given a decent forecast, there are few more wonderful experiences than camping in the Lakes. Waking up to the sound of bleating Herdwick sheep, cascading ghylls and the wind whipping off the mountains is bliss.
Where the best camping spots in the Lake District are is highly subjective. If you’re looking for some car camping luxury at a well-equipped campsite, there are plenty that will fit your criteria. In fact, we’ve chosen four of the very best for you.
Alternatively, if you prefer to haul your tent to a spectacular wild camping spot, there are almost infinite possibilities. Again, we’ve chosen four of our favourite wild camping locations, too.
So, whether heading into the hills or just looking for a wild family time, there’s a pitch with your name on it.
The best campsites in the Lake District
With around 16 million visitors flocking to the national park every year, it’s unsurprising that there are more accommodation options in the Lakes than there are mountain summits.
Traditional accommodation ranges from relatively cheap hostels to eye-wateringly expensive boutique hotels, yet many families chose to eschew having a roof over their head, opting instead for the freedom and value of a campsite.
Situated at the foot of Scafell Pike and with arguably England’s finest mountain pub next door, the National Trust-owned Wasdale Campsite is a real gem.
Wasdale itself is a spectacular and remote location, with towering mountain walls and the nation’s deepest lake. If a stay here doesn’t inspire, nothing will.
As well as tents pitches, there are seven heated camping pods and 11 camper van pitches. Facilities include toilets, a shop, shower block, washing up area, laundry room, electric hook-ups and charge points for electric bikes. Minimum stay is two nights.
See here for more information.
At the foot of the Kirkstone Pass, among the scenic Eastern Fells, is Sykeside campsite, the perfect launch base for Lakeland adventures. From waterside trails around Brothers Water or long walks along Ullswater, to expeditions up High Street and Fairfield, there’s plenty of options for hikers.
The campsite is open all-year-round and you are allowed to create your own campfire to warm your cockles at night.
Facilities include a shower block and toilets, a laundry room, dish washing area and electric hook-ups. The Brotherswater Inn is also on site, offering great pub food and refreshments.
See here for more information.
Great Langdale Campsite
Great Langdale is a breathtakingly rugged yet picturesque valley in the mountainous heart of Lakeland. One of the few dales that doesn’t have its own lake, what it lacks in water it makes up for with the craggy grandeur of the Langdale Pikes. These individualistic mountains are favourites with hikers and scramblers and make for a dramatic backdrop to any camping trip.
The campsite itself is very well appointed, with newly refurbished toilet and shower blocks, a washing up area, laundry facilities and a drying room. This means no matter how wild and wet your adventures get, you can have everything ready in time for the next one. The kids will love the orienteering course, while grown-ups will be pleased to hear that there are a few excellent pubs within walking distance, including the historic OId Dungeon Ghyll.
See here for more information
Fisherground campsite is ideal for families with active kids. There’s loads to keep them entertained on-site, with its excellent playground and popular pond that’s often busy with little ones playing on its tyre rafts. Adults will love the serenity of its surroundings.
Located in beautiful Eskdale, Fisherfield is a far cry from the honeypots of Ambleside, Windermere and Keswick. You can even arrive in style via the Ravenglass and Eskdale mini gauge heritage railway, or "La'al Ratty"(Little Railway) as it’s affectionately known by the locals.
During the day, there are plenty of great objectives to explore and it’s even possible to hike to Scafell Pike from the site. When night falls, buy a bag of logs, get the campfire lit and get those marshmallows on the go.
The modern toilet block includes coin operated showers, plus there is a washing machine, tumble dryer, boot-dryer and a drying room for getting kit reset after a damp day’s adventure.
See here for more information
The best wild camping spots in the Lake District
As wonderful as the Lake District’s campsites are, you can’t beat a well-chosen wild camping spot for sheer drama. There are almost endless possibilities for wild camps in the national park. Some are deservedly popular, while others are worth extra effort to reach for their sense of isolation.
Wild camping is technically illegal in the Lake District but is generally tolerated if done responsibly and if you camp above the highest fell wall.
Wherever you choose, camp considerably, in small numbers, away from paths and leave no trace. Otherwise, the tenuous tolerance we currently have could disappear forever.
Despite being located at the foot of the perennially popular Scafell Pike, Upper Eskdale is relatively unfrequented and breathtakingly remote.
Few places in the Lakes feel quite as wild as this. It’s a place that you can truly get away from it all, while surrounded by some of England’s highest and rockiest mountains. The burgeoning River Esk provides a ready water source and there’s plenty of flat ground to be found in the Great Moss region. From here, you can take on a sunrise ascent of the Scafells or tackle Esk Pike by its excellent south ridge.
Easily accessible from Dunmail Raise yet in the dramatic heart of the Eastern Fells, Grisedale Tarn is a beautiful spot for a slumber among the mountains.
Placed within striking distance of the summits of both the Fairfield and Helvellyn groups, it’s an awesome morning basecamp.
Water can be sourced from Grisedale Beck, as it begins its long journey towards distant Ullswater, but we’d always suggest investing in a decent filter.
Given a good forecast, you can expect a few others to have claimed a pitch, but the surroundings are so grand that you won’t mind.
Red Tarn beneath Helvellyn
Sheltered from harsh westerly winds and situated below England’s most popular summit, Red Tarn is a classic arena for a wild camp.
Helvellyn’s east facing crags flex their muscles above this beautiful pool of water, which is embraced by two of Lakeland’s finest and most exciting mountain ridges: Striding Edge and Swirral Edge. In the evening, Red Tarn Beck supplies your water and in the morning, the Edges supply the drama.
Sty Head is the high pass that separates Wasdale from Borrowdale and can be accessed from either Wasdale Head or Seathwaite Farm.
There are a number of potential wild camping spots in the region, with Sprinkling Tarn being arguably the most beautiful. From its shore, you can watch the rising sun set Great Gable’s western flanks ablaze - a truly evocative sight.
From Sty Head, you can choose to adventure onwards to the Scafells or hike up the legendary Great Gable for some of the finest views in the country.
Perfect tents for the campsite
We've selected a couple of excellent campsite tents that we thoroughly recommend for all your car-camping needs. One is a great value, medium sized pole tent that works just as well for festivals and garden campouts, while the other is a palatial air tent, perfect for big family holidays.
Quechua Arpenaz 4.2
If you’re new to family camping and there are four of you (or fewer), Decathlon’s Quechua Arpenaz is a great entry-level choice.
It’s equipped to tackle everything from Lakeland drizzle to a full-on downpour thanks to its 2,000 mm hydrostatic head rated flysheet, while blackout fabric keeps the bedrooms cool and stops glare from the sunrise waking you up early on summer mornings.
Vango Aether Air 600XL
Vango was the original creator of the air tent and, in the Aether Air 600XL, the company has crafted a magnificent, palatial family shelter.
Boasting a huge living area and bedroom space enough to sleep six, it is ideal for larger families. Better still, its crafted from Vango’s proprietary Sentinel Eco Fabric, made from recycled single-use plastic. Inflation is a doddle and takes only 20 minutes.
Backpacking tents for the wild
Bagging a quality backpacking shelter for wild camping expeditions is crucial. A sub-standard tent can lead to a waking nightmare - trust us. In our early apprenticeship with the hills, we once had to pack down a tent at four in the morning amidst seriously awful weather below the summit of Scafell Pike when one of the main poles snapped.
The conditions on the high Lakeland fells can be absolutely brutal, with sudden gusts that can tear a tent from the ground and rainfall that can seriously test even the highest hydrostatic head rating.
A well-chosen, sheltered pitch can mitigate some of these factors but not all of them. You also want something that’s light enough to carry around the mountains. We recommend these two excellent backpacking shelters.
Sea to Summit Alto TR2
For ultralight three-season adventures, look no further than Sea to Summit’s new Alto TR2 two-person shelter.
Featuring patent-pending Tension Ridge Architecture, this is a backpacking tent that boasts unbeatable roominess, from its high ceiling and oversized doors to its spacious vestibules.
Tipping the scales at just 1156g, it won’t weigh you down on fast and light wild camping adventures.
MSR Carbon Reflex
The Carbon Reflex is MSR’s lightest double-walled two-person tent, designed for those who want to travel light but still feel protected from the worst of the elements.
Every gram saved counts, which is why MSR equipped this tent with carbon fibre poles, ultralight fabrics and zipper-free vestibules. For a backpacking tent, it’s also surprisingly roomy.