(The Gear Loop) - Britain is full of superb, child friendly summits. If you’re one of the millions of families who head for our national parks every summer in search of fun, escapism and adventure, it’s likely you’ll be eying up the possibility of taking your little ones up a hill or two.
It’s one of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors and, better still, it’s free! Well, aside from all the treats you may have to deploy as rewards or bribes.
Striking the balance between a hike that’s safe and enjoyable for all involved is tough. If the hike is too long, the kids will run out of steam and stop having a good time. If it’s too scary, you might put the little ones off for life.
However, you don’t just want a simple walk up a nondescript green mound either. You want something that will reward at the top, something they will look back on with pride.
Enter our selection of child friendly summits. These tried and tested hill walks (and one mountain expedition) offer the perfect blend of accessibility and excitement. Some feature easy little scrambles, some involve an approach across water and all boast unforgettable views. None of them should take more than a few hours, so you’ll be back in your camping chairs enjoying a sense of achievement before you know it.
The Lake District is Britain’s most popular national park and arguably the centre of the hillwalking universe in the UK. With this in mind, we kick off with three excellent Lakeland hill walks that are full of charm and adventure.
Then we take you to four more superb mini expeditions in the North York Moors, the Peak District, the Brecon Beacons and the Southern Highlands.
Child friendly summits in the Lake District
It’s easy to find child friendly summits in the Lake District. England’s most mountainous national park is full of adventurous potential for the little ones. Legendary hillwalker and guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright details 214 summits in his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells and, while the higher peaks are more akin to challenging mountains, they include loads of hills suitable for little legs.
Having said all that, the youngest person to complete all 214 was Coel Lavery, who completed this remarkable feat in 2012, aged just 4.
A familiar and charming hump on the skyline above Derwent Water’s western shore, Catbells has an almost magnetic pull. Undoubtedly the finest way to approach the fell is across the water from Keswick to Hawes End, a truly adventurous approach that is sure to excite the kids.
Once on dry land, this mountain-in-miniature perfectly balances accessibility and challenge, with a steep, scramble section towards the main summit.
The views from the top are stellar, with island- studded Derwent Water below and the hills and mountains of the Lake District rising in every direction. Keswick is a great base, with loads of amenities and plenty for the kids to do on rainy days.
Castle Crag is a forested fist of bristling crag that rises above the Jaws of Borrowdale, where the valley narrows beyond the southern end of Derwent Water. This magical location is right on the threshold of the gorgeous countryside around Keswick and the heart of mountainous Lakeland.
At only 290 metres high, it’s the smallest of all the Wainwright fells, so the ascent is relatively short-lived, but is nonetheless a great little adventure with scrambling fun to be had on the summit rocks.
The picturesque village of Rosthwaite makes for an ideal starting point, with parking, a shop and café, while Keswick’s many amenities are just up the road.
A conspicuous little hump on the southern shore of beautiful Ullswater, Hallin Fell delivers a fantastic panorama from its 388-metre summit.
If you park at the top of the Hause, which is accessed by a steep, winding and exciting road from Howtown, there’s only around 150 metres of ascent to reach the summit.
Another way to approach Hallin Fell is across the water, by boarding the Ullswater Steamer. Services run from Glenridding and Pooley Bridge, where you’ll find plenty of accommodation options and numerous amenities.
Myriad paths find their way up past rocky knolls and, before you know it, the views open up. Ullswater unfurls below, with the Helvellyn range viewed superbly, dominating the skyline to the west. The very top features a remarkably large columnar stone cairn, perfect for reclining against while you munch on your sandwiches and dish out the sweets.
Other classic child friendly summits
The UK is full of great mini mountains that are well worthy of exploration and provide fun for parents and children alike. Here, we round up four more of the best child friendly summits, with one in Wales, one in Scotland, one in the Peak District and one in North Yorkshire.
Mam Tor, Peak District
Crowning the Great Ridge, with quintessential Peak District scenery on all points of the compass, the beloved summit of Mam Tor is a glorious and magnificently accessible objective for the whole family. There are numerous ways to its 517-metre summit, though little legs will find the quick approach from the car park along Rushup Edge the easiest.
A drive through the dramatic dry gorge of Winnats Pass will also excite the family en route. Edale and Castleton are the ideal places to stay, with great spots for post-hike refreshment.
Mam Tor’s prominent eastern face is scoured by landslides, which have given the hill its evocative alternate moniker "the Shivering Mountain". The old, ruined A625 road is worth exploring, too: buckled, broken and twisted, it’s like something from an apocalyptic novel.
Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire
Affectionately known as the "Yorkshire Matterhorn" Roseberry Topping is an exciting objective that’s both visually impressive and fairly easy on the legs.
Its beguiling, pointed profile, sumptuous views across the North York Moors and the fun to be had on its slopes famously inspired a young Captain James Cook, giving him his first tastes of exploration and adventure in the 1730s. The peak also had a profound effect on the young Alan Hinkes, the first British mountaineer to summit all fourteen 8000-metre peaks.
The ascent to its 320-metre summit usually begins from the village of Newton under Roseberry, which is home to the King’s Head Inn, great for both a refuel and accommodation.
The way up takes you through Newton Wood, which is lovely in spring when bluebells carpet the ground. Once on the open hillside, the ascent is punishingly steep but short-lived before you top out on the summit. Although quite spacious, there are some big drops, so keep a close eye on wandering kiddies.
Conic Hill, Scotland
To give your little ones a taste of the Scottish Highlands without subjecting them to a strenuous, full-on mountain journey, Conic Hill is perfect. Easily accessible from the Glasgow region, its summit occupies a spellbinding position on the southern edge of the Highlands, right above island-studded Loch Lomond.
This is a perennial favourite - in winter it rewards with a panorama of snow-capped peaks, while in summer it’s a great place to take a picnic and gaze down on the shimmering loch below.
The route is well-trodden and easy to follow, quickly taking you to a summit that delivers views way in excess of the effort required to get there. Basecamp wise, the village of Balmaha has a number of accommodation options, as well as places to celebrate your adventure with a drink or a bite to eat.
Pen y Fan, South Wales
The final entry in our selection is slightly different. Until now, we’ve featured a series of spectacular yet accessible mountains-in-miniature for your kids to get their hiking boots into. However, Pen y Fan towers way above these at 886 metres, making it the highest point in South Wales and, indeed, South Britain. A true mountain and something you can really get your kids excited about (possibly).
Given a good weather forecast during the warmer months, Pen y Fan is perfectly achievable by the whole family. The popular route to its grand summit from the Storey Arms carpark is extremely easy to follow and not too steep for small legs.
Better still, at around 420 metres, it starts just below halfway up the mountain. Once the ascent is done, you have the option of traversing neighbouring Corn Du’s airy tabletop summit or heading straight for the main objective. On a clear day, the panorama is excellent, with the long green ridges of the Central Beacons splaying away in different directions and hills as far as the eye can see.
Now get the gear
Essential items to keep the kids happy on a big day out in the hills. Whether that’s a good waterproof jacket to keep out the damp or one of the best child carriers we’ve ever tested. Because as parents, we know little legs tire easily.
Kelty Journey PerfectFIT Signature
With a max payload of 22kg and enough pockets to transport an entire day’s worth of snack and supplies, this is one of the sturdiest and most ingenious kid carriers we’ve tested. It’s not cheap but it’s built like a tank and boasts safety features that go above and beyond much of the competition. If you like hiking with the kids in tow, this is a must-have.
Quechua Kids Waterproof Jacket 7 – 15 Years
Affordable but effective, Decathlon’s Quechua Kids Waterproof Jackets will keep your kids dry and warm on wet, windy days. A waterproof is simply the most important component of a layering system and it’s even more vital for a child, as they lose heat quicker than adults.
Yeti Rambler Tumbler
Available in a 30 oz model, this large tumbler is great for keeping drinks warm on a cold day. Pack it full of hot chocolate before you set out and dangle it in front of the kids as a motivation to reach the summit.
Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells
Heading for the Lake District with the family and fancy going up a few hills? Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides will provide all the inspiration you will ever need. These seven painstakingly illustrated and wonderfully written guidebooks are nothing short of legendary. Their creation in the 1950s and 60s changed the fabric of the national park’s hills and mountains forever.
Osprey Talon 22
A brilliantly versatile backpack that proves very comfortable to wear and sports plenty of pockets for stashing and accessing kit on the move. The fit is great and easy to dial in for different body types, making it perfect for long days on the hills.