10 best hikes in Dartmoor National Park

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The best hikes in Dartmoor National Park showcase the very finest of England’s wildest landscape

I’ve always been fond of Dartmoor. I first visited as a child on a family holiday and I’ve returned regularly ever since to scope out the best Dartmoor hikes. Famous for its wild ponies, open moorland and craggy granite tors (free-standing rocky outcrops that rise abruptly from the surroundings), it is one of the few genuinely wild places left in England.

Tucked away in the southwest of the country, Dartmoor National Park is home to some of the finest hiking in England. An array of trails crisscross the wide open vistas and there are several routes to suit different abilities.

Almost half of the park is moorland, making for an eerily beautiful landscape. It’s easy to see why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle chose Dartmoor for the setting of his classic crime novel The Hound of the Baskervilles featuring the infamous Sherlock Holmes.

Horses live in groups: quit horse riding
DavidYoung/Shutterstock Dartmoor walks are famous for wild ponies and granite tors

Across the moor, picturesque villages and market towns punctuate the rugged landscape providing the perfect excuse to stray from the trail. They come with charming tearooms serving clotted cream teas, traditional pubs brewing cask ales and a wealth of local artisan stores.

Dartmoor National Park is one of England’s premier hiking destinations, supported by excellent infrastructure and a wealth of accommodation options. Whether you opt for camping, glamping or holiday cottages in Dartmoor, there is a plethora of trails to choose from.

Best hikes in Dartmoor National Park

We’ve handpicked the best hikes in Dartmoor National Park including gentle circular strolls as well as more challenging long-distance trails. From rolling moorland topped with tors to babbling brooks in ancient woods, there are walks in Dartmoor to suit everyone.

1. Wistman’s Wood

Distance: 4.5km (2.8mi)
Duration: 1-2 hours
Difficulty: Easy

Dartmoor’s gremlin forest of lichen-covered crooked trees is worthy of an episode of Game of Thrones. The eerie forest has remained unspoilt for hundreds of years as its thick, tangled web of branches and uneven rocky floor make it impassable for the moor’s roaming cattle and ponies.

Wistman's Woods is one of the best hikes in Dartmoor National Park
stefan.istrate/Shutterstock Dartmoor’s gremlin forest

Legend has it that druids planted Wistman’s Wood, with its name said to derive from ‘wise man’, another term for a druid. Legend also claims that hounds reside in the forest and appear at night to claim the souls of those who enter. Fortunately, there have been no such recent reports!

A clear waymarked trail makes its way beneath the trees along the West Dart River near Two Bridges, just up the road from the village of Princetown.

2. Lydford Gorge

Distance: 4.2km (2.6mi)
Duration: 1-2 hours
Difficulty: Easy

Lydford Gorge is a short but popular Dartmoor walk. The deepest river gorge in southwest England runs from the bubbling Devil’s Cauldron whirlpool down to the dramatic 30m-high White Lady waterfall.

Lydford Gorge is one of the best hikes in Dartmoor National Park
marcin jucha/Shutterstock Lydford Gorge is a popular walk

The winding route follows the ravine, flanked by dripping rock faces clad in moss, and reveals another side of Dartmoor away from the celebrated tors and moorland. From mid-April, the bluebells are out in force.

A mix of paths, wooden walkways and suspension bridges carve a route along this circular one-way trail. Make sure you wear sturdy footwear as the terrain can be slippery.

3. Gutter Tor

Distance: 6.4km (3.9mi)
Duration: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Easy-moderate

This classic Dartmoor circular hike reveals the landscape that inspired Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel, War Horse. Morpurgo lived in the area and Steven Spielberg’s 2011 film adaptation was shot nearby, garnering six Oscar nominations.

The view from the summit of Sheeps Tor best hikes in Dartmoor National Park
marcin jucha/Shutterstock The view from Sheeps Tor

The track works its way clockwise around the picturesque countryside, but it’s worth detouring in places up to the top of the modest summits to get the best views. The triangulation point at the 350m summit of Gutter Tor provides excellent views of Dartmoor including the stony crest of Sheeps Tor to the north and Gutter Mire down to the east.

The highest point on the route, up a faint grassy path to Higher Hartor Tor, saves the finest views to last. On a clear day, the vista stretches over the glorious Plym Valley to the west.

4. Burrator

Distance: 7.1km (4.4mi)
Duration: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Easy-moderate

Another circular route, Burrator provides a slightly more challenging hike. Rich in history, the Burrator trail offers walkers the opportunity to gain a bit of height and enjoy some of the most dramatic views in southern England.

Leather Tor looking towards Burrator Reservoir
Matt Gibson/Shutterstock The summit of Leather Tor looking towards Burrator Reservoir

The initial 500m climb to the summit of Sharpitor will certainly get the blood pumping, but the rewards are worth it. The views across Burrator Reservoir are excellent and improve as you continue to Leather Tor, requiring another spirited ascent.

From here, the trail descends to the shores of the reservoir, built in 1898. The trail then backtracks somewhat before branching off through the woods towards Black Tor.

Of course, like much of Dartmoor, the Burrator region is dripping in legend with a host of tales to heed. Headless horsemen, a dragon, ghostly hounds, pixies, disembodied hands and the devil himself have all made appearances in the area – so beware!

5. Great Staple and White Tor

Distance: 10.3km (6.4mi)
Duration: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

This outstanding hike takes in Great Staple Tor with its iconic rock towers and stretches across wild moorland to the Langstone Moor stone circle and onwards to White Tor (pronounced Whit) with its marvellous views over the folding slopes of Tavy Cleave.

Great Staple Tor and its rock towers one of the best hikes in Dartmoor National Park
travellight/Shutterstock Great Staple Tor and its rock towers

This classic walking route offers a great chance to see the wild Dartmoor ponies, who frequent the area. At the summit of White Tor, turn your gaze westwards towards Cornwall and the lumbering hills of Bodmin Moor and then southwest to the sparkling sea at Plymouth Sound. They may just be the finest views of all Dartmoor walks.

6. Teign Gorge

Distance: 6.9km(4.2mi)
Duration: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

Tucked away in the northeast of Dartmoor National Park is Teign Gorge, one of the best walks in Dartmoor. Taking in the hulking Castle Drogo (the last castle to be built in England), the splendid Hunters Path positioned high above the roaring River Teign and the abundant wildlife thriving in the surrounding oak woods, Teign Gorge is an excellent Dartmoor hike.

Castle Drogo was the last castle to be built in England
Radomir Rezny/Shutterstock Castle Drogo was the last castle to be built in England

It begins at Castle Drogo, built between 1910 and 1930, and then enters Whiddon Wood. For 3,000 years, stretching back to the Iron Age, timbre production flourished in the area and, as such, seriously depleted the forests. However, the ancient woodland is making a comeback thanks to restoration projects by the National and Woodland Trusts.

The trail crosses the river before looping back on itself along the opposite banks of the estate. Keep an ear out for the sound of rutting deer. Whiddon Deer Park is located to the southeast of the castle and is an important sanctuary for the wild deer of the area!

7. Hound Tor

Distance: 8.5km(5.2mi)
Duration: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

This exceptional hiking trail takes in several of Dartmoor’s most famous tors including Saddle, Haytor, Howell Tor and Hound Tor. These are rife with legend; witches, ghosts and dragons all make an ‘appearance’ en route.

Rock climbers on Hound Tor one of the best hikes in Dartmoor National Park
Phil Friar/Shutterstock Rock climbers on Hound Tor

The steep moorland paths provide impressive viewpoints starting with Haytor Rocks. These are known for the story of a young woman who, desperate to escape an arranged marriage, leapt from the top of the rocks to her supposed death. However, her body was never found…

Next up is Hound Tor, popular with rock climbers and one of the most famous attractions on Dartmoor. The iconic rocks were created when a formidable hunter and his pack of hounds interrupted a coven of witches. Naturally, the witches retaliated by turning him and his hounds to stone.

Finally, the trail passes Greator Rocks, another dramatic tor, before heading across the moorland back to where it began.

8. High Willhays

Distance: 17.5km (10.8mi)
Duration: 4-5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate-hard

One of the best hikes in Dartmoor National Park is this full-day route to High Willhays, the highest point on Dartmoor. The hike takes in some beautiful scenery near Okehampton Common with some fantastically named tors including Scarey, Rough, Yes and Dinger.

High Willhays is the highest point in Dartmoor
Phil Harland/Shutterstock High Willhays is the highest point on Dartmoor

At 621m (2,039ft) above sea level, High Willhays is also the highest point in the UK south of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales.

This route can be quite the footslog as it also takes in the second-highest point on Dartmoor. Yes Tor is situated around 1km north of High Willhays along a ridge known as “the roof of Devon”.

High Willhays and Yes Tor can also be accessed from tracks leading from Meldon Reservoir (see below).

9. Cranmere Pool

Distance: 21km (13mi)
Duration: 5-6 hours
Difficulty: Moderate-hard

This excellent return walk skirts Meldon Reservoir before tracing its way across the country to the site of the first letterbox – not of the Royal Mail variety but of letterboxing, a hobby somewhat similar to geocaching which involves elements of orienteering and puzzle solving. Dating from around 1854, letterboxing has spread all around the globe.

Meldon Reservoir en route to Cranmere Pool
VAmbrosini/Shutterstock Meldon Reservoir en route to Cranmere Pool

Cranmere Pool is also home to the ‘Legend of the Cranmere Benjie’, a rather convoluted tale of a sobbing guilt-ridden spirit, a ghostly horse and a sheepskin sieve. I kid you not.

Aside from eccentric English hobbies and longwinded legends, the route past Meldon Reservoir, along the West Okement River and through Black-a-Tor Copse to Cranmere Pool makes for a wonderful hike through an unusual part of the moors. 

10. Two Moors Way

Distance: 58km (36mi)
6-8 days
Difficulty: Hard

The Two Moors Way is an unofficial long-distance footpath crossing Dartmoor and Exmoor. It’s a different take on the coast-to-coast experience with the trail crossing 188km (117mi) from the North Devon to the South Devon coast.

The Two Moors Way showcases the very best scenery Dartmoor has to offer
Paul Nash/Shutterstock The Two Moors Way is one of the best Dartmoor National Park walks

The section passing through Dartmoor National Park from Ivybridge to Drewsteignton showcases the very best scenery Dartmoor has to offer. Mind you, it doesn’t come without its challenges. Expect some particularly testing terrain just to the north of Ivybridge.

If you’d like to really push yourself, continue northwards to Exmoor National Park, which feels a little less wild than Dartmoor but offers similar terrain. Where Dartmoor is entirely inland, however, Exmoor enjoys the high cliffs and rugged coastline of the Bristol Channel.

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Lonely Planet Great Britain is a comprehensive guide to the UK, covering the region in depth along with many of the best hikes in Dartmoor National Park.

Lead image: ASC Photography/Shutterstock

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