10 best hikes in New Forest National Park

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The best hikes in New Forest National Park reveal a quintessential slice of English countryside

Despite its name, the New Forest is neither new nor much of a forest. The region was first declared a royal hunting preserve in 1079 by William the Conqueror and the landscape is more heathland (the most extensive area remaining in Europe) than contiguous woodland. The word ‘forest’ actually descends from Old French for ‘hunting ground’.

Contradictions aside, the park is home to patches of woodland made up of both native and non-native trees. There are Victorian-planted fir and redwood lined avenues as well as groves of ancient oak and yew trees believed to be over 1,000 years old.

Quaint villages are connected by a web of delightful footpaths and cycling tracks that showcase a variety of wildlife and scenery. Wild ponies and five species of deer roam the pretty scrubland while, to the south, the park is bounded by 26 miles of coastline daubed with mudflats and salt marshes.

Our guide to the best hikes in New Forest National Park offers 10 great ways to explore this rare and extraordinary landscape.

Best hikes in New Forest National Park

The UK is home to 15 national parks in total. Established in 2005, the New Forest in Hampshire is the country’s second newest national park and, considering it’s located just an hour and a half from London, one of the most accessible.

Below, we share the best hikes in New Forest National Park, from a sedate stroll through a deer sanctuary to a more challenging leg of the Solent Way.

For more information on things to do and where to stay in the New Forest, visit the national park website.

1. Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary Walk

Distance: 2.7km (1.7mi)
Duration: 1 hour
Difficulty: Easy

A herd of deer in Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary
Atlas & Boots A herd of deer in Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary

This short and sweet loop hike takes in the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary where walkers are guaranteed the best views of deer across the whole park. There is a purpose-built platform overlooking a large meadow just a short stroll from the car park.

There are three trails in the area – all accessible by wheelchair users – that meander between some of the tallest trees in the New Forest including non-native fir and redwood as well as endemic beech and oak. Bolderwood also has a large designated picnic area.

From April to September, the deer are fed daily by rangers sometime between 12.30pm and 2.30pm which makes for a great photo opportunity.

2. Denny Wood

Distance: 4.7km (3mi)
Duration: 1-2 hours
Difficulty: Easy

Denny Wood in New Forest National Park
Triple H Images/Shutterstock Denny Wood in autumn

This charming walk takes in a number of typical inland New Forest scenes. Initially, the trail crosses open heathland before passing a number of tumuli. (For the laymen among us, a tumulus is a Bronze Age burial mound.)

The trail continues over a footbridge and through a number of small woods before returning to Beaulieu Road Station where the nearby Drift Inn makes for a perfect post-walk refreshment stop.

In autumn, listen carefully for herds of bellowing fallow and red deer stags as they begin their annual rut.

3. Rhinefield and Vinney Ridge

Distance: 4.8km (3mi)
Duration: 1-2 hours
Difficulty: Easy

The entrance to Blackwater Arboretum
Willy Barton/Shutterstock The entrance to Blackwater Arboretum

The Rhinefield Ornamental Drive is a narrow road lined with a mixture of large rhododendrons and azaleas along with 50m-tall redwoods and towering Douglas firs that were planted by the Victorians in the 1850s.

After following the drive from the Blackwater car park, the trail loops round to the left and detours into Blackwater Arboretum via a wooden arch, then fords the Blackwater River before rejoining the drive back to the car park.

The trail is best walked in late-May or early-June when the rhododendrons should be in full bloom.

4. Keyhaven to Hurst Castle

Distance: 7.2km (4.5mi)
Duration: 1-2 hours
Difficulty: Easy

Hurst Castle is one of the best hikes in New Forest National Park
Ryan Kempster/Shutterstock Keyhaven to Hurst Castle is one of the best hikes in New Forest National Park

This unique out-and-back coastal walk visits Hurst Castle, built by Henry VIII between 1541 and 1544 at the seaward end of a coastal spit. As the route follows the exposed landform, be prepared for a bracing journey if the wind is up.

The walk begins at the charming village of Keyhaven and follows the sea wall to the southwest before turning southeast along the narrow shingle spit to Hurst Castle.

Although Keyhaven is technically outside the park boundaries, the trail crosses back into the park en route to Hurst Castle.

5. Burley Village

Distance: 7.4km (4.6mi)
Duration: Moderate
Difficulty: 2-3 hours

A trail through the woods near Burley in the new forest national park
Atlas & Boots One of the trails near Burley

The village of Burley is couched in the lee of a hill surrounded by sturdy oaks and lofty pines. The village is positioned in the heart of the national park and offers excellent access to some of the best walking and cycling routes as well as a handy cycle hire shop in the village centre.

The circular walk we’ve selected is a peaceful trail that passes an Iron Age hill fort on Castle Hill before looping around and descending back to the village along the edge of some woods.

On a clear day, the natural bluff offers striking views across the park, usually dotted with grazing ponies, cattle and donkeys.

6. Acres Down and Canadian War Memorial

Distance: 9.3km (5.8mi)
Duration: Easy
Difficulty: 2-3 hours

A New Forest pony near Acres Down
Luke____s/Shutterstock A New Forest pony near Acres Down

This longer loop trail takes walkers through a blend of forested pine and ancient and ornamental woodland and passes the Canadian War Memorial, a simple wooden roadside monument to Canadian soldiers and airmen stationed in the New Forest during World War II.

Beginning at Acres Down car park, the hike can be easily extended to include the below Lyndhurst Hill and Swan Green route and/or a visit to the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary.

If cream teas are your thing – and they really should be – then the nearby Acres Down Farm serves some of the best in the land.

7. Lyndhurst Hill and Swan Green

Distance: 10.5km (6.5mi)
Duration: Easy
Difficulty: 3-4 hours

Thatched cottage near Lyndhurst
Copyright (c) 2016 Konmac/Shutterstock. No use without permission. A thatched cottage near Lyndhurst

Known as the capital of the New Forest after William the Conqueror established the royal hunting ground in 1079, Lyndhurst has been visited by kings and queens staying at the Royal Manor throughout the centuries.

The circular trail takes in the wider parish around Lyndhurst including Emery Down, Gritnam Wood and the picturesque thatched cottages of Swan Green which is one of the most photographed locations in the New Forest.

Today, the village remains the administrative heart of the New Forest and is a popular visitor stop with a fine selection of cosy tea rooms, traditional pubs, cafes, restaurants and an ice cream parlour.

8. Fritham

Distance: 11km (7mi)
Duration: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

A single oak tree near Fritham
Copyright (c) 2017 Chris Button/Shutterstock. No use without permission. A single oak tree near Fritham

The area around the wooded hamlet of Fritham in the north of the New Forest doesn’t receive as many visitors as Brockenhurst, Burley and Lyndhurst, which means the surrounding paths and plains are generally a touch quieter.

The footpath meanders its way around the countryside taking in a number of wooded areas lined with beech and gnarly oak trees, the open plains of Ragged Boys Hill and the Sloden Inclosure, home to a skittish herd of fallow deer.

Most who complete this walk end up at Fritham’s award-winning Royal Oak pub which serves traditional cask ales and hearty snacks.

9. Brockenhurst and the Tall Trees

Distance: 15.6km (9.6mi)
Duration: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

Ponies grazing in Brockenhurst home to one of the best hikes in New Forest national park
Copyright (c) 2019 Stefan-Kadar/Shutterstock. No use without permission. Ponies grazing in Brockenhurst

An alternative way of exploring the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, this route begins at the delightful settlement of Brockenhurst. No trip to the New Forest is complete without a visit to Brockenhurst, repeatedly named one of England’s most beautiful villages.

This hiking route can be easily combined with the above Rhinefield and Vinney Ridge walk to take in Blackwater Arboretum. Another popular alternative is the Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst Loop walk.

10. Solent Way

Distance: 15.7km (9.7mi)
Duration: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate-hard

The village and pond of Beaulieu
Copyright (c) 2018 INTREEGUE Photography/Shutterstock. No use without permission. The historic village of Beaulieu

The Solent Way is a 97km (60mi) footpath beginning in Milford-on-Sea and finishing in Emsworth Harbour. Over its full distance, the trail traverses a variety of landscapes including the Hampshire countryside, Solent strait and Isle of Wight.

The section from Lymington to Beaulieu crosses the Lymington River and then continues parallel to the coast. Although set back around a mile from the sea, the trail occasionally reveals glimpses of the busy Solent to the east.

The trail then turns inland and roughly follows the Beaulieu River as it crosses patches of forest and rounds the idyllic Sowley Pond before arriving at the picturesque village of Beaulieu.

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Lead image: Nick Brundle Photography/Shutterstock

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