5 ways to experience Yorkshire’s Three Peaks

5 Yorkshire hikes to challenge yourself

1. Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge - Do the lot 

Although there are many mountains in Yorkshire, three in particular have become known definitively as ‘Yorkshire’s Three Peaks’. Whernside (736m), Ingleborough (723m) and Pen-y-ghent (694m) all lie within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. They form a triangle at the head of the scenic Ribble Valley. And together they have become irresistible to many hikers. 

The first recorded ascent of all three in one go was made in 1887 by two local teachers. It took them ten hours. By the 1920s and 1930s this hike had become a popular challenge. These days the Yorkshire Three Peaks is attempted by around 200,000 people a year.  

It’s no easy undertaking. The circuit can be started from Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Ribblehead or Chapel-le-Dale but requires at least 24 miles of walking with 1,585m of ascent. En route there are grassy slopes, boggy trails, steep rocky climbs, sinkholes and sections on road. There are also incredible views that can extend all the way to Morecambe Bay. 

If you want to take on the Three Peaks Challenge, it is vital that you’re well prepared. Many hikers aim to complete it under 12 hours, but that demands a high level of fitness. Wear good boots and warm layers.  Carry maps and know how to use them. A torch is essential, as you could be walking after dark. It is also essential to behave respectfully to local people and fellow hikers and don’t let your quest detract you from following the Countryside Code. 

While it’s tempting to complete this famous challenge, it’s arguably better to experience each mountain on its own merits. Better not to rush but to enjoy the views. So consider ticking them off over two or three days, or exploring other nearby trails instead.  


2. Whernside and Ingleborough - Two out of three 

Whernside is the county’s highest point. Ingleborough is a little lower, but has a more dramatic summit, comprising a broad rocky cap atop a limestone plateau. Combining these two makes a terrific, if testing, 14-mile loop. Leave the car at home and start from Ribblehead, which is served by the Settle-Carlisle line. Indeed, you’ll start by walking parallel to the magnificent arches of the 24-arch Ribblehead Viaduct. After crossing the tracks, Whernside looms, climbed via the frothing waters of Force Gill. Head up and over the ‘Roof of Yorkshire’. Then continue south along trails, tracks and roads to Chapel-le-Dale and Ingleborough’s base. It’s a stiff hike up but worth every step. Descend to Park Fell, then the welcoming warmth of Ribblehead’s Station Inn. 

Whernside and Ingleborough route


3. Pen-y-ghent - Up the little one 

Small but mighty, Pen-y-ghent might be the lowest of the Three Peaks but it’s arguably the most handsome. Its distinctive silhouette rises to the east of Horton-in-Ribblesdale like a crouching lion. For a moderate 8-mile circular hike, start from the small car park near Dalehead farm. Use the Pennine Way to climb up the 694m peak’s southern flank. Descend via Hunt Pot, a dark, forbidding-looking gash in Pen-y-ghent’s west side. Then follow the Pennine Journey though Horton-in-Ribblesdale, back to the start. Note, Pen-y-ghent is busiest in the morning, as it’s traditionally the first summit ticked off by Three Peaks Challenge hikers. Consider starting this walk late morning or after lunch.  

Pen-y-ghent route

The Ribblehead Viaduct stretches across a wild valley in front of the setting sun, leading on towards a snow covered mountain


4. Crummack Dale - Quiet mountain views 

Although Crummack Dale is only a few miles west of the popular Three Peaks, it sees a fraction of the crowds. This easy 9.5-mile loop into the dale from the village of Clapham doesn’t climb any of the main summits. But it does offer wonderful views of them, plus far quieter countryside. Follow the Pennine Bridleway north to the plunging gorge of Trow Gill, with Ingleborough visible ahead. Continue up to the lunar-like limestone pavement of Moughton Scars, from where Pen-y-ghent can be seen to the east. Pick over this fascinating landscape of deep crevices and dwarf trees and down into Crummack Dale. Eventually, turn west at the strange Norber Stones, precariously perched glacial erratics dumped here in the last Ice Age. Just beyond, the Pennine Bridleway leads back to the start. 

Crummack Dale route

A single tree juts out beside a large rock outcrop, overlooking a valley studded with boulders which gives way to green farmland


5. Malham to Horton - Pennine Way peak  

Use part of a classic trail to tick off one of the classic Three Peaks. The 14.5-mile leg of the Pennine Way National Trail between Malham and Horton-in-Ribblesdale passes over Pen-y-ghent. It also takes in the awesome amphitheatre of Malham Cove. It navigates the limestone pavement above it. And it crosses Malham Tarn nature reserve, where you might spot wild cranberry, bog rosemary, great crested grebe and teal. It’s a splendid walk, and one of Alfred Wainwright’s favourite sections of the entire Pennine Way. With a bit of planning, it’s possible to do this linear section without a car. Infrequent buses run from Skipton to Malham. More regular trains run from Horton back to Skipton.  

Malham to Horton route


Explore more 

We’ve got ideas for hundreds more wonderful walking routes across England, Scotland and Wales, long and short, easy and challenging. Search for routes on our website.  Or join a guided walk with a local Ramblers group. Find your nearest Ramblers group and choose a walk that suits your pace, fitness and interests.  

All images © Getty

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