The best routes to walk up Pen y Fan
From peaceful views and low-level strolls to challenging hikes, Pen y Fan has a lot to offer
Bigger isn’t always better. Except when you want really jaw-dropping views, when it mostly is. No wonder Pen y Fan’s such a popular destination for walkers. At 886m, it’s the tallest spot in the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park, formerly known as the Brecon Beacons. The Welsh name translates roughly as ‘Summit of the Mountains’. It’s also the loftiest point in southern Britain, with sheer drops to the west, north and east. That’s why it boasts such spectacular vistas across nearby ridges and valleys, north towards Brecon and south towards Merthyr Tydfil.
Fortunately, you won’t need crampons or ice axes to summit Pen y Fan. The easiest routes to the top are straightforward to follow and achievable by relatively fit walkers. That’s not to say it’s just a short stroll though. And with steep drops alongside ridge paths, you should be prepared for navigating in all weather. You can find useful advice for hikers on the Adventure Smart website.
Bear in mind, too, that this wild-looking region is actually a living, working landscape. Sheep graze widely across hillsides, so keep dogs under control at all times.
This central section of Bannau is laced with footpaths and less-well-marked trails. So there are almost countless ways of reaching Pen y Fan. Choose from the routes we’ve selected below to drink in far-reaching views of mountain scenery from this iconic peak.
From Pont ar Daf - Best for: easy access
The simplest route from the south is also by far the most popular. Partly that’s because it starts from the convenient National Trust carpark at Pont ar Daf on the A470. To deal with booming visitor numbers, in 2022 the carpark was expanded and toilets and visitor facilities improved. As an alternative to driving, consider using the regular buses between Brecon and Merthyr that stop here.
You won’t get lost on this busy, well-worn route, but you’ll need plenty of puff all the same. From the carpark, follow a well-worn path steadily up the hillside to Corn Du (‘Black Horn’). This 873m-high summit sits just south-west of Pen y Fan. You could bypass this extra climb, but why would you? It yields breathtaking views across the valley of Cwm Llwch and far west across the Beacons. For history buffs, it’s also topped with a Bronze Age burial cairn. Follow the ridge down to the saddle then up again to the National Trust marker cairn. This point on Pen y Fan's summit is a popular spot for selfies, and with good reason. If you descend the same way, you’ll cover about four miles total, taking around three hours.
From Storey Arms - Best for: historic tales
Despite the name, you won’t find a barman pulling pints at Storey Arms. Today it’s a popular outdoor activity centre a little north of Pont ar Daf on the A470. It’s also the starting point for another pretty straightforward route up Corn Du and Pen y Fan. Though there’s a carpark, buses from Brecon and Merthyr stop here, making car-free access easy. This trail, part of the long-distance Cambrian Way, is slightly less well-trodden than the Pont ar Daf route. It does lose a bit of height after an initial climb, but the next stage is more interesting.
Climbing the hillside to the ridge northwest of Corn Du, you’ll see a prominent obelisk to the left. This commemorates Tommy Jones, a five-year-old who died after getting lost on the mountain in 1900. Despite the sad story, the views from here are uplifting, stretching far north towards Brecon. Turn right to follow the line of the ridge, Craig Cwm Llwch, to Corn Du and continue to Pen y Fan. From the peak, either return the same way (about 4.5 miles total) or descend to Pont ar Daf for a slightly shorter route.
From Cwm Gwdi - Best for: peaceful views
Approach from the north for a quieter hike, albeit a more demanding one. The best starting point is Cwm Gwdi, long a military camp where soldiers slept till as recently as the 1960s. Today, it’s the site of a National Trust carpark just a short hop south of Brecon.
From here, follow a grassy track leading past the remains of a military firing range and disused quarries. Continue south and up, west of the stream, onto the ridge called Cefn Cwm Llwch. As your way levels out a little, turn and gaze north for dramatic views towards Brecon and beyond. The going gets much steeper on the final push to the summit. It’s a good excuse to pause and look east for more fantastic views towards the neighbouring peak. This is Cribyn, fourth-highest in this part of the range.
A series of parallel ridges stretches north from the cluster of peaks around Pen y Fan, like fingers from bony knuckles. These ridges and the valleys between them offer various routes down back to Cwm Gwdi. You could return the way you came for a simple 5-mile out-and-back trek. Or continue west to Corn Du, descending steeply north from Tommy’s obelisk past lovely Llyn Cwm Llwch lake, about 8 miles altogether. Follow the escarpment east to Cribyn and descend along the Bryn Teg ridge for a slightly shorter circuit, around 7 miles.
Whichever route you choose, Brecon makes a great venue for celebrating your achievement, with lively pubs and places to eat as well as accommodation.
From Taf Fechan - Best for: a serious horseshoe ridge hike
Tick off four great peaks in the central Bannau Brycheiniog on a demanding and dramatic 10-mile horseshoe circuit. Start from the carpark by the old Neuadd Reservoirs in Taf Fechan Forest, north of Merthyr Tydfil. And get ready for a stiff climb right from the get-go. If the views don’t leave you breathless, the haul up to Graig Fan Ddu ridge will. Across the wide glacial valley, the peaks of Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big appear in a row.
At the end of the ridge, join the path from Pont ar Daf for the final haul up Corn Du. Then continue east to tick off the other summits via some steep drops and climbs, plus amazing views. At under 717m, Fan y Big is the lowest of the four. But its famous ‘diving board’ rock provides some of the most thrilling photo opportunities. Return to the previous pass and follow the Gap track, believed to be an old Roman road, down to the carpark. Call in at The Old Barn Tearoom nearby to refuel with tea and cakes!
Taff Trail - Best for: low-level strolls
To roam among these magnificent peaks without tackling the climbs, or when the weather’s too bad, stroll the Taff Trail. This fine walking and cycling route meanders from Cardiff to Brecon along disused railway lines, river paths and forest trails. Between Merthyr and Brecon it passes sparkling reservoirs, crashing waterfalls and the grassy flanks of the mighty summits. Take a bus from Brecon to Storey Arms or Pont ar Daf, walking back for a gentle but delightful 8-mile walk.
We’ve got ideas for hundreds of 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.
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