Rolling, rugged and full of rustic charm, the stunning Yorkshire Dales makes a perfect destination for off-road adventures on a mountain bike. Best of all, with dozens of different rides to choose from, there’s a great route to explore whether you’re new to the sport or a seasoned veteran.
We’ve joined forces with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to create this handy compilation of some favourite circular routes from around the National Park. It’s a spectacular area criss-crossed with stony bridleways, moorland trails and quiet country lanes, and cycling is a great way to soak up the unmistakable appeal of this unique rural landscape dotted with close-knit communities. There’s beauty, character and interest around every corner here, from limestone landscapes and iconic dry stone walls to tiny hidden-away hamlets little changed in centuries.
In our list we’ve included easier routes suitable for beginners and families as well as some tougher ones for those who prefer a real challenge. It’s worth remembering that the Dales still has plenty of charm and atmosphere even if the clouds are low, so don’t be put off the longer routes just because the sun’s not out!
Find lots more off and on-road routes with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority at https://www.cyclethedales.org.uk. You can also visit their website to find out all about the latest events and fantastic work they do in the Yorkshire Dales.
If you do decide to head for hills on a bike, you’ll stay safe and enjoy your day far more if you remember some simple tips. If your route takes you to remote places or your ride is in the colder months, this is especially important.
This classic ride covers 19 miles and is a favourite among local cyclists, for good reason. Expect great views as you ride on a rewarding mix of natural and man-made surfaces, with a superb moorland stretch and some rocky sections of trail too. The climb up Dawson Close is a steep one, and the ride finishes with a descent from the shoulder of iconic Pen-Y-Ghent, right down to a welcoming café perfect for a well-deserved brew and a slice of cake. You can eat and drink at either Horton or Helwith Bridge.
The 10-mile Settle Loop incorporates the first section of Pennine Bridleway ever to be opened, and this ride covers a variety of trail surfaces including gravel, grassland and stony limestone. You’ll enjoy fantastic views of the southern Dales, not to mention the satisfaction of completing an arduous climb out of Settle. After the ride, take some time to enjoy Settle itself: it’s a bustling market town with plenty of shops and eateries. It’s also on the famous and spectacular Settle to Carlisle railway line – well worth buying a ticket for if you’re in this area for any length of time.
Here’s another classic, and another ride that tours one of Yorkshire’s famous ‘three peaks’. You can start this ride from three different places, all of which have places to eat and drink. Although a significant chunk of this route is on quiet tarmac roads, there’s plenty of stony and grassland trail surface too, including bits of the famous Pennine Bridleway.
This is another legendary Dales ride, popular with experienced mountain bikers who travel from far and wide to enjoy this route. At 24 miles it’s a reasonably long one, and because the Howgills reach up to 676m above sea level, it’s best ridden in fine weather to avoid navigation problems. The Bowderdale Valley is said by many to be one of the best bits of ‘singletrack’ in the country, so it’s definitely a ride that rewards the big effort it takes to reach the start of this outstanding 4-mile descent. The Howgills are remote and mountainous, so be prepared for any weather and make sure you can navigate the route even if the clouds come in unexpectedly. Refreshments are available at both Sedbergh and Ravenstonedale.
Peaceful Swaledale really does feel away from it all, and it’s an area famous for waterfalls, wildflower meadows and heather-covered moorland. This 24-mile route takes in some of the area’s cycling highlights, and top of many riders’ lists must be the two fantastic rocky downhills that drop from Fremington Edge and then into Gunnerside Gill. Your start and finish point is Reeth, a charming Saxon settlement sometimes referred to as the ‘Capital of Swaledale’. Langthwaite and Gunnerside also offer places to top up your energy levels with a bite to eat.
At 36 miles this is a long and tough day out, but great views mean it’s definitely worth the effort. The going is good on sections of stony track and quiet country lanes, so your average speed should be quicker than it is for more energy-sapping surfaces often associated with mountain bike routes. Having said this, you should leave a full day to complete this challenge, and don’t forget to carry lots of water and a good load of your favourite energy-packed snacks. Don’t worry, as Horton, Buckden and Hubberholme all offer places to get refreshments if you do run out.
Another relatively short route at just 10 miles, this is a good choice if you’re short of time or riding with inexperienced or less fit cyclists. This is also a relatively weatherproof route with good surfaces to ride on, so it’s a great backup option if the forecast is against you. On the ride, look out for the impressive crag at Kilnsey – you might even spot rock climbers here. The route also takes in part of the famous Mastiles Lane, and there’s a brilliant final descent on a rough gritstone track that passes through the mine workings of Threshfield Moor. You can buy refreshments at Kilnsey, and Grassington is a pleasant village with fine buildings, quirky shops and various facilities.
This route covers 21 miles and mixes fast stone tracks, grassland and a little bit of tarmac. The route also includes a classic Dales descent down to Thoralby. If you’re not in too much of a hurry, it’s worth spending some time at the popular beauty spot of Aysgarth Falls itself – definitely much more than just a place to park the car.