Are you looking to visit one of the UK National Parks? Each and every one of them are equally unique and diverse, with stunning views and activities on offer. The tricky part is choosing a favourite!
Nothing beats a good day trip out in the great British countryside. Miles upon miles of luscious rolling hills, gazing in awe at huge peaks, or splashing about in the sea on vast beaches, the countryside is often underappreciated and underrated.
The UK has several National Park areas dedicated to preserving this beauty for future generations to come, and are a joy to visit.
Visiting a National Park is the perfect side trip to combine with one of our many caravan holidays – in fact, many of the UK holiday parks are within easy distance – making them a fantastic choice!
How Many National Parks Are There In The UK?
There are 15 National Parks in the UK.
From the open heathland in the New Forest, in the South of England, to the steep, snow-laden mountains in the Cairngorms. In central/northern Scotland each park is home to a whole host of idyllic, photogenic, unspoilt wildernesses.
Nothing compares to the feeling of appreciating a well-earned view of the dramatic landscape after a long hike, or even after a relaxed afternoon wander.
This article will list all the parks in brief, ready for you to plan your perfect day out!
- National parks encompass a large area, on average about 1,300 km²
- In England, there are 10, covering about 9.3% of the land area
- In Wales, there are 3, covering 19.9.% of the land area
- In Scotland there are 2, covering 7.2% of the land area
[statistics sourced from https://nationalparks.uk/]
National Parks In England
Dartmoor National Park
Dartmoor, along with Exmoor, make up the only areas in England where you can legally “wild camp”- (not camping on a campsite), so they make the perfect location for backpacking, or bikepacking, if you want an escape from modern life.
Many rivers run through the vast, heather carpeted moors and woodland valleys, and around the park, you will see huge, imposing pillars of granite, known as tors- there are over 160 of them throughout the park, and from their tops offer great views over the vast, hilly landscape as the highest region in southern England.
The park offers the chance to see ancient medieval villages, and human history dating back as far as 6000 years, which can be seen in the park’s 1058 protected ancient sites- the most of any park.
Exmoor National Park
The least visited national park, many may overlook Exmoor. However it is home to vast moors and forests, broken up by rolling hills, and boasts perhaps one of the UK’s most dramatic coastlines.
With over 1000km of footpaths, Exmoor is a great place for a short walk, or a hike, allowing you to see a great variety of wildlife, including Exmoor ponies.
Due to its relative remoteness, Exmoor has a very dark sky, making it a great place to see the stars, away from light polluted cities. The dramatic coastline is appealing to adrenaline-seekers, due to the many large rocks on the coastline that are perfect for jumping into the sea from (but do so at your own risk, and only if you know what you’re doing).
In summary, Exmoor is a great place to explore Britain’s wildlife, both land and sea, and on top of that it boasts some stunning scenery.
Related: Things To Do In North Devon
New Forest National Park
The New Forest, located on the south coast of England, is in west Hampshire, and south-east Wiltshire. It is a beautiful landscape of forests and heathland. Heathland is becoming increasingly rare in the world, with the UK having lost about 80% since 1800. Hampshire is home to about 30% of heathland in the UK, and the UK has 70% of it worldwide. In late summer, you can see valleys of enchanting purple heather.
There are about 130 free car parks in the New Forest, making excellent spots for a lovely walk. The majority of the park (apart from towns) is open pasture land- one of the largest in the UK, and horses and cattle roam free across rolling hills, forests and roads.
The New Forest also has 26 miles of coastline to explore, with idyllic unspoilt sandy beaches. Some great days out in the New Forest include Beaulieu Motor Museum, Paulton’s Park, Burley village,Hurst Castle, Horse riding and Lymington, where you can catch a ferry to the Isle of Wight.
South Downs National Park
The most recent addition to the national parks, established in 2009, the South Downs is a very large national park in the south of England. It stretches from Winchester, Hampshire, through West Sussex, all the way to Eastbourne, East Sussex.
It is within very close range of many major south coast towns, such as Southampton, Worthing, Littlehampton, Fareham, Chichester, Portsmouth, Bognor Regis, Brighton and Hove and Eastbourne.
Home to endless chalk hills, grasslands and ancient forest, the South Downs really is an enchanting place to visit, peppered with many quaint riverside market towns, such as Arundel, Petersfield, and Lewes.
On its 8.5 miles of coastline, you will find the Seven Sisters, iconic white chalk cliffs often used as a TV stand in for the cliffs of Dover.
This stretch of coast is completely rural and free of towns, and is completely unspoilt. A great place to go for walks,the South Downs Way is an epic 100 mile national trail that stretches from Winchester all the way to Eastbourne.
Yorkshire Dales National Park
The Yorkshire Dales is a land of rolling hills, and a log history of farming. Away from the heather-carpeted uplands, rolling hills of green fields can be seen, divided by very old traditional stone walls, with many old barns making for a good countryside view.
The Yorkshire Dales encapsulates exactly what people think the countryside should look like, and is a joy to visit, especially due to its considerably-sized path network.
Some top places to visit in the park include visiting the many waterfalls, including the Ingleton Waterfall Trail, Malham Cove, possibly one of the most beautiful spots in the whole park, or the Wensleydale Creamery, very near where the well-renowned cheese was first made almost 1000 years ago by Cistercian monks.
North York Moors National Park
Surprisingly, in the North York Moors, due to their high elevation, lack of light pollution (thanks to Dark Sky Zones), and their high latitude, you can occasionally see the aurora borealis here. Although it is rare, you might just get lucky, and witness a sight to behold!
The ground has so much to offer here in this beautiful landscape. The North York Moors has the largest heather moorland (heathland) in the world, 70% of the UK’s share (the rest primarily being in the New Forest, see above), and in late August/early September, the landscape is transformed for a few weeks into an endless carpet of pink and purple heather blooms.
The vast expanse of open moors in idyllic valleys, and the unspoilt coastline make for a truly wonderful national park.
Northumberland National Park
The northernmost national park in the UK, Northumberland is home to a spectacular landscape made up of wide, open valleys, almost treeless, and is one of the least commonly visited national parks, so will likely not be busy, making it perfect for an escape to the wilderness.
Some things you can do include visiting Hareshaw Linn, a 9-metre waterfall nestles in scenic woodland, or visit Craigside House and Gardens or Brinkburn Priory.
But if historic buildings aren’t really your thing, then you can visit Sycamore Gap, one of the UK’s most photogenic trees.
And you shouldn’t miss Hadrian’s Wall, the historic Roman wall originally marking the Scottish border.
In addition, Northumberland national park is an excellent place for stargazing, and is Europe’s largest area of protected night sky (free from light pollution), and is officially the best place in England to stargaze, according to the Dark Sky Association. You can check out this map for the best locations.
Related: Northumberland Holiday Parks
Lake District National Park
The most popular national park in the UK, the Lake District has a lot on offer.
Despite its name, this park is home to the tallest mountain in England- Scaffel Pike, as well as the very famous Lake Windermere. There are many sights to see here, with many iconic ribbon lakes, rugged mountains and vast, glacial landscapes.
Some great scenic places to visit include the iconic Lake Windermere, England’s larges natural lake, and at the north end, Ambleside a popular, quaint town, Derwentwater, a great place for amazing views and boating, Grasmere, a charming little town right in the heart of the park, or the Hardknott Fort ruins (free to visit), dating back to the second century.
The park is also very close to the Yorkshire Dales, separated only by the M6, so if you’re in the area, you might be able to visit both!
Related: Lake District Holiday Parks
Peak District National Park
The Peak District is a popular location for backpack camping- and for good reason- this park is full of huge impressive peaks offering great views from the summits.
Amazingly, the Peak District doesn’t have any classified mountains, while the Lake District has more than 20, although its highest point is Kinder Scout at 636 meters, so there are still many mountain-like peaks to explore.
Some great trips in the park include Poole’s Cavern, Heights of Abraham, a unique hilltop park where you can travel in cable cars, or venture underground into the expansive caves.
A great historic attraction is Elvaston Castle Country Park, a picturesque castle with well-maintained gardens, with many years of history.
Also, for the thrill seekers out there, Alton Towers Resort is only a few miles south of the park, a great place to go to if you have a bit more time to spend in the area.
The Broads National Park
The Broads national park is a large area of rivers and lakes in East Anglia, on flooded former peat mines, and low-lying grassland. It is a place perhaps with some of the most diverse wildlife in the UK.
Because of the low-lying ground, and lack of many settlements, the sky feels absolutely huge here, and is by far the best national park for boating, whether it be by narrowboat, river cruiser, kayak or canoe, you can travel for over 100 miles on the waterways, watching the beautiful wildlife around you.
Some things you can do include going on a boat ride from Wroxham, and before you embark, visit Roys of Wroxham, the largest village store in the world, go for a bike ride, go bird spotting, or visit Whitlingham Country Park, where you can take park in some watersports.
National Parks In Scotland
Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorms, Scotland, is the UK’s highest mountain range, and, by area, is the UK’s largest National Park, by a long way, twice as big as the next largest. This means that there is just so much to explore.
You can do this by bike, hiking or even skiing (in winter). Anywhere you go in this park you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of miles upon miles of rugged, unspoiled wilderness. It is also home to lots of unique wildlife, home to all types of british grouse, deer, and extremely rarely, you may see a Scottish Wildcat.
The Cairngorms are also the snowiest place in the UK, so it is the ideal place for snow lovers or those after a snowy winter getaway!
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
Home to the UK’s largest lake, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs is a beautiful national park with a large variety of scenery as well as dramatic mountainous scenery, accompanied by lowland and woodland.
The Loch, which the park is named after boasts many cute lakeside towns and villages, and some have some serene beaches for people to enjoy. Inland beaches are quite uncommon, however it is definitely worth visiting one, such as Luss Beach, or Milarrochy Bay, one of the most photogenic places in the entire park. In many of these towns, you will find small holiday companies who run watersports sessions, if you want to try your hand in kayaking, sailing, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and much more!
National Parks In Wales
Pembrokeshire National Park
Located on the south west coast of Wales, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is home to perhaps one of the UK’s most stunning coastlines. Picturesque limestone cliffs back huge, sandy beaches, with ancient buildings and heritage sites completing the picture-perfect location.
From the cliffs, you can often see some of the most interesting marine life in the UK, including dolphins, seals, and sometimes basking sharks (don’t worry, these aren’t dangerous to humans, and only live in the deep waters).
Some things to do include walking stretches of the near 200-mile long coast path, which goes from beautiful beach to beautiful beach, or visiting Carew Castle and Tidal Mill, a large, mostly intact castle with a mill close by.
The Brecon Beacons National Park
This park is very popular with mountaineers, as it is home to no less than four mountain ranges!
A seemingly infinite amount of trails lead the way up the heather covered mountains, making it the ultimate location for any walkers or mountain bikers of any ability.
Many parks mentioned in this article are great places for stargazing, but this one takes it one step further- it is an international Dark Sky Zone (these were previously mentioned, see the North York Moors National Park), meaning that it is exceptionally dark, and will stay that way. Historic man-made structures are hidden in amongst the vast wilderness, making for some very picturesque photo opportunities on your walks or bike rides.
Snowdonia National Park
Getting its name from Wales’ highest peak, Snowdonia National Park, located in north Wales is home to some truly breathtaking scenery.
The glacial landscape consists of the Snowdonia mountain range, many large lakes, impressive waterfalls, quiet, unspoilt, sandy beaches and mesmerising views.
Some local activities include hill walking on one of the many trails, climbing Snowdon, riding the Snowdon Mountain Railway, finding out about King Arthur’s connection, or even just stopping by at one of the quaint little villages that are scattered across the park.
Another local attraction is Velocity 2, Europe’s longest zip wire, and the world’s fastest- 125mph over a former, now flooded quarry!
Why Visit A National Park?
In summary, Great Britain’s National Parks are all places where you can see the best of the remaining wilderness in the country, and are places to be protected for future generations.
The varying landscapes and unique wildlife make them perhaps the prettiest and most relaxing places in Great Britain, and are always worth a visit, as you leave them feeling refreshed and accomplished. After all, being out in nature is good for your mental health, as it allows you to escape the stresses of everyday life.