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Nature has been carving North York Moors since well before the ice age. Dinosaurs are believed to have left their prints on Great Britain’s largest region of heather moorland. Today, eager tourists admire New York Moors walks for the breathtaking coastal vistas, bays and rolling hills. You’ll only find an odd sheep or two wandering about these hikes — ancient trees have replaced all the dinosaurs — but each trail has a story to tell.
Visit medieval abbeys. Explore ruins that inspired Bram Stoker’s most famous work. See the dramatic coastline that inspired Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll. Walk up a (steep) trail to Robin Hood’s Bay that inspired the legends of the thief who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Each walk in North York Moors also serves jaw-dropping vistas and loads of history. It’s as close as you’ll get to walking into an actual storybook.
North York Moors National Park sits on the hills of north-eastern Yorkshire. Driving through the entire park takes about an hour. Finding its hidden gems and well-loved highlights, you need to stay for at least a couple of days. The park offers 26 miles of coastline home to many species of birds, dolphins and whales. The “Dinosaur Coast” is also famous for fossil hunting and dinosaur footprints. The entire area is made of Middle Jurassic sandstones. As you move further inland the terrain shifts into vast, open moorland — one of the largest moor expenses in Europe. In between the moors, where the valleys dip, you’ll find a lot of English villages perfect enough for a postcard.
North York is a stunning walking destination in my own backyard
I’ve lived just south of the North York National Park for almost 10 years. Even though I’ve been guiding all over the UK, I’ve only headed out to local hikes since the quarantine. Guiding has given me an opportunity to discover everything the North York Moors have to offer. The moors themselves aren’t a mountainous area with climbing or scrambling. North York walks deliver varied rolling valleys that stretch into undulating, doable hills for at most 150 meters. Keep hearing about the magic of hiking in the Isle of Skye? North York is the storybook setting you’ve been looking for on your next trip. I still can’t believe such a beautiful place is practically at my doorstep. Here are a selection of my favorite trails to explore.
1. Coast to Coast Walk
Pros and cons
One of the most well-known walks in the United Kingdom, Coast to Coast has a bit of a deceiving name. Starting at Cumbria at St Bees on the Irish shore, this walk stretches from the Lake District National Park on the west shore of England over to the North York Moors. The last third of this walk crosses through the national park itself. People tend to hike sections, usually in no more than 24 kilometers (15 miles) at a time. While it lacks the vistas you might expect, the Coast to Coast walk snakes through gorgeous scenery filled with mirrored lakes and lush hay meadows. The trail also takes you along historic villages and archaeological sites.
How to hike the Coast to Coast trail
You’ll need to be an intermediate hiker to do the entire walk, but smaller parts can be hiked by beginners. The total Coast to Coast thru-hike crosses England for around 300 kilometers (190 miles) from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. Most people hike an average of 20 to 23 kilometers (12–14 miles) per day. Word of the wise, hike the Coast to Coast in the warmer months when it’s more likely to have clear sunny days.
If you want to discover England’s countryside, and make sure you do it well, pack your backpack and head for Coast to Coast
1. Coast to Coast Walk - Good to Know
Light strolls on meadows
Visit the official site for the detailed itinerary and Coast to Coast route map
Warmer months bring more sunny days
People walk in sections of 14 miles per day
You’ll spend 16 days on average hiking the entire Coast to Coast
2. Cleveland Way
Pros and cons
The Cleveland Way route might be ideal if you’re looking for a multi-day trail. The full Cleveland Way walk is 175 kilometers (109 miles) starting in the town of Helmsley, follows a horseshoe shape, and heads to Filey Brigg past fishing villages and coastline. The full walk will take about seven to 10 days. It’s a national trail in England and Wales that starts on the western part of the North York Moors National Park. Cleveland Way enters the western gateway of North York at Sutton Bank, then links up with the coast.
Cleveland Way offers ample opportunity for sightseeing
Cleveland Way is quite a nice walk in Yorkshire, not too strenuous or mountainous. Since it’s a national trail, it’s well-maintained, and most of the walk travels over a pretty good track. There are more variations in the trail along the coast, meaning elevation changes and a few challenging sections. The rest is set on easy, doable terrain.
One of the highlights of the Cleveland Way National Trail is the market village called Helmsley with a medieval castle. From there, you walk to the Sutton Bank with a great viewpoint begging to be photographed. If you’re happy to walk 16 kilometers (10 miles) a day, this walk will reward you greatly with sweeping coastal vistas and hidden fisherman villages for you to discover.
Camping is also an option while you’re hiking Cleveland Way. Most people prefer to stop at locations along the way. Pubs and guesthouses are an important part of walking the Cleveland Way route. Baggage transfer options also allow hikers to avoid hauling their gear. If you prefer to be one-on-one with nature, you have to stick to the designated campsites. Wild camping is prohibited.
This trail will take you through the ever-changing scenery of North York Moors, from the rolling hills to jaw-dropping coastal walks you’ll be glad you packed a camera.
2. Cleveland Way - Good to Know
All hikers welcome
Undulating hills along the seaside
To see the heather in bloom, visit from August to early September
It takes 7-9 days to walk the entirety of Cleveland Way
Stop at as many abbeys and castles as you can, especially in Helmsley
Helpful trail info including an interactive Cleveland Way route map from National Trails UK
Avoid wind blowing in your face, hike it clockwise from Helmsley
3. Rosedale Railway Walk
Pros and cons
Rosedale Railway Walk is a gentle day tour in the North York Moors. The subtle beauty will leave you breathless. Today, it looks like your typical beautiful North Yorkshire countryside. Rosedale used to be a bustling centre for processing and mining iron 150 years ago at the start of the industrial revolution. It was no easy feat to build, and was integral for the workforce that mined the ores and kept the kilns alight. You can still see the remains of the town that once had an important role in keeping the area well-equipped. Rosedale’s historical railways were turned into a very relaxed eight-mile circuit trail and takes about five hours to complete.
Take a full day to enjoy the Rosedale Railway walk
My advice is to give yourself the day to enjoy the Rosedale Railway trail properly. The walk itself follows the lower part of the old railway, taking you through old farmlands. You’ll discover the ruins of those iron mines and kilns that stood the test of time on the line above. Look for plenty of gates and a stile to ensure you’re on the right path. It’s difficult to get lost in this section of the North York Moors. It’s laid on flat terrain and perfect for immersing yourself in its history. On top of that, you’ll find authentic tea rooms just in time for tea and cake breaks.
Once a big part of the industrial revolution in England, this historic walk has a lot of stories to tell. Add a couple of authentic teahouses in the mix, and you’ve got a great day out.
3. Rosedale Railway Walk - Good to Know
Ex-railways turned into a walk
Take a break and have a quick bite to eat in Rosedale Abbey
Stay on the lookout for landmarks dating back to the Victorian industrial age
Visit in the summer as the railway is pretty exposed to the elements
Walk takes 5 hours to complete
Pros and cons
Pick and choose which walk around Helmsley suits your interests. My favourite walk in this section of the North York Moors, and the most popular one, takes you to the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. Built in the 10th century, the site was ruined 600 years later by order of Henry the VIII, when he had an infamous falling out with catholics in the area. He realized that the abbeys were practically goldmines, since the monks who lived off the land made money by farming. Today, the ruins of the abbey lay in the dip of a small valley, surrounded by a forest. There seems to be a peculiar atmosphere about Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey, no matter which time of the year you choose to explore.
The walk is part of the Cleveland Way and is eight miles in total. It won’t be too strenuous even for beginners, and the sights you’ll get are more than worth it. The tour itself takes about an hour to complete. No one can pass up the opportunity to discover Rievaulx Abbey, not even the robots from the Transformers movies.
I consider it a gentle Sunday morning kind of walk with beautiful scenery, a bit of history and, of course, a nice tearoom to round up the day.
4. Helmsley - Good to Know
Gentle uphill walk
The abbey is an 1 hour away
Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey is a must-see no matter the season
Rievaulx Abbey is about 3 miles away from Helmsley
5. Sutton Bank
Pros and cons
Sutton Bank, located in the Hamilton Hills, is the trailhead for one of my favorite walks complete with a proper, traditional farm. This 12-mile loop will take you up gentle hills offering amazing, panoramic vistas.
The Sutton Bank walk links up with the Cleveland Way. After you pick your jaw off the floor, you’ll head down the Garbutt Woods to the gorgeous Gormire Lake, which was formed during the last ice age. Not quite old-English style, but High Paradise Tea Rooms is a must-stop spot. Their pizza oven and overall food is amazing. Any walk that features the gorgeous countryside and involves pizza can’t be that bad walk. The walk from the Sutton Bank is my go-to location for watching the sunset and rise, as well as for stargazing.
The route sums up why the North York Moors National Park is so much more — it showcases the woodland and hidden dales.
5. Sutton Bank - Good to Know
Gentle uphill walk through the woodlands
6. Goathland to Grosmont Rail Path
Pros and cons
The Rail Path is a almost six-kilometer (3.5 mile) trail between Grosmont and Goathland. This heritage rail-to-trail path, which is a name for all walks which used to be railway tracks, is easily one of the most gorgeous of its kind in England. The Goathland to Grosmont Rail Path is a linear walk great for families due to its low difficulty and upkeep. If you pick Goathland as your trailhead, it’s pretty much a downhill walk! It will take you and your little ones about one hour to reach one town or the other, following its old cinder tracks.
From Harry Potter to Downton Abbey, explore famous TV sites
One of the stops was used as a set for Hogwarts, the famous wizarding school in the Harry Potter franchise. Its beauty seems to amaze filmmakers — it became a backdrop for the TV show Downton Abbey, as well. Depending on the time of the visit, you might come across a bustling wildlife that calls this area its home.
Local birds draw in a lot of birdwatchers. Expect gentle gradients and rolling hills that won’t distract you from the surrounding vistas. From an activity point of view, it’s known for lots of walking among the ruins and thrilling mountain biking. It’s especially gorgeous in the springtime, when the wildflowers paint the woodlands in a rainbow of colors.
All aboard the historic steam train! After this unique experience that will make you feel like you’re on your way to Hogwarts, hike back through idyllic woodlands.
6. Goathland to Grosmont Rail Path - Good to Know
Easy walk through the woodlands
Feel like you fell back through time on the magical train ride
Start in Grosmont or Goathland
If you like a dose of adventure with your vistas, go on an exciting MTB tour in the area.
7. Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay
Pros and cons
This coastal town has history, both real and questionable, dating to the Jurassic era. Like all of the gorgeous walks along North York Moors’ coastline, this walk is no exception when it comes to scenic vistas and lush wildlife. Walking from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay is 7.5 miles, or about three hours of walking. This walk is also the perfect opportunity to see the dinosaur footprints in person, as well as other fossils from the Jurassic era.
These coasts are also home to a special type of gemstone called Whitby jet, due to its unmistakable black color. After you’ve gone on this lovely walk, be sure to stop for fish and chips. Robin Hood’s Bay has a lot of old-world, cozy pubs that are likely what you think of in the English countryside. I usually go back the same way — it won’t get old, promise. If you’re not too keen on walking back, you can also jump on a bus.
What is Robin Hood’s Bay famous for?
Robin Hood’s Bay is famous for the lore of the thief that gave to the poor. According to legend, Robin Hood himself protected the village from French pirates and returned the loot to the poor people who lived there. The quirky old town of Robin Hood’s Bay is ramshackled and very confusing to navigate, with its narrow alleys and footpaths that seem to lead nowhere. It was quite literally built with smugglers in mind. Back in the old days, smugglers could go about their risky business undisturbed, since the paths led straight into the moor.
From dinosaur footprints and stories of the legendary Robin Hood to vistas that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this walk just keeps on giving.
7. Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay - Good to Know
Undulating coastal walk
Robin Hood’s Bay is famous for the town’s layout, which once served the many smugglers who lived there.
7.5-mile linear walk
Whitby or Robin Hood’s Bay
The legend of Robin Hood was born in this village
Takes 3 hours to hike
Advice for Planning North York Moors Walks
When is the best time to visit the North York Moors?
May, September and October are really good months to plan your visit to the North York Moors because the crowds thin out. English weather will be what it is. There is no way to know what to expect. Since it’s on the east coast, the North York Moors National Park is one of the driest in the country. You won’t be as rained in as in other parts of the UK. It’s easier to find accommodation and those months are actually ideal months for walking in England.
Where to stay during the walk in the North York Moors?
In England, national parks are lived-in areas, so you’ll find lots of towns just on the outskirts of the park. If you’re planning to stay in the North York Moors for a couple of days, Whitby is a pretty good option to make your homebase. If you find it too crowded or would prefer to have alternatives, opt for Pickering or Helmsley. Whitby should be your go-to if you plan to stick to the coast and the other two towns are closer to the moors. The park is not particularly large, it only takes an hour to drive from one end to the other. If you plan to do a lot of exploring, Pickering is a great place to stay as it’s in the heart of the park.
It would be a shame to visit the park without staying at one of the many authentic pubs, guesthouses and cottages. Great ale, cozy atmosphere and amazing food — what’s not to love? One of my favourites is the Croft House.
What gear do you need to pack?
You don’t have to have a complicated packing list for hiking in North York Moors. Your regular hiking gear, daypack and lots of layers will suffice. There are so many tearooms and pubs all around, you’re not likely to go hungry or thirsty. Pack a light lunch if you’re heading out for the day and don’t want to worry about missing the sights.
Do you need a permit for the North York Moors?
Everything in the park is free. All you need to pay for is parking by an hourly fee, if you arrive by car. Almost all of the car parks have toilets. Any fees you pay are put toward maintaining the park. You are also able to pay for parking on your phone without even having to leave your car or leave the views you were admiring.
What else is there to do in North York?
In the UK, you have to steer clear from the footpaths if you plan to ride your bike. Look for the bridleways — there are plenty — where you can cycle freely for long spans of time. It’s a really bike-friendly park. You’ll find plenty of bicycle stations and pumps, especially near cafes.
The North York Moors boast a lush wildlife and sealife. You can see dolphins and seals pretty much year-round. If you’re here for whale watching, visit the moors towards the end of July or in September.