Walking, running and cycling in the Lake District and Cumbria. What could be better?
The English Lake District is perfect for outdoors folk, and – while better known for the hill-walking and running – is ever more a destination for cyclists. Of course, there are hills in the Lake District. Some quite big ones really.
So if you are a cyclist who likes a challenge, that’s great! Plenty to offer.
If you prefer flatter routes, those exist as well, particularly in parts of Cumbria just outside the Lake District itself. You just need to know where they are!
There are a number of cycle maps and guide books to help, and I have some suggestions of different types of routes below, along with the map or guide book that would help you plan your route and find your way.
Below you will find sections on different aspects of cycling in the Lake District and Cumbria:
- Suggested cycle touring and cycling holiday hubs
- Gentle / family bike rides
- Cycle touring
- Waymarked long-distance cycle routes
- Mountain biking / off-road cycle routes
- Cycling maps and guide books
- Cycle-friendly holiday accommodation
Suggested cycle touring and cycling holiday hubs in the Lake District and Cumbria
If you are bringing bikes by car, there are all sorts of places in Cumbria and the Lake District that welcome bikes. See below for some suggestions.
I’ve also chosen three possible hubs:
- Keswick, for some challenging and adventurous touring, access to the coast and to the C2C cycle route, and close to Whinlatter Forest for mountain bike trails
- Ambleside, as above, but also with Grizedale Forest and its range of ability trails and the Langdale valleys not far away
- Grange-over-Sands, with access to flatter cycle routes suitable for families, and reachable by rail
Gentle / family bike rides in the Lake District and Cumbria
When you open a map of the Lake District itself, one thing you tend to notice is the lack of flat land and therefore flat roads suitable for gentle or family cycle rides. You tend to have to look around the outside of the Lake District National Park for cycle rides for young families.
Windermere and Wray Castle
A mix of bridleways and country lanes – 11.5 miles. Includes the shores of Windermere and Esthwaite Water.
Guide book: Family Cycle Rides in the Lake District
Grange-over-Sands to Town End
Just outside the Lake District National Park, Grange-over-Sands is a really nice little town sitting on the Morecambe Bay estuary. From Grange-over-Sands a five-mile cycle along the quietest of country lanes brings you to the village of Town End (which has a pub for refreshments).
This is a gorgeous ride, thoroughly recommended.
Start off on quite a busy road (so take great care) but very shortly turn right on to the quiet lanes. Then just follow the Sustrans signs until you get to Town End.
Map: This is part of The Bay Cycle Way route, and is shown on the Ordnance Survey Tour Map of the Lake District and Cumbria.
The Forestry Commission’s Grizedale Forest lies between the shores of Windermere on the east and the village of Hawkshead on the west.
There are several waymarked cycle trails on forest roads, some short and quite flat, others longer and more of a challenge.
Of course, there are also real mountain-bike trails as well, so potentially something for all the family.
Have a look at their website to see if it is for you:
The Solway coast
Cumbria’s northern peninsula is some distance from the Lake District National Park, and the scenery is very different to the mountains of the Lakes. It is flat! This is a 14-mile ride, and for much of the time you will be looking across the Solway Firth estuary to Scotland.
Park a car at Anthorn, a small village next to the river and cycle west along quiet country lanes.
The route follows the shoreline for about ten miles, stopping at the Solway Wetlands Centre near Bowness-on-Solway for a well-deserved cup of something (and maybe a tour of the RSPB site).
Then turn right at Glasson to cut across the peninsula for another four miles to bring you to the village of Whitrigg, where you turn right again to cycle back to Anthorn.
Keswick to Threlkeld on the old railway track
The original route was damaged by the floods of 2015, but as of 2021 the route is open again. It’s even better than before, with a tunnel!
This is part of the C2C route, and is very popular.
It still makes a very nice ride, including an incline out of Keswick.
Guide book: Family Cycle Rides in the Lake District
Cycle touring in the Lake District
There are two very good guide books for cycle touring in the Lake District and Cumbria, or you can use the cycling maps from Sustrans or the Ordnance Survey Tour Map to create your own cycle routes. You might also choose to read ‘A Lake District Grand Tour’ of which more below.
Suggested routes from Keswick
Circuit of the Skiddaw and Blencathra ranges
33/34 miles and ‘strenuous’. Fantastic views and mostly quiet lanes until the last section back into Keswick.
Park in Keswick (or hire a bike there), heading out on the C2C cycle route to Threlkeld. Follow signs to Mungrisdale then Caldbeck (excellent pub here with its own brewery). Then follow signs to Bassenthwaite, before following the main road (though not too busy) back to Keswick.
Both the CycleCity and Cicerone guide books give good descriptions and maps. See below. Or use the OS Tour map.
Other suggested cycle routes from Keswick:
See the Goldeneye Lake District map to follow these routes.
- Over Whinlatter Pass to Lorton, past Crummock Water and Buttermere, back via Honister Pass and Derwentwater. Very challenging.
- Cycling to Ambleside via Castlerigg Stone Circle, Thirlmere, Grasmere and Red Bank
- The circuit of Derwentwater. Take care on busy days down the east side of the lake.
- Over Whinlatter Pass to Lorton, Cockermouth and the reverse of the Workington branch of the C2C
Suggested cycle routes from Ambleside
Ambleside, Ullswater, Thirlmere and Grasmere circuit
41 hard miles according to the Cicerone guide book (below), but well worth it if the legs and lungs will stand it.
The route starts in Ambleside heading very steeply up The Struggle and over the rock-strewn Kirkstone Pass. Then drops beautifully down to Ullswater, following the lakeshore before climbing up again northwards.
Quiet lanes then take you to Threlkeld (choice of pubs available) and then drop you down on to the St Johns in the Vale road (B5322). Cross over the main Keswick-Ambleside road to ride round the very quiet western side of Thirlmere. Then join the new cycle track that avoids climbing Dunmail Raise on the main road. From there you can either fly down towards Grasmere on the main road, or cut off on small lanes.
Don’t use the main road from Grasmere to Ambleside (which is very busy and unpleasant) if you still have the legs for a climb up the challenging Red Bank to bring you back to Ambleside on the Hawkshead road.
Other cycle routes from Ambleside
These probably best followed using the Goldeneye Lake District map:
- Head west out of Ambleside into Little Langdale. Up and over to Great Langdale. Return via Elterwater and Skelwith Bridge.
- Again head west from Ambleside, turning south for Coniston. Cycle down the east side of Lake Coniston, then turn back north to follow the lanes through Grizedale Forest (including a stop at the café) and into Hawkshead. Back from there in many places off-road.
Suggested cycle routes from Grange-over-Sands
Circuit of Whitbarrow
This is a 29-mile fairly tough route from Cicerone’s guide book Cycling in the Lake District (see below).
Heading east out of Grange-over-Sands towards the village of Town End the going is straightforward and quite level, at least as far as Levens.
Pedalling north from there in a big loop brings you back to Town End in a figure-of-eight. But then you head for delightful Cartmel. Don’t forget to stop for some refreshment here. The sticky toffee pudding is legendary!
After that, it’s really not that far back to Grange – just enough to shake your pudding down.
Guide book: Cicerone’s Cycling in the Lake District
Other cycle routes from Grange-over-Sands
- The Bay Cycleway to Dalton-in-Furness (and the train back?)
- The Bay Cycleway to Carnforth (and the train back?)
- Circuit of Coniston Water via Grizedale Forest
- Broughton-in-Furness to Eskdale, over the Hardknott Pass and back via Coniston – a challenge this one
Guide books for cycle touring in the Lake District and Cumbria
Cicerone’s ‘Cycling in the Lake District‘
The guide book begins with a tour of the Lake District over several days. It’s challenging, of course, but then this is the Lake District! The book then has day rides, many of which are again quite challenging, though some less so. Rides include:
- Ambleside to Eskdale and back the long way round
- Penrith to Haweswater
- A circuit of Skiddaw from Keswick via Caldbeck
‘Cycle Tours in and around the Lake District‘ from CycleCity in association with Ordnance Survey
Using excellent Ordnance Survey mapping, the guide book has 20 cycle tour descriptions, the length varying from 24 to 35 miles. Each graded from Easy to Strenuous. Rides include:
- Keswick and Newlands – 26 miles, strenuous
- Ring around Kendal – 33 miles, moderate
- Grasmere and Coniston – 25 miles, strenuous
This is a lovely coffee-table book with 8 circular rides around the Lake District and Cumbria. It includes maps, wonderful photos and descriptions, plus listings of pubs and pitstops.
It makes a great gift, either to someone else or to yourself!
Planning your own circular rides in the Lake District and Cumbria
You have the choice of either Ordnance Survey or Sustrans cycle maps to plan and ride your own tours of the Lake District and Cumbria.
- Ordnance Survey Tour Map of the Lake District and Cumbria
- Goldeneye Cycling Country Lanes and Traffic-Free Family Routes – due for publication May 2021
Waymarked long-distance cycle routes in Cumbria and the Lake District
The C2C coast to coast cycle route
For full information on the route, see the C2C page here.
Normally an east to west cycle route, Hadrian’s Cycleway follows a route within Cumbria from Carlisle down the west to coast to Ravenglass.
The Reivers Route
Originally intended as a reverse C2C route, the Reivers Route is a very good ride in its own right.
Within Cumbria, the Reivers Route map brings you south from Carlisle to Caldbeck, skirting the northern fells to Cockermouth. From there it reaches the coast at Workington, then follows down the coast on mostly off-road routes to the start point of the C2C in Whitehaven.
The Bay Cycleway
This a newer cycle route, again starting near Barrow, but doing a loop around Morecambe Bay, ending in Morecambe / Lancaster.
And take time out to visit Cartmel.
Tour of the Lake District
There are several ways to do a grand tour of the Lake District. You can use the excellent Cicerone Cycling in the Lake District guide book.
Or you can use the Sustrans and OS Tour maps to make your own route, just as I did to write “A Lake District Grand Tour“, which is not a guide book at all.
It’s more a humorous tale of taking on a challenge to cycle over all of the passes, to see all of the lakes, and to go to the furthest north, south, east and west points of the Lake District National Park.
‘This is one hell of way to see the Lake District National Park! A great description of the grandest of Lake District tours. Get pedalling!’ wrote the Chief Exec of the National Park (no less).
Mountain biking / off-road cycle routes in the Lake District
There are both wild and structured mountain bike routes in the area.
There are three main options for maps and guide books for more wild mountain biking.
A great map is Goldeneye’s Lake District Off-Road Bike Routes.
There is a little guide book, Off-Road Rides in the Lake District.
Another option is Lake District Mountain Biking – Essential Trails, published by Vertebrate Publishing.
In the form of a book rather than a map, it details 27 routes, splitting them into Classics, Epics, Enduros and Killers!
Routes include High Street, Borrowdale and Skiddaw.
The third option is Mountain Biking in the Lake District, a Cicerone guide book. Equally good, this one has 24 routes: Short, Medium, Long and Full Day.
Both guide books have more of a focus generally on the south and east of the National Park.
Cycle-friendly Holiday Accommodation in the Lake District and Cumbria
Section still to be completed
Buying the maps and guide books for cycling in Cumbria and the Lake District
Previews of some of the maps and guide books are below.
All are available from the Bike Ride Maps webshop. Either click on a link below for more information or add them to your basket.
Lake District Off-Road Bike Routes Goldeneye MapProduct on sale
Mountain Biking in the Lake DistrictProduct on sale
Lake District Mountain Biking Vertebrate Guide BookProduct on sale
C2C Cycle Route Cicerone guide bookProduct on sale
C2C Cycle Route Footprint MapProduct on sale
C2C Cycle Route Ultimate Guide BookProduct on sale
Cycling the Reivers Route Cicerone Guide BookProduct on sale
Footprint C2C map and Excellent Books C2C guide bookProduct on sale
Reivers Off-road and On-Road Cycle Routes MapProduct on sale