Hiking the Dales Way

by Sue Talbot

Embarking on a scenic trek along the Dales Way from Ilkley to Bowness-on-Windermere introduces you to the untamed natural beauty of two of the country’s most revered national parks.

This spectacular trail, spanning approximately 80 miles through the stunning landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks, is embraced by dramatic fells and passes through some of England’s prettiest towns and villages. 

Ilkley, the gateway to adventure

Nestled at the southern end of the Yorkshire Dales, Ilkley serves as the starting point for the Dales Way. This charming town is made up of cobblestone streets, Victorian architecture and panoramic views of the ruggedly beautiful countryside.

Before setting off on your hike, it’s well worth exploring Ilkley Moor and the famous Cow and Calf Rocks, which provide fabulous views over Wharfedale.

Rocky crags stand from the trail on the Dales Way
Views down over the patchwork fields of Wharfedale.

Following the River Wharfe 

The babbling waters of the River Wharfe steer you along the first part of the hike. Nature’s meditative sounds create a soothing backing track as you walk among meadows and farmland. Along the way, stop off to explore picturesque villages, such as Addingham, and Bolton Abbey.

The River Wharfe.

The natural wonders of Wharfedale

Wharfedale has been blessed with undulating hills that tumble down to lush valleys, and everywhere you look, you’re greeted with relentless natural beauty. The gigantic limestone outcrops of Kilnsey Crag and Malham Cove add a touch of grandeur and intrigue to the landscape.

Malham Cove.
Views from Gorsdale Scar.

As you ascend the renowned Grassington Steps, you’re rewarded with sweeping views of the valley below. This section of the Dales Way is also a great spot for wildlife watching, with the likes of red kites, roe deer and otters occupying the diverse habitats. 

Yorkshire villages

If you love ambling through quaint villages filled with character, the Yorkshire Dales has plenty of gems to explore, from Grassington and Kettlewell, the starting places for many fantastic walks, to Ribblehead, most famously known for its magnificent viaduct.

Buckden, one of the many villages in the Yorkshire Dales, sits beneath a steep green slope on the Dales Way.

Dent and Sedbergh

As you approach the village of Dent, bid farewell to the Yorkshire Dales as you head towards the Lake District National Park. Dent is filled with timeless stone buildings and offers a warm welcome for weary hikers at one of its traditional pubs. Enjoy a well-earned pitstop before continuing to Sedbergh.

The walk into Sedburgh.

Exploring the Lake District

Leaving Sedbergh behind, enter the Lake District, famous for its dramatic landscapes and lakes that lie beneath the gaze of mighty fells. The Dales Way showcases the park’s highlights, with awe-inspiring vistas of valleys, mountains, rivers and lakes as you pass through Kendal and Staveley.

Bowness-on-Windermere, journey’s end

The Dales Way culminates in the waterside town of Bowness-on-Windermere, nuzzled along the banks of Windermere. Soak up the postcard-pretty scenery where boats bob on the water and majestic fells frame the landscape.

After taking in the beautiful views, spend some time exploring the town’s charming streets, visit the Beatrix Potter Gallery or enjoy a thrilling lake cruise below the jagged peaks.

Boats sit on the placid waters of Lake Windermere at the end of the Dales Way.

Hiking the Dales Way from Ilkley to Bowness-on-Windermere is a transformative experience that allows you to reconnect with nature, immerse yourself in incredible landscapes and discover the rich heritage and culture of the region. This remarkable 80-mile journey gives you a glimpse into some of England’s most captivating scenery and will undoubtedly lure you under the spell of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District.

Sue Talbot

Adventure Travel Blogger

Sue Talbot is an adventure travel blogger and iPhone photographer who’s often found hiking up the Lakeland fells or swimming in fairy pools. Her outdoor adventures and photographs can be found on her blog, Lifehop, and also her Lake District Lovers Facebook page.

Read more blogs by Sue Talbot

Interested in walking the Dales Way?

Contours Holidays offer three versions of the Dales Way walking holiday: the full-trail walk, highlights option and short break. Find your holiday here:

Originally published 12/01/24

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