Walking in Hafren Forest

by Cass Jenks

Not far north of Llanidloes sprawls Hafren Forest, a towering plantation that was first established almost ninety years ago. It has since become a hugely successful site for lumber and leisure alike.

Hafren Forest features a host of waterside walking trails along the River Severn, including the dramatic start of our Severn Way walking holiday and a short but scenic section of the Wye Valley Walk.

A well-maintained wooden boardwalk heads through Hafren Forest alongside the River Severn, with a bench for enjoying views of the river.
A signpost for the Severn Way in Hafren Forest, covered in lichen.

The forest is also home to a fully accessible boardwalk circuit known as the Cascades Walk, which was buzzing with explorers of all ages and mobilities when I visited in June.

Walking trails in Hafren Forest

All the walking routes in Hafren are incredibly well maintained, with solid surfaces and plenty of signposting throughout. Information boards clearly display each loop, its highlights, the distances involved and any opportunities to turn back along easier trails.

A large Natural Resources for Wales sign in Hafren Forest. It displays the various walking routes in the area, with different loops on offer.

It’s easy to link several of the Hafren Forest walks together; most branch off that starting section of the Severn Way, known as the Source of the Severn Trail, and clear signage is always on hand to help you decide which way to go.

Cascades Walk

The Cascades Walk is an accessible trail about half a mile (0.9km) long that consists of riverside boardwalk on the outbound journey and a smoothly tarmacked path between the trees on the return route. It runs directly from the Hafren Forest car park, Rhyd-y-Benwch, with ramps up onto the boardwalk that are suitable for a wheelchair or mobility scooter.

A broad wooden ramp leads up from a hard-surfaced path onto the Cascades Walk boardwalk in Hafren Forest, with clear signposting pointing out the different routes ahead.
The Cascades waterfall at the furthest tip of the Cascades Walk. The Severn runs over a stepped series of rocks between grassy banks overhung by the trees.

The River Severn runs between ranks of tall conifers, with the well-maintained wooden boardwalk of the Cascades Walk in Hafren Forest running alongside.

There’s no compromise on scenery here. The boardwalk tours a stunning section of the River Severn, surrounded by mature trees on all sides. There’s a scenic picnicking spot at the far end of the boardwalk that overlooks a bubbling series of shallow waterfalls: the eponymous cascades.

Blaen Hafren Falls Trail

The Blaen Hafren Falls Trail follows the boardwalk section of the Cascades Walk to its farthest point at the picnic table. From here, the two trails part ways, and the Blaen Hafren Falls loop climbs straight ahead onto an undulating footpath that soon levels out to follow the Severn through the trees.

A rocky-surfaced trail pitches steeply upwards with a wooden handrail on one side. Huge evergreen trees tower overhead.
A level grit pathway traces the edge of the conifer plantation at Hafren Forest, with the trees on one side and the River Severn rushing below on the left. Beyond the river, we can see the forest verge: grassland, shrubs and immature trees, with the Cambrian Mountains blue in the distance.

The trail skirts the edge of the tallest conifer stands, enjoying the sunshine, birdlife and deciduous growth around the banks of the river. One of the best parts of this walk has to be the sound of the water, which gurgles here through deeply-carved stone.

The River Severn froths through a smooth, twisting chasm it's cut into the stone, with trees and moss on either side.

Trail signs in Hafren Forest. A big wooden sign set into the bank beside the walking trail points out the Blaen Hafren Falls and the Source of the Severn Trail in one direction and the return route of the Blaen Hafren Falls Trail in the other.
The Severn rushes over exposed rock at the Blaen Hafren Falls.

Blaen Hafren Falls is the true centrepiece, however, complete with another picnic table where you can sit and enjoy lunch with a view.

From here, the trail turns back towards the car park along shady forestry track. The full Blaen Hafren Falls loop is 3.75 miles (2.3km) long.

Source of the Severn Trail

This eight-mile (13km) loop follows the Cascades boardwalk onto the outbound leg of the Blaen Hafren Falls Trail, diverging at the waterfall itself. The walking grows steep as the Source of the Severn Trail clambers through Hafren Forest, discovering spectacular views over the valley.

The Source of the Severn Trail becomes steeper as it heads north through Hafren Forest. It's a grit trail here that climbs steeply between a bank of spruce and bracken and a lone pine tree.
From higher up the Source of the Severn Trail, we can see out over Hafren Forest. The trail zigzags up from the conifer plantation beneath an overcast sky.

The trail departs the shade of the woodland and crosses open bogland on flat stones, climbing steadily until it reaches the point where the fledgling River Severn first surfaces from underground.

A wooden sign points out the Source of the Severn Trail, following a narrow path through an annodised pedestrian gate.
A large wooden post marks the source of the River Severn. It's set in a paved dias over bogland, with the blue sky reflected in the still waters surrounding it.

This is the official start of the Severn Way, which heads back through the forest on the outbound leg of the Source of the Severn Trail we’ve already covered.

The Source trail, meanwhile, makes its return to the trailhead along a different route. The walk follows forestry roads beneath Pumlumon, the highest point in the Cambrian Mountains, down to winding footpaths that lead through the ruins of the old mining operation of Nant yr Elra.

A wide forestry track leads the way back from the Source of the Severn. Hafren's conifers dominate on the left, while on the right, an exposed mountain slope rises up from a wooded riverbank.
A deep cut in the earth exposes a long wall of stone, with a waterfall at its head.

Beyond the mine, the Source of the Severn Trail joins the Wye Valley Walk on the bank of the Afon Hore. This well-surfaced path rises and falls as it heads east, mixing shaded sections beneath the conifers with open grassland on the river bank as it returns to the car park.

The Wye Valley Walk and the Source of the Severn Trail combine on this undulating path alongside the Afon Hore. The landscape is mostly grass and bracken around the river, with a few deciduous trees and bushes here and there.

The Source of the Severn Trail is the most strenuous on offer in Hafren Forest, with several optional spurs up to standing stones and the summit of Pumlumon. At a gentle pace, you could easily fill a day with this scenic walk.

Interested in walking the Severn Way?

Hafren Forest’s many circular walks can be enjoyed as day trips, but if you’d like to incorporate this beautiful forest into a longer walking break, Contours Holidays include it on two of our Severn Way walking holidays: the full-route holiday and the north section. Find your walk here:

Cass J, writer at Contours Holidays, rides a mountain bike down a hill.

Cass Jenks

Marketing and Strategy Consultant

Writer, editor and Google-wrangler at Contours Holidays, Cass spends each weekend on the trails, walking the dog or plummeting downhill along Wales’ best mountain biking tracks.

Read more blogs by Cass Jenks

Originally published 02/07/24

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