A Local's Guide to Hiking, Climbing & Camping in Snowdonia, Wales
An in-depth guide for post pandemic exploration of one of the UK's most impressive mountain landscapes
Pete Elliott is a freelance photographer and outdoorist from the South Coast of England. Follow Pete on Instagram.
Although not perhaps the first place you consider when thinking about a trip to the mountains, Britain is certainly blessed with an enviable selection of mountains. While Scotland draws most attention for it's rugged Highlands, Wales has Snowdonia, one of most impressive mountain landscapes in the UK. A rugged setting carved by Ice Age glaciers, the region is home mountain royalty, with the mighty Glyderaus, the Carneddau, and Snowdon—Wales' tallest peak—towering over the area.
In all, nine mountain zones exist in Snowdonia, creating an impressive array of craggy peaks, narrowing gorges, booming waterfalls, and windswept highlands. To protect this diverse landscape Snowdonia was designated as National Park in 1951, and remains Wales largest national park, celebrated and revered by many for its beauty and important place in Welsh folklore and UK mountain culture.
The English name for the area derives from Snowdon—in Welsh the area is named Eyri, which has been recently proved to mean ‘Highlands’ and is related to the Latin Oriri (to rise). The name Snowdonia evokes different feelings amongst different people. For many visitors, the highest peak of Snowdon comes first. A beautiful hike for sure—the best route is included in the below guide—but there's so much more to discover in the 823 square mile area.
Snowdonia really has it all when it comes to wanting an outdoor adventure. Aside from hiking you have numerous options when it comes to activities, from mountain biking and wild swimming to canoeing and climbing. Be sure to check out all that’s on offer before you plan a trip here so you don't miss out.
Read on below for an insider's guide to hiking Snowdonia, with tips for quieter hikes, stealth camping, and more ares to explore that will leave you with a lasting memory of this Welsh treasure.
What to Know About Snowdonia Mountains
As one of the UK’s premier mountain ranges Snowdonia holds an important place in mountain history. Early climbers flocked here as the Snowdon Massif possesses many cliffs that are now considered to be some of the best in Britain for climbing. Clogwyn Du'r Arddu (Ed Note: Welsh may seem a complicated language at first, but the spelling is entirely regular and phonetic so understandering basic pronunciation is crucial) was the site of the first recorded climb in Britain in 1798. It is often known as ‘Cloggy’ for obvious reasons.
Snowdonia has frequently been used as training for expeditions all around the world, but perhaps most notably training for Everest. George Mallory was known to have trained in Wales, with many of his early climbs taking place around the Snowdon Massif on the steep cliffs available there.
In more recent history Snowdonia was utilised by Sir Edmund Hilary to hone his mountaineering skills before a successful first ascent of Everest in 1953.
This Welsh landscape has since drawn millions of visitors from around the world to explore, but with a little extra effort in planning, experiencing an unfrequented and wilder side of Snowdonia is posible.
Tryfan and Glyder Fach
It’s always surreal driving into the Ogwen Valley. Suddenly mountains surround you, rising steeply on either side, carrying a sense of excitement with them. Here some of the best UK mountain hikes are on offer.
For a fine day of scrambling, opt to take on Tryfan and Glyder Fach. The route begins with a scramble up the north ridge of Tryfan, the longest scramble in Snowdonia, where jagged rocks and sheer rock faces can be navigated on a sustained 600m pitch. Chilly overcast days with intermittent rain may make this route more dangerous, but still manageable.
The rock is slick so it's important to be calculated when climbing, especially as some places feature nerve wrecking exposure. Halfway up is the Cannonstone, a piece of rock that juts out of the mountain side you can climb. As you climbed higher, eventually reaching the summit, surrounding mountains will come into view, with the next peak being Glyder Fach.
The Bristly Ridge scramble route starts up a daunting gully with an overhanging rock signifying the route. The rock is grippy, and footholds plenty as you make your way up the rocky gully—remember, four points of contact (hands & feet) on rock at all times.
Aside from an airy downclimb, the scramble is extremely enjoyable. The top of Glyder Fach is a sea of rocks, protruding in all different shapes and sizes producing some amazing formations as a result of millions of years of freeze thaw cycles, which continues to shatter the rocks into thousands of pieces.
The ‘Castle of the Winds’ is absolutely breathtaking. It feels like you’ve just wandered into Mordor. The summit looks especially incredible catching the glow of the sun on a partially cloudy day.
Crib Goch Route to Snowdon Summit
Although there is much more to Snowdonia than simply climbing its highest peak, a scramble across Crib Goch is one of the most exhilarating mountain days available. It’s worth noting this shouldn’t be attempted without at least some climbing/scrambling experience and a head for heights. All along the mind blowing knife edge ridge is hair raising, sustained exposure.
The most common starting point of Crib Goch is the Pen Y pass, but this is often crawling with people by 8AM—a park and ride in Nant Peris circumnavigates this issue. Starting up the Pyg Track you may be swamped by the masses attempting to climb Snowdon, but after 30 minutes or so the route diverts from this highway and heads toward the base of Crib Goch.
From here the famous Grade 1 Scramble begins as you climb up to the east ridge. Upon reaching this you must navigate a rocky knife edge ridge, where any mistake could (and has been) fatal. This requires some attentive hands and foot work that isn’t exactly plain sailing.
Once you reach the Pinnacles the most dangerous part is finished, but the scrambling continues up to the summit of Garnedd Ugain. The route to the Snowdon Summit is clear from here, and awaiting you are panoramic views of the park.
Y Garn and Elidir Fawr
Y Garn from Ogwen Cottage is a classic, and offers views over the Ogwen Valley and further into the Carneddau. From the Ogwen Cottage the path slowly climbs until you reach Llyn Idwal, a glistening lake with dramatic cliffs rising sharply on the southern side. From here the route steepens, taking you along the northeast ridge which is largely pleasant with a few steeper sections. As you ascend another mountain lake comes into view, framed by an upsurge of sheer rock faces encompassing it. It's beautiful.
The summit of Y Garn provides seemingly endless views of this mountainous region, but continuing the hike to Elidir Fawr requires a fair bit more distance and elevation. Heading down and along the ridge to the northwest will lead you to Elidir Fawr, which looms over Marchlyn Mawr reservoir. Following this path will lead you to the summit of this much quieter peak in Snowdonia, where every effort is handsomely rewarded.
Best Cadair Idris Summit Route in South Snowdonia
On the quieter, southern side of Snowdonia lies Cadair Idris, a majestic peak in its own right. One of the more stunning ways to take in this hike is with a sunrise summit. To do so, set your alarm for 4am and pack warm.
One option is to take the Minffordd Path, which will mean you traverse the whole ridge up to the summit around Llyn Cau. If the sky is clear a fine view of the lake will be waiting, before you push on to what has become one of this author's favorite Snowdonia summits, Cadair Idris.
As day brakes, watch the first rays of sunlight burst over the horizon, spreading a rich blend of orange and red hues into a grateful sky. The early morning light floods into the picturesque valley surrounding Llyn Cau bathing the tower of grey rock rising behind the lake in sun. During the summer months it directs its warm rays into this valley, creating a striking display. One not to miss.
Wild Camping Rules in Snowdonia
Wild camping is technically not allowed in Wales. However, it is tolerated, and has been commonplace here for years. The Snowdonia National Park Authority accepts that wild camping is acceptable, away from roads and if done by small groups who adhere to leave no trace rules. Please read up on these before setting off to ensure your environmental impact is minimal. And of course, always adhere to LNT practices and respect the local environment as well as local people.
10 Do’s & Don'ts for Exploring Wales' Snowdonia Mountain Range
DO download OS maps or another navigation tool if you’re hiking somewhere new.
DO get a full welsh breakfast after a hike!
DO have a plan B! Weekends can be busy and there are plenty of options for hikes here.
DO visit in May or October to avoid crowds, or winter if you want to witness breathtaking winter scenery, invigorating walks (cold) and very few others there.
DO camp! It’s the best way to enjoy the outdoors.
DON'T park on roadsides or across entrances - there are busy through roads here that can get blocked by people parking in stupid places!
DON'T forget appropriate footwear, these mountains are slippy when wet!
DON'T just climb Snowdon, it’s a good day out but often ruined by crowds.
DON'T attempt a big scramble without any previous experience!
DON'T forget full waterproofs—as aforementioned Wales can be wet!