Dartmoor National Park
Although every national park in the UK features charming open landscapes, historic woods and picturesque streams and rivers, Dartmoor offers visitors a chance to experience these features in the most Romantic and unfiltered way imaginable. We have highlighted 10 of the best walks in Dartmoor National Park that will give you the opportunity to savour this wondrous landscape
A Selection of Popular Dartmoor Walks
When Steven Spielberg picks a location as the backdrop for a movie, you know there must be something special about it. When that movie is War Horse, and the location has been picked for its natural beauty and bucolic splendour, you can be even more confident that it’s most certainly worth a visit. That location is Dartmoor National Park, and today, we’re taking a deep dive into what the region has to offer for intrepid hikers.
Over the last year, we’ve taken a look at several national parks across the UK, including Exmoor, and the Brecon Beacons and one of the most exciting things about exploring these locations is just how diverse they are and just how much they have to offer those with a penchant for the outdoors, history and the beauty of nature.
With this in mind (along with the aforementioned Spielberg epic), today we’re strapping up our boots and taking a look at 10 of the best walks in Dartmoor National Park.
Introduction To Dartmoor National Park
Dartmoor really is an incredible place. While every national park in Britain features charming open landscapes, historic woods and picturesque streams and rivers, Dartmoor offers visitors a chance to experience these features in the most Romantic and unfiltered way imaginable. The rivers roar, the woods exude a mystical otherworldly quality and the rolling hills with their iconic tors inspire awe.
It’s also a fantastic place for hikers of all abilities to explore. The moorland is large, spanning nearly a thousand (954) square kilometres – close to the total size of London – and plays host to everything from meandering village strolls to challenging woodland hikes.
It’s little surprise then, that when it comes to charting the best walks in Dartmoor National Park, we were pretty spoiled for choice. There are countless hiking routes available and the moorland is an excellent place to simply explore, but a few routes stand out as ideal ways to explore the best the park has to offer. For this list of the best walks on Dartmoor, we’ve focussed on a selection of these.
One of the defining features of Dartmoor is its stone ‘tors’, which are made up of piles of huge granite rocks (this stone makes up 65% of the moor and it’s unsurprising that quarries dating back centuries dot the landscape).
They sit atop hills of varying sizes and it’s hard to believe these are natural formations – they’re enormous, appearing like organic cairns – but they are indeed; they’re spots across the highest points on the moors where the natural granite beneath bursts from the ground, exposed by the weathering of thousands of years of wind and rain.
The tors are such a defining feature, that the army – along with local schools and hiking groups – offers a unique experience for young walkers: the ‘Ten Tors’ competition. This is a competitive hike, in which teams of six young hikers set out armed with a map and compass (and about 30kg of other required kit…), to reach ten defined ‘checkpoint’ tors across a weekend. The 2,400 hikers, aged between 14 and 19, camp out and compete to finish the routes – which span either 35, 45, or 55 miles – in the quickest time possible.
It’s a great challenge – not to mention a brilliant weekend’s adventure to inspire young people to get hiking! Considering it takes the better part of a year to train for the hike, it’s also a fantastic achievement, with the medals granted at the end a lifetime keepsake.
Dartmoor National Park – A Potted History
Dartmoor National Park also plays host to a fascinating history. The land has been occupied, farmed and used by people for thousands of years – in fact, there are many places on the moor where the remains of Bronze Age settlements, dating back 4,500 years, can be seen, including stone rows and burial cairns.
There are also many standing stones present on the moors, which are reminiscent of the iconic slabs at Stonehenge, although much more weathered. Several of these can even be seen on some of the routes detailed in our list of the best walks in Dartmoor National Park!
As the weather on the moorland became wetter and cooler over the course of a thousand years from around 1000 BC, much of high Dartmoor was largely abandoned by its early inhabitants – leaving the rugged, untouched landscapes that provide the backdrop for several of the walks on this list.
The land on Dartmoor has been used for a variety of purposes, particularly farming – today, 90% of the land across Dartmoor is used for this purpose. Across the moors, you’ll be greeted with many Dartmoor Ponies (a famous attraction of the landscape in their own right). While they appear wild, they are in fact all owned by farmers on the land and have been used historically to transport materials and food to and from the numerous mines and quarries across the landscape.
There’s even a prison on the moors: In the village of Princetown sits HMP Dartmoor – a category C men’s prison, opened in 1809 and still in use today (although it will be decommissioned in 2023).
The Best Walks In Dartmoor National Park
There’s something for hikers of every age and every ability level to enjoy on Dartmoor. Whether you’re looking for a casual stroll along some rural village roads or a difficult walk across some of the landscape’s steepest peaks, this list of the best walks in Dartmoor National Park should cater to your needs.
We’ve covered a bit of everything here and we hope you find the list useful. Each walk includes details of its length, time for completion and grid references to help you find where you’re going – of course, you might want to adapt some of these routes to make them easier or trickier, or to take up more or less time, which we would encourage; hiking is all about enjoying the natural world at your own pace!
We haven’t included a full breakdown of each of the checkpoints for these walks, because that would be a little bit unwieldy both for our readers and for us – instead, we’ve provided enough of an overview to inspire you and help you choose which walks you think you’d enjoy the most. Once you’ve made your choice, all you need to do is search for the walks below on the internet, and you can easily find detailed route guides and maps to guide you on your adventure.
Covid19 Hikers’ Tips
We’ve mentioned this in previous articles, but it bears repeating – as the ongoing Covid19 pandemic continues to change the way we live, work, and play, there are a few important safety guidelines hikers should abide by at all times:
- Maintain social distancing (2 metres)
Even though hiking is an outdoor activity, it’s important to keep to social distancing guidelines – remain 2 metres apart from any other hikers you may encounter. This is particularly relevant for some of the hikes we’re looking at that include sections when you’ll be walking through villages and hamlets.
- Wait until it’s clear to walk through narrow areas of limited access
As you’re hiking, you may come across some slightly narrow areas, such as bridges or steeper paths. If this is the case and there are several people waiting to cross the area, it’s a good idea to wait until it’s completely clear before moving on, to avoid coming into unnecessarily close contact with one another.
- Look out for any new signage
Some routes and trails may feature new signage which has been installed to provide up-to-date Covid guidance. Pay attention to these, and be mindful to follow any applicable guidance they may offer.
- Carry hand sanitiser and regularly sanitise hands
Bring a fresh bottle of hand sanitiser with you on any walks – if your hike takes you through any gates, or over any stiles etc, make sure to sanitise your hands both before and after touching anything and try to avoid touching your face during your hike if you can!
Let’s get cracking with our list of some of the best walks in Dartmoor…
1. Wistman’s Wood Walk
One of the most appealing things about Dartmoor is the drama of the landscape. Almost every element of the natural British countryside is amplified to an extreme degree – the hills tower and dominate the horizon, the grass rolls and billows in the wind, and the woods truly look like something from a fantasy novel.
Wistman’s Wood is possibly the best example of this and anyone visiting the area should take the time to visit – it’s the first route in this list for a reason, it’s absolutely one of the best walks in Dartmoor National Park and possibly even the whole of England.
Walk distance: 4.5 km
Difficulty: Fairly easy
Time: 1.5 hours
Map: OS Explorer OL28
Starting Grid reference: SX 609 750
Parking: Car park across the road from the Two Bridges Hotel, PL20 6SW
Fortunately, the route we’re looking at here is quite simple and thus is well-suited to hikers of any range of abilities and fitness levels. It’s also waymarked, which means if reading a map and compass isn’t your strong suit, you needn’t worry – you’re unlikely to end up lost in the woods (literally).
In 1797, Reverend Swete exclaimed “It is hardly possible to conceive anything of the sort so grotesque as this wood appears” – and while the gravity of his comment says a lot, it’s not really fair to call Wistman’s Wood grotesque; its lichen-covered, gnarled and winding young oak trees form a dense canopy, giving even the light in the dense woodland an ethereal green quality and the woods are some of the most breathtakingly beautiful woodland in England.
The walking route itself starts at the Two Bridges Hotel and at around 4.5km, can be completed quickly and easily, leaving you plenty of time to take in the mystical quality of the trees, the lichen, and the River Dart.
2. Lydford Gorge Walk
If you’ve spent any time taking in the rolling hills and tors of Dartmoor, it can be hard to imagine that the park could play host to babbling brooks, waterfalls and whirlpools, but take the time to visit Lydford Gorge and you’ll swiftly change your mind – this short walk is a brilliant way to take in some of these sights while taking in the stunning, expansive gorge itself.
The route is an interesting natural narrative too, taking hikers along the length of a babbling stream, to a mighty crescendo at Devil’s Cauldron whirlpool and the 100ft-high White Lady Waterfall.
Walk distance: 4.4 km
Time: 1 – 2 hours
Map: OS Explorer OL28
Starting Grid reference: SX 509 847
Parking: Lydford car park, EX20 4BH (the main entrance to the gorge is at the west end of the village)
There are a couple of options when it comes to the route you take through Lydford Gorge, which runs at around 3 miles. If you want the full, rugged Dartmoor experience, then walking boots, care and experience are all must-haves; there are steep inclines and these can become slippery and treacherous if they aren’t treated with respect.
Alternatively, there is a winding path up the gorge that still offers plenty of impressive views from the summit. Both routes are excellent, but we’d recommend the more challenging option – if you don’t have young children and are confident in your walking ability, this path will take you down into the gorge itself, where the crashing, thunderous waters of the White Lady falls can be enjoyed at their most impressive (and the ghost of the spectral lady herself can apparently sometimes be seen…)
3. Gutter Tor
When looking at the name of this walk, it might not sound hugely appealing – but there are so many tors on Dartmoor, inevitably some of them don’t have the most inviting names. Fortunately, it bears no indication of the route itself, which is a delightful four-mile walk that takes you to some of the most incredible views on the moors, which inspired Michael Morpurgo to write War Horse.
In fact, this walk can be seen as something of a ‘tour’ through the landscape that inspired Morpurgo and Spielberg alike, taking you across some of the most expansive open moorlands in the area.
Walk distance: 6.4 km
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
Map: OS Explorer OL28
Starting Grid reference: SX 579 673
Parking: Sheep’s Tor car park
If you’re an early bird, try and follow this route at the crack of dawn. During the golden hours in the morning, when the sun is just rising and casting a warm glow over the moorlands, Dartmoor has the propensity to bring a tear to the eye. This route winds up across Gutter Tor and over the enormous plateaus of the moorland.
You’ll come across Higher Hartor Tor, a stone-age burial ground and eventually head to the Drizzlecombe complex. This assortment of standing stone rows, burial mounds and hut circles is one of the best examples of the Bronze Age settlements that can be seen across Dartmoor.
Of the moorland, Spielberg famously said “I have never before in my long and eclectic career been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor” and this route makes it clear why – it’s not too challenging, doesn’t take too long and is well worth the visit.
4. Burrator Reservoir Walk
Burrator was Dartmoor’s first reservoir, built in 1898 and expanded in 1929, washing over the leat that historically provided the coastal city of Plymouth with water (which was constructed by Sir Francis Drake). Today, it provides the setting for a range of walks and spots for hikers to enjoy and the route we’re looking at – which includes Sharpitor as well as Burrator itself – is an enjoyable, mid-length hike across some of Dartmoor’s beautiful rolling hills.
Walk distance: 8.4 km
Time: 2-2.5 hours
Map: OS Explorer OL28
Starting Grid reference: SX 560 708
Parking: Car park on the B3212, nearest postcode PL20 6LL
This walk starts off with a 500-metre climb to the peak of Sharpitor, but it’s certainly worth the effort. From the get-go, you’ll have spectacular views over the reservoir itself, as well as all the way down to Plymouth. Taking care, you’ll head down to Leather Tor, descending down to the reservoir – which is a delightful spot for a picnic!
You’ll then head past Devonport Leat through a picturesque patch of woodland and on to some abandoned settlements, leading to Black Tor. In fact, this is one of three tors on the moorland that’s called Black Tor, so it’s helpful to have a map with you when crossing Dartmoor – sometimes the names can be a little confusing!
The route circles back to the car park, taking between 2 and 3 hours, or slightly longer if you decide to stop by the waterside to enjoy a snack and catch your breath to the backdrop of some of the most tranquil scenery in the national park.
5. White Tor Walk
The tors on Dartmoor are diverse and varied in their appearance. Some are small, mottled patches of granite, and others are like towering fortresses hewn from the living rock of the landscape. White Tor falls into the latter category and when you see it, you might find it hard to believe that it’s a natural occurrence at all! This is a must-see and makes this route undoubtedly one of the best walks in Dartmoor National Park.
Walk distance: 10.3 km
Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging
Time: 2.5 – 3 hours
Map: OS Explorer OL28
Starting Grid reference: SX 534 751
Parking: Pork Hill car park on the B3357, PL19 9LQ
White Tor stands above the Tavy Valley, offering a natural vantage point from which to enjoy some really incredible views. There is a range of mysterious stone structures dotted on the wider summit of the tor, which were originally thought to be part of an Iron Age hill fort, but it’s more likely the case that they’re a Neolithic enclosure…
The route this walk takes place on lasts just over 10km, which is slightly longer than the previous walks on this list, but it offers a diverse range of sights and is worth the investment of a few hours of your day. Starting at Staple Tor, this hiking route is something of a ‘whistle-stop tour of tors’, taking you past or to a total of 6 over the duration!
The hike itself isn’t too challenging, although when crossing open moorland like this, walkers can find themselves tired quickly (it takes a surprising amount of energy to hike over rugged terrain like this), so be sure to bring some food with you, as you make your way around this charming circular walk.
6. Teign Gorge Walk
Dartmoor plays host to some of the most beautiful natural woodlands and this walk through the Teign Gorge is a great chance to see one of England’s biggest woodland restoration projects in person – it’s inspiring to see work taking place to maintain and restore the elegant bucolic beauty of these landscapes and this is a fantastic way to experience an ancient woodland in the process of being restored to its original majesty.
Walk distance: 6.9 km
Time: 2+ hours
Map: OS Explorer OL28
Starting Grid reference: SX 725 902
Parking: Car park at Castle Drogo, EX6 6PB
You’ll kick things off at Castle Drogo, which is Britain’s youngest castle (it was built between 1910 and 1930 and was acquired by the National Trust in 1974!) joining the Hunters Path, you’ll pass by Sharp Tor, opposite Whiddon Wood – which is a beautiful sight to behold from afar like this.
Around three millennia ago, the woods were used as a source of timber and were popular places to hunt. This depletion of the resources in the woods started to take a toll on the ecology of the area, but fortunately, the National Trust and the Woodland Trust are taking steps to ensure the deciduous trees that used to fill the woodlands can return.
Eventually, you’ll arrive at the Fingle Bridge Inn, which is a lovely riverside pub to stop at and enjoy some food and drink before continuing on – this is also a fantastic spot to catch a glimpse of running Atlantic salmon and brown trout! Before returning to Castle Drogo, you’ll also pass along Whiddon Deer park, another fantastic spot for those who enjoy a chance to glimpse the local fauna.
7. Hound Tor Walk
If you haven’t noticed by now, there are a lot of tors that the routes we’re detailing here include. This Hound Tor route could be one of the best though, as it takes you to some of the most popular and well-known tors in the whole area, including Saddle Tor, Haytor, Howell Tor and the titular Hound Tor – all in a 8.5km route that should only take an experienced hiker a few hours to complete.
Walk distance: 8.5 km
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Time: 2.5 – 3 hours
Map: OS Explorer OL28
Starting Grid reference: SX 747 761
Parking: Saddle Tor car park – Take the A382 towards Bovey Tracey, then join the B3387 towards Widecombe.
Starting in the Saddle Tor car park, you’ll ascend to the tor itself, which is said to be the haunting ground of a ghostly pony – apparently, on quiet nights, you can hear the sound of phantom hooves beating across the ground – so perhaps this walk is best enjoyed in the bright light of day!
You’ll pass Haytor, which is a picturesque spot during the autumn months when the gorse and heather take on beautiful hues, painting the landscape with stunning purples and yellows. You’ll also head past the remains of the medieval village of Hundatora, which was only deserted around 1350AD – probably due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague…After this, you’ll head to Hound Tor for some delightful views and then Greator Rocks.
Eventually, the route loops round in a tight figure of eight at the end, taking you back to the car park, having enjoyed some of the most iconic sights on the moors. Definitely one for the scrapbook and without a doubt one of the best walks on Dartmoor.
8. Yes Tor And High Willhays Walk
Not only is Dartmoor a site of natural wonder, but it’s also been a resource for the military for many years. In fact, there are still live firing ranges on the moors, which the Ministry of Defense (MOD) still utilise for training and this route just so happens to pass through one.
This might seem a little off-putting, reinforced by the large red ‘restricted access’ marker on your OS Explorer map, but fear not – providing you check in advance and make sure there are no firing drills due to be carried out on the day you’re visiting, this area is still open to the public and opens up the potential for a fantastic hiking route.
Walk distance: 13.9 km
Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging
Time: 5 – 6 hours +
Map: OS Explorer OL28
Starting Grid reference: SX 56154 91787
Parking: Car park at Meldon Dam, EX20 4LU
This hike is quite a bit longer than some of the other walks we’ve featured in this list so far, but Dartmoor is a bountiful place for those who enjoy a more challenging and lengthy route. This is no exception and while it can take the better part of a day to complete, this hike to Yes Tor and High Willhays is a great way to challenge yourself.
You’ll start at Meldon Dam, which is in Okehampton. The dams on Dartmoor are all impressive, and Meldon is no exception – constructed in 1972, this is an awe-inspiring place to start a hike. From here you’ll head east, up to Yes Tor. Providing you’ve checked that the MOD isn’t conducting live drills, you’ll be able to proceed safely.
Yes Tor is the second highest tor on Dartmoor, but fortunately, this route is actually fairly straightforward. The approach is a little deceptive, as you won’t be able to see the trig point, but once you ascend gradually it comes into view, and you’ll be greeted with a vast expanse of open moorland.
High Willhays actually is the highest tor on the moors, but only by a very modest 2 metres. To stake a claim at having climbed to the literal peak of this incredible national park, all you need to do is head to the southernmost tor at High Willhays. Take a photo from the top!
9. Venford Reservoir and Bench Tor Walk
Another reservoir walk, but this time a much shorter, more fleeting hike. This is a good one if you want a short yet memorable experience of what Dartmoor has to offer and is a great route to pop out with a flask and take in some of the sights without having to commit an entire day to the process.
Don’t be fooled by the shorter length though – while this walk can be completed in an hour, you’ll still get to enjoy stunning views stretching across the horizon, along with delightful waterfalls upon your return.
Walk distance: 2.8 km
Time: 45 min – 1 hour
Map: OS Explorer OL28
Starting Grid reference: SX 685 712
Parking: North-west car park at Venford Reservoir, TQ13 7SS
Venford Reservoir is one of the smaller to be found in Dartmoor, but it retains a huge amount of character nonetheless and an even shorter 1.5km circular route can be enjoyed around it – but this route doubles that length, to a pleasant 2.8km walk. You’ll start by crossing the dam itself, and head onto the open moors up to Bench Tor.
Once reached, this is a great spot to put down a picnic blanket and enjoy a snack set to the stunning backdrop of the moors. After proceeding along the circular route, you can explore downstream at Venford Brook to find the small but elegant Venford Falls – and once you’ve crossed over the brook it’s only a short stroll back to the car park. A perfect way to spend an hour or two!
10. Wray Valley Trail
We’re finishing off this list of the best walks in Dartmoor with the Wray Valley Trail; this is a brilliant way to experience some more of the manmade history of the moors, as the trail tracks the route of the Victorians who constructed the Newton Abbot to Moretonhampstead railway all the way back in 1866. Although the line itself was closed to passengers back in 1959, this is a great way to absorb a sense of the journey, by following the trail which tracks the line of the railway.
Walk distance: 11km
Time: 2.5 – 3 hours
Map: OS Explorer OL28
Starting Grid reference: SX 815 782
Parking: Station Road car park, Bovey Tracey, TQ13 9SB
You can start this route from either Moretonhampstead or from Bovey Tracey – the version we’ve looked at begins at the latter, from the Station Road car park. From here you’ll cross over into Mill Marsh Park, following the old railway on your right as you embark on the trail. This is a really lovely walk to get a sense of the history of Dartmoor; as you embark upon your hike, you’ll get to take in a real sense of the moorland’s past, and how those generations who trod the ground before us saw the potential in the landscape.
It’s worth pointing out, on a practical note, that the trail is open to walkers, cyclists, and horse riders and there are a few narrow sections – so be sure to obey the ‘hikers’ code’ and be polite, careful and attentive to all others who you meet on your way – particularly horses which could become spooked easily!
Looking for some more of the best walks in Dartmoor?
These are just 10 of the best Dartmoor walks but as you can probably imagine, there are loads more to keep walkers of all levels busy for quite some time! Whether you prefer linear, circular walks or a combination of the two, you should certainly find plenty to inspire you right here.
Best Walks in Dartmoor – Final Thoughts
It’s not surprising that Dartmoor captured the hearts and minds of Spielberg, Morpurgo and countless other artists, authors and more when they visited. It has such a sense of true raw power to it, it’s hard to imagine visiting and not being affected by the profound beauty of the region.
The list above is a far cry from all of the walks you can take part in on the moorland – and if you’re a confident route-planner, the open untouched moorland offers a marvelous blank canvas for you to plan your own walks.
With that said, Dartmoor really is a must-see for anyone with a passion for the outdoors and nature. There’s so much on offer here and regardless of how experienced you are, your level of fitness, or even the amount of time you have to spare, there really is something for everyone there. If you do embark upon a visit, we’d love to hear how it went – leave a comment below and share some of your thoughts or experiences!
We’ll see you on the trail…
Discover some of the best walks in other UK National Parks
- Brecon Beacons National Park
- Exmoor National Park
- Peak District National Park
- Snowdonia National Park
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