New Forest National Park
This stunning forest landscape, spanning the counties of Hampshire and Wiltshire is a veritable playground for hikers looking to step out into the magic of this wilderness. We have picked a variety of the very best walks in the New Forest National Park to help you sample a wide range of the wonders on offer
A Selection of the Best New Forest Walks
The many national parks in Britain play host to some of the most diverse features our natural world has to offer. From rolling hills to towering mountains, and babbling brooks to thundering rivers, our national parks are home to a dichotomy of bucolic wonders – and contrasting to the wide, open moorlands we’ve looked at in some of our guides, today we’re looking at 10 of the best walks in the New Forest National Park.
This incredible forest landscape, stretching between Hampshire to the southwest and Wiltshire to the southeast, is a veritable playground for those who enjoy lacing up their walking boots and stepping out into the magic of the wilderness – and we’ve collected some of the very finest routes to follow to get the most out of one of England’s most historic and treasured locations.
Introduction To The New Forest National Park
There’s something about forests. It’s little surprise that Tolkien – one of the fathers of the fantasy genre – was known among his peers for his deep reverence and respect for trees and woodlands, and why they appear as pillars of both his and many others’ magical stories. They’re mystical places, imbued with a deep sense of physical and social history and culture.
If you’re one of the many hikers with a passion for woodlands and heathlands of classic folklore, legend, and myth, then the New Forest National Park might be the best spot in Britain for you to visit. As the name suggests, there are plenty of forested areas to enjoy; but across the Park’s near 30,000 hectares of land, there is 42km of coastline, along with 46 square miles of grassland.
All of this makes the New Forest something of a ‘melting pot’ of flora, fauna, and geography – but it’s safe to say that across its 570 square kilometres, the park offers visitors a truly memorable landscape.
Speaking of visitors, if you’re one of the many hikers planning a trip to these ancient woodlands, you’re not alone: A study found that the New Forest now has over 15 million recreational visitor days each year, meaning there are more visitor days per square mile of protected conservation area than any other English national park.
The New Forest National Park – A Potted History
As a National Park, the New Forest is actually quite young – which is somewhat surprising given the history and legacy of the area. It was designated as one of the UK’s National Parks in 2005, and prior to this was designated instead as ‘Ramsaw Wetland’ in 1993.
These changes make up just a couple of the significant geological and social upheavals to which the region has played host, since the ice sheets that covered the land receded some 12,000 years ago.
As was the case with much of England during the prehistoric era, what today is known as the New Forest was once deciduous woodland. While some of its areas were cultivated during the Bronze Age, poor soil quality meant that these areas eventually turned into heathland wastes, which became grazing land for wildlife and agriculture (it’s possible that horses were chowing down on the grasses here not long after the early cultivation failed…)
Fast-forwarding to more modern history, (relatively speaking), in 1086 The New Forest was first recorded as ‘Nova Foresta’ in the Domesday Book, following the proclamation of the region as a Royal Forest in around 1079 by William the Conqueror, hence the ‘new’ aspect of the title.
Fast forward by around 2,000 years, and interestingly, 90% of the New Forest is still owned by the Crown. The Crownlands have been managed by the Forestry Commission since 1923 and most of the Crown lands now fall inside the new National Park. The region has since played host to bombing ranges during WWII, and a Special Operations Executive finishing school for special agents.
In 1971, the New Forest became a site of specific scientific interest, and 14 years later was granted special status as a heritage area. Proposed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999 (but refused the title by UNESCO), the region became one of the UK’s National Park’s in 2005, which means that the region’s upkeep is now in the hands of the New Forest National Park Authority and it’s this organisation we have to thank for the exquisite maintenance of many of the routes on this list!
The Best Walks In The New Forest National Park
On to the main event, and armed with a bit of background about the area, we’re ready to dive into some of the best walks in the New Forest National Park. Before we get started, there are a few things we think it’s pertinent to mention when it comes to how we’ve put this list together, how best to use it, and what to bear in mind when planning your own walks.
The New Forest, while playing host to a plentiful area of woodland, is home to a diverse and wide-ranging variety of terrains, topography, and – as a result – hiking routes. In this list, we’ve made a specific effort to ensure that whatever your tastes when it comes to hiking, whether you enjoy experiencing some living history, or appreciating the local flora and fauna, there should be at least a walk or two that will pique your interest.
At the start of each walk, we’ve included some handy info including starting grid references, which map to bring, and what you can expect (roughly) in terms of length and difficulty.
While these guidelines shouldn’t be taken as rote (after all, what one person finds challenging may be a breeze for someone else – we’ve used a combination of community consensus, research, and best-judgement to put these together), they should provide a fairly robust starting point if you’re planning a trip to the New Forest in the future.
So without further ado, we’ll get started – but first, a few notes about staying safe while out on the trail…
Covid19 Hikers’ Tips
The guidelines about how to stay safe and protect those around us have changed a number of times over the course of 2020, and now into 2021 – and with any luck, we’ll be able to take these sections out of our guides in the not-too-distant future. Until that time, though, it’s important we all remain responsible and take into account the following things to make sure we remain responsible when we’re embarking on a hiking trip to the New Forest:
- 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 into our list of some of the Best Walks in the New Forest…
1. Tall Trees Trail
It feels only fitting to start with a route that works well as an introduction to the area. Even the name of the Tall Trees Trail is evocative of the nature of the New Forest, and this brief, unchallenging walk is a delightful way to sample the magic of the region without putting a hole in your walking boots. Great for the family, this sub-one-hour walk is as good a place as any to kick things off.
Walk distance: 2.3km
Time: Up to 1 hour
Starting Grid reference: SU 268 047
Parking: Blackwater car park, SO42 7QB
The Tall Trees Trail itself is situated in the Forestry Commission’s Blackwater Arboretum, which is host to a small but – interestingly – nationally important collection of trees from around the world.
This is where the charm of this route, and indeed this part of the Forest, lies – it’s a way to experience not only the magic of the region but also the wonder that trees can bring when we take the time to appreciate their majestic presence.
The route is an easy-to-follow path that is clearly waymarked throughout; the paths are flat, and it’s probably most accurate to call this a ‘stroll’ rather than a hike.
This makes it perfect for the family, even those with young children or pushchairs – and there’s plenty along the way to keep everyone engaged; sensory signs are posted along the route (which kicks off with a magnificent oak archway) to provide facts and information about this collection of the world’s most impressive trees. What a way to experience the forest!
2. Solent Way
We’ve done quite a few of these guides now, and the vast majority of the time, the routes we look at are circular, or clearly defined ‘start and end’ hikes.
These tend to be the easiest to prep for, to gather information on, and to plan out when making a trip to one of the UK’s national parks.
With that said, there are a number of much longer trails and tracks, which can be broken up into smaller sections, and offer as much if not more of the intrigue of individual routes. The Solent Way is one such path.
Walk distance: Up to 60 miles, varies by section
Difficulty: Depends – typically easy-moderate
Time: Depends – anything from an hour to an entire weekend!
Map: (Depending on section) OS Explorer OL22: New Forest
Starting Grid reference: Varies by section of route
Parking: Varies by section of route
Clocking in at around 60 miles, connecting Milford on Sea with Emsworth Harbour, the Solent Way isn’t precisely one of the best walks in the New Forest National Park in its own right, but along its length, there is a wide range of sections that can be hiked that offer a diverse and inspiring range of scenery.
Interestingly, now all of the Solent Way is technically even in the New Forest, as it follows the Hampshire coastline, but it would be a mistake not to give it its dues here.
There are, roughly speaking, 8 sectors of the trail that can be used as point-to-point routes for the purposes of breaking the path down into a manageable hike, each ranging from 6 to 10 miles in length.
These include: Milford-On-Sea to Lymington, Lymington to Beaulieu, Hythe to Beaulieu, Southampton to Hamble-le-Rice, Warsash to Lee-on-the-Solent, Lee-on-the-Solent to Portsmouth, Portsmouth to Hilsea, and Hilsea to Emsworth.
Naturally, a lot of ground to cover, but plenty to enjoy over countless hours – and a core part of the hiking experience in the New Forest.
3. Keyhaven Marshes Walk
If the prospect of picking one of the aforementioned chopped-up sections of the Solent Way doesn’t appeal as a standalone route, this Keyhaven Marshes walk offers a bit of a best of both worlds – it takes in a section of the Solent Way, meaning you can enjoy a stretch of the beautiful coast, contrasted against the avian paradise that is the Keyhaven Marshes in this short but diverse 6km circular walk.
Walk distance: Approx 6km
Difficulty: Fairly easy
Time: 1 – 2 hours
Starting Grid reference: SZ 304 916
Parking: Keyhaven, SO41 0TG
The Keyhaven Marshes are a fantastic place if you’re a twitching enthusiast; the area is home to a wide range of birdlife and is a fantastic place to take in a combination of the area’s fauna, as well as flora.
The route itself kicks off along the Solent, offering views of the Isle of Wight and the Needles (an iconic row of chalk stacks jutting out into the coast from the island), and curls inward into the Marshes proper after around a mile.
Along the 6km (or so) route, you’ll pass Fishtail Lagoon, the location of a bird nesting island, a reclaimed landfill site which is now a pleasant lake, and the sea wall – all of which make this relatively simple, brief walk a delight, and sure to leave you feeling like you’ve seen a surprising amount in a short time.
This may be less of a ‘forest’ walk, but it’s a good example of just how diverse the New Forest really is.
4. Fritham Walk
An ancient proverb says ‘if a list of walks doesn’t contain at least one pub hike, it is not to be trusted.’ Okay, we completely made that up, but we think it’s a pretty valid point – one of the true joys of hiking is being able to put your feet up with a hot meal, pint, coffee, or sandwich, after a long stint of physical exertion. This Fritham walk is the longest on the list so far, but it’s well worth the 12km and 3 hours journey.
Walk distance: 12km
Time: 2.5 – 3 hours
Starting Grid reference: SU 230 140
Parking: Car park opposite the Royal Oak, SO43 7HJ
We should preface this one with the fact that of course, pub walks are only going to be viable once the current Covid 19 restrictions have been lifted, and it’s safe to gather indoors once more.
With that out of the way, it’s worth noting that when it is safe to do so, this route is a real charmer. It traverses some of the less-popular paths in the North of the New Forest and is a good route if you’re a bit of a nature buff.
Kicking off from the Royal Oak pub (the location of your recuperation upon your return, should you choose to enjoy a drink or meal), there is an abundance of heather, gorse, oak, hawthorn and woodland in the Sloden Inclosure.
The route traverses some open hills across Ragged Boys Hill, and along the way you might even catch sight of some Fallow Deer (but make sure to stay hidden or they won’t stick around for long!)
A few hours later, you’ll find yourself back at the Oak – ready to put your feet up by the fire. This isn’t necessarily the easiest route, as the terrain is varied and the 12km distance might rule out younger hikers, but if you’re relatively fit this is one for the to-do list for certain.
5. Ashlett Creek to Calshot Spit Walk
While this route clocks in at around 5km, it’s a lot more family-friendly than the Fritham walk, and it’s pleasantly brief at only a couple of hours. It follows a charming country lane, offers views over Southampton Water and along to Ashlett Creek, a historic inlet.
You’ll also get to pass a 19th-century tidal mill, giving visitors and hikers a chance to experience a rare direct juxtaposition of the built world and the power of nature.
Walk distance: 4-5km
Time: 1-2 hours
Starting Grid reference: SZ 458 032
Parking: Fawley town centre, SO45 1EA
While all of the National Parks in the UK offer breathtaking landscapes, several of them could be described as sort of a ‘one-trick pony’ (admittedly if the ‘pony’ in question is the majesty of nature, not to be undervalued), with a predominance of one particular type of landscape – be it hills, mountains, or moorland.
One of the joys of the New Forest is that in a short space of time over the course of a single walk, you can experience some truly diverse landscapes not found elsewhere in the country. This route is a shining example.
The paths you’ll come across on this walk alone include country pathways, grass tracks, coastal footpaths and shingles – one of the underappreciated things about hiking is not just the scenery we get to enjoy, but the tracks we get to walk across, and this route offers a smorgasbord of hiking surfaces.
With boatyards, creekside paths, grazing greens (with the potential to catch a glimpse of some local ponies) and tidal ponds, there’s plenty to take in with this one. Set in the charming town of Fawley, it’s a great example of how closely the landscapes of industry and nature live together in the New Forest.
6. Avon Valley Path
Onto another ‘compilation’ walk, but this time moving away from the coast, the 34-mile long Avon Valley Path is another hiking route that is typically broken down and approached in sections, but it offers a pleasant contrast to the Solent Way.
The track is broken down into 5 sections and each offers differing but consistently enjoyable sights between the cathedral city of Salisbury and Christchurch Priory.
Walk distance: Up to 34 miles, varies by section
Difficulty: Depends – typically easy-moderate
Time: Depends – anything from an hour to an entire weekend!
Starting Grid reference: Varies by section of route
Parking: Varies by section of route
From water meadows to high chalk downland, the Avon path (named after the river that traverses it) moves along the Avon valley, which is a rather special place.
It offers the broadest and most varied variety of flora and fauna due to a huge range of habitat; wetland flowers flourish, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of a kingfisher or even an otter.
It’s important to note that whatever section you choose to visit, the region is liable to flooding between December and May, so this is definitely a place to explore from the late spring to autumn.
The landscape will change dramatically throughout these seasons, so it could even be a good idea to visit a different (or even the same) section of the trail over the course of a year, to experience how dramatically the climate impacts the valley.
For a short hike, try Sopley to Christchurch, which should only take you a couple of hours, and for a longer, more indulgent afternoon, head out to the track between Fordingbridge to Ringwood.
The other three routes lie somewhere in between and include Salisbury to Downton (a now-forever evocative place name), Ringwood to Sopley, and Downton to Fordingbridge.
7. Brockenhurst to Lyndhurst Walk
The Hampshire countryside is some of the most delightful in the whole of the UK, and this route is one of the finest ways to enjoy it. Along with its natural splendour, one of the most pleasant things about this part of the nation is its villages, and this route will take you between arguably two of the finest – Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst.
Walk distance: 16km
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Time: 3.5 to 4 hours
Starting Grid reference: SU 3008 0819
Parking: Lyndhurst, SO43 7BH
The actual topography of this route is pleasantly consistent – in fact, over the course of the entire route, you’ll only gain a total of 30 metres! With this said, this track isn’t necessarily ‘easy’ as such, purely down to its length.
Clocking in at around 16km, this route can take the better part of an afternoon to complete, and it might not be suited to those with lower stamina – although there’s no reason why you couldn’t shorten it to suit your own ability or timeline.
However you approach it though, this one is magical. Grass paths through woodland take you past calming streams, sun-kissed clearings, and possibly across the path of deer, all set to a soundtrack of rustling wind through trees and birds singing to one another as they explore the canopy.
The route takes you through old oak woodland with some glimpses of heathland to boot, along with some river and marsh views. A stunning place to lose oneself.
8. Wilverley Inclosure Walk
This is another brief-but-memorable walk, but despite its brevity, it’s, without doubt, one of the best walks in the New Forest National Park.
This is down to the fact that it’s an exquisite distillation of the thing that gives the New Forest its charm, and it’s this kind of walking route that people tend to think of when they think of the area; a protected, thickly-wooded enclosure, embodying the wooded majesty of this ancient forest.
Walk distance: Just over 4km
Time: 1-2 hours
Starting Grid reference: SU 254 010
Parking: Wilverley Inclosure car park, BH25 5TZ
Wilverley Inclosure itself comprises 500 acres of enclosed woodland, which today is crisscrossed with winding, dipping paths that make up the body of this route.
It’s a slice of living history, too: in 1862, John R Wise – author of a history of the New Forest – mentions Wilverley directly. But far from the towering woodland that stands there today, he suggests that there isn’t actually much to see there all those years ago…
“Wootton, and Wilverley, and Setthorns, and Holmsley, are all young plantations, whilst at Wootton the Forest now entirely ceases, though once stretching five miles farther, as far as the sea.”
It’s incredible to think that it’s only relatively recently in the history of the New Forest that these trees have even become a feature at all, but this is the nature of the impact of the Inclosure Act of 1845.
Today though, we can be grateful that spaces like this have evolved into something beautiful and while there are a number of routes you can take through the area, this pleasant 1-2 hour stroll is a lovely way to experience firsthand what it is that makes the New Forest so special.
9. Denny Wood Walk
Another route continuing our trend of brief but enriching snapshot hikes, this Denny Wood walk should only take an hour or so to complete and is best enjoyed in the autumn, when the leaves turn golden and cast a twilight glow over the forest floor below.
Walk distance: 4.7km
Time: 1 hour
Starting Grid reference: SU 3490 0608
Parking: Start on the B3056, 3 miles south of Lyndford, SO43 7FZ.
For this one, we’d first like to say that it’s a wonderful, brief, and memorable hike through some of Hampshire’s most enjoyable woodland.
The trees are beautiful, and it takes you through an area of fascinating local history: the Bishop of Winchester’s Purlieu. Local legend has it that John de Pontoise, who was Bishop of Winchester in 1284, during the reign of King Edward, was promised as much land as he could crawl around on his hands and knees in a day.
As you’ll realise if you take the time to follow this route, he clearly crawled pretty fast, because the purlieu comprises 500 acres of land…
The second thing we’d point out is that this circular walk starts and ends very close to Beaulieu Road Station, right in the heart of the forest.
This is also one of the reasons that this spot is best visited in the autumn, because in September, October, and November, a fantastic local tradition takes place; the New Forest ponies are gathered in “drifts” for their annual sales between the local verderers.
This timeless tradition feels like something straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel and if you can time your visit accordingly, is a memory for you and the family that you’ll cherish for years to come.
10. Beaulieu to Bucklers Hard Walk
We’re closing this list off with another trip to Beaulieu, a village named by Cistercian monks, who in 1204 founded an abbey nearby, the site of a royal hunting lodge and called it ‘Beau-lieu’, meaning beautiful place.
This circular path is a lovely dog walking route and while it will take a couple of hours to complete, isn’t particularly challenging – a good one for young hikers-in-training!
Walk distance: 8km
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Time: 2 hours
Starting Grid reference: SU 385 025
Parking: Beaulieu village car park, SO42 7YG
This route kicks off right in the middle of the village, which is worth a visit in its own right. The winding path, which isn’t too hard, tracks the route of the Beaulieu River – which is a rich wildlife hotspot – and finishes at Bucklers Hard, which is where the Agamemnon was built in 1781. It was Lord Nelson’s favourite!
On the way to this ancient ship-building location, you’ll get to enjoy the beauty of the historic thatched cottages of Beaulieu, and traverse woodland gravel tracks as you pass streams and other natural sights of beauty.
On the way to the path and beyond, it’s easy to find your way as you come across hanging signs containing the familiar three red diamond shapes of the area. These are taken from the Montagu Coat of Arms and serve as a reminder to visitors and residents that they are on Beaulieu Estate land.
You’ll end your hike at a stunning riverside, and can enjoy a coffee as you watch the ships bobbing, and reflect upon what you’ve seen on your journey.
Best Walks in the New Forest National Park – Final Thoughts
As we were researching and writing this article, it became apparent that the New Forest isn’t the same kind of region as somewhere like Dartmoor, or the Peak District.
We’re not just talking about the fact that the landscapes differ dramatically, although that much is true. Instead, it’s more to do with the pace of life, and by extension, the pace of walking routes, that preside over this beautiful part of Britain.
It would probably be fair to say that if you’re looking for a demanding physical challenge, the New Forest might not be the best destination. Instead, it’s a place to visit if you’re looking to really get away from it all – to slow down, take a breath and reflect on what an incredible thing the natural world is.
Like all parks, there is something quintessentially British about the landscape here, while remaining utterly unique. We hope this list, of what we would consider being the very best walks in the New Forest National Park, offers you a starting point to experience this magic for yourself.
We’ll see you on the trail…
Discover some of the best walks in other UK National Parks
- Brecon Beacons National Park
- Dartmoor National Park
- Exmoor National Park
- Peak District National Park
- Snowdonia National Park
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