Mountain biking in the Yorkshire Dales

Explore one of the prime mountain biking locations in the UK, with some memorable trails to explore amid fabulous scenery.

Mountain biking in the Yorkshire Dales

The Dales are one of the most beautiful parts of England, with some classic mountain biking that will make you feel like you're really out in the wilds. York-based enthusiast and mountain bike instructor Sarah Allard describes what's on offer.

The hilly limestone country of the Dales encompasses some of England’s most prominent peaks, the highest being Whernside at 736m (2,415ft). The mountain biking terrain is varied, but a large proportion of it is on stone tracks and bridleways following broad valleys, with some long ascents.

The Yorkshire Dales covers a sizeable area and distances between the best riding locations can be further than you think. But don’t let the distances and long ups dissuade you: the Dales are fantastic mountain biking country with tremendous views, and certainly not to be missed.

 

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GUIDE TO MOUNTAIN BIKING IN THE YORKSHIRE DALES

Due to the large expanse of area the National Park covers (an impressive 680 square miles), I’ve divided it into a few separate sections known for their outstanding riding.

Northern Dales: Wensleydale and Swaledale

Swaledale
Riding high to enjoy the beautiful views above Swaledale.

Wensleydale and Swaledale are in the northern reaches of the park and feature some of the wildest terrain, remote peaks and biggest landscapes in the Dales. It consistently ranks as one of the best places for natural trail riding with huge swaths of single track and bridleways to keep you busy for a long, long time. If you’re not up for sharing the trails with others, this is the place to go.

A classic in the area is the 30km Dodd Fell circular route out of Hawes. This takes you on an ancient Roman road and along a fast stone track, with numerous exciting descents to choose from to get back down to the village.

Take on The Edge, a spectacular route through Swaledale and upwards of 22 miles. This is testing, but offers sublime riding conditions including the lunar landscape of Great Pinseat and an unforgettable descent down Fremington Edge.

The best villages to base yourself if you're staying for a few days are Hawes, Aysgarth or Reeth.

Southern Dales: Ribblesdale, Wharfedale, Malhamdale

Wharfedale
The Southern Dales are home to Yorkshire’s most famous and well-known peaks, Whernside, Pen-Y-Ghent and Ingleborough.

The valleys are busier here than in other sections of the park, but it’s just as easy to get away from it all and have only the sheep to keep you company on the trail.

Intermediates should try the 20km (12-mile) Malham to Settle route, taking in Malham Cove en route (can also be done in reverse). For the more technical rider, the Pen-Y-Ghent circuit is a must. For an all around beautiful day, depart from Grassington over Barden Moor, crossing heather moorland and wooded trails, making sure to stop by Bolton Abbey en-route. Base yourself at Ingleton, Settle or Grassington to make the most of your time here.

The Settle Loop

the settle loop
Ride the Settle Loop which follows the National Pennine Bridleway.

Don’t be fooled by the short distance (10 miles). This is a classic route with 500m ascent that will make you earn your cake. The loop begins with a very steep ascent on quiet tarmacked road, winding its way high above the bustling town of Settle and into the heart of Dales country. The route follows the National Pennine Bridleway; passing by ancient dry stonewalls on a variety of different terrain, including limestone grassland and stony track. The highest point is surrounded by beautiful, exposed hills and limestone outcrops. You’ll be challenged by the rocky ascent up Stockdale Lane and rewarded with a fun, flowing track all the way back down to Settle – the perfect place for a post-ride cuppa.

Nidderdale

Nidderdale
There are many fantastic routes around the Area of Outstanding Natural beauty of Nidderdale.

Classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, mountain biking in this area combines short and sweet afternoon rides with epic longer routes ascending and descending the valley. There’s a plethora of cafés, real ale pubs and villages to visit en route. Try the Brimham Loop from the pleasant town of Summerbridge, which takes you through the weird rock formations of Brimham Rocks before looping back. This is a short blast, but the terrain is varied and scenery is beautiful.

TOP 5 EXPERIENCES

1. Nidderdale classic loop: 24km, 700m ascent, difficult



Raining cats and dogs, grey skies or sunshine, this is an absolutely fantastic route and almost 100% off-road. It begins at the impressive Scar House Reservoir before climbing high above the valley floor. Stop to enjoy the view before continuing through farmland and grassy slopes. The finale is an exciting rocky descent back to the reservoir. There are a few pubs and cafés along the way, too.

2. Tour of Pen-y-Ghent: 30km, 670m ascent, difficult



Another undeniable classic, this route takes in the sensational scenery surrounding one of Yorkshire’s finest peaks, Pen-y-Ghent. This circular route is demanding, but doable, with two significant ascents and a satisfying descent down the shoulder of Pen-y-Ghent. The trail is mainly off-road on rocky pathways and grassy moorland. Another highlight if time permits is visiting Hull Pot, a stunning natural feature, visible from the route.

3. Swaledale Loop, 52.8km, 1300m ascent, difficult


An absolute belly buster, taking in just over 1300m of ascent. The riding is consistently good and fast. After a steady climb, you’re rewarded with a descent onto Gunnerside Gill. You’ll eventually make your way to an epic ascent up Fremington Edge. A great descent leads you all the way back down to earth. Lunar landscapes, wild open terrain, fast single track, flowing bridleways and riding that takes you through the industrial heritage of the area – not to be missed!

4. Kilsney Moor, 16km, 240m ascent, moderate


A worthy introduction to mountain biking in limestone country. This route starts in Kilnsey, and perfect for post cake reward and hot cuppa. There are a few ascents that take you up to Marstile Gate up stone tracks and grass fields. It’s not too technical so you can focus on the outstanding views. Your descent back into Kilnsey is fast, fast, fast down a wide track. Have your fingers over the breaks and go for it!

5. Howgills Classic, 38km, difficult

Head to the northwest corner of the Dales to reach what may be the finest section of single track in area. Exposed to the elements, this route is best saved for a warm, sunny day. Start in Sedbergh and be forewarned the initial ascent is unforgiving! Traverse the summit to the reach the The Calf, catch your breath and savour the views. Descend into Bowerdale and it just gets better and better. One last ascent before the grand finale – continuous steep double track and flowing single track.

WHEN TO VISIT

Best times to go:

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Mountain biking in the Dales is possible throughout the year, although midwinter can be tough, and the snow generally brings proceedings to a halt. Some of the routes such as Howgills are very exposed to the elements and are better in warm weather.

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