Lake District in a Campervan - The Complete Guide
The lake district is one of our favourite places to go to switch off and be immersed with beauty. We love it because it's a vast area to explore so even if you go during the busier times there are usually some spots you can go to to get away from the crowds.
We love the mountains (called fells in the lakes) and there are a lot of them to explore in the Lakes. We are currently trying to tick off all the Wainwrights (214 fells) which is a great way to make you explore different areas you perhaps wouldn't normally go to. We also spend time wild camping in a tent and recommend people giving it a go to really get away from it all and immerse yourself in the wild.
If you are interested in giving tent wild camping a go a checkout our blogs here:
Anyway - enough about tents...we are here to talk about the lakes by campervan.
GENERAL LAKE DISTRICT CAMPERVAN TIPS
- Can you wild camp in the Lakes?
The quick answer is no. It is not technically allowed although there are a limited number of places where you can tuck away or it is generally tolerated to make it manageable. It is quite tricky in the lakes as there are a lot of no overnight camping signs and some places that previously allowed it have now banned it due to the sheer number of people using the spots and leaving litter etc. Visit lake district have information for campervan parking here.
We do know some great wild camping spots but would rather not make them public so they are not abused - please drop us a line if you are after some hints.
- Lake District roads
You need to be very careful if using a sat nav on the lake district roads. Some of them are very narrow and very steep! Depending on how confident you are driving your campervan will depend which roads you need to be careful of. Some of the ones that we know you need to take care on are:
- Hardknott Pass & Wrynose Pass - We are confident drivers but we would not want to take our camper up here - it's very steep and narrow and catches a lot of drivers out (in just cars!)
- The Struggle, Ambleside - This one is just very steep but not too difficult if you are a confident.
- Kirkstone Pass - We regularly drive along this pass and it's not too tricky but it does narrow quite a lot when close to the Windermere side.
In general - if there are weight limits on any roads you need to air on the side of caution and perhaps consider if there is an easier way around, even it takes 5-10 minutes longer.
- Take waterproofs
There is a reason there are a lot of lakes in the lake district - it rains a lot! It doesn't seem quite as as Scotland but you do need to be prepared for rain at some point on your trip.
- Check the weather
The weather is very changeable so make sure you check the forecast and prepare. We tend to use the met office and the MWIS as they have been the most accurate and give you the conditions on top of the mountain summits.
- Phone signal
It's generally pretty poor unless you are in a town or on top of a summit! Most of the valleys don't have any signal so you may find yourself cut off which isn't always a bad thing - it does us good to have a digital detox!
Ullswater is a great starting point if coming to the lakes from the Penrith M6 junction. It's a gorgeous stretch of water that is fantastic for watersports with some lovely camping spots dotted around it.
Here are some of great things to do around Ullswater:
Helvellyn Via Striding & Swiral Edge
Striding Edge is arguably one of the best ridge walks in the UK and is certainly a great introduction to scrambling. When combining Striding Edge with Swiral Edge it makes for one of the most fantastic scrambling days out and you get to summit the 3rd highest mountain in England - Helvellyn at 950m.
Most people generally start in Glenridding and make their way up Striding Edge and go down Swirral Edge if doing a loop (which we highly recommend). However, we like to go up Swirral and down Striding as in our opinion - the approach is much more amenable to Swirral Edge but that could just be down to personal taste! Either way it's phenomenal!
If you like scrambling then do check out our scrambles in the lake district blog.
Kayaking on Ullswater
There are some great launch points around Ullswater for kayaking or paddle boarding. In fact on one the campsites we mentioned below you could launch directly from your pitch!
This impressive waterfall is known for it's red squirrel sightings and is great to go and see after a lot of rain when it's in full spate. It is something you could go and do on a rainy day although it an get quite muddy so make sure you wear appropriate footwear!
This is another place which is great for a rainy day as it is all indoors. There is a lovely cafe and lots of shops and a gallery to go and have a look at. More information on rheged here.
Ullswater Campsites we can Recommend
- Waterside House Campsite - we spent a night here recently with friends and it's a fantastic relaxed campsite next to the water. You could launch a kayak or paddleboard directly from here and they allow fire pits which are raised off the ground.
We always have a wander around Keswick when the mountain weather isn't great. There are lots of outdoors shops and cafes to wander around as well as attractions to visit such as the pencil museum, puzzling place and the theatre by the lake.
Here are a few things to consider doing around Keswick:
Blencathra which is known as the peoples mountain sits high above Keswick and has a saddle shape. You can tell it apart from Skiddaw which is the other mountain overlooking Keswick to the north because of this shape.
Skiddaw was the first lakes mountain I ever climbed so it holds a special place for me. I felt like I was standing on top of the moon when on the summit and it was the best feeling! Jac doesn't have quite so much love for it as the main tourist path which runs from Keswick is a bit (a lot) of a drag!
There is a more interesting route up the mountain which starts from it's western flank and includes Ullock Pike and Longside Edge. It seems much less tiring than the other route and the views and terrain are more interesting. More info on the walk here.
Derwentwater is the big lake in Keswick and is a great place for a low level walk or kayaking. There is a 10 mile circular which circumnavigates the lake and includes 2 waterfalls - more info here.
It's also a great spot to go kayaking and you can hire a kayak or canoe from the Derwentwater marina.
Castlerigg Stone Circle
Castlerigg stone circle has amazing views of Helvellyn and High Seat and has a really atmospheric feel. It is one of the oldest stone circles dating back to the neolithic period.
Kong Climbing Centre
This is a great climbing wall which has an outdoor shop, cafe, childrens play area, boulder wall and a big climbing wall. A fab place to go if the weather is rubbish and we have enjoyed the climbing routes on offer here.
Keswick Campsites we can Recommend
Burns Farm Camping and Caravan Site - This is fantastic campsite which looks directly over Blencathra and Skiddaw. The facilities are great with a very posh shower block and you go out on some lovely walks directly from the site.
Dale Bottom Farm - A very relaxed campsite which was really quiet when I stopped a few years ago. The facilities are more basic but it has a lovely feel and there is very little light pollution so fantastic dark starry nights if the sky is clear!
Borrowdale is a very pretty valley and is full of amazing scenery. It's the gateway to some amazing hiking including the highest peak in England - Scafell Pike and the legendary Great Gable.
Here are some amazing things to do in Borrowdale:
Scafell Pike Hike
There are several different ways up Scafell Pike- you can approach from Wasdale (which is usually done when doing the 3 peaks), from the pretty Langdales or from Seathwaite which is our favourite way up. It's the longest way up but gentler than the Wasdale route and the scenery is stunning with views down the Borrowdale valley. Here is the route we recommend along the corridor route.
Great Gable Hike
Great Gable is the pyramid shaped mountain you can see from Wasdale and is super impressive to look at. It's just asking to be climbed! It also has an important part to play in climbing history and is thought to mark the origins in English rock climbing. The napes needle which is the rather phallic shaped rock on the side of Great Gable was first climbed in 1886.
If you park at Seathwaite farm there is a great route up to sty head tarn and up great gable and then along to green gable and base brown and you then drop back down to the farm. This route can be seen here.
Honister is great for the adventurous as it has an excellent via ferrata and mine tours to explore. There is also overnight parking on the pass for campervans at £15 per night.
Seathwaite Farm - A very basic campsite but it has the most beautiful surroundings and is so chilled out with a little stream running along the bottom of the camping field.
Ambleside & Easdale
Ambleside is lovely little town which is full of lovely shops and cafes. It feels very bustly and is always busy. If you want to park at the weekend in a campervan - get there early otherwise there more than likely won't be any spots left.
It feels like the centre of the lakes and you can access lots of great places from it. There are some lovely walks right from the centre of the town including:
Loughrigg Fell & Rydal Caves
Despite Loughrigg's small size it has caught many a walker out. Not because it's steep or overly hard but because it's very easy to get lost on it! It's not so bad on a clear day but in the mist it all looks the same so beware! Virtually every time we have been up this fell somebody has asked where they are! We love it though as it has fantastic views all around is a lovely circular walk and you can go and see the impressive rydal caves on your way around. More info on the walk here.
Fairfield Horseshoe Hike
The fairfield horseshoe is probably one of the most popular rounds in the lake district and takes in 9 fells (8 of which are Wainwrights). It's 10 miles long so you need to be pretty fit to get round but we didn't find it exhausting like some of the other rounds. There are spectacular views all round and you really feel like you've earnt your pint in Ambleside at the end of the day! More walk details here.
Stock Ghyll Force
Stock Ghyll is a lovely waterfall which is accessed directly from the town centre. It's not an overly long walk and can be done on a rainy day (but will be muddy!). The walk is signposted from the centre so there is no fear of finding it!
Although not accessed from the centre of Ambleside, this little crag is worth the short drive up to Grasmere (Which is another lovely town). It is called the lion and the lamb and that's because when you look at it side on from the Keswick to Ambleside road the rocks on the summit look like a lion over a lamb.
This fell walk is not overly hard and is only 4 miles long so a perfect half day hike. More walk details here.
Sykeside Campsite - Is a great campsite off the Kirkstone pass not far from Ambleside. It has a well stocked shop and a pub so no need to worry it's not in the town centre.
Miller Bridge Car Park - Miller bridge car park has a campervan parking area at the far end and is useful for campervan parking in the centre as there is very little elsewhere.
The Langdales are probably our favourite spot in the lakes in terms of the scenery and mountains. The mountains are uniquely shaped and really stand out from the fells around them. There are lots of walk from the bottom of the valley and you can access the Scafell pike region from this side easily. Our 2 night wild camping adventure blog covers some walk details from here.
The Langdale valley is smaller than some of the other valleys but it does have a couple of lovely things to go and do:
This little gem is is on the road from Ambleside to the Langdale valley and we think is one of the nicest restaurants in the lakes. It's menu us now all vegetarian with lots of vegan options and there is indoor and outdoor seating depending on the weather. The shop is also lovely with high quality homewear, books, gadgets and childrens games on offer.
There are a couple of lovely walks for all levels from here including:
Elterwater, Skelwith Force and Colwith Force walk - This very scenic walk takes in a couple of waterfalls with glorious views of the langdales all the way around. You can also stop at Chesters by the River on the way around.
Elterwater Pushchair/Wheelchair Friendly walk: This one is a bit shorter and a non circular version of the above walk but the views are so lovely you really don't mind turning back!
Cathedral cave is a very cool system of caves in little langdale that lead to a dramatic large cavern with a massive pillar of rock rising to the ceiling. Make sure you take a head torch as some of the tunnels are 400 feet long.
The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel has a lot of history in the valley for walkers and climbers and has welcomed muddy boots for over 300 years. It has a good pub grub for after a long days hike and the hikers bar (which was previously the cow stalls) has open mic nights and live music once a week.
Campsites & Park Up's
Old Dungeon Ghyll Pub - Is a motorhome stopover and a great spot for all the walking and climbing in the area
Great Langdale Campsite: We haven't stopped at this campsite but the national trust sites are generally well run and this one is a great spot for the fells.
Coniston is a quaint village with a handful of small shops, cafes and pubs to enjoy. It has the Old Man of Coniston and it's family of fells looming over the village and the hiking here is really enjoyable, especially on a clear day as you can see all of the big groups of lakes fells including the scafell group and helvellyn ridge line.
Old Man of Coniston Hike
The Old Man of Coniston hike is a very rewarding and interesting hike for anyone trying it. It goes up quite steeply through the old slate quarries and you can choose how long you want to go out for as there several different options once on top. The Old Man, Swirl How, Brim Fell and Wetherlam hike is a fantastic high level traverse walk if you are comfortable with 9-10 miles.
If you are looking for a shorter walk then there is a 6 mile circular from Walna Scar parking here.
Hodge Close Quarry is an old slate quarry which was last worked on in the 60's. It is quite impressive with sheer sides and is popular with abseilers and divers who can dive into the 150 feet flooded workings too.
Campsites & Park Up's
It's a suprsingly long way around to get to Wasdale as it's cut off from the east lakes by several massive mountain ranges. The only road which goes across is the Hardknott pass which isn't recommended in a campervan.
It's well worth the drive though - Wasdale is absolutely gorgeous and surrounded by all the biggest mountains including Scafell and Scafell pike. Wastwater (the lake in Wasdale is the deepest of all the lakes and has a lake bed with gnomes on for divers to enjoy!
Here are some recommended things to go and do whilst at Wasdale:
The Wasdale Head Inn is another historic climbers and walkers pub which has been used by travellers for over 200 years. It is full of old photos of climbers and transports you back into the golden climbing ages. It has good pub grub and is a welcome refuge when the weather sets in (we spent 2 days here when doing the bob graham round when we had bad weather!)
Scafell is the 2nd highest mountain in England and we think it's a more enjoyable peak than it's bigger brother Scafell Pike next door which is mainly because it's a LOT quieter! You should attempt Scafell and Scafell Pike together unless you have climbing experience as the ground between the two is very technical.
Although the following route is a bit boggy in places it is a great day out none the less - Scafell and Slight Side walk.
Yewbarrow is a cracking little peak with some very easy scrambling and is a great half day walk. It's also a great peak to wild camp on if you have suitable wild camping gear or even just for a sunset hike and you can leave the van in the car park at the bottom. Here is more info on the Yewbarrow circular walk.
Campsites & Park Up's
Wasdale Campsite - This national trust campsite is in the perfect spot to go and explore the wasdale hills and you can easily walk to the Wasdale Head Inn pub too.
We hope this lake district campervan guide is helpful - please do drop us any recommendations of your own in the comments box below.