The northern half of Snowdonia is a hillwalking nirvana. James Forrest rounds up 10 of its greatest mountain hikes.
Snowdon and Tryfan might attract the plaudits (and draw the heaving crowds), but there is so much more to Snowdonia’s northern half than these two much-loved peaks.
The Glyders are a beguiling world of jumbled rocks; the Carneddau are the largest area above 3,000ft anywhere in Britain south of the Highlands; and the lesser-known ranges of Moel Hebog, Moelwyns and Arenigs offer superlative walking without the crowds. From the well-known classics to the hidden gems, here are our top 10 walks in this hillwalking heartland of Wales.
Please note that at the time of publishing, Covid-19 lockdown restrictions prohibit essential travel in Wales and the rest of the UK, and within Wales exercise can only be undertaken directly from the home (read more). This article should be taken as inspiration for the future!
(Watch this space for our top walks in the southern half of Snowdonia – coming soon!)
Main image: climbing up to the knife-edge Crib Goch. Photo: Carey Davies
1. The Snowdon Horseshoe
Love it or hate it, climbing Snowdon – Wales’ highest mountain – remains a rite of passage for British hillwalkers. For some the experience is ruined by crowds of train-hopping, cafe-visiting tourists; others see only the grandeur and beauty of Snowdonia. But, if you can ignore the crowds, the Snowdon Horseshoe – a high-level loop of Llyn Llydaw – is probably Wales’ best walk. The optional grade one scramble of Crib Goch’s saw-toothed arête gets the adrenaline flowing, while beyond Snowdon the Y Lliwedd ridge delivers grandstand views of the massif.
A sharply-spined masterpiece of fissured cliffs and shattered crags, Tryfan is an icon by which other mountains are measured. Often lauded as Britain’s favourite peak, it is undoubtedly a hillwalking favourite. The most exciting ascent is the fortified north ridge – a hands-on, grade one scramble over pillars of rock and stacked boulders. Once you’ve topped out, you can then leap between the twin summit monoliths of Adam and Eve, a nerve-jangling jump that, according to a well-worn hillwalking tradition, will grant you the ‘freedom of Tryfan’.
3. Glyder Fach
Home to the impossibly-balanced, much-photographed Cantilever Stone, Glyder Fach is the highlight of the Glyders: a world of jumbled boulders and craggy outcrops, soaring sumptuously above Llyn Ogwen. For an epic grade one outing, scramble up the rocky turrets of Bristly Ridge before descending the similarly awesome Y Gribin arête. Or, for a longer hill day, visit the spiky, fang-like pinnacles of Castell y Gwynt and the range high point of Glyder Fach (999m / 3277ft), before returning via Devil’s Kitchen and Llyn Idwal.
Nicknamed the Welsh Matterhorn, albeit 3,789 metres lower than its Swiss counterpart, what Cnicht lacks in height it makes up in shapely attractiveness. It is a fantastically pointy, fin-like peak with an irresistible allure. Rising proudly above the hamlet of Croesor, it is the best of the Moelwyns range by far. For a full day out, combine Cnicht with the tops of Moel-yr-hydd, Moelywn Mawr, Craigysgafn and Moelwyn Bach, a 10-mile route that includes explorations of the fascinating Rhosydd Slate Quarry.
5. The Carneddau
From the A5 on the shores of Llyn Ogwen, most hillwalkers look south to Tryfan and the Glyders, enticed by their knife-edge ridges and formidable rock architecture. But to the north lie the main Carneddau peaks – a high plateau that serves up one of Wales’ best big mountain days. The classic route starts with Pen yr Ole Wen and ends with Pen yr Helgi Du, two peaks that deliver eye-watering views of Tryfan, while in-between hikers do battle with the giants of Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn, both of which loom above 1,000m (3280 feet).
6. Elidir Fawr
Despite its industrially-scarred flanks and a hydro power scheme built deep in its interior, Elidir Fawr is a defiant 3000-footer that refuses to be overshadowed by its celebrated brothers Glyder Fach and Fawr. It’s a compelling mountain with an attractive ridgeline to its pointy summit and, as the northernmost peak of the busy Glyders, it’s sufficiently detached from the popular ridges to offer a quieter, more tranquil experience. For escaping the crowds in summer, it’s the Glyders’ best option.
7. Arenig Fach
Pudding-shaped Arenig Fach appears dull and boring from the south, overshadowed by its loftier brother Arenig Fawr. But approach it from the north-east over wild, remote land and the mountain rewards you with craggy cliffs plunging into the hidden waters of Llyn Arenig Fach and a delightful ridge arrowing to the summit. Or, if you fancy making a weekend of it, why not bag Arenig Fawr too and spend a night in the tiny but charming Arenig Fawr bothy?
8. Eastern Carneddau
For an air of remoteness, solitude and tranquillity, the eastern Carneddau are ideal. The mountains might not be as spectacular as other parts of Snowdonia, but the walking has an understated charm. An excellent introduction to the area is a high-level loop of Llyn Eigiau. It features a climb of Craig Eigiau, a dramatic mountain that crescendos gloriously to a long, rocky rib of a summit. Next there’s a chance to explore the ruined quarry buildings at Cwm Eigiau, before a long return alongside the reservoir.
9. Nantlle Ridge
One of the best ridge walks in Snowdonia, the Nantlle Ridge is a long, airy hike featuring exciting summits and a touch of scrambling, without ever feeling excessively exposed or technical. Heading south-west from Rhyd-Ddu, the ridge starts with an arduous climb of Y Garn and an ascent of the shapely Mynydd Drws-y-coed before continuing over three more peaks to reach Garnedd-goch. Here you can either return by the way of ascent or loop back to the start via the lonely Cwm Pennant valley.
10. Aber Falls
For a gentler, family-friendly amble in northern Snowdonia, Aber Falls offers maximum scenery for minimum effort. From the car park a few kilometres south-east of the village of Abergwyngregyn, good trails explore a nature reserve and pass Bronze Age settlements, before arriving at the dramatic waterfall which plunges 120ft over igneous rock. If you fancy a more arduous outing, you can hike past the falls and bag several peaks of the central Carneddau including Llwytmor, Garnedd Uchaf and Bera Bach.