With medieval castles, mythical giants, mountains galore and miles of heavenly coastline, Wales’ three national parks successfully seduce travelers who visit. Come summer, many Brits and savvy visitors make a beeline for the national parks’ jagged peaks and clear lakes.
Ready to experience the best of Snowdonia, Pembrokeshire’s coast and the Brecon Beacons? Pack your boots, grab a map and get exploring the national parks of Wales.
Snowdonia National Park
Wales’ biggest, oldest and most famous national park, Snowdonia – also known as Eryri (Welsh for “highlands”) – is one of the UK’s top destinations for thrill-seekers, thanks to its soaring peaks, lush valleys and abundance of outdoor activity centers.
Mountains are what draw the masses here, and nine craggy ranges pepper the 823-sq-mile park, with 15 peaks surpassing 2950ft (900m). At 3560ft (1085m), Mt. Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales (and England too!) and by far the most popular. More than half a million people climb it each year. Other challenging hikes include Cader Idris at 2929ft (893m) and the twin boulder-topped Tryfan at 3011ft (918m).
Prefer water sports to wind-whipped summits? Try white-water rafting across Class IV rapids along the River Tryweryn with a guide from the National White Water Centre, rent a standup paddleboard and circumnavigate Bala Lake (you’ll need to buy a permit for £6.50 or hire a guide), or head to Adventure Parc Snowdonia for a lesson on their inland surf lagoon.
The dramatic slate landscapes of North Wales gained Unesco World Heritage Status in 2021. Roadsides around the region are lined with jagged cascades of the treasured rock, which fueled the local economy for centuries. Visit the National Slate Museum in Llanberis to learn more, or brave the 500ft descent into Llechwedd Mine in Blaenau Ffestiniog – kids will love the heritage railway and the Bounce Below subterranean trampoline park.
Visiting Snowdonia National Park: Like all of Wales’ national parks, Snowdonia is inhabited by a sizable population. A handful of towns are geared up to help you explore, including Llanberis, Dolgellau and Betws y Coed.
Day trips are doable, but you won’t regret a longer stay. Homely B&Bs abound – but accommodations can fill up in the summer months, and some close for the winter, so it’s wise to travel in the shoulder seasons. Wild camping is tempting, but it’s illegal in all parts of Wales unless you have the express permission of the landowner.
Traveling by public transport? Most train routes from England require a change in Chester, a historic riverside city on the English side of the border. An Explore Wales bus and rail pass is a good option if you plan on hopping around.
Brecon Beacons National Park
It might not be the most dramatic of the Welsh national parks, but the heather moorlands, flat-topped mountains and wide-open skies of Brecon Beacons National Park have a way of getting under your skin. Spanning 520 sq miles in South and Mid Wales, the national park is within easy reach of the country’s capital, Cardiff, but feels blissfully remote. Come for scenic road trips, unspoiled forests, stargazing and unmissable hikes.
At 2906ft (886m), Pen-y-Fan is the Brecon Beacons’ highest and most popular peak. On clear days, hikers are rewarded with a sweeping panorama of patchwork fields and neighboring mountains. Choose one of the longer routes starting from the north side of the mountain to avoid the crowds, especially during weekends or when school is out. Equally impressive walks include the Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn y Fan Fawr circular walk, which traverses a steep ridge between two spectacular lakes; and the Four Falls Trail, which takes in the highlights of “waterfall country,” including Sgwd-yn-Eira (“snow falls”). If you plan to tackle the latter, book a post-hike tour of nearby Penderyn Distillery to warm up with some Welsh whisky and gin.
The Brecon Beacons rub shoulders with some of Wales’ best historical and cultural sights. Visit the Big Pit National Coal Museum, found within the Unesco-listed industrial landscape of Blaenavon, to learn more about the region’s coal and iron ore-mining history, which transformed the local area – and the world – during the 19th century. Or plan your trip to coincide with one of the notable annual festivals, such as Green Man Festival, Abergavenny Food Festival or the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts.
Visiting Brecon Beacons National Park: Most of the park’s key sights and hikes are an easy day trip from South and Mid Wales, but there’s so much to explore that it’s worth extending your stay with a night or two in the pretty towns of Crickhowell, Brecon or Abergavenny. For a multi-stop hiking trip, try the 55-mile Taff Trail, which starts in Cardiff, meandering through the valleys all the way to Brecon.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Small but mighty Pembrokeshire Coast National Park was designated specifically for its coastal treasures, which include dazzling beaches, thriving wildlife and historic seaside towns. Nowhere within the 612-sq-mile park is more than 10 miles from the sea.
It makes sense then that Pembrokeshire is where the cliff diving, rock scrambling, wet-and-wild sport of coasteering was born. Local surfers pioneered the sport in the 1980s, and today you’ll find countless adventure tour operators willing to guide you along the craggy coast. Prefer dry land? Tackle a section of the 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path for spectacular views of dramatic cliffs, secluded coves and the park’s offshore islands.
Pembrokeshire has more Blue Flag beaches than any other county in Wales. Take your pick from Broad Haven South, with its shark fin-shaped rock looming beyond the shore; dune-backed surf beach Freshwater West, home to Café Môr – one of our favorite food trucks; Poppit Sands; Whitesands Bay; and many more.
Save time for a trip to Skomer, a nature lover’s dream just a 15-minute boat trip from Martin’s Haven. The island is home to around 24,000 puffins from April to July, and in August and September, Atlantic grey seals shore up here to give birth to their pups. Many seabirds – including huge numbers of Manx shearwaters – find sanctuary here, and dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks are often spotted in the surrounding waters.
The park has numerous inland attractions too, many of which date back centuries. Neolithic burial chamber Pentre Ifan is made of bluestone from the nearby Preseli Hills, the same used for England’s Stonehenge. For a more immersive insight into the region’s history, head to Castell Henllys to experience what life would have been like in an Iron Age Celtic village.
Visiting Pembrokeshire Coast National Park: The popular harbor town of Tenby and its quieter neighbor Saundersfoot are the most easily accessible hotspots, while the Lilliputian city of St. Davids in the far west makes a charming base. If you prefer to wake up in relative wilderness, you can choose from plenty of woodland and cliff-top campsites.
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