One of the many routes up Snowdon
© Alexander Kendall

6 unusual UK mountain hiking trails

Three Peaks Challenge? So last year. Try these mountain challenges instead...
Written by Alex Kendall
5 min readPublished on
Climbing the highest peaks of England, Scotland and Wales within 24 hours is known as the National Three Peaks Challenge. And guess what? It’s been done to death. Mountain leader Alex Kendall gives us the lowdown on the lesser-known mountain challenges in the UK.
Word of caution: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, hikers should refer to local guidelines before attempting routes in these locations. You can find more information about accessing green spaces safely, by clicking on the following locations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

1. Yorkshire Three Peaks

Hiking Ingleborough, Yorkshire

On the way to Ingleborough

© Alexander Kendall

Selling point: A trail suitable for hiking newbies
Level: Beginners
Perhaps the second most popular UK walking challenge, the Yorkshire Three Peaks crosses Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent, three impressive hills in the south of the Yorkshire Dales. The route is circular and has 1,500m of ascent and descent, which people aim to complete within 12 hours. The traditional starting point is Horton in Ribblesdale, which has a train station and accommodation. A great walk and probably the easiest in this list.

2. Dartmoor Ten Tors

Hiking Dartmoor Ten Tors

This walk can be as hard (or as easy) as you like

© Alexander Kendall

Selling point: You can make it as difficult or as easy as you want
Level: Beginners
The Ten Tors is a challenge for young people organised by the Army, where teams of six visit ten of the Dartmoor 'Tors' (granite outcrops usually on summits) in routes of varying length. But just because you can't do the official one doesn't mean that you can't set your own challenge! Have a look at a map of Dartmoor and pick ten tors to visit, trying to do it in one day, or two with a camp. As a good base for exploration, head to Okehampton which is near the highest tors.

3. Welsh Three Peaks

One of the many routes up Snowdon

One of the many routes up Snowdon

© Alexander Kendall

Selling point: Traverse unique peaks across Wales
Level: Intermediate
Traversing the whole of Wales from north to south, the 21 mile challenge involves climbing Snowdon (north Wales), Cadair Idris (mid Wales) and Pen y Fan (south Wales). This is done in one push, including driving between them. On a long summer's day this can be completed in daylight, and a good target time is 15 hours. All three mountains are very different and dominate their local landscapes for miles, providing three very unique walks. A good starting place is Llanberis for Snowdon, finishing in Brecon near Pen y Fan.

4. Cairngorms 4000s

Hiking the Lairig Ghru on the Cairngorm 4000s

Looking at the Lairig Ghru on the Cairngorm 4000s

© Alexander Kendall

Selling Point: The wild Arctic plateau of the Cairngorms
Level: Intermediate
There is no greater concentration of 4,000-foot mountains in the UK than the Cairngorms in the East Highlands of Scotland. Fate would have it that they are arranged in a large loop, making it possible to summit all five of them in one fantastic walk. It's a tough 21 miles as the route includes a descent and ascent of the infamous Lairig Ghru pass at the halfway point. For a walk in the wild this route is up there with the best. The nearest town is Aviemore which is easily accessible from the south, or from Inverness.

5. Lake District 24 Peaks

Hiking in the Lake District 24 Peaks

Looking into Buttermere.

© Alexander Kendall

Selling Point: A journey through the best of England's highest mountains
Level: Advanced
If you want to push yourself over two days then this challenge is hard to beat. The actual peaks included change depending on who’s planning the route, but the traditional walk takes in Scafell Pike, Helvellyn, Fairfield and many more famous summits. Usual walking time is 12 hours on the first day and 10 hours on the second, with hopefully enough time to sleep between them! Be prepared for steep ascents and rocky ground. The usual start is Buttermere, with the overnight in Ambleside in the heart of the Lake District.

6. Welsh 3000s

Hiking on the Glyders during the Welsh 3000s

On the Glyders during the Welsh 3000s

© Alexander Kendall

Selling point: Push yourself on a classic 24-hour hiking challenge
Level: Advanced
One of the hardest classic walking challenges around, the Welsh 3000s takes in all fifteen 3,000-foot peaks in Wales. The aim is to complete the walk in 24 hours, from the first summit to the last and all on foot. Depending on the exact route, the whole trip is roughly 35 miles, and includes 3,500m of ascent and descent. During it you will cross three distinct mountain ranges, take in the scramble of Crib Goch, and summit Snowdon itself! If starting with Snowdon, head to Llanberis, which sits at the foot of the mountain. The usual finish point is in Bethesda.
Cracking views walking on the Welsh Three Peaks.

Cracking views on the Welsh Three Peaks

© Alexander Kendall

Essential kit
For each of these challenges you'll need walking boots, a waterproof jacket and trousers, warm clothes, and plenty of food and water. Always take a charged mobile phone and a small first aid kit in case of emergencies. If you are doing the navigation then make sure you have maps and compasses and know how to use them.
Give it a go...
All of these challenges can be attempted independently or outdoor companies can organise these challenges for you and provide mountain leaders.
If you want to lead a challenge yourself why not do a Hill and Mountain skills course to make sure you know what you're doing?
Alex Kendall is a freelance writer and Mountain Leader living in South Wales. Follow him @Alex_Kendall