10 hidden adventures in Snowdonia
© Peter Lourenco; Getty
Skip Wales’ highest peak and the tourist centric-spots in favour of these off-the-beaten-track pursuits.
If you consider yourself a connoisseur of adventure, then you’ve most probably been to Snowdonia. But have you climbed up one of its frozen waterfalls in the depths of winter? Or stayed out in the wild on a crystal clear night in the summer to watch an amazing sunset? (Okay, this one relies on the weather playing ball.)
The verdant national park in North Wales is a hub for all types of heart-pumping outdoor activities year round. It’s also possible to avoid the crowds around the main tourist sites of Betws-y-Coed and Llanberis, with a whole host of things to do once you’ve ticked Snowdon itself off your bucket list. We’ve taken a look at 10 secret spots for you to check out...
1. Mountain biking the Penmachno trail
While most of the area’s mountain biking trails are managed by Natural Resource Wales, the Penmachno trail (around a 10 mile drive from Betws-y-Coed) is managed by a small community group. This means no trail centre or super groomed flow and jumps, but what it lacks in official status it makes up for in sheer fun.
“It’s a 30km purpose-built trail that’s pretty wild,” explains Plas y Brenin’s senior paddleboard and mountain biking instructor Pete Catterall. “It’s just out in the mountains and is really narrow singletrack – definitely one for the really diehard mountain bikers.” Join the trailhead in Penmachno and prepare yourself for hours of adrenaline-fuelled action."
2. Scrambling the Snowdon Horseshoe
Snowdonia is renowned for its scrambling, with the numerous craggy peaks offering a variety of ascents, from routes that are a slight step up from hill walking through to all-out vertical ascents. The north ridge of Tryfan is a legendary climb that is on most scramblers’ to-do lists, but it also forms of a part of a triple whammy that make for a great day in the hills.
“Starting at the north ridge of Tryfan, you then drop down and do Bristly ridge before coming round and down the Gribbin,” explains Catterall’s colleague and senior scrambling and ice climbing instructor Olly Sanders. “The Snowdon Horseshoe route gives you a real variety – from the harder ground of Crib Goch to the ascent of Lliwedd, which is quite technical.” You may have heard of the Snowdon Horseshoe, but such is the challenge involved you won't see too many trying their luck.
3. Ice climbing in Cwm Idwal
A great destination for ice climbing come winter and early spring, Snowdonia manages to hold its snow quite well. “The most popular area is a place called Cwm Idwal in Ogwen Valley,” says Sanders. “There’s easy access, it’s relatively safe and it’s got quite a lot of ice in the Cwm area for all grades.”
But what if you want to take on a frozen waterfall? “The Devil’s Appendix is one of the most famous. That’s as good as anywhere in the country when it’s formed, and it forms a little bit more regularly than the others in Snowdonia."
4. Whitewater kayaking Fairy Glen and Afon Lledr
For those looking for grade five whitewater, you’re spoilt for choice in this region. In fact, two of the best spots – the Fairy Glen on the Conwy and Afon Lledr – are right next to each other, and not far from the hub of Betws-y-Coed.
“They’re continuous whitewater and are just beautiful – through some stunning gorges and forests – and Fairy Glen in particular runs at much lower levels than anything else,” adds Catterall. “It’s the first one to rise and the last one to fall."
But if you’re new to whitewater kayaking and want a variety of grades, he recommends the Llugwy: “The good thing about this one is that from Plas-y-Brenin down to Betws-y-Coed, you’ve got every grade of whitewater; people can get off at different places. It’s got waterfalls and rapids too, so it’s got everything you could want on it.”
5. Trail running the Yr Aran circuit
The paths of Snowdonia are a trail runner's paradise, and there’s everything from gradual climbs to fell runs on offer depending on what you fancy. If you want a challenging and quiet 20km-plus run without tackling any actual summits, then the Yr Aran circuit might be for you.
Setting off from Rhyd Ddu, the trail takes in ancient forests en route to Beddgelert, the Sygyn Copper Mine and a stretch of the Watkins path before a bit of orienteering brings you back to the track down to Rhyd Ddu.
6. Wild camping by Llyn y Caseg-Fraith
Although not technically allowed in the Snowdonia National Park, setting up camp at the edge of Llyn y Caseg Fraith is well worth a run in with the authorities. The sun set is absolutely spectacular, and comes down over the peaks of Bristly Ridge and Tryfan.
To get to the spot, set off from Llyn Pen-y-Gwyrd and follow the trail north for around one-and-a-half hours. The area does get a bit boggy in places, but there are a number of spots that are raised up and should stay dry – just expect it to be a tad windy and exposed.
7. Wild swimming in the Llynnau Cwm Silyn
Lakes (or 'Llyns' in Welsh) dot the Snowdonia landscape and you don’t have to travel far to find a spot for a dip if you want to cool off after a morning of trekking – in fact, taking a travel towel in your day bag is recommended, whatever the weather. But all Llyns aren’t made equal, and Llynnau Cwm Silyn on the edge of the national park is worth the pilgrimage.
Park here and follow the track for around 30 minutes, at which point you’ll reach the crystal clear twin lakes. It’s not just the picture-perfect water that makes this lake special though – the backdrop of Craig Cwm Silyn is spectacular and, like the water, will leave you breathless.
8. Cycling the hidden road climbs
The undulating roads of Snowdonia are a road cyclist’s paradise. Be it sweeping valley tracks that are carved into the sides of mountains, rolling seaside lanes or Alpine-esque climbs through dense forests, it really has it all. Throw in minimal traffic, and it’s only the weather that sets it apart from the south of France.
A hidden climb that should be on every rider’s list though is that up to Llynnau Cregennen. At only 1.3 miles long, it’s not the toughest in the region, but its mix of tree-lined track and amazing views at the summit make it one of the best.
Starting just north of the village of Arthog, the road winds its way up almost 250m in elevation with a leg-sapping average gradient of 11 percent and highs of almost 20. Pace yourself for this short, sharp ascent and you'll enjoy the views even more.
9. Wild walking the Rhinog mountain range
If you’re going to Snowdonia it’s likely that you’ll do a bit of walking at the very least. The mountain that gives its name to the region alone has eight climbs up to its summit, while other well-known routes such as the Slate Trail pass through the national park.
But if you want to beat the crowds (and train-load of people at the top of Snowdon), then head to the south of the region. “For wild walks in total solitude, the Rhinog mountain range is hard to beat,” says George Sanderson, owner of Snowdonia Adventure Activities. The area includes the peaks of Rhinog Fawr and Rhinog Fach, with Sanderson recommending the former’s Roman Steps as an “easily accessible walk".
10. Canyoning on the Watkins Path and Elephant Rock
The toughest ascent up Snowdon is also home to some great canyoning spots that aren’t far from the beaten track. “The cascades coming down are pretty good fun – there are loads of slides, pools and some good scrambling,” says Sanderson. “It’s pretty steady with no committing abseils so you’re unlikely to get really stuck down there, but if the rivers in flood then you’ll need to be particularly careful."
And if you are after some big jumps, head a bit downstream in the direction of Llyn Gwynant and a huge chunk of stone known locally as ‘Elephant Rock’. “There’s some pretty big jumps up here; you just need to climb up the side, take a deep breath and go for it. The water’s deep (and fresh!) but as always, you’ll need to check the depth of anything you’re going to jump into."