Pure shores – Five fantastic lake walks
Snowdonia Mountains and Coast’s mountain-ringed lakes could have been created for memorable circular walks. You’ll find scenic stretches of water to explore across the region, each alive with fascinating heritage, mythical tales, awe-inspiring nature and show-stopping sights. We’ve picked a selection of the best to get you started on your waterside walking adventures.
A rocky amphitheatre shaped by ice
Carved out by glaciers during the last Ice Age, Cwm Idwal is home to some of the most dramatic scenery in Snowdonia Mountains and Coast. Found between Bethesda and Capel Curig, this 3-mile/4.8km walk begins from Ogwen Cottage Ranger Base before looping around the shores of Llyn Idwal and through the oldest National Nature Reserve in Wales (established in 1954).
As well as providing a vital habitat for rare Alpine plants like the Snowdon Lily, it’s dotted with unusual rock formations. As you go keep an eye out for landmarks like the Darwin Idwal Boulders – giant chunks of glacier-deposited rock named after naturalist Charles Darwin, who first charted them on a visit to Cwm Idwal in 1842.
There’s more history at the Idwal Slabs, a sheer cliff face that served as a proving ground for Sir Edmund Hillary and his team ahead of their ascent of Everest.
Mountainous waters steeped in legend
Also beginning from Ogwen Cottage Ranger Base, this 2.9-mile/4.6km circular walk traces the banks of Llyn Ogwen. According to legend, Ogwen is the resting place of King Arthur’s legendary sword Excalibur, thrown into its glassy waters by the knight Sir Bedwyr as Arthur lay wounded after his final battle.
Alongside the stories, the walk offers inspiring views of the Carneddau and Glyderau – Snowdonia’s secret mountain ranges – rearing up towards the sky on either side of the lake.
As you walk, watch out for the old pillbox. Built during World War II to secure the strategic A5 road in the event of an invasion, it’s one of a number of military defences sharp-eyed visitors can spot along the valley.
A powerful waterside walk
Despite its 8.5-mile/13.8km length, the largely level and well-paved route means this journey around Llyn Trawsfynydd off the A470 trunk route just south of Blaenau Ffestiniog is suitable for walkers of all skill levels. It’s actually a reservoir built to provide water for the Maentwrog hydro-electric power station (and later the now decommissioned Trawsfynydd nuclear power plant), and is slightly larger than Bala, the largest natural lake in Wales.
Starting at the power station car park, the walk leads past the old nuclear power station and over the Maentwrog dam as it makes its way along Trawsfynydd’s shores. Though most of the route remains close to the water, the path sometimes climbs to higher ground, serving up some long-distance views over the lake, the surrounding peaks of Snowdonia and the unexplored Rhinogydd, North Wales’s last true wilderness.
Crossing the narrow footbridge, which stretches for a quarter of a mile across the southern section of the lake, is a particular highlight. Built to preserve old rights of way when the reservoir was created, it links Trawsfynydd village with the site of a former local chapel.
Walking high and low
You’ll surround yourself with the stunning scenic beauty of the Nant Gwynant Valley on this walk. Starting from the National Trust’s Craflwyn car park near Beddgelert, the 6.6-mile/10.4km route combines lakeside terrain with some higher-level walking on the lower slopes of Snowdon.
The early part of the walk sees you climbing through a landscape of waterfalls and woodland, where you’ll encounter carpets of bluebells in early summer. Watch out for the oversized Giant’s Chair, a great place to stop for a breather and take in the views of Moel Hebog, Sygun Copper Mine and the hill of Dinas Emrys, legendary location of a battle between two mighty dragons.
After crossing through rugged heathland beneath Yr Afan at Snowdon’s base, you’ll descend through the oak woodlands of Parc Hafod y Llan and past the tumbling waterfalls of Afon Cwm Llyn. Once you’ve returned to the bottom of the valley, make your way back to your start point along the banks of the idyllic glacial lake of Llyn Dinas.
History and nature intertwined
Rather than a single route, the countryside around Llyn Mair and Dyffryn Maentwrog (found between Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog) offers over 19 miles/30km of interconnected footpaths to explore.
From the banks of Llyn Mair, created in 1889 to provide water for nearby Plas Tan y Bwlch manor house, these paths lead through a landscape rich in heritage. You’ll find forestry roads built to transport timber to the shipyards of Porthmadog and quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog during the 18th and 19th centuries, crumbling stone walls and buildings related to the area’s agricultural past and a section of the Sarn Helen Roman road which links North and South Wales.
You might also catch a glimpse of the historic narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway puffing past on its route between Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog, and take in views of the River Dwryd, hemmed in by dykes that wind across the Maentwrog Valley.
There’s plenty for nature lovers too, with a thriving bird population that includes wood warblers, redstarts and goshawks, alongside mammals like foxes, bats, badgers and pine martens.
Be sure to follow The Countryside Code for tips on how to enjoy the outdoors considerately and respectfully.
If you’d like to make your circular lake walk completely car-free, there are plenty of public transport options to choose from. Use the TrawsCymru T10 bus service if you’re walking Cwm Idwal or Llyn Ogwen, the T2 for Trawsfynydd and Llyn Mair and the Sherpa S4 for Llyn Dinas. The services interlink with one another and provide connections to trains and other bus routes. For information and timetables visit the TrawsCymru and Sherpa'r Wyddfa's websites.
Places to stay
You’ll find plenty of great places to stay too. Take a look at our accommodation pages to browse a selection of hotels, B&Bs and self-catering properties.