- Cycling in the Lake District is very popular, with thousands travelling to the north west of the UK each year to cycle the Lakes.
What's to love about cycling in the Lake District?
The Lake District is one of the most beautiful parts of the UK to cycle in. From country lanes to iconic climbs, the scenery is spectacular and it's perfect cycling territory, especially for the more experienced cyclist.
The Lake District's cycling climbs are renowned and they're not for the faint-hearted. The Struggle, near Ambleside, is exactly what the name suggests! Likewise, climbs such as Hardknott, Wrynose, Kirkstone, Whinlatter and Honister Passes are relatively short in distance, but are incredibly steep with maximum gradients of well over 20%.
The locals say that you can call yourself a proper cyclist if you can ride these passes without having to unclip at least once on these brutal gradients!
Where is the Lake District located within the UK?
The Lake District is in the north west England. This National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site covers nearly 2,500 square metres of rugged and beautiful terrain.
The Lake District is within the county of Cumbria. It boasts both the highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike, as well as some of the deepest lakes in the UK.
The Park is flanked by the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines to the east and the Irish Sea in the west. The Scottish border is just an hour’s drive to the north
Lake District cycling holidays
While most of the riding that road cyclists will be interested in involves hills, there are some easier, family cycle routes in the Lake District. For example, there are traffic free cycle routes around Lake Windermere and Grasmere. Both Grizedale and Whinlatter forests have innumerable single tracks and trails, although you will likely need a hybrid or (ideally) a mountain bike.
Part of the attraction of a cycling trip to the Lake District is that’s it’s a popular summer holiday destination and so has lots of tourist facilities. Non cyclists can take part in the traditional Lake District attractions such as fell walking, sailing or fishing.
Note: this is an "essentials" guide. It shares key information that should be helpful in planning your cycling holiday in the Lake District, but the guide is less detailed than our trademark "ultimate" cycling guides to the regions we visit. We hope to have the opportunity to write a full, in-depth guide to cycling the Lakes soon!
(On which note, if you're a cycling club or business in the Lake District reading this and wishing we were as detailed as the other guides on our website, do get in touch! We'd love to collaborate and bring more information on cycling the Lake District to the Epic Road Rides community.)
Lake District cycle routes
- Road cycling in the Lake District offers a fantastic opportunity to test your legs. There are half a dozen well-known climbs with the hardest being Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass.
Hardknott Pass is a 2.2 kilometre climb at an average gradient of 13% with some of the turns reaching around 30%! It's a beast!
The nearby Wrynose Pass has a slightly longer ascent with an average gradient of 11% and a maximum of 25% in places!
Road cycling routes in the Lake District
Here are three ideas for Lake District cycling loops that take in the main climbs.
Note: As this is an "essentials" guide, we don't go into much detail on the routes. In future we hope to have the opportunity to build on this and provide the kind of detail you see in our other destination guides. More info above!
A quick word of warning, be prepared for the constant rollercoaster that is riding in the Lake District. The climbs are steep, the descents are short and technical (so there's little time to recover). Be aware that for road cyclists, the Lake District is definitely one of the hardest places in the UK to ride your bike!
Easy cycle routes in the Lake District
While most of the road cycling routes in the Lakes involve hills, there are a few roads that are a bit easier. For example, check out the road alongside Crummock Water.
If you're cycling in the Lakes with kids and are looking for some cycle paths and trails, here are some ideas:
The Windermere bike boat is a popular option. It carries cyclists and their bikes from the eastern shore of Lake Windermere to the Western shore. The boat takes you to the cycle path on the western shore of Lake Windermere. From there you can head north to Wray Castle for a picnic (or cup of tea in the tea room) and a stunning view. The boat doesn't run year-around, so check before you set out!
There are loads of off-road trails in the Forestry Commission run Grizedale forest, with distances from around 2 to 14+ miles. You'll also come across over 40 sculptures and works of art. But beware the forest trails are quite steep, so, if you're with younger/inexperienced kids, then we're told the best bet is to start out from Moor Top car park where you'll find the easier routes.
Whinlatter Forest also has some fantastic options for off-road riding, with trails from 1 to 12+ miles.
Lake District cycling events
In terms of amateur Lake District cycling events, it doesn't get more famous than the annual Fred Whitton Sportive. It's by far the most well-known road cycling event in the Lake District and its 113 gruelling miles have become world famous. It is generally accepted to be the hardest one-day ride in the UK. (It also made it to our list of the best UK sportives!).
If you want to attempt the entire Fred Whitton route then it is best to start and finish in Grasmere which is only 5 miles from Ambleside.
Lake District accommodation
- Ambleside, Windermere and Keswick are excellent bases for exploring the Lake District cycle routes and are home to a wealth of accommodation both in town and rurally.
As seen from the cycling routes above, each town is the perfect starting point for a memorable loop – though if attempting the Fred Whitton route is on your must-do list, staying somewhere in or around Ambleside would be the obvious choice and is in the heart of the best riding and the beautiful lakes themselves.
Perhaps pick one town as your base and then drive to the next to tackle your next epic loop?!
Bike hire in the Lake District
Lake District bike hire options focus predominantly on off-road bikes. Road bike rental in the Lake District is harder to come by. These are the options we've come across to date:
Windermere – Country Lanes Cycles (road and mountain bike hire)
Windermere – Lake District Bike Hire (mountain bike hire)
Windermere – Total Adventure Bike Hire (mountain and e-bike)
Ulverston – Lake District Bikes (road, mountain, gravel, e-bike hire)
Keswick – Keswick Bikes (mountain bike and e-bike hire)
Ambleside – Biketreks (mountain and e-bikes hire)
Staveley - Wheelbase (fat bikes and e-mountain bike hire)
Tips and articles
As ever in the high hills and mountains, remember that the weather changes quickly, so always be prepared for the worst. It's particularly worth paying heed to that advice here since we've heard it rains 200+ days a year in the Lake District and is the wettest place in England! Also bear in mind that it often snows here in winter. However, even when the weather is sub-optimal, the scenery still tends to look beautiful!
Bring your compact chainset and a 32t if you have it - you're going to need all the gears you can get up those gradients! We'd also suggest disc brakes for this part of the world...
On which note, try and get some experience of both climbing and descending before you arrive. It sounds a bit perverse, but the descending can be tougher (and significantly more scary!) than the climbing on these kind of gradients. You might want to consider some strength training for your arms if you're not regularly riding somewhere hilly before you arrive in the Lakes!
Expect bumps and lumps in the road surfaces. As mentioned above, the weather in the Lakes is not one of its highlights and this takes its toll on the road surfaces. The UK is not known for having great road surfaces generally and the Lake District has a reputation even by UK standards... Take particular care if it's been raining as on the steep gradients you may struggle to grain traction.
Factor in the gradients when route planning. As with many mountainous areas, the climbs and their gradients really take their toll, so don't make your day one ride a 100 miler until you've seen for yourself what the riding is like.
Lots of the roads are narrow so consider setting out early, to avoid catching too much traffic, especially in summer.
Finally, for more tips and suggestion, it would be worth reading our tips for riding in the Yorkshire Dales - many are applicable to the Lakes too!
How to get here
By train – from London to Oxenholme, Kendal (direct) is 3 hrs 17 mins with around 29 trains per day. You can also get a train to Windermere. From Leeds to Oxenholme is 2 hrs 11 mins with around 56 trains per day.
By air – Manchester is the most convenient airport which is a 1 hr 30 mins drive to Kendal. Leeds Bradford airport is a 2 hr drive to Kendal.
By car – 4 hrs 30 mins from London via M1 & M6. 1 hr 40 mins from Leeds via M62 & M6
We'd suggest that you have a car whilst in the Lake District, such is the size of the area and the distances between attractions. There are buses, but they're a bit few and far between.
When to visit
The Lake District receives huge numbers of visitors each year. Generally this isn't too much of a problem, other than in August, when the roads can come to a virtual standstill. Probably best to visit elsewhere at this time of year. Both Spring and Autumn are beautiful times to visit. October can be particularly beautiful, with yellow and gold leaves on the tree, bright skies (if you're lucky) and wonderful cloud inversions that fill the vallyes with mist.
Interested in other UK cycling destinations? Head to our UK cycling page here which has links to loads of articles on other UK destinations.
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