If you’re new to the Peak District, then one of your first adventures in this outstanding national park has to be to Dovedale and its famous stepping stones. Nestled in the very south of the Derbyshire Peak District, on the border with Staffordshire, is a series of perfectly laid out stepping stones in the lush Dovedale Valley. The little stone platforms cut a path across the serene Dove River, making it one of the most popular attractions in the entire Peak District National Park.
In this guide, we’ll tell you a little about Dovedale Stepping Stones, where to find them and how to get there. We’ll then suggest some excellent walking routes to enjoy the most of the Dovedale Valley in Derbyshire, before giving you some tips on visiting. Lastly, we’ll answer some FAQs and look at some other excellent walks in the Peak District.
For more incredible walks in the Peak District, check out our guides on Alport Castles, Mam Tor and Thor’s Cave. Otherwise, read our Peak District Hiking post (also coming soon), where we reveal some of the best hikes in the Peak District National Park.
Table of Contents
What Are the Dovedale Stepping Stones?
The Dovedale Stepping Stones are 16 perfectly spaced little rock slabs crossing over the Dove River within the valley’s steep limestone walls. Indeed, Dovedale Valley is one of the most picturesque spots in the whole of the Peak District National Park with many people flocking to take to the stepping stones every year.
About Dovedale Valley
Dovedale is a steep-sided limestone valley in the White Peaks of the Derbyshire Peak District. The land is managed by the National Trust and is easily one of the Peak District’s most popular attractions. Indeed, some 1 million visitors head to Dovedale in Derbyshire each year.
Around 350 million years ago, a sea covered this patch of the Peak District. The limestone you find here, around the Dovedale Stepping Stones, is made up of the fossilised remains of the sea creatures that once lived in the sea waters. During the last two ice ages, glacial meltwater cut the caverns, fissures and interesting rock formations we see today, leaving behind the deep Dovedale Valley and Dove River passing through it.
As well as the immensely popular Dovedale Stepping Stones, there are even more attractions to explore in the Dovedale Valley. These include the Dovedale Caves. Known as the Dove Holes, the caves here have been used for thousands of years before us. Burial sites, coins and special artifacts of varying time periods have all been found in the caves at Dovedale, suggesting continual human occupation for quite some time.
Where Are the Dovedale Stepping Stones?
The Dovedale Stepping Stones are located in the south Peak District area in the county of Derbyshire. Dovedale Valley lies in the White Peaks between the villages of Ilam, Thorpe and Tissington. The Dovedale Stepping Stones are managed by the National Trust, which also manages the nearby Ilam Park.
How to Get to Dovedale Stepping Stones in the Peak District
Getting to Dovedale Valley and the stepping stones in the Derbyshire Peak District is very straightforward. Of course, having your own set of wheels is useful too. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the nearest places to travel from. We’ll include the distance and drive time.
The Dovedale Stepping Stones postcode is DE6 2AY. This will get you to the Dovedale Car Park.
Directions to Dovedale Stepping Stones
- Manchester: 1.5 hours // 47 miles (75km)
- Sheffield: 1.5 hours // 35 miles (56km)
- Leek: 30 minutes // 14 miles (22km)
- Buxton: 30 minutes // 20 miles (32km)
- Bakewell: 30 minutes // 16 miles (26km)
If you don’t have access to your own vehicle, then we recommend hiring something. Of course, this can easily be organised from both Manchester and Sheffield. When hiring a car, we always get the ball rolling with a search on RentalCars.com. Booking a car with Rentalcars.com is easy and stress-free, plus they offer an unbeatable free cancellation policy too.
Public Transport to the Dovedale Stepping Stones
To get to Dovedale Stepping Stones, you’ll need to get to either Ilam or Thorpe. Then, you’ll begin the Dovedale Stepping Stones walk from either of these villages. The extra distance is just a few kilometres.
If travelling by train from Manchester or Sheffield, you will need to get to Buxton. Then from Buxton, you can take the bus down to Ashbourne, alighting at Thorpe and walking from there.
Where to Park For Dovedale Stepping Stones
Parking to visit the Dovedale Stepping Stones can be found at the large and purpose-built Dovedale Car Park. As the area is managed by the National Trust, members can park for free. You cannot arrive at Dovedale Car Park later than 7.30pm, although you can certainly leave after this time if you are already there.
There are public toilets at the Dovedale Car Park, as well as a popular refreshment kiosk.
Find the location here on Google Maps.
Dovedale Parking Charges
For non-members, the Dovedale Car Park is pay and display and costs £4.50 for up to 4 hours and £6 for over 4 hours. The National Trust makes a point of requesting that you try and bring the correct change with you. Parking payment is cash only.
Useful Things to Know Before Visiting Dovedale Valley
- Dovedale Stepping Stones opening times: the Dovedale Valley and stepping stones are open all the time. But, this is on the proviso you have walked or cycled to Dovedale Stepping Stones. That’s because the National Trust Dovedale Car Park is open between 9am to 7.30pm. But, you don’t need to leave by 7.30pm if you’ve arrived earlier in the day. Simply drive up to the bollards and they will open for you. Remember though, overnight parking isn’t permitted, so do try to leave soon after closing.
- Are the Dovedale Valley and stepping stones free to visit? yes. The only charge incurred will be if you drive and park at the Dovedale Car Park. If you cycle or walk to the Dovedale Stepping Stones, then you’ve got a free day out in the Peaks.
- What to expect when crossing Dovedale Stepping Stones: the Dovedale stepping stones are spaced close together, so it’s an easy walk across the Dove River, rather than a lunge between rock islands. If it’s rained a lot, the Dovedale Stepping Stones can sometimes become submerged, so think again about using them. Again, rain can make the surface of the rocks slippery, so take care in wet weather. As an alternative to the Dovedale Stepping Stones, you can use the wooden bridge at the trailhead for Thorpe Cloud instead.
- Popular times to visit: Dovedale Stepping Stones in the Derbyshire Peak District are one of the most popular attractions. So, if you want to avoid crowds, you should think twice about visiting during school holidays, or even weekends. Try to arrive early, visit on a weekday, or late in the day, when most visitors to Dovedale Valley will have left.
- Cash is King: quick reminder, bring cash for the Dovedale Car Park and to also use the public toilets.
Dovedale Stepping Stones Walk
The Dovedale Stepping Stones are conveniently located just a short walk from the Dovedale Car Park. The trail is flat, even and pram-friendly. From the Dovedale Car Park, you’ll take the trail leading down the left-hand side of the public toilets and kiosk. After passing by a wooden bridge on your right (the alternative route to the stepping stones), continue straight ahead.
The picturesque walk through the Dovedale Valley will soon bring you to the stepping stones. Enjoy hopping back and forth as you admire this incredible limestone gorge.
Explore Beyond The Stepping Stones: Dovedale Walks
Of course, there’s plenty more to explore beyond the Dovedale Stepping Stones. Indeed, a walk through the Dovedale Valley with splendid views across Derbyshire and Staffordshire should be high up your day’s to-do list. In addition to the Dovedale Stepping Stones, a walk through, around or up over the valley will bring you to Bunster Hill, Thorpe’s Cloud, Lover’s Leap, Dove Holes, Baley Hill, Milldale, Ilam Rock and Reynard’s Cave.
Below, we’ll take a look at some cracking Dovedale walks, including our personal favourite – Dovedale to Milldale Circular via Bunster Hill and Thorpe Cloud (guide coming soon). Check out the map for all the wonderful attractions in the Dovedale Valley.
Dovedale to Milldale Walk Via Bunster Hill and Thorpe Cloud
This is possibly the best Dovedale walk, leaving the stepping stones as the final attraction at the end of a hike packed to the brim with attractions. The Dovedale to Milldale circular walking route first scales Bunster Hill and Thorpe Cloud, found at the head of Dovedale Valley.
From Thorpe Cloud, the walk descends down toward the Dovedale Stepping Stones and heads along the River Dove to Lover’s Leap, before sharply ascending back up onto the gorge top. Beyond here, you’ll explore Dove Holes before reaching the pretty little village of Milldale.
From Milldale, you’ll enjoy the flat return trail following along the edge of the river, stopping to enjoy Ilam Rock and Reynard’s Cave before reaching the famous Dovedale Stepping Stones. It’s an incredible 17km hike and the best Dovedale walk in the Peak District.
Ilam Park to Dovedale Stepping Stones
For the Ilam to Dovedale circular walk from the National Trust’s Ilam Park, head east into the village of Ilam. After passing the last house in Ilam, take a short but steep track up onto the footpath at the base of Bunster Hill. From here, you can either take the more direct route ahead, cutting through farmland with grazing cattle. Alternatively, you can take the trail on the left, and follow the stone wall around the field. Eventually, you’ll reach a sloped road leading down to the Dovedale Car Park. Beyond the Dovedale Car Park, you’ll find the stepping stones, as described earlier.
Thorpe Cloud with Dovedale Stepping Stones
This Dovedale Stepping Stones circular walk takes in the short but steep climb up Thorpe Cloud before descending back round to join the Dovedale Stepping Stones on the western bank of the Dove River. Views of the Derbyshire Peak District and the entire Dovedale Valley are superb from Thorpe Cloud. So, we certainly recommend adding this climb onto a short walk if you don’t have time to do the full Milldale Loop that we did.
Milldale to Dovedale Stepping Stones
Rather than park at the Dovedale Car Park, you can begin the walk from Milldale. Parking is found here and you can either walk the Dovedale to Milldale circular trail in reverse or simply walk an out and back along the Dovedale Valley floor to reach the stepping stones. This Milldale to Dovedale Stepping Stones walk means you’ll get to see the majority of top attractions along the Dovedale Valley too.
Fun Facts About Dovedale Valley
- The River Dove is famous for its trout.
- Tourists first started visiting the Dovedale Valley back in the 18th century.
- Roman coins pre-dating the Roman invasion of Britain were found in Reynard’s Cave.
- Dovedale Valley is a National Nature Reserve because of its diverse plant life and extraordinary rock formations.
- Viator’s Bridge (Viator is Latin for ‘traveller‘) has been in use since medieval times and was used by horses with panniers, similar to that at Three Shires Head.
Places to Eat Near Dovedale Stepping Stones
Dan and I usually bring a packed lunch for day trips out hiking. But, sometimes, that just doesn’t suffice. At the Dovedale Car Park is a small kiosk serving hot drinks, ice creams and other refreshments. I dare say the ice creams look particularly good!
If you walk to or from the Dovedale Stepping Stones from Milldale, you’ll struggle to find a more lovely little cafe. This one, called Polly’s Cottage, is a quaint little hole-in-the-wall tea shop. Setting up with a brew next to the Dove River in Milldale is the perfect place to relax.
If you begin the walk to Dovedale Stepping Stones from Ilam in Derbyshire, or you fancy visiting this National Trust venue before or after the walk, then you’ll find wonderful tea rooms here. Enjoy a cake and a coffee before a walk around Ilam’s Italian Garden.
In nearby Thorpe, you’ll find The Old Dog Pub, which is definitely a favourite of the area.
Hotels Near Dovedale Stepping Stones
Dan and I are very lucky to call the Peak District our backyard. But, many of you may be travelling from further afield to enjoy the Dovedale Stepping Stones and other delights of the area, so you’ll be needing a hotel. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the best options in the area around Dovedale Valley in the Derbyshire Peak District.
- The Izaak Walton Country House Hotel: set right in the heart of the Dovedale Valley is this superb 17th century hotel. Guests can enjoy fine dining in the Haddon Restaurant, whilst also enjoying wonderful views of Thorpe Cloud, Bunster Hill and the surrounding Dovedale Valley in Derbyshire.
- YHA Ilam Hall: I think I’ll struggle to find a better-located youth hostel! Set in the gothic Ilam Hall mansion, guests can enjoy 84 acres of beautiful parkland, before retreating to the comfortable dorms for the night. There’s a kitchen for self-catering as well as a cafe-bar and restaurant.
- Hillcrest House: if you’re looking to feel right at home in the Derbyshire Peak District, just a stone’s throw from Dovedale Valley, then look no further than Hillcrest House. Here, you’ll have the run of a 10-bed house, complete with a hot tub and outstanding countryside views. It’s a perfect getaway for the whole family.
Camping Near Dovedale Stepping Stones
Camping in the Peak District is wonderful. But, camping in the Derbyshire Peak District close to Dovedale Valley and the stepping stones is something else. For some wonderful campsite options close to Dovedale Valley, check out Ashbourne Heights Holiday Park, Thorpe Cloud View Camping and Tissington Caravan and Motorhome Site.
Dovedale Stepping Stones FAQs
Below, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions in regard to visiting Dovedale Stepping Stones and the Dovedale Valley in the Derbyshire Peak District.
Has Dovedale Valley Been Used as a Film Location?
The Other Boleyn Girl (feat. Natalie Portman) and Robin Hood (feat. Russell Crowe) have both used Dovedale Valley as filming locations. As too has the BBC’s adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
How Far From Dovedale Car Park Are the Stepping Stones?
It’s a distance from the Dovedale Car Park to the stepping stones, covering around 700m.
How Long Is the Dovedale Stepping Stones Walk?
This really depends on the Dovedale Stepping Stones walk you choose to do. If you take on the circular Milldale walk Dan and I did, then you’re looking at around 6 hours and 17 km. But, if you simply walk from the Dovedale Car Park, you’ll wrap your visit up within an hour.
Is Dovedale Free to Visit?
Yes. You simply need to pay for parking if you drive and park at the Dovedale Car Park.
Can You Swim at Dovedale Stepping Stones?
Yes. You’ll see plenty of people having a paddle. Always assess the conditions for yourself on the day though.
Can You Fly a Drone at Dovedale?
As Dovedale Valley falls under the management of the National Trust, you cannot fly a drone here. Certainly not without prior consent and written permission from the National Trust.
Can I Bring My Dog To Dovedale Stepping Stones?
You betcha! But, your furry friend must be kept on a lead at all times. This will minimise any risks to wildlife and livestock, as well as not cause too much disruption on a busy trail.
Other Peak District Stepping Stones
Dovedale may be the most famous, but they’re certainly not the only stepping stones to be found in the Peak District. If you’ve loved Dovedale Stepping Stones, then be sure to check out Chee Dale Stepping Stones and Hathersage Stepping Stones.
Other Walks in the Peak District
There are plenty of hikes in the Peak District National Park. Indeed, some of our all-time favourite walks in the UK can be found in the Peak District. Let’s take a look.
- Mam Tor: one of the most popular walks in the Peak District, with amazing views down the Great Ridge.
- Alport Castles: a hidden gem in the Peak District, the Alport Castles are the result of one of the largest landslips in the UK.
- Derwent Edge: a beautiful walk up a typical Peak District escarpment and across the wild open moorland. Additionally, there are a number of interesting rock formations along the trail.
- The Roaches and Lud’s Church: hike up and around the famous rocky ridge in the south Peaks and add on the fairytale rocky chasm of Lud’s Church.
- Kinder Scout and Downfall: hike to the Peak District’s highest point and enjoy the seasonal waterfall.
- Stanage Edge: whether you hike or climb, a visit to the Stanage Edge escarpment will leave you spellbound.
- Dovestones Reservoir: visiting in late summer is the most beautiful time of year to experience the vast moorland with this Dovestone circular walk.
- Three Shires Head: at the point where Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire meet is a pretty little cascade.
- Thor’s Cave: this impressive natural cavern has fantastic views across the Manifold Valley and is very close to Dovedale.
- Chrome Hill: climb true peaks in the Peak District. We recommend visiting for sunrise.
- Bamford Edge: easily one of the most photographed parts of the Peak District with a picture-perfect ledge to sit on along this walk.
- Dovedale to Milldale Loop: by far the greatest way to experience Dovedale Valley and these Peak District Stepping Stones.
- Padley Gorge: a deep and narrow valley offers a magical woodland walk to all who venture within.
Five Essentials For Visiting the Dovedale Stepping Stone
These are our five gear essentials for visiting the Dovedale Stepping Stones in the Derbyshire Peak District! For a more extensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Alternatively, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a hiking trip to the Peak District, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
You should also pack water, snacks and warm clothing. Additionally, a picnic is a great idea too!
Bonus Tips for Visiting the Dovedale Stepping Stones
- Other caves in the Peak District: if you loved the caves in Dovedale Valley, head to nearby Thor’s Cave for more limestone caverns.
- Ilam Park: For more information on Ilam, Dovedale and walks in the area, you can check out the National Trust’s website here.
- Weather: it’s always good to be prepared for any weather when walking in the Peak District. Although, taking cover in the Dovedale caves would be a pretty great place to take shelter. Anywho, you check the weather here.
- Explore more of the Peak District: if you want the hassle taken care of when it comes to trip planning, Get Your Guide offers some pretty great tour options for the Peak District National Park.
Save or share this post with your hiking buddies before your next trip to the Peak District National Park!