Nestled in the White Peaks of the south Derbyshire Peak District is the sublime Dovedale walk. Passing through a towering limestone gorge, millions of years old, the incredible Dovedale to Milldale circular walk visits all of Dovedale’s top attractions including Lover’s Leap, the Dovedale caves of Dove Holes, the limestone monolith of Ilam Rock and the secret Reynard’s Cave. And of course, not forgetting Dovedales most popular attraction, the stepping stones across the River Dove. Indeed, you’ll find many route options to choose from once you arrive at Dovedale Car Park. But, Dan and I think the best Dovedale walk is the circular trail linking Bunster Hill and Thorpe Cloud with the picturesque village of Milldale.
In this guide, we’ll tell you a little about Dovedale in the Peak District, where it is and how to get there. We’ll provide a Dovedale walking map and trail description, before suggesting some alternative walking routes. Lastly, we’ll look at some other excellent walks in the Peak District National Park before providing some bonus tips for your visit.
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
Dovedale is a steep-sided limestone valley in the Peak District National Park. 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 each year.
Around 350 million years ago, a sea covered this patch of the Peak District. The limestone you find here on the Dovedale walk is made up of the fossilised remains of the sea creatures that lived here. During the last two ice ages, glacial meltwater cut the caverns, fissures and interesting rock formations we see today.
Alongside the super popular Dovedale Stepping Stones are the Dovestone Caves. Of course, the caves at Dovedale aren’t just here for our enjoyment, they’ve actually been used for thousands of years before us. Burial sites, coins and special artifacts of varying time periods have all been found in Dovedale, suggesting continual human occupation for quite some time.
Cutting through the centre of the grand limestone gorge of Dovedale Valley is the River Dove. Alongside this serene flowing water source is a pretty walking trail linking Dovedale with the neighbouring village of Milldale.
Where Is the Dovedale Walk?
The Dovedale to Milldale circular walk we’ll describe in this post is in the south Peak District area, between the villages of Ilam and Tissington. The Dovedale circular walk to Milldale is one of the best day hikes in the Peak District.
How to Get to the Dovedale Walk in the Peak District
Getting to Dovedale in the 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 walk postcode is DE6 2AY. This will get you to the Dovedale Car Park.
- 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 Walk
To get to Dovedale for the circular walk to Milldale, you’ll need to get to either Ilam or Thorpe. Then, you’ll begin the Dovedale 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.
Dovedale Car Park
Parking for the Dovedale to Milldale circular walk 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. Otherwise, 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 make a point of requesting that you try and bring the correct change with you. Also, you cannot arrive at the 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 Circular Walk Map & Preview
- Trail Type: Loop
- Distance: 17km
- Time: 4–6 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 780m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Dovedale Car Park
- Map: Wikiloc
The Dovedale to Milldale Walk
This Dovedale hike to Milldale via Bunster Hill and Thorpe Cloud will easily end up one of your favourite Peak District walks. I know it did for us. Full of fantastic vistas, points of interest and pure tranquillity, the Dovedale to Milldale circular walk will last in memory for a long time. The 17km walking trail, taking in the best of Dovedale including the Dove Hole caves, Ilam Rock, Lover’s Leap, Reynard’s Cave and of course, the stepping stones make for the perfect way to while away a day in the Peak District. Let’s begin.
Climbing Bunster Hill
From the Dovedale Car Park, you’ll initially walk past the kiosk and onto a wide footpath. At just 100m in, you’ll see a trail leading off the left. Take this trail to begin the ascent of Bunster Hill. At 329 metres above sea level, it’s one of the highest points of this entire Dovedale to Milldale circular walk. And make no mistake, it’s a steep climb to the top of Bunster Hill. But, this less walked peak has some of the most exceptional views of surrounding Dovedale. What Dan and I especially loved was the ridgeback spine of Bunster Hill, revealing jagged peaks of limestone bursting up through the ground.
To exit Bunster Hill, retrace your steps back to the gravel footpath you veered from earlier. Take care as you follow the steep trail back off the hillside. Dan and I experienced some rain and it was quite slippery.
Bunster Hill to Thorpe Cloud
Once back on the trail in Dovedale Valley again, continue a few metres further until you reach the bridge. If you continue the trail straight ahead, you’ll reach the famous Dovestone Stepping Stones. However, we’re here for a longer and more challenging walk. So, cross over the wooden bridge to your right.
From here, you’ll begin the ascent to Thorpe Cloud. Follow the blue markers which will lead you to the top of Thorpe Cloud. The trail winds around to the back of the hill, before sharply rising to the summit. There’s a lot of erosion and damage on Thorpe Cloud, so stick to the official routes as opposed to following any existing shortcuts.
The summit of Thorpe Cloud sits at 287 metres above sea level. It’s a much easier climb than that of Bunster Hill and the views down Dovedale Valley are quite spectacular.
Thorpe Cloud to Lover’s Leap Viewpoint
To descend Thorpe Cloud, you’ll return off the hillside via the trail leading north and down into Dovedale Valley. Take care as again, the trail is steep and can be a little muddy at times. As the trail eventually returns to the valley floor, you should catch sight of the Dovedale Stepping Stones. But, they will have to wait until the return leg of the walk.
For now, the Dovedale to Milldale circular walk picks up the pleasant path by the side of Dove River and continues north. At about 5.5km in, you’ll reach a set of stone stairs ascending to Lover’s Leap. Here, you’ll find a pile of stacked rocks which are a very popular place for visitors to just come and sit and relax, taking in the beautiful atmosphere of Dovedale.
Lover’s Leap to Dove Holes
From Lover’s Leap, you’ll see two trail options beyond. If you take the trail ahead, you’ll descend back down to the path running alongside Dove River. That’s the way you’ll come back. So, for this walk, you’ll need to take the trail to the right. Yes, it’s another steep uphill climb, but it’s totally worth it.
From Lover’s Leap, you’ll ascend up onto the limestone escarpment of Dovedale Valley. Certainly, the views from up here are breathtaking. The trail continues, northwards, following the carved-out path of the Dovedale Valley as it winds through the landscape. Dan and I enjoyed some of our favourite Peak District views of the entire Dovedale area from up here.
Eventually, the trail begins to descend down to Dove Holes. Once back on the main riverside path next to the quaint River Dove, you can take a little rest bite by exploring Dovedale caves here. The Dove Holes at Dovedale in the Peak District are a splendid set of caves perfect for exploring. The Dovedale caves are around 350 million years old and were formed by glacial meltwater cutting through the limestone. The Dovedale cave entrances can be steep and slippery, so take care as you explore.
Dove Holes to Baley Hill
From Dove Holes, there’s one last climb. Continuing along the Dove River path, you’ll meet a small trail after about 100m ascending back up the limestone walls. It’s another steep climb leading up through a beautiful forest. It’s quite enchanting. As you exit the forest, you’ll meet with Hanson Grange Farm. Take the trail to the left and to the summit of Baley Hill. Here, you’ll once more enjoy some exceptional views across the Dovedale landscape and down into the limestone gorge below.
Baley Hill to Milldale
From Baley Hill, the hard work is done. The Dovedale to Milldale circular walk now descends from the craggy edge down into the uber-picturesque village of Milldale. Upon arrival at Milldale, you’ll cross a pretty stone bridge (Viator’s Bridge) over the River Dove, and enter the quaint streets of Milldale.
Milldale is lovely to explore. It won’t take you long though, it’s as bijoux as they come. You can grab some refreshments at the tiny cafe here and enjoy a relaxing rest on the river’s edge. Additionally, there’s the Milldale Information Centre next to the bridge, where you can find information about the area.
Milldale to Ilam Rock
Now it’s time for the easy return leg back to Dovedale from Milldale. Cross back over Viator’s Bridge and continue along the flat footpath that runs alongside the Dove River. You’ll repass Dove Holes, from where you’ll continue along the riverside footpath until you reach Ilam Rock.
Ilam Rock is a pointy finger of stone protruding from the ground. It’s easy to spot on the opposite side of the Dove River as the trail leads closer to it. The limestone caverns, fissures and rock formations in Dovedale are easily a huge part of why this place is so popular. Incredibly, there are a few rock climbing routes up Ilam Rock too.
There’s a small wooden bridge at Ilam Rock which you can cross over to inspect the incredible natural monument more closely. You’ll also find another Dovedale cave here, although the tight squeeze of the entrance is a little less forgiving for exploring.
Cross back over the bridge and resume the Dovedale to Milldale circular walk along the lefthand side of the River Dove.
Ilam Rocks to the Stepping Stones Via Reynard’s Cave
Soon, you’ll pass a small turn-off to your left. This will be a short out and back trip. Keep a look out for it as you won’t want to miss it. This leads to Reynard’s Cave. The Dovedale cave here is super impressive, but, perhaps even more so, is the stone arch you’ll pass to reach it. Indeed, there’s nothing else on this Dovedale walk quite like it.
Retrace your steps to the main riverside path and then continue on to the Dovedale Stepping Stones, once again passing Lover’s Leap.
The Dovedale Stepping Stones are quite easily the star attraction of any Dovedale circular walk. Indeed, they attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Of course, it’s easy to see why. Dotted perfectly across the peaceful waters of the River Dove are little stone steps. And yes, you’ll be needing to cross them to complete the Dovedale to Milldale circular walk. But, don’t worry, the Dovedale Stepping Stones are large, firm and level, making them very user-friendly and all in all a fun way to cross the River Dove.
Once on the other side, follow the trail straight back to the Dovedale Car Park. Job well done.
Other Dovedale Walking Routes
There are many walking route variations for exploring Dovedale in the Peak District. Of course, Dan and I are sure you’ll love the more challenging Dovedale to Milldale circular walk we described above. But, certainly, you’ll find some simpler and shorter routes for walks around Dovedale. Let’s take a look.
- Milldale to Dovedale Circular Walk: of course, you might opt to forgo parking at the Dovedale Car Park, and start the walk in Milldale. You can then simply follow our walk in reverse or simply walk an out and back to the Dovestone Stepping Stones following purely along the riverside path. Parking in Milldale can be found here.
- Dovedale Stepping Stones Walk: short on time? Well, you can simply walk the few hundred metres from Dovedale Car Park to the stepping stones and then straight back again.
- Dovedale to Milldale Riverside Walk: simply follow the flat footpath alongside the River Dove between Dovedale Car Park and Milldale, then return the same way.
- Thorpe Cloud and the Dovedale Stepping Stones: a popular variation is a quick hike up Thorpe Cloud and then finishing off back at the Dovedale Stepping Stones and then on to the car park, creating a small circular walk.
Other Peak District Walks
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. Be sure to find Robin Hood cave.
- Dovestones Reservoir: visiting in late summer is the most beautiful time of year to experience this vast moorland.
- 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.
- Padley Gorge: a deep and narrow valley offers a magical woodland walk to all who venture within.
Five Hiking Essentials For the Dovedale to Milldale Circular Walk
These are our five hiking gear essentials for the Dovedale to Milldale circular walk in the 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 the Dovedale Walk
- Other stepping stones in the Peak District: Dovedale hasn’t the only stepping stones to enjoy in the Peak District. You can also find stepping stones at Chee Dale, Hathersage and Bamford.
- Other caves in the Peak District: if you loved the Dovedale Caves, head to nearby Thor’s Cave for more limestone caverns.
- Tissington Trail: why not consider the Tissington cycle trail to reach Dovedale and its caves?
- Ilam Park Dovedale: For more info on Ilam, Dovedale and the circular walk, you can check out the National Trust’s website here.
- Dovedale walks with dogs: dogs are welcome on the Dovedale walk, but they must be kept on a lead at all times.
- Weather: it’s always good to be prepared for any weather when hiking in the Peak District. Although, taking cover in the Dovedale caves would be a pretty great place to take shelter. Anywho, 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!