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The 13 Best Forest of Bowland Walks (2023)

The 13 Best Forest of Bowland Walks (2023)

There are many brilliant walks to do in the underrated Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). In this guide, we’re going to talk about the 13 best walks in the Forest of Bowland AONB. We’ll then tell you about other worthwhile walks to do in the area. On top of that, we’ll discuss useful things to know about walking in the area.

Before diving into this guide, feel free to watch our Forest of Bowland Walks YouTube video below (coming soon).

FYI: Beck and I personally completed all of the 13 Forest of Bowland walks discussed in this guide. If you’re particularly interested in one of the walks below and want more details about how to get there or if you want to read a more detailed trail description, just click on the link provided in that section. That way, you’ll be able to read the individual article we wrote about that walk and find out everything you need to know.

About Forest of Bowland

Located in the geographical centre of the UK, the Forest of Bowland (AKA the Bowland Fells and Bowland Forest) is a unique area with exceptional wildlife value. Although, you might be surprised to know that the Forest of Bowland isn’t actually a forest. The area is mostly made of heather moorland, grassy fells, flower-rich meadows, rolling pastures, streaming rivers and quaint villages. You’ll only find small pockets of forest and woodlands.

Throughout the area, there are many threatened species of birds, including the hen harrier, which is the symbol of the area. The Forest of Bowland is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA). Having similar status to a National Park, the 803 square kilometre (312 square mile) area was designated in 1964 to help with the co-ordinated effort to conserve and manage the land.

Certainly, there’s no better way to explore the Forest of Bowland than by doing one of the many fantastic walks in the area. In this guide, we’ll reveal the 13 best walks to do in the Forest of Bowland. For completeness, we’ll talk about additional walks, which shouldn’t be at the top of your to-do list; but, are options if you want to thoroughly explore the area.

Lovely Lancashire countryside found on the Trough of Bowland Walk in the Forest of Bowland
Typical scenery encountered during Bowland Forest walks

Forest of Bowland Walks Map

To help you get your bearings, we recommend looking at the map below, which shows the locations of the 13 best Forest of Bowland walks. Simply click on the image to access the interactive map.

Forest of Bowland walks map screenshot
Forest of Bowland map

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the area, let’s look at the best walks in the Forest of Bowland in more detail. Let’s start with the most popular walk in the Forest of Bowland – the famous Pendle Hill Walk.

1. Pendle Hill Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Duration: 7.8km
  • Time: 2–3 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 360m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Barley Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc

Pendle Hill is one of the most dominating landforms in the Forest of Bowland. During many walks in the Forest of Bowland, you’ll be able to spy the well-known Pendle Hill in the distance. Of course, you’ll have to walk up Pendle Hill, rather than just enjoy the views of it. That’s because the views from Pendle Hill are some of the best on offer in the Forest of Bowland.

There are quite a few trail options to reach Pendle Hill, with the most popular route starting from the town of Barley. The trail specs above are in relation to a popular circular route starting in Barley.

Read more: Pendle Hill Walk In Lancashire – The Ultimate Guide

Beck enjoys the Lancashire countryside from Pendle Hill, the most popular walk in the Forest of Bowland

2. Trough of Bowland Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 13.4km
  • Time: 3–4 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 365m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Dunsop Bridge
  • Map: Wikiloc

The Trough of Bowland is one of the most well-known features in the Forest of Bowland. Once described as ‘the Switzerland of England‘, the Trough of Bowland is an exquisite valley and high pass featuring lovely countryside. Doing the Trough of Bowland Walk (AKA the Trough of Bowland Circular Walk) is a fantastic way to explore and experience the area. Indeed, when it comes to Forest of Bowland circular walks, this is one of the best!

For information about other Trough of Bowland walks and to access a map of the Trough of Bowland, click on the link below.

Read more: Trough of Bowland Walk – The Ultimate Guide

The Trough of Bowland, near Dunsop Bridge, in the Forest of Bowland

3. The Tolkien Trail

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 12km
  • Time: 3–4 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 170m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Avenue Road, Hurst Green
  • Map: Wikiloc or AllTrails

As opposed to the natural beauty on offer during the Pendle Hill and Trough of Bowland Walks, the Tolkien Trail offers something for literature lovers and film buffs. That’s because this circular walk, which starts in Hurst Green and passes through other quaint countryside villages, was where J. R. R. Tolkien spent much of his time writing the epic novel, The Lord of the Rings.

Highlights of the walk include peering into the prestigious Stonyhurst College, crossing the historical Cromwell Bridge and following alongside the charming River Hodder.

Read more: Tolkien Trail – Discover The Shire In Hurst Green, Lancashire

Dan follows the Tolkien Trail, one of the most popular walks in the Forest of Bowland

4. Parlick Fell and Fair Snape Fell

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 11.2km
  • Time: 3–4 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 560m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Startifants Lane (PR3 2NP)
  • Map: Wikiloc

Also known as the Parlick Fell Circular Walk, the Parlick Fell and Fair Snape Fell Walk is a popular trail option in the Forest of Bowland. From Parlick Fell, you’ll enjoy superb views of the surrounding landscape and countryside.

During the walk, you’ll also summit Fair Snape Fell and Paddy’s Pole. Admittedly, the views from Fair Snape Fell aren’t quite as sweeping as the views from Parlick Fell. But, after reaching Fair Snape Fell, you’ll then walk to Paddy’s Pole. From this vantage point, you’ll find a trig point and a cairn, whilst enjoying awesome views of Pendle Hill.

Read more: Parlick Fell Circular Walk Feat. Fair Snape Fell – One Excellent Walk

Dan and Beck on the Parlick Fell and Fair Snape Fell Circular Walk in the Forest of Bowland

5. Longridge Fell

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 4.5km
  • Time: 1.5–2 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 110m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Longridge Fell Car Park
  • Map: AllTrails

Longridge Fell is actually the most southern fell in the UK. From the roadside parking at Jeffrey Hill, near Longridge, you’ll follow a short trail to reach Longridge Fell. Personally, Beck and I walked to Longridge Fell for sunrise, which was an epic experience.

From Longridge Fell, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the Yorkshire Dales to the northeast, with Pen-y-ghent prominently standing out. To the west, you’ll enjoy views of the Fylde Coast and views of Pendle Hill to the east. To the southeast, you’ll see the West Pennine Moors. On a clear day, you might just make out some of the peaks in the Lake District and Snowdonia (guides coming soon).

Read more: Longridge Fell Walk – An Epic Sunrise: The Complete Guide

Dan watches the sun rise from Longridge Fell

6. Nicky Nook Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 5.5km
  • Time: 1.5–2 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 210m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Wyresdale Park or Higher Lane
  • Map: AllTrails

Nicky Nook is a small fell located near the lovely town of Scorton. The short circular walk is one of the best ‘easy walks’ in the Forest of Bowland. Starting near Wyresdale Park, the rural estate and working farm features some excellent places to visit such as the charming Applestore Cafe. So, after you’ve reached the trig point at Nicky Nook and walked alongside Grizedale Reservoir, you’ll have to stop in at the cafe and join the locals for a hot brew.

Read more: Nicky Nook Walk at Wyresdale Park – The Ultimate Guide

Dan on the Nicky Nook Walk, starting in Wyresdale Park

7. Forest of Bowland Waterfall Walk (Gisburn Forest)

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 5.3km
  • Time: 1.5–2 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 65m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Stocks Reservoir Car Park
  • Map: Outdooractive

The Forest of Bowland Waterfall Walk (AKA the Gisburn Forest Waterfall Walk) is one of the best forest walks in Lancashire, let alone forest trails in the UK. Starting at the Stocks Reservoir Car Park, you’ll initially walk through sublime moss-covered woodlands. Eventually, you’ll walk alongside Bottoms Beck and scramble down a steep trail to reach the hidden waterfall, which is also known as the Bottoms Becks Waterfall. Given its hidden location, you’re unlikely to find many, if any, people at the waterfall.

FYI – we didn’t write an individual article about the Forest of Bowland Waterfall Walk. But, we talk about this walk in our Gisburn Forest Guide. Press on the link below to access the section about the Forest of Bowland Waterfall Walk.

Read more: Gisburn Forest – The Ultimate Guide (MTB, Walks and the Waterfall)

Beck and Dan admire the Gisburn Forest waterfall (AKA the Forest of Bowland Waterfall)

8. Beacon Fell Country Park

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 3.4km
  • Time: 1–1.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 105m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Beacon Fell Visitor Centre
  • Map: AllTrails

Located in the serene Ribble Valley, the Beacon Fell Country Park is a breathtaking natural space. At the park, you’ll find numerous walking trails including the Summit Trail (to Beacon Fell), Woodland Trail, Fellside Trail and Sculpture Trail.

In reality, many of these trails are interconnected and share the same path at some point. So, it’s unlikely that you’ll simply do one walk, and then the other. You’ll probably do a combination of trails, at the one time, and simply cover most of the trails, by walking around the country park.

The trail specs above, refer to a common route through the country park, which involves doing the Summit Trail and then the Woodland Trail. This is one of the walks that Beck and I did during our visit to Beacon Fell Country Park.

FYI – by pressing the link below, you’ll access the section of the Beacon Fell Country Park guide, where we specifically talk about the Beacon Fell Walk that we did.

Read more: Beacon Fell Country Park – The Ultimate Visitor’s Guide

Beck and Dan walk towards Beacon Fell

9. Clougha Pike Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 9.2km
  • Time: 2.5–3.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 335m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Rigg Lane Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc

The Clougha Pike Walk is guaranteed to be one of your favourite walks in the Forest of Bowland. During the walk, you’ll enjoy views of the Yorkshire Three Peaks (coming soon), Morecambe Bay, Lune Valley and the city of Lancaster. After exploring the moorlands, you’ll return via Rigg Wood, walking alongside a lovely river stream. FYI – keep an eye out for rising hot air balloons, especially on the weekend during summer!

Read more: Clougha Pike Walk – The Ultimate Hiking Guide

Dan and Beck on the Clougha Pike Walk in Quernmore

10. Wolfhole Crag and Wards Stone Walk

  • Type: Out & Backs
  • Distance: 22.4km
  • Time: 5–7 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 550m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Lee
  • Map: Wikiloc

The Wolfhole Crag and Wards Stone Walk is the longest of the Forest of Bowland walks that you’ll find on this list. By doing this walk, you’ll visit Wolfhole Crag, which is the third-highest summit in the Forest of Bowland. You’ll also explore Wards Stone (AKA Ward Stone), which is the highest point of the Forest of Bowland – even higher than Pendle Hill! From Wards Stone, you’ll enjoy some of the finest views in the area. Additionally, this walk literally takes place in the geographical centre of the UK, which is impressive in its own right.

There are many route variations for walking to Wolfhole Crag and also to Wards Stone. In the end, Beck and I chose to do a unique route option (one we haven’t seen described before). The trail specs above reflect the walk that we did.

Read more: Wolfhole Crag and Wards Stone Walk – The Complete Guide

Dan at Wards Stone during the walk from Wolfhole Crag in the Forest of Bowland

11. Stocks Reservoir Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Duration: 11.5km
  • Time: 3–4 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 165m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Stocks Reservoir Walk Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc

Stocks Reservoir is one of the only reservoirs in the Forest of Bowland, so if reservoir walks are your thing, you won’t find many to do in the area. But, the Stocks Reservoir Walk is an awesome reservoir walk worth doing. Starting next to Gisburn Forest, the walk around Stocks Reservoir is one of the best circular walks in Lancashire.

We highly recommend doing the Stocks Reservoir Walk and then visiting Gisburn Forest as a fantastic day trip in the Forest of Bowland.

Read more: Stocks Reservoir Walk – The Ultimate Guide

Beck on the Stocks Reservoir Circular Walk, near Gisburn Forest

12. Bowland Knotts

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 1.6km
  • Time: 1–1.5 hours
  • Total ascent: 35m
  • Difficulty: Very easy
  • Trailhead: Keasden Road
  • Map: Wikiloc

The Bowland Knotts is a rocky outcrop that serves as a decent vantage point. As well as doing the Longridge Fell Walk as a sunrise walk, we also visited Bowland Knotts for sunrise. From the roadside, the rocky outcrop is only a short 700 metre walk away. So, you won’t have to set off too early to arrive at the Bowland Knotts, in time for sunrise.

Read more: Bowland Knotts – The Ultimate Guide To An Epic Sunrise Hike

Dan and Beck watch sunrise at the Bowland Knotts

13. Pendle Sculpture Trail (Aitken Wood)

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 4.5km
  • Time: 1–1.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 100m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Barley Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc

When it comes to easy walks in Lancashire, the Pendle Sculpture Trail ticks all of the boxes. The trail is straightforward and only has a minimal amount of elevation gain. Starting from the town of Barley, you’ll soon walk by the Black Moss reservoirs, before arriving at the official starting point of the Pendle Sculpture Trail at Aitken Wood. Along the trail, you’ll see many sculptures and artworks.

Unfortunately, the ageing sculpture trail has started to show signs of wear and tear and even vandalism. Launched in 2012, the sculpture trail has seen better days. So, is it still worth visiting? Well, the trail offers an easier walk from Barley compared with the challenging Pendle Hill Walk. So, it might still be a good option for some.

Read more: Pendle Sculpture Trail Barley – Worse For Wear In Recent Years

Pendle Hill behind Black Moss Reservoir

Other Worthwhile Forest of Bowland Walks

There you have it, the 13 best walks in the Forest of Bowland! Of course, there are many walks to choose from in the Forest of Bowland, aside from the 13 walks we’ve talked about so far.

If you want to go beyond the best walks and see barely-explored areas, you’ll be happy to know there are many other less-known walking routes to consider. Below, we’ll go through the best of the rest.

Dan sits on a wooden bench next to a classic red telephone box in Downham

Bell Sykes Hay Meadow Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 4.5km
  • Time: 1–1.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 70m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Slaidburn
  • Map: Outdooractive

The Bell Skyes Hay Meadow Walk is one of the best walks in the Forest of Bowland for exploring wildflowers and butterflies.

Roeburndale Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 12.1km
  • Time: 4–5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 480m
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Trailhead: Wray
  • Map: ForestofBowland

The Roeburndale Walk is among the most challenging walks in the Forest of Bowland. If you’re interested in a harder walk that’s guaranteed to have few people on the trail, then consider the Roeburndale Walk.

Downham, Worsaw Hill and Chatburn

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 8.3km
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 135m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Downham
  • Map: Wikiloc

Downham is one of the most beautiful villages in the Forest of Bowland, let alone Lancashire. Indeed, Downham is a great place to relax after finishing the walk. By following this route, you’ll visit Worsaw Hill, Chatburn, Fairy Bridge and Downham Bridge.

Lune Millenium Park (Riverside Walk)

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 6km
  • Time: 1.5–2 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 20m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Brookhouse
  • Map: Outdooractive

This walk initially follows a tarmac track in the Lune Millennium Park to the Crook O’Lune Picnic Area. You’ll then return via Bull Beck along the bank of the River Lune over flat pastures. If you’re interested in exploring more of River Lune, consider the longer-distance Lune Valley Ramble.

Lune Valley Ramble

  • Type: One-way
  • Distance: 26.5km
  • Time: 6–8 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 230m
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Trailhead: Lancaster
  • Map: Hiiker

Starting in Lancaster and ending in Kirkby Lonsdale, this long-distance footpath follows the River Lune from its outpouring into the Irish Sea at Lancaster to its origin near Cumbria. 

Newton Circular Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 5.3km
  • Time: 2–3 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 110m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Newton-in-Bowland
  • Map: Outdooractive

Starting in the charming village of Newton-in-Bowland, you’ll explore a riverside path, walk in parkland near Knowlmere Manor and cross a suspension bridge over the River Hoddle.

Long Distance Forest of Bowland Walks

So far, we’ve covered the most popular Forest of Bowland day walks. If you’re interested in a longer-distance multi-day trail in the Forest of Bowland, then you’ll want to consider the Ribble Way or Pendle Way.

Dan and Beck at Pendle Hill
Pendle Hill, Pendle Way

Ribble Way

  • Type: One-way
  • Distance: 105km
  • Time: 3–6 days
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 1,900m
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Trailhead: Longton
  • Map: AllTrails

Starting on the Lancashire coast, you’ll meander your way through the Forest of Bowland before finishing in the Yorkshire Dales. The multi-day affair includes six sections, which pass through Preston, Ribchester, Clitheroe, Settle and Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

Pendle Way

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 65km
  • Time: 2–4 days
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 1,500m
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Trailhead: Barrowford
  • Map: Wikiloc

The Pendle Way consists of eight sections, exploring East Lancashire and the widely popular ‘Witch Country‘. As well as exploring numerous picturesque towns and villages, the walk includes climbing up Pendle Hill.

Forest of Bowland Walking Information

There are some useful things to know about walking in the Forest of Bowland. Before you set off to experience one of the best walks in the area, have a read of the practical information and tips below.

Dan walks in the Beacon Fell Country Park in the Forest of Bowland

Forest of Bowland Walking Routes Maps

You’ll find links to GPS-guided maps for every walk discussed in this Forest of Bowland Walks Guide. But, of course, we understand if you want a good old-fashioned map. Click here for the Forest of Bowland Ordnance Survey map.

Access Land

In September 2004, parts of the Forest of Bowland opened to walkers for the first time because of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. This act granted the right of access to the public to ‘Access Land’ for the purposes of recreational walking. Many of the walks described in this guide take place in Open Access Land.

Countryside Code

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act doesn’t mean we rid ourselves of responsibility when exploring Open Access Land. The Countryside Code sets out the standards for exploring the great outdoors in the UK. The code is based on respecting other people, protecting the natural environment and safely enjoying the outdoors. You’ll find a great summary of the Countryside Code here.

Forest of Bowland Walking Safety

Overall, the Forest of Bowland is a very safe place to walk given its mild terrain. But, when it comes to walking in remote and rural areas, it’s always worth knowing about any particular safety features or concerns. One thing to be aware of when exploring the Forest of Bowland, as well as other countryside in the UK, is the presence of ticks.

Dan stands near bluebells in a wooded area

Tick Awareness

Ticks are tiny parasitic arachnids that feed on the blood of animals and sometimes people. Unfortunately, some ticks carry tick-borne diseases such as Lyme borreliosis or Lyme disease. So, it’s important to take measures to prevent tick bites, especially if you’re exploring the countryside. Beck and I have both experienced tick bites in the past. Beck had a few tick bites in Australia, whilst I experienced a few tick bites in El Salvador. Thankfully, we never became unwell after this; but, others aren’t so lucky.

To learn more about preventing tick bites, please click here.

Walking Essentials

These are our gear essentials for walking in the Forest of Bowland.

For a longer hiking gear list, read our 66 Travel Items You Must Travel With. Otherwise, for a list of everything else you’d need for travelling the world, read our Packing Checklist.

Bonus Tips and Key Things to Remember

  • Walk in the Forest of Bowland outside of winter: some of the walks aren’t as enjoyable in the winter because of the boggy terrain. To that end, we recommend walking in the Forest of Bowland outside of winter.
  • Driving is the best way to get around: although bus services do run in the area, they’re quite limited. Certainly, it’s best to drive yourself (if possible) to the Forest of Bowland. That way, you’ll have the ultimate freedom and flexibility to explore.
  • Forest of Bowland dog walks: generally speaking, the Forest of Bowland is very dog-friendly. Indeed, you’ll be able to walk your dog on most of the walks in the area. Just make sure to keep pooch under close control so as to not disturb the wildlife.
  • Forest of Bowland cycling: as well as walking, the area is very popular for cycling. In particular, cyclists rave about the scenic Trough Road.
  • Yorkshire Dales walks (guide coming soon): located next door to the Forest of Bowland, you’ll find the awesome Yorkshire Dales National Park. Make sure to visit the Dales for other great walking opportunities.

Read our Forest of Bowland Guide for more information about visiting the area.

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