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

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

Gisburn Forest is the largest forest in Lancashire and is an absolute must-visit during your time in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Featuring beautiful woodland, Gisburn Forest offers a serene natural setting. But, there are many awesome things to do during a visit other than just gawking at nature. Gisburn Forest is well-known for its epic MTB trails (mountain bike trails) and picturesque walks, whilst having a lesser-known but equally impressive hidden waterfall.

In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about visiting the forest. This includes information about how to get there, where to eat (Gisburn Forest Cafe) and where to sleep (Gisburn Forest Lodge).

Gisburn Forest

Gisburn Forest is an approx. 12.5 square kilometre (1,250 hectare) public forest that was largely created by the UK government’s Forestry Commission in the late 1940s. The forest is currently managed by Forestry England, which is a sub-division of the Forestry Commission. Officially, the forest goes by the name of Gisburn Forest and Stocks.

Interestingly, Gisburn Forest is also the name of the civil parish (a unit of local government), where most of the forest is located. This isn’t to be confused with the neighbouring civil parish of Gisburn! Well, admittedly, I was thoroughly confused by all of this.

Anyway, most importantly, Gisburn Forest is an immensely beautiful area with amazing MTB trails, walks, a hidden waterfall and a charming cafe.

Before we dive into all of the main details about things to do during a visit, let’s look at the exact location of the forest.

Where Is Gisburn Forest?

Gisburn Forest is located in the upper Hodder Valley in the Borough of Ribble Valley. The forest falls inside the Forest of Bowland AONB, in Lancashire, in the northwest of England.

Gisburn Forest Map

Here’s a map of the forest. To help get your bearings, please click on the image below to access an interactive map of the area on Google Maps.

A map of Gisburn Forest.

Things to Do in the Gisburn Forest

There are many awesome things to do in the forest. Let’s start with the best walks!

Gisburn Forest Walks

Of course, Gisburn Forest is better known for its fantastic MTB trails. But, the forest is home to several charming woodland walks. The main walks include the Birch Hills Walk, the Dale Head Ramble, the Eggberry Trail and the Gisburn Forest Hub Link Path. All of these walks are short, simple and relatively easy.

There’s also a very short walk from the Gisburn Forest Cafe to ‘the Viewpoint’.

Perhaps, the best walk is the Gisburn Forest Waterfall Walk.

Dan on the Gisburn Forest Waterfall Walk, near MTB trails, before going to the Gisburn Forest Cafe

Gisburn Forest Waterfall Walk

In Gisburn Forest, you’ll find a hidden waterfall which is called Bottoms Beck Waterfall (AKA the Forest of Bowland Waterfall). Starting at the Stocks Reservoir Car Park, you’ll initially follow School Lane, before entering the forest via a public footpath. This path weaves through one of the most spectacular areas of the forest with moss-covered trees galore.

You’ll then follow a combination of trails, which eventually arrive at Bottoms Beck. Basically, you’ll find the hidden waterfall along the stream. You’ll need to scurry down a steep and slippery unofficial trail to get to the Gisburn Forest Waterfall. If you’re capable, it’s well worth it as the waterfall is a truly hidden gem in the forest.

For more information, please click here for a GPS-guided map and trail specs.

If you’re looking for a walk appropriate for children, you should definitely consider the Gruffalo Trail.

Dan on the Gisburn Forest Waterfall Walk, near MTB trails, before going to the Gisburn Forest Cafe
Gisburn Forest Waterfall

Sony Cybershot RX100 VII

Sony Cybershot RX100 VII

Capture epic photos and videos with the Sony Cybershot RX100 VII. This is hands-down the best compact camera. We love using this camera when we’re out and about as it’s lightweight, durable and easy to use.

Gisburn Forest Gruffalo Trail

Launched in 2017 by the Forestry Commission and Magic Light Pictures, the Gruffalo Trail is an interactive trail designed for children. By using the Gruffalo Spotter app, an augmented reality app, on the forest trail, you can bring characters from the best-selling picture book, The Gruffalo, to life. Photos taken on your phone or device, using the app, are automatically added to your gallery. This interactive trail was all the rage back in 2017 but seems to be waning in popularity these days.

Gisburn Forest MTB (Bike Trails)

Honestly speaking, Gisburn Forest is more about its MTB (mountain biking trails) than walking trails. When it comes to Forest of Bowland mountain biking, and, national forest mountain biking, for that matter, the Gisburn Forest cycle routes are some of the best. So, if you’re keen on riding some amazing MTB trails, look no further than Gisburn Forest.

For more information, TrailForks have an outstanding interactive MTB trail map.

Gisburn Forest MTB map, near the cafe
Gisburn Forest MTB map

Gisburn Forest Bike Hire

If you don’t have your own set of wheels and want to experience mountain biking in the forest; thankfully, you can hire a bike! The Gisburn Forest Cafe offers a bike hire service. The cost for mountain bike hire is £30/day, whilst e-bike hire is £50/day. Just so you’re aware, you’ll need to book this service at least 48 hours in advance and you can only use the bike between 10am and 3pm on the day of hire. 

Gisburn Forest Cafe

The Gisburn Forest Cafe is the perfect place for lunch after walking or mountain biking in the morning. The cafe is located just a short walk from the main car park. At the cafe, you’ll find a variety of delicious food, cakes and hot beverages. Personally, Beck and I really enjoyed the coffee. We enjoyed our caffeine hit in the lovely outdoor seating area.

Dan at the Gisburn Forest Cafe
Gisburn Forest Cafe

Gisburn Forest Hub

Located in a clearing of the forest known as Stephen Park, the forest hub is a farmstead, originally built in 1662, which is now a 40-bed residential centre. The hub features a pop-up campsite and accommodation, cultural events and an outdoor bar in summer holidays.

Gisburn Forest Lodge

When it comes to accommodation, there are some quaint lodges to stay at near the forest. The Gisburn Forest Lodge is an excellent option for those wanting to spend more time in the area. Just so you know, the lodge isn’t actually located in the forest itself; rather, it’s located nearby (a 10 minute drive away) in Tosside. Regardless, the lodge is a great nature escape, located on the fringes of the Forest of Bowland AONB.

Outside of a lodge called Gibson Forest Lodge
A room inside a lodge
A spa at a lodge called Gibson Forest Lodge.

Gisburn Forest Camping

It’s also possible to camp in the forest. There isn’t a permanent campsite; but, the forest hub does run a pop-up campsite from time to time. For more information about camping, head here.

How to Get to Gisburn Forest (Directions) and Parking

The easiest and quickest way to get to the forest is to drive there yourself. In terms of directions, you’ll simply head to the main car park in the forest. Alternatively, you may want to park at the Stocks Reservoir Car Park if you’re doing the waterfall walk.

In terms of parking charges at the main car park, it’s £4 for all-day parking. You’ll pay £3 for full-day parking at the Stocks Reservoir Car Park. Although, the ticket machine at the Stocks Reservoir Car Park is often broken, which means you don’t have to pay. In comparison, the forest’s main car park uses driver’s license recognition technology and always seems to be in working order.

If you don’t have your own set of wheels, we recommend hiring a car.

Car Hire

If you don’t have your own car, you should hire one using Discover Cars. Personally, we use Discover Cars and highly recommend them for finding your ideal car hire at an affordable price. Booking online is super easy and the free cancellation policy is great.

In terms of public transport, there aren’t any services going to the forest. There was once the 833 Forest of Bowland Explorer Bus that visited Gisburn Forest; but, that no longer seems to be in operation. Certainly, it’s best to drive to the forest if possible.

Facilities and Amenities

You’ll find a large toilet block at the forest’s main car park. As mentioned, the cafe serves food and drinks and it’s open from Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm.


Below, you’ll find the most frequently asked questions about Gisburn Forest.

Dan walks on a trail next to a sign on a clear day.

Is Gisburn Forest Open?

The forest is open all year round. On the odd occasion, some of the bike or walking trails are closed for maintenance. Whilst, the cafe is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

What Are the Opening Times For Gisburn Forest?

The forest is open from dawn to dusk, every day, all year round.

What’s the Price of Entry For Gisburn Forest?

It’s free to enter the forest. You’ll just need to pay for parking.

What Is the Gisburn Forest Post Code?

The postcode is BB7 4TS.

Is Gisburn Forest Dog Friendly?

Yes, dogs are allowed in the forest. Many of the walking trails in the forest make great dog walks.

Is Gisburn Forest Pram and Wheelchair Friendly?

Yes, paths around the cafe, as well as some trails in the forest, are flat and even, so they’re wheelchair accessible and pram-friendly. Indeed, the path connecting the forest’s main car park and cafe is wheelchair accessible.

How Big Is Gisburn Forest?

The forest is approx. 12.5 square kilometres (1,250 hectares).

Is Gisburn Forest in the Forest of Bowland?


Does Gisburn Forest Have Any Awards?

The forest has been awarded Dark Sky Discovery site status.

What’s Nearby in the Forest of Bowland

Located next to the forest, you’ll find Stocks Reservoir. Indeed, we highly recommend visiting Stocks Reservoir during a visit to the area. Personally, we enjoyed the Stocks Reservoir Circular Walk.

Otherwise, the Forest of Bowland is packed with many other natural gems and fantastic walking trails. Below, is a list of other great destinations to visit and walks to do in the Forest of Bowland.

  • Pendle Hill: by far, this is the most popular place to explore in the Forest of Bowland. Most people start the walk from Barley.
  • Pendle Hill Sculpture Trail: this is a shorter and easier trail you can do from Barley, compared with the Pendle Hill Walk.
  • Tolkien Trail: follow this historical trail in the eyes of J. R. R. Tolkien.
  • Trough of Bowland: we recommend experiencing the tremendous Trough of Bowland by doing a circular walk in the area.
  • Bowland Knotts: a superb place we recommend visiting for sunrise.
  • Clougha Pike Walk: one of our favourite walks in the Forest of Bowland which provides great coastal views.
  • Parlick Fell Circular Walk: a great walk that visits both Parlick Fell and Fair Snape Fell.
  • Nicky Nook: visit Wyresdale Park to summit Nicky Nook and head to the charming Applestore Cafe afterwards.
  • Longridge Fell: a great fell to explore in the southern part of the Forest of Bowland.
  • Beacon Fell Walk: a popular country park with an easy-to-reach fell summit.
  • Wolfhole Crag and Wards Stone Walk: summit the third highest fell as well as the highest point in the Forest of Bowland!

FYI – feel free to read our Forest of Bowland Walking Guide, our Forest of Bowland Visitor’s Guide or our best Lancashire Walks Guide.

Beck at Stocks Reservoir
Stocks Reservoir

Gear Essentials

These are our gear essentials for walking in the Gisburn Forest.

Osprey Skarab 30
Osprey Skarab 30

The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.

Osprey Ultralight Raincover
Osprey Ultralight Raincover

A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.

GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle

The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.

BUFF Original Ecostretch
BUFF Original Ecostretch

The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.

Sony Cybershot RX100 VII
Sony Cybershot RX100 VII

Capture epic photos and videos with the Sony Cybershot RX100 VII. This is hands-down the best compact camera. We love using this simple point-and-shoot camera when we’re hiking as it’s lightweight and durable.

To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.

Further Information and Bonus Tips

  • Gisburn Forest weather: check the Met Office or BBC Weather for the latest forest weather forecast.
  • Visit nearby towns afterwards: after seeing the forest, stop in at the lovely nearby towns of Dunsop Bridge, Newton-in-Bowland or Slaidburn.
  • Explore other national parks in the north of England: don’t just stop at the Forest of Bowland AONB. Make sure to also check out the amazing Lake District (coming soon), Peak District and Yorkshire Dales.

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Daniel Piggott

Dan is a travel blogger, physiotherapist, hiker, natural wonder seeker and world traveller. He loves writing travel guides to help his readers explore the most beautiful destinations in the world.

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