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Gordale Scar: The Ultimate Visitor’s Guide

Gordale Scar: The Ultimate Visitor’s Guide

Gordale Scar is an impressive limestone gorge in the northwest of England. In fact, this gorge in Yorkshire is one of the most famous scars in the United Kingdom. Alongside Attermire Scar, the Gordale Scar near Malham, is another wondrous limestone formation in the Yorkshire Dales National Park that should be high on your bucket list. In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about visiting Gordale Scar. This will include information about the Gordale Scar Walk via Janet’s Foss, and a popular extended walk that also visits Malham Tarn and Malham Cove. We’ll also provide practical tips, such as how to get there and where to stay, including details about camping (Gordale Scar Campsite).

Read our guides about Malham Cove, Malham Tarn and Janet’s Foss

What Is Gordale Scar?

Malham’s Gordale Scar is a famous limestone gorge, which is also known as a limestone ravine. Admittedly, having grown up in Australia, I was unfamiliar with the term ‘scar’. Basically, a scar is an exposed cliff of limestone. Forming part of the Great Scar Limestone Group (AKA the Great Scar Limestones), Gordale Scar is a landform that brilliantly exemplifies the limestone that’s synonymous with the Yorkshire Dales area. Within the gorge, you’ll find the famous and extraordinary Gordale Scar Waterfall (Gordale Falls).

To access and explore Gordale Scar and the waterfall, you’ll need to do a walk to reach it. The most popular walks to Gordale Scar start in Malham, with some people camping at the Gordale Scar Campsite and starting the walk from there.

Where Is Gordale Scar?

Gordale Scar is located near Malham in the Yorkshire Dales in the northwest of England. Click on the image below to access an interactive map of the location on Google Maps.

Gordale Scar Walk Stats and Map

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 6.1km
  • Time: 2–3 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 205m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Gordale Scar Parking/Trailhead: Malham Visitor Centre Car Park
  • Map: AllTrails

Gordale Scar Walk: Trail Description

In the trail description below, we’ll talk about the Gordale Scar Walk via Janet’s Foss, starting in Malham in North Yorkshire. After describing this walk, we’ll cover information about the even more popular walk, which also includes visiting Malham Tarn and the famous Malham Cove.

Malham Cove Car Park (Malham Cove Visitor Centre)

Most people park at the pay and display car park next to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Centre in Malham. So, that’s where most people start the walk. The £5 fee will give you parking access for more than two hours, which is what you’ll need timewise to complete the Gordale Scar Walk. Given the popularity of visiting Malham in North Yorkshire, there is sometimes overflow parking on the surrounding farms. These are operated by the farm owners. Overflow parking will cost roughly the same.

If you arrive early enough, it’s also possible to find street-side parking on Chapel Gate. This is the road leading to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Centre and the village of Malham. It’s expected that you pay £1 using the honesty box system. Of course, these spaces fill quickly, but it’s the cheapest parking option.

As mentioned, those camping at the Gordale Scar Campsite will start the walk from there. From the Gordale Scar Campsite, it’s a much shorter walk to the gorge, as you’ll essentially be camping near the entrance of the gorge.

Malham to Janet’s Foss

Initially, you’ll cross the bridge that’s located opposite the visitor centre. You’ll then turn right, before turning left onto Riverside Path. It’s a charming woodland trail that follows alongside Gordale Beck.

Soon enough, you’ll arrive at Janet’s Foss, which is the first waterfall you’ll see during this walk. The plunge waterfall is only little; but, it’s delightfully tranquil and peaceful. The waterfall is formed by Gordale Beck at the point where the stream enters the lovely Wedber Wood. In the warmer months, expect wild swimmers to take a dip in the small natural pool.

Dan at Janet's Foss, near Malham and the Gordale Scar Campsite in Yorkshire

More About Janet’s Foss

If you’d like to find out more about Janet’s Foss, please read the individual article that we’ve written about this waterfall.

Read here: Janet’s Foss – The Ultimate Visitor’s Guide

Janet’s Foss to Gordale Scar

From the eloquent Janet’s Foss, you’ll continue on the woodland trail towards Gordale Lane. After turning right onto Gordale Lane, you’ll soon cross Gordale Bridge, which continues as Hawthorns Lane. You’ll then turn left to arrive at the Gordale Scar Campsite. From these camping grounds, you’re just a short walk away from reaching the opening of Gordale Scar.

Gordale Scar Waterfall (Gordale Falls)

After departing the Gordale Scar Campsite, you’ll soon find the entrance of the gorge. The approx. 100 metre-high walls of Gordale Scar are immense. Soon after entering the gorge, you’ll arrive at the two lower falls of Gordale Scar. You’ll just get a glimpse of the main waterfall (upper falls) in the distance.

Admittedly, at this point, many walkers are happy with the view and return to Malham to finish the Gordale Scar Walk. Otherwise, walkers will exit Gordale Scar and then continue along the circular Malham Cove Walk (AKA Malham Landscape Trail), visiting the famous Malham Cove. Here’s a map of this latter option.

Otherwise, if you’re keen to get a better look at Gordale Scar upper falls, you’ll need to do some scrambling! Of course, climbing Gordale Scar isn’t for the fainthearted. The rocks are slippery and there are obvious dangers present to those who are inexperienced.

It’s probably best for hikers to have some scrambling experience and know-how before taking on the Gordale Scar scramble. If you’re able, competent and experienced, you’ll enjoy a steep and challenging scramble towards the main Gordale Scar Waterfall. The views from near the base of the upper falls are tremendous. Certainly, this waterfall is one of the best in the Yorkshire Dales.

Malham Cove Walk (Extended Malham Landscape Trail)

After enjoying the waterfall, you’re free to scramble back down the rocks. You can then retrace your steps to complete the Gordale Scar Walk. Alternatively, after scrambling down, you can pick up the circular Malham Cove Walk, as mentioned earlier.

Of course, scrambling down is more dangerous than scrambling up. So, that’s why most people continue to climb up and out of Gordale Scar, which is another way of continuing with the popular circular Malham Cove Walk. Once you’ve climbed up and out of the gorge, you’ll find a trail to the left, which very safely descends the western face of Gordale Scar. The trail weaves through an area rich in limestone, called New Close Knotts.

Along this route, you’ll enjoy some of the finest views in the Yorkshire Dales. Seeing this viewpoint is certainly one good reason to avoid scrambling down and out of Gordale Scar. After descending the western side of Gordale Scar, you’ll eventually turn right, heading to Malham Cove to continue the Malham Cove Walk.

Of course, there’s one more alternate option, that we’d like to recommend. Essentially, the standard circular Malham Cove Walk (Malham Landscape Trail) only visit Janet’s Foss, Gordale Scar and Malham Cove. But, there’s an extended version of the Malham Landscape Trail, which also involves visiting the amazing Malham Tarn. This is the walk that Beck and I did, and can highly recommend it.

So, if you’re sold on doing the extended Malham Cove Walk, which also visits Malham Tarn, then continue reading below. We’ll start with some stats and a map.

Extended Malham Cove Walk Stats and Map

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 15km
  • Time: 4–6 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 360m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead/Parking: Malham Visitor Centre Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc (avoiding scrambling Gordale Scar); Wikiloc (scrambling Gordale Scar)

Read more: Malham Cove Walk – The Ultimate Guide

Gordale Scar to Malham Tarn

After scrambling and climbing out of Gordale Scar, you’ll continue on a trail heading north. The trail leads to a kissing gate at Street Gate. Continuing north, you’ll soon cross Henside Road and continue on a trail heading towards Malham Tarn and the impressive Great Close Scar, which is yet another beautiful limestone landscape.

Malham Tarn is the largest natural lake in North Yorkshire, whilst being just one of the only two natural lakes in the Dales. Fascinatingly, it’s the highest lake in England and one of only eight upland alkaline lakes in Europe. Given the low pH of this glacial lake, there’s rich wildlife and birdlife at the tarn. So much so, that it’s been given National Nature Reserve status. It’s also in a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.

Dan walking by Malham Tarn

More About Malham Tarn

If you’d like to find out more about Malham Tarn, please read the individual article that we’ve written about this astonishing place.

Read here: Malham Tarn – 5 Best Walks at Britain’s Highest Limestone Lake

Malham Tarn to Malham Cove

From Malham Tarn, you’ll briefly follow the Pennine Way towards Watersinks Car Park. After passing the car park, you’ll continue on a trail that heads in a southerly direction towards Malham Cove. You’ll soon arrive at the top of Malham Cove, where you’ll find the incredible 300-metre wide Malham Cove limestone pavement. Certainly, it’s one of the finest examples of limestone pavement in the UK. It was actually a filming location for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was released in 2010! From the limestone pavement, you’ll also enjoy breathtaking views towards the village of Malham.

After seeing the limestone pavement, you’ll then descend a well-maintained set of steps, which are known as the Malham Cove steps.

The Malham Cove limestone pavement is explored during one of the best walks in Malham
Dan walking along the Malham Cove Walk

After walking down the steps, you’ll cross over the quaint stream of Malham Beck and arrive at the famous Malham Cove. The 80-metre limestone cliff face is simply magnificent. Make sure to take your time to explore the cliff face, before walking back to Malham to complete the extended walk.

Dan stops walking to admire Malham Cove during one of the best walks in England

More About Malham Cove

To find out more about visiting Malham Cove, read our individual guide about this famous natural attraction.

Read here: Malham Cove – Everything You Need to Know About Visiting

Things to Know Before Visiting

Let’s look at some practical tips and logistics about visiting Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. Let’s start with information about getting to Malham, and then we’ll look at where to stay in the area. We’ll then finish with some FAQs and bonus tips.

How to Get to Malham

The easiest and quickest way to get to Malham to explore Gordale Scar is to drive there yourself. As mentioned, you’ll park at either the Malham Visitor Centre Car Park or find street-side parking at Chapel Gate. If you don’t have your own set of wheels, we recommend hiring a car.

Car Hire

DiscoverCars.com

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.

To find out more about renting a car with Discover Cars, read our Discover Cars review and Discover Cars Insurance review.

It’s also possible to use public transport to get to Malham. From Skipton, you can take a bus to Malham. We recommend using Google Maps to plan your journey.

Booking Trains

Trainline

Trainline is one of the best online platforms for booking trains. By using Trainline, you can easily find the best available prices and times for your journey. We always use Trainline to book our train journeys in the UK and in Europe.

Although, personally, we don’t recommend using public transport to get to Malham, as it may be a slow and tedious journey, depending on where you’re travelling from. Also, services can be quite limited, particularly during the week. Certainly, it’s best to drive to Malham yourself.

Where to Stay: Malham Accommodation Options

Given Malham is only a small village, accommodation options are quite limited. Nevertheless, there are some great accommodation options in Malham. Basically, it’s all about quality, rather than quantity! To help you find somewhere to stay, we’ve handpicked the best budget, mid-range and luxury options.

  • Budget – YHA Malham: this is by far the best budget option. YHA Malham offers cheap dorm rooms. But, they also offer very reasonable and affordable private rooms. YHA Malham features a nice garden, an on-site shop, a self-catering kitchen and laundry facilities.
  • Mid-range – The Buck Inn: this is a great accommodation option for those looking for a slightly cheaper mid-range stay. Despite the lower rate, you’ll enjoy a very luxurious stay at The Buck Inn in Malham. Guests rave about its comfort, ideal location and the friendliness of the staff.
  • Mid-range – The Lister Arms: this quintessential 18th Century country inn is the most popular accommodation option in Malham. The Lister Arms offers a stylish yet comfortable and cosy stay, whilst the pub has a stellar reputation for its hearty English meals.
  • Luxury – Beck Hall Malham: this hotel is one of the most highly rated options. Beck Hall Malham is conveniently located, so you’ll only be a short walk from Gordale Scar. Beck Hall Malham is a charming dog-friendly hotel with a well-renowned garden bistro restaurant. With 21 rooms available, we’re hoping there’s space available when you plan to visit.

Malham Campsites

If you’d prefer a spot of camping, then there are two excellent campsites near Gordale Scar. As mentioned, a brilliant camping option is Gordale Scar Campsite (AKA Gordale Campsite). This campsite is located only a stone’s throw away from the opening of Gordale Scar, making it a camping spot that’s conveniently located.

Otherwise, you’ve got the Malham Riverside Campsite, which is conveniently located in Malham, making it a great place to start the Gordale Scar Walk.

Other Places to Visit in the Yorkshire Dales

If you want to see other stunning natural attractions in Yorkshire, then you’ll have to see more of the spectacular Yorkshire Dales National Park. Below, we’ve listed some of the other best places to visit and walks to do in the Dales.

FAQs

Below, you’ll find the most frequently asked questions about Gordale Scar.

Dan enjoys the views from the Malham Cove limestone

Can You Walk Up Gordale Scar?

Yes, it’s possible to scramble and climb up the gorge.

How Difficult Is Gordale Scar?

The Gordale Scar Walk described in this guide is considered an easy difficulty walk, whilst it’s considered hard if you choose to scramble through Gordale Scar.

How Far Is Gordale Scar From Malham?

From Malham, it’s an approx. 3km walk to reach the gorge.

How High Is Gordale Scar?

It has roughly 100-metre high cliff walls.

Is There Parking at Gordale Scar?

No, you’ll need to park in Malham. Although, technically, if you’re camping at Gordale Scar Campsite, you could park your vehicle there.

How Was Gordale Scar Formed?

Gordale Scar history: it was created during the Ice Age when meltwater created a cavern. Eventually, the roof of the cavern collapsed, forming the gorge that we see today.

Packing and Gear Essentials

These are our hiking gear essentials for the Gordale Scar Walk.

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.

Other Yorkshire Dales Guides

Hardraw Force

For more information about the best things to do in the Yorkshire Dales, click the button below. Otherwise, to help you get started, read our 42 Best Yorkshire Dales Walks or 48 Best Yorkshire Dales Waterfalls guides.

Best Villages to See in the Yorkshire Dales

Useful Tips to Know Before You Go to Malham

  • Gordale Scar deaths: sadly, there have been numerous accidents, deaths and rescues at Gordale Scar and also at Malham Cove. Please be careful as you walk near the cliff edges and don’t scramble or climb through the gorge if you lack experience and technical know-how.
  • Visit early: Malham Cove is a very popular place to visit in the Yorkshire Dales. Certainly, in summer, during school holidays and on the weekend, it can get really busy. We highly recommend visiting early in the morning or late in the afternoon. That way, you’ll avoid the crowds and enjoy a quieter walk.
  • Make a weekend out of it: Malham is such a charming village in the Yorkshire Dales. You should definitely stay for the weekend!
  • Explore other nearby national parks: don’t just stop at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. Head to the captivating Lake District (guides coming soon) or North York Moors National Park.

Do you have any questions about visiting Malham in the Yorkshire Dales or camping at Gordale Scar? We’d be happy to help. Just leave us a comment below.

Daniel Piggott

Physiotherapist turned travel blogger, Dan is a keen 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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