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

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

Malham Tarn is a beautiful and unique limestone-rich glacial lake in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s also well-known for being Britain’s highest limestone lake! There are several walks you can do to explore the extraordinary Malham Tarn. In this guide, we’ll talk through the five best walks that involve visiting Malham Tarn.

Read about Malham Cove, Gordale Scar and Janet’s Foss

Malham Tarn Fun Facts

Not only is Malham Tarn a breathtaking natural area, but it holds considerable scientific value and is a habitat for many birds and wildlife. Below, we’ll run through some interesting facts about Malham Tarm to help pique your interest!

  • The tarn was formed around 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age.
  • At 377 metres above sea level, it’s the highest limestone lake in Great Britain.
  • It’s the largest natural lake in North Yorkshire.
  • The tarn is one of only eight upland alkaline lakes in Europe.
  • Given the rich wildlife at the tarn, it’s been given National Nature Reserve (NNR) status.
  • The NNR is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Area of Conservation and is a wetland of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention.
  • In terms of marine life, the tarn is home to six fish species as well as white-clawed crayfish.
  • The tarn is rich in birdlife – it’s home to the great crested grebe, moorhen, coot, tufted duck and teal.
  • The water in the tarn goes underground and eventually feeds into the River Aire.

If these fun facts haven’t gotten you excited to do a walk at Malham Tarn, we don’t know what will! Perhaps, you need some further proof of its beauty. Continue reading below to see some more photos of this extraordinary place and to learn about the five best walks at Malham Tarn.

Malham Tarn

Where Is Malham Tarn?

Malham Tarn is located in North Yorkshire, near Malham village in the Yorkshire Dales. To help get your bearings, you can press on the image below to access an interactive map of the area.

A screenshot of a map showing the location of Malham Tarn

The 5 Best Malham Tarn Walks

Below, we’ll talk about the five best walks that involve visiting and exploring Malham Tarn.

Dan walks on a trail by a glacial lake

1. Watersinks to Malham Tarn Easy Stroll

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 4km
  • Time: 1–1.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 140m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead/Parking: Watersinks Car Park
  • Map: AllTrails

Also known as the Malham Tarn short walk, this is the quickest and easiest walk, which involves visiting the tarn. Certainly, if you want to do the shortest and simplest walk to reach the tarn, then we recommend this walk.

Starting at Watersinks Car Park (Malham Tarn Car Park)

From the Watersinks Car Park, you’ll join the Pennine Way. The grassy path passes through an area of Shake Holes and reveals views of the magnificent Malham Tarn. Eventually, you’ll reach a gate, where you’ll join a track heading to the shores of the tarn.

Dan at Malham Tarn

Great Close Scar

By walking along the track, you’ll pass by the Ha Mire Plantation. To your right, you’ll enjoy magnificent views of Great Close Scar – an impressive limestone wall. Soon enough, you’ll reach the northeast shores of the spectacular tarn. This is the best spot at the tarn to sit, relax and enjoy the scenery. Certainly, it’s a great place for a picnic.

Dan walks by Great Close Scar near Malham Tarn

Malham Tarn House

After enjoying the exquisite views at the shores of Malham Tarn, continue along the track to find the Malham Tarn House. It used to be a Field Studies Centre (FSC) but seems to have closed.

Near this building, you’ll also find the Orchid House, which used to be the greenhouse for growing orchids. Now, it’s used as an educational exhibition area. Officially speaking, this is where the Watersinks to Malham Tarn Easy Stroll finishes. You’ll simply retrace your steps to complete the walk.

Dan at Malham Tarn House

2. Malham Tarn Upland Farm Circular Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 7.2km
  • Time: 2–2.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 235m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead/Parking: Watersinks Car Park
  • Map: AllTrails

If you want to do a circular walk that involves exploring Malham Tarn, we recommend the Malham Tarn Upland Farm Circular Walk or the modified version of this walk. By doing either route version, you’ll get to explore more attractions at and around the special limestone lake. Let’s look at the extra attractions and highlights of doing this longer walk.

Malham Tarn Lookout

After passing Malham Tarn House, you’ll walk through a cool walkway, surrounded by rock walls. Afterwards, you’ll soon pass a side trail to a boat house. Then, you’ll arrive at another side trail – this one leads to the Bird Hide. It’s a great spot for birdwatching, whilst the hide has some fantastic information about the birdlife at the tarn.

Dan on the Malham Tarn Upland Farm Circular Walk

Continuing the track in an anti-clockwise direction, you’ll then reach a great lookout. Certainly, this viewpoint at the northern end of the tarn is the best vantage point along the walk.

Dan at the best viewpoint of Malham Tarn

Tarn Moss

After enjoying the views from the lookout, you’ll continue towards Tarn Moss. From this point on, you won’t walk near the shores of the tarn for the remainder of the walk. At the Tarn Moss Nature Reserve, you can complete a small loop boardwalk that re-joins the Malham Tarn Upland Farm Circular Walk. By doing this short circular walk, you’ll have a good chance of seeing wildlife – make sure to not step on any frogs!

Once you’ve passed Tarn Moss, the track eventually leads you to Henside Road. To continue the official route, you’ll cross the road and head into the moorlands called Dean Moor. Eventually, the track leads you to the Watersinks Car Park.

Dan walks on a road near Malham Tarn

3. Modified Malham Tarn Upland Farm Circular Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 5.85km
  • Time: 1.5–2 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: approx. 150m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead/Parking: Watersinks Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc

Personally, Beck and I did this modified version of the Malham Tarn Upland Circular Walk. The only difference is you’ll return to the Watersinks Car Park via Henside Road instead of walking through Dean Moor. Sure, this isn’t the official route as Henside Road is considered more of a cycling route than a walking route. But, admittedly it’s a popular route, which many people choose instead of doing the full Malham Upland Farm Circular Walk.

4. Malham Cove Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 12km
  • Time: 4–6 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 360m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead/Parking: Malham Visitor Centre Car Park or Watersinks Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc

Undoubtedly, when it comes to walks in Malham, walking at Malham Cove is way more popular than walking at Malham Tarn. Indeed, in terms of walking in Malham, most people prioritise one of many Malham Cove walks. Most people do the short out and back Malham Cove Walk or the Malham Cove short circular walk. Whilst, others do the longer Malham Cove Walk (AKA the Extended Malham Landscape Trail, the Malham Cove Circular Walk, the Malham Cove Walk or the Malham Cove Hike). Click here for the Malham Cove Walk map and walking route.

By doing the Malham Cave Walk, you’ll also get to explore Malham Tarn! So, when it comes to Malham walks, the Malham Cove Walk is a great option for exploring not only Malham Cove and Malham Tarn but other attractions in Malham such as Janet’s Foss and Gordale Scar.

Below, we’ll look at the extra natural attractions that you can explore by doing a longer Malham Cove Walk.

Read more: Malham Cove Walk – The Ultimate Guide

Malham Cove

It’s possible to start the Malham Cove Walk from either the Malham Visitor Centre Car Park or Watersinks Car Park. Most people start from the Malham Visitor Centre Car Park. From there, you’ll reach the impressive Malham Cove, which is an 80-metre high amphitheatre-shaped limestone cliff wall.

Once you’ve walked up the Malham Cove steps, you’ll arrive at the mind-blowing 300-metre wide limestone pavement. It’s one of the largest and best examples of limestone pavement in the UK. Whilst, the limestone pavement was the filming location for one of the Harry Potter films!

From Malham Cove, you’ll walk to Malham Tarn. By doing this walk, you’ll pick up Pennine Way, pass Great Close Scar and reach the northeast end of Malham Tarn. From there, you’ll head to Gordale Scar via Street Gate.

Read more: Malham Cove – Everything You Need to Know About Visting

Dan on the Malham Cove limestone pavement

Gordale Scar

Gordale Scar is an impressive limestone ravine (gorge) with imposing walls that are around 100 metres tall! Running through Gordale Scar, you’ll find an incredible waterfall.

You’ll find Gordale Scar Waterfall hidden in the ravine. Exploring and scrambling around Gordale Scar Waterfall is particularly fun and adventurous.

After scoping out the waterfall, it’s possible to scramble down the rocks by the side of the falls to exit Gordale Scar to continue the walk to Janet’s Foss. Although, this option is reserved for experienced hikers. Additionally, it’s much easier and safer to scramble up the rocks. So, if you plan on scrambling through Gordale Scar, it’s perhaps best to do this walk in an anti-clockwise direction instead.

Alternatively, you can follow a simpler trail, through New Close Knotts, that descends the western face of Gordale Scar. Along this route, you’ll enjoy some of the finest views of Malham. Eventually, you’ll join a trail, which leads to the lovely Janet’s Foss.

Read more: Gordale Scar – The Ultimate Visitor’s Guide

Gordale Scar Waterfall

Janet’s Foss

Janet’s Foss is a small plunge waterfall that’s pretty and serene. The waterfall is formed by Gordale Beck at around the point the stream drops down into Wedber Wood.

From Janet’s Foss, you’ll continue along the Riverside Path, which is a charming forest trail that follows alongside Gordale Beck. The trail eventually leads you back to Malham.

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

Dan at Janet's Foss

5. Malham Cove Walk & Malham Tarn Circular Walk

  • Type: Figure 8
  • Distance: 16km
  • Time: 4–6 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 565m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead/Parking: Malham Park Visitor Centre Car Park
  • Map: AllTrails

Last but not least is the double loop walk which essentially combines both the Malham Cove Walk and the modified Malham Tarn Upland Farm Circular Walk. If you’re keen on the longest and most challenging walk involving Malham Tarn, then you’ll want to choose this one. Personally, Beck and I did the Malham Cove Walk and the modified Malham Tarn Upland Circular Walks separately.

How to Get to Malham

Now you know about the five best walks at Malham Tarn, let’s look at getting to Malham in the first place. The easiest and quickest way to get to Malham is to drive there yourself. If you don’t have your own set of wheels, then we recommend hiring a car using DiscoverCars.com. You’ll find a wide variety of cars on Discover Cars for very reasonable prices. Also, the website is user-friendly and booking online is super easy. Have a look at car hire from Manchester.

It’s also possible to use public transport to get to Malham. From Skipton, you can take a bus, which alights at the bus stop out the front of the Buck Inn.

We recommend using Google Maps to plan your journey. 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. Certainly, it’s best to drive to Malham yourself.

Malham Tarn Parking

When it comes to Malham Tarn directions and parking, simply follow directions to Watersinks Car Park. It’s a free car park with enough space for around 25–30 vehicles.

Where to Stay Near Malham Tarn

Malham is only a small village, so when it comes to hotels near Malham Tarn, options are limited. Essentially, it’s all about quality rather than quantity when it comes to accommodation in Malham. We’ve handpicked the best budget, mid-range and luxury options to suit all needs.

  • Budget – YHA Malham: this is by far the best budget option in Malham. For the shoestring traveller, YHA Malham offers cheap dorm rooms. But, they also offer 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: not to be confused with The Buck Inn in Buckden, The Buck Inn in Malham 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. Guests rave about its comfort, fantastic 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 it’s got a stellar reputation for its hearty English meals.
  • Luxury – Beck Hall Malham: this is one of the most highly rated and popular hotel options. Beck Hall Malham is conveniently located in the heart of the village. It’s a charming dog-friendly hotel with a well-renowned garden bistro restaurant. With 21 rooms available, we’re hoping there’s space available at Beck Hall Malham when you plan to visit.

Malham Campsites

If you’d prefer to camp in Malham, then there are two excellent campsites. You’ve got the Malham Riverside Campsite, which is conveniently located, just a stone’s throw away from Malham Cove. Another option is the Gordale Scar Campsite. It’s located near the opening of Gordale Scar, which is yet another fantastic camping location in Malham.

FAQs About Malham Tarn

Below, you’ll find the most frequently asked questions about Malham Tarn.

Dan walks on a track

Can You Walk Around Malham Tarn?

Yes, when it comes to walks around Malham Tarn, you’ll want to do the Malham Tarn Upland Farm Circular Walk or the modified version of this walk.

How Long Is the Walk Around Malham Tarn?

The Malham Tarn Upland Farm Circular Walk is approx. 7.2km.

How Was Malham Tarn Formed?

The tarn’s basin was dammed by a moraine and filled with glacial water during the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago.

What Is Special About Malham Tarn?

It’s special for many reasons. The tarn is the highest limestone lake in Great Britain. On top of that, it’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.

Can You Swim in Malham Tarn?

No, Malham Tarn swimming or watersports aren’t allowed.

How Much Is Parking at Malham Tarn?

It’s free to park at the Watersinks Car Park.

Gear Essentials

These are our walking gear essentials.

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

Bonus Tips

  • Visit the tarn in different seasons: certainly, the tarn and its surroundings look much different from season to season.
  • Other walks from Malham or to Malham: the Settle to Malham Walk or Malham and Settle Circular Walk are other challenging walks to consider in and around Malham.
  • Make a weekend out of it: Malham is such a charming village in the Yorkshire Dales. You should definitely stay for the weekend and explore all of the attractions in and outside the village.

Please leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.

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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