One of the most breathtaking and scenic walks in the Brecon Beacons National Park is the Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge Walk. As well as reaching the summit of the Brecon Beacons’ highest peak, you’ll also enjoy stellar views from the neighbouring peaks of Corn Du, Cribyn and Fan y Big. The Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge walking trail is an incredible day hike. And, better still, you can even add a visit to Blaen y Glyn Waterfalls to the end of the hike too.
In this guide, we’ll tell you about Pen y Fan and where the mountain is. We’ll also cover many of the different route options you could take to reach the summit. Also, we’ll detail the extended hike we did which involved adding the Blaen y Glyn Waterfalls to the end of the walk. Afterwards, we’ll look at the best time to climb Pen y Fan and how to get there. We’ll finish up with information about where to stay and what to bring, as well as answer a few FAQs.
To see footage of the Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge Walk in the Brecon Beacons National Park, please watch our 6 Best Brecon Beacons Hikes YouTube production.
For more incredible walks in Wales, check out our guides on Llyn y Fan Fach, the Four Waterfalls Walk and Waun Fach & The Dragon’s Back. Otherwise, read our Brecon Beacons Hiking post, where we reveal how to squeeze six excellent walks into one epic weekend of hiking.
Table of Contents
About Pen y Fan Brecon Beacons
Walking up Pen y Fan is high on most visitors’ to-do lists when visiting the Brecon Beacons. Indeed, it’s easily one of the most spectacular walks in this national park. Pen y Fan is the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons. In fact, it’s the highest peak in the south of Wales. It stands at 886m, with the neighbouring peaks of Corn Du, Cribyn and Fan y Big only narrowly falling short at 873m, 795m and 719m, respectively.
The name Pen y Fan roughly translates to ‘the mountain’s peak’. At the summit, there is even a Bronze Age cairn. Although this stone cairn now displays the National Trust sign which indicates to us walkers we’ve reached the peak. But, it would once have served as a burial sight. Many artefacts such as bones and tools have been found at the summit.
Old red sandstone makes up the majority of Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Fan y Big mountains. You’ll see the evidence of this on the trails to the peaks, where red pathways wind up to the summits.
Where Is Pen y Fan?
Pen y Fan mountain is found in the south of Wales within the sublime Brecon Beacons National Park. The peak lies within the county of Powys and is within easy reach of the cities of Cardiff and Swansea.
Pen y Fan and the surrounding mountains like Corn Du and Fan y Big on the Horseshoe Ridge Walk are managed by the National Trust. Part of the work of the National Trust is to manage the levels of erosion. The erosion is caused by countless numbers of walkers visiting yearly. Indeed, over 350,000 people visit each year! A big help in conserving the area is to stick to designated paths where possible. This avoids causing unnecessary damage to the landscape.
Pen y Fan Walking Routes
Of course, there are a number of different routes you can take in your quest to summit the highest mountain in south Wales. Below, we’ll touch upon five of them. Then we’ll provide more detail on the Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge Walk, including the additional add-on to Blaen y Glyn Waterfalls.
Pont ar Daf Route
- Trail Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 6.8km
- Time: 2–3 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 430m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Pont ar Daf Car Park (Brecon LD3 8NL)
- Map: Wikiloc
The route from Pont ar Daf is the easiest of all the routes. The trail begins from Pont ar Daf Car Park on the A470. It follows a mostly paved trail all the way to the summit. To keep the walk to Pen y Fan as simple as possible, you can take a side trail that bypasses the Corn Du summit. In that case, the walk heads straight to Pen y Fan. Although, views from Corn Du are pretty unmissable if you ask us. And so it’s worth adding walking over Corn Du first.
Given the ease of access, don’t expect to have this route all to yourself. This is especially true during school holidays, bank holiday weekends and well, weekends in general to be honest.
Storey Arms Route
- Trail Type: Out & Back or Loop
- Distance: 8km
- Time: 2–3 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 520m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Storey Arms Car Park (Libanus, Brecon LD3 8NL)
- Map: Wikiloc
Beginning from the Storey Arms Car Park, again, located on the A470, is another straightforward route direct to Corn Du and then Pen y Fan. The trail starts next to the Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre, quickly ascending up toward Corn Du. There’s little chance to bypass Corn Du on this route option, but as mentioned, it’s worth the climb in its own right.
It’s possible, and quite common, to combine the Pont ar Daf and Storey Arms routes to Pen y Fan. This creates a loop walk that will just require a little road walking at the end to join back up.
Cefn Cwm Llwch Route
- Trail Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 9km
- Time: 4 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 630m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Nant Cwn Llwch Car Park (Unnamed Road, 8NE, Brecon)
- Map: Wikiloc
The Cefn Cwn Llwch route trailhead is found to the north of Pen y Fan. The trail begins from the Nant Cwn Llwch Car Park. It then follows a trail leading south toward Corn Du. You’ll pass the Llyn Cwn Llwch lake and the Tommy Jones Obelisk. This is a monument to the tragic passing of a local 5-year boy who got lost here. From the obelisk, the trail veers around to ascend Corn Du before reaching the Pen y Fan summit.
Cwm Gwdi Route
- Trail Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 7km
- Time: 4 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 530m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Cwm Gwdi Car Park (Unnamed Road, 8LE, Brecon)
- Map: Wikiloc
If you’re only interested in bagging Pen y Fan, and not too bothered about Corn Du, Cribyn or Fan y Big, then you could consider the Cwm Gwdi route option. Beginning from the north, at the Cwm Gwdi Car Park, this walking route enjoys incredible views of Corn Du, Cribyn and Fan y Big as you ascend the highest peak in south Wales. This direct route to Pen y Fan is a fantastic walking option if you’re short on time.
Similar to the first two routes mentioned, it’s often common to combine the Cwm Gwdi and Cefn Cwn Llwch routes. This also creates a loop trail rather than just an out and back.
Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge Walk
The Brecon Beacons Horseshoe Ridge walk to Pen y Fan is perhaps the most spectacular of all the walking trails. Encompassing the four notable peaks of Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big, this hike is easily one of the best all-day hikes in the Brecon Beacons. As soon as the ascent up onto the Horseshoe Ridge escarpment begins, you’ll be able to map out the entire walk by sight. It’s an incredible hike and well worth the time to spend out in the Welsh mountains.
The Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge Walk begins from either the Taf Fechan, Pont Cwm y Fedwen or Neuadd Car Parks. If like us, you choose to add the Blaen y Glyn Waterfalls to the end of the trail, then we recommend parking at the Taf Fechan Forest Car Park.
Below, we’ll provide hiking stats for the trail and briefly describe the walk. Please feel free to follow our GPS map.
Pen y Fan Map & Preview
- Trail Type: Loop
- Distance: 22.5km
- Time: 7–8 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 1,100m
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Trailhead: Taf Fechan Forest Car Park (Dyfed, Kings Rd, Llandovery)
- Map: Wikiloc
Pen y Fan Hike
The initial stages of the hike lead through the Taf Fechan Forest. The trail is somewhat flat and enveloped in beautiful woodland. Soon enough though, you’ll emerge from the Taf Fechan Forest, cross over the Taf Fechan river and begin to slowly ascend to the first peak – Twyn Mwyalchod (642m). The climb is steep and relentless as you climb a stone staircase. Reaching Twyn Mwyalchod actually requires a short out and back leaving the main trail. There’s a cairn at Twyn Mwyalchod to mark the spot, with views back down over the Neuadd Reservoir.
From Twyn Mwyalchod, you’ll then retrace your steps back to the top of the stone steps. From here, you’ll continue northwards along the trail towards Cefn Cul. Cefn Cul (740m) is one of a number of minor peaks reached along the Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge Walk. There are many rocky outcrops along this section of the walk and they provide truly epic views across the Brecon Beacons mountains.
Before you know it, you’ll be following the sensational Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge, which is a wide walking trail offering sweeping 360 views of the surrounding Brecon Beacons mountain ranges. Including, of course, up to Pen y Fan and Fan y Big mountains. This incredible valley, formed through glacial activity, is truly wonderful.
After passing the lesser peaks of Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog (736m) and Craig-Gwaun-Taf (826m), you’ll steer right and upwards towards Corn Du. We enjoyed a spot of our usual speed hiking to cover this section.
What’s speed hiking? It’s pushing the pace, covering that trail quicker without losing any of the joy of soaking in your surroundings. Find out more here.
The approach walk to Corn Du is fantastic, with Pen y Fan popping right behind. The sweeping bowl of the Horseshoe Ridge looks mesmerising. After a sharp ascent up the sandy red trail, you’ll reach the summit of Corn Du. From Corn Du (873m), you’ll find incredible landscape views. Unfortunately for us, there was a stubborn patch of cloud hovering above Pen y Fan summit obstructing our views; but, otherwise, the views are to die for!
Pen y Fan Mountain
There’s a short but steepish descent down the eastern side of Corn Du, before the final summit push to Pen y Fan. The ascent requires another short but steep walk but before you know it you’ll be stood on the Pen Y Fan summit.
After reaching the summit, you’ll be able to enjoy the entire Horseshoe Ridge outline of the surrounding mountains. Corn Du sits to the west. Cribyn and Fan y Big are positioned to the east. As the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons, views from walking Pen y Fan are understandably amazing.
From the summit, and on a clear day, the views extend right across to the Bristol Channel, the Gower Peninsula and Carmarthen Bay. Sometimes, you can even see all the way to Shropshire in England if looking northeast.
After marvelling at the views, appreciating your efforts and probably enjoying a little snack, the Pen y Fan walk continues down a steep set of stone stairs named Jacob’s Ladder.
Jacob’s Ladder Pen y Fan
From the Pen y Fan summit, you’ll steeply descend Jacob’s Ladder. This is a long section of descent on the walk, covering around 1km in distance. At the base of Pen y Fan’s Jacob’s Ladder, the trail flattens for a short while and the walk follows along more epic ridgelines. Nestled between Pen y Fan and Cribyn, you get a real sense of the size of these two excellent mountain peaks.
Soon enough though, the uphill slog begins again to reach the summit of Cribyn (795m). The walking trail between Pen y Fan and Cribyn may be tough, but it’s made a whole lot easier by the striking views. In fact, the mountain views between these two peaks are easily some of the finest of the entire Horseshoe Ridge Walk. The sweeping green carpeted mountainsides, rippled in texture, are magnificent.
Fan y Big
After enjoying the views from Cribyn, it’s onwards to the final peak of the Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge Walk – Fan y Big. The final ascent to reach Fan y Big feels a little cruel at this stage. Being faced with yet another short but steep climb to reach Fan y Big is tough going. But, we can assure you that it’s well worth the effort!
Fan y Big provides some of the best views of the entire hike. Pen y Fan, Cribyn, Corn Du and the other mighty Central Beacons ranges are displayed perfectly in the distance.
There’s a wonderful rocky outcrop and stone plinth atop Fan y Big, which is simply perfect for photographs and a quick rest to enjoy the views of the Horseshoe Ridge.
Blaen y Glyn Waterfalls
After descending Fan y Big, the walk continues past the remaining minor peaks of Craig Cwareli (730m) and Craig y Fan Ddu (683m), before descending back toward Taf Fechan Forest and the car park.
At around 18km, you can cross the bridge over the Nant Bwrefwr river and return to the car park. But, we recommend that you add on the beautiful Blaen y Glyn Waterfalls too. For almost 1km, you’ll have countless cascades and waterfalls to explore along the quaint Nant Bwrefwr. In fact, the lower you go, the better the waterfalls get!
Despite the extra kilometres added to the Pen y Fan walk, we found the selection of Blaen y Glyn Waterfalls to be absolutely the perfect way to round off this hike.
Taf Fechan Forest
To finish walking the Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge, you’ll follow the road that connects Blaen y Glyn to the Taf Fechan Forest. Admittedly, it’s a tough uphill climb to finish; but at least there’s a lovely forest with a moss-covered floor waiting for you at the end!
Recap on Hiking Pen y Fan
So, there you have it. One long, adventurous and beautifully scenic walk. Despite being the highest mountain in the south of Wales, walking Pen y Fan is easily doable for those with a basic level of fitness. Given the wealth of trail options to choose from, and various out and backs in order to conquer neighbouring Corn Du, Cribyn and Fan y Big, you can make this corker of a day hike into something really special.
Of course, Dan and I certainly recommend the extended Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge Walk we did, adding on the Blaen y Glyn Waterfalls at the end. Were we tired at the end of the day? Absolutely. But did this walk turn out to be one of our favourites in the UK? You betcha it did!
How to Get to Pen y Fan
The easiest way to get to Pen y Fan and take on one of the many walking routes to the summit is with your own set of wheels. Having a vehicle to access the Brecon Beacons National Park, and drive through its kilomteres of scenic roads, is all part of the appeal of visiting such a place. The Brecon Beacons and Pen y Fan Mountain are also located conveniently close to some of the big towns and cities of south Wales. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the nearest hubs to travel from. We’ll include the distance and drive time to get to Taf Fechan Forest Car Park, where we started the walk.
For your convenience, the Pen y Fan postcode is LD3 8NE.
- Cardiff: 1 hour // 31 miles (50km)
- Swansea: 1 hour // 39 miles (63km)
- Carmarthen: 1.5 hours // 60 miles (96km)
- Abergavenny: 45 minutes // 23 miles (37km)
If you don’t have access to your own vehicle, then we recommend hiring something. 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.
It’s possible to walk Pen y Fan Mountain using public transport. But, public transport will only take you to the Pont ar Daf or Storey Arms routes, as they begin on the A470 main road. Public transport does not access the other car parks and trailheads. Below, are your different route options via bus.
- Cardiff: you can take the T4 bus service towards Crossgates and alight at Storey Arms. The journey takes around 1.5 hours.
- Swansea: you’ll need to take the T6 TrawsCymru bus service towards Brecon, and alight at St David’s. From St David’s, take the same T4 bus service as above, but instead, head south toward Merthyr Tydfil. Again, alight at Storey Arms.
- Abergavenny: take bus service 78 toward Merthyr Tydfil and alight at Christ Church. Change here for service T4 to Crossgates and alight at Storey Arms.
You can check bus services here.
Pen y Fan Car Park
For the Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge walk, we parked at Taf Fechan Forest Car Park. But, as mentioned in the other route options, there are plenty of start points. Below is a map showing the Pont ar Daf Car Park, Storey Arms Car Park, Nant Cwn Llwch Car Park, Cwm Gwdi Car Park, Taf Fechan, Pont Cwm y Fedwen and Neuadd Car Parks.
What’s The Best Time of Year For Hiking Pen y Fan?
The best time to climb Pen y Fan is from late spring until early autumn. During these months, typically April–October, the weather is milder and, especially in summer, the longer daylight hours mean you can spend longer in the mountains. These months are, however, the busiest in which to walk to Pen y Fan and Fan y Big. So, don’t expect a quiet trail. To avoid the masses, try walking during the week. Weekends, school holidays and bank holiday weekends are notoriously busy times. Still, it’s always nice to see so many people out enjoying the beautiful trails in the UK.
Winter often brings snow to the Welsh mountains. So it’s not recommended to walk to any of the Horseshoe Ridge mountains in snow. Unless, of course, you have experience. This includes the knowledge to use specialist snow hiking and climbing equipment if required to do so. Although pictures of hikes in the snow look wonderful, perhaps just stick to photographing Pen y Fan and Corn Du from the base of the mountains, if you lack the snow walking experience.
Pen y Fan Weather
As we touched on in our trail description, we experienced a small amount of cloud hovering around the peak of Pen y Fan during our walk. So, our views of the summit were often obstructed. Although the rest of walking the Horseshoe Ridge was clear, no cloud would have been ideal. Still, we did check the weather before setting out and this was the best day of our long weekend in the Brecon Beacons. Overall, the conditions were great.
We always check the weather before embarking on any hike in the UK and the Brecon Beacons were no different. Weather in the Brecon Beacons mountains can change very quickly, so always be prepared. You can check the MET Office weather here.
Where to Stay in the Brecon Beacons
Despite the proximity to major towns in the south of Wales, staying in the heart of the Brecon Beacons is a wonderful way to enjoy the Welsh countryside and relax after walking one of the many routes to Pen y Fan.
Hotels Near Pen y Fan
- Budget – YHA Brecon Beacons: this beautiful 19th Century farmhouse hostel sits in picturesque ancient woodland. The YHA Brecon Beacons hostel offers home-cooked food as well as the use of a shared lounge and kitchen. Perfect after a day hiking in the mountains.
- Mid-range – Penrhadw Farm: just outside the unspoiled village of Pontsticill is Penrhadw Farm. The mountain views are exceptional from the farm, as are the choice of accommodation options, with the bed and breakfast being particularly popular.
- Luxury – Llwyn Onn Guest House: overlooking the Llwyn Onn Reservoir is the very relaxing Llwyn Onn Guest House. Guests love the location, breakfast and value for money here.
Pen y Fan Camping
For the truly adventurous, camping is the perfect option. Grawen Caravan and Camping Park sits within the foothills of the southern Brecon Beacons, under the towering ridge line of the Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge walking trail. Alternatively, you can find Plas Dolygaer close to the trailhead car parks. This campsite and bunkhouse are open all year round and available for private hire too. You can also arrange to do an array of activities from Plas Dolygaer, including guided walks to Pen y Fan, should you feel more comfortable walking with an experienced guide.
Pubs Near Pen y Fan
Sometimes, you just can’t beat finishing an epic hike with a pint. And so, some of the best pubs near Pen y Fan include Red Cow Inn and The Butchers Arm Bunkhouse if walking from the south. If using the walking trails from the north, check out The Old Ford Inn or Royal Oak.
Below, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding walking to Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons, Wales.
Is Snowdon Harder Than Pen y Fan?
The Pen y Fan vs Snowdon debate is a difficult one to answer. Which is the harder of the two is often subjective and down to the individual’s hiking experience and fitness. Snowdon has more elevation, which requires more effort. But, Pen y Fan Mountain and the Horseshoe Ridge are very exposed and bring with them other challenges if you hike in anything but sunny and calm conditions.
Both Snowdon and Pen y Fan have various routes to their respective summits, meaning the hikes can be tweaked and better tailored to an individual’s experience. But, above all, both mountain walks come with their own set of risks, and neither Snowdon nor Pen y Fan should be attempted if you haven’t done your due diligence in researching the walk. Checking the weather conditions on the day is especially important.
Also, the UK Special Forces use the peak at Pen y Fan as part of their training, so that should help give you an indication as to the overall difficulty.
How Long Does it Take to Climb Pen y Fan Mountain?
The Pen y Fan walk time obviously depends on which route you take to the summit. Climbing Pen y Fan via the Horseshoe Ridge and including the Blaen y Glyn Waterfalls, as we did, means a walking time of 7–8 hours. A traditional Horseshoe Ridge Walk, without adding on the Blaen y Glyn Waterfalls, takes around 6 hours.
Is Pen y Fan Classed as a Mountain?
At 886m, Pen y Fan is classed as a mountain. It’s the highest peak in south Wales, followed by Corn Du and Cribyn, which are all visited as part of the Horseshoe Ridge Walk.
What Does Pen y Fan Mean?
The Pen y Fan meaning roughly translates to ‘the mountain’s peak’. Together with the twin peak of Corn Du, the mountain was previously named Cadair Arthur, meaning ‘Arthur’s Chair’.
Is Pen y Fan Suitable For Dogs?
Good news, you can bring your dog on the walk to Pen y Fan. The trails are generally in good condition and easy to follow. You might want to consider a lead on any ridge pathways just for safety. Additionally, using a lead is a good idea if the trail is particularly busy so as not to disturb other hikers too much. Maybe bring your doggo’s water bowl and some additional H2O to keep them hydrated.
Can You Run Up Pen y Fan?
Yes. In fact, Dan and I saw a couple doing just so during our ascent. Of course, trail running in the mountains is tough and the elevation gain here isn’t easy. But, the trail options make various running routes to the summit fair game.
Does Pen y Fan Have Snow?
It’s not uncommon for Pen y Fan, Corn Du, Cribyn and Fan y Big to all see snow in the winter. Rethink the walk if you don’t have experience mountain hiking in the snow.
How High Is Pen y Fan?
The height of Pen y Fan is 886 metres above sea level. Although not the highest mountain in the UK, or even Wales, it’s a decent height to scale. Depending on which route you choose to take, the elevation gain can reach over 1,000m.
Other Walks in the Brecon Beacons
There are plenty of hikes to do in the Brecon Beacons. Whether it be more mountains or extra cascades in Waterfall Country, you’ll easily pack out a trip with glorious natural attractions in the Brecon Beacons. These are some of our favourites:
- Four Waterfalls Walk: perhaps our favourite waterfall walk whilst in the Brecon Beacons. This fantastic trail visits no less than four beautiful cascades in Waterfall Country.
- Llyn y Fan Fach: the circular walk around the two lakes of Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn y Fan Fawr is another of our favourites in the Brecon Beacons. The views are just beautiful.
- Waun Fach & The Dragon’s Back: a lesser walked trail in the Brecon Beacons, but one with extensive views across the whole national park and even back into England. The spikey ridges of the Dragon’s Back are a particular highlight of the walk.
- Sugar Loaf: we can highly recommend this popular short trail for a brilliant sunset hike.
- Henrhyd Falls: see Batman’s Cave and more epic Brecon Beacons waterfalls too. It might just rival Sgwd-yr-Eira and Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn after a heavy period of rain.
What to Take When Walking the Pen y Fan Routes?
These are our five hiking gear essentials for the Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge Walk in the Brecon Beacons! But, they’d work well for any of the Pen y Fan walking routes. 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 Wales, 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 lunch, water and snacks.
- Fan Dance fun fact: The ‘Fan Dance’ is a trail route used by the Special Forces Fitness and Navigation phase of training for service people. It’s a gruelling 24km weight-bearing march to test the candidate’s physical and mental aptitude. The course passes over Corn Du and Pen y Fan, before continuing along the old Roman road and then returning on itself. Candidates have 4 hours and 10 minutes to complete the Fan Dance, whatever the weather.
- Exposed summits: the summits on the walk are all exposed and can get very windy. We found having our wind jackets to hand great for chucking on whilst we enjoyed the views from each summit.
- National Trust: Pen y Fan, Corn Du, Cribyn and Fan y Big are under the management of the National Trust.
- Brecon Beacons tours: if you want the hassle taken care of when it comes to trip planning. Get Your Guide offer some pretty great tour options in southern Wales.
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