The ultimate UK hiking challenges: Start planning your next epic British adventure

From Snowdon to the peaks of Yorkshire, these are the hikes you need to do
The ultimate UK hiking challenges

Signing up to a hiking challenge is a great way to kickstart your fitness regime, see some beautiful landscapes and – once completed – get that unbeatable sense of achievement. And the good news is that the UK is teeming with walking adventures that will test you both physically and mentally.

Before setting out on a hiking challenge, make sure you have the right kit. Most important will be a decent pair of hiking boots, a good, comfortable day pack with plenty of snacks, fluid, maps and a mobile phone or GPS inside. Other hiking essentials include a First Aid kit, whistle and a survival bag or emergency shelter.

Timing can also make or break the outcome of your challenge. As this is the UK, it’s best to avoid these challenges in the winter, unless you’re an experienced mountaineer with advanced kit and excellent navigation skills. The longer summer days give you more daylight hours to complete the challenges, and you’re likely to be slowed down if it’s too hot, too cold, rainy or misty. Factor all this in during your planning phase.

From the Peak District to Northern Ireland, we’ve found some of the best hiking challenges in the UK. All can be self-organized, but have recognized time limits, so you have a fixed goal to aim for if you’re going it alone.

Best for beginners

Thames Path Challenge

Ease yourself into a walking challenge by trekking the trail along the historic River Thames. The Thames Path Challenge is super-flexible, allowing you to pick from three lengths (28km, 50km and 100km). Try the First Quarter, which starts in leafy Putney and finishes at Hurst Park, following the meandering river the whole way.

Thousands of walkers and joggers will hit the Thames Path for the official event, which happens every September, but you can still complete the challenge in your own time, with the option of building up to the full, 100km-long route. A great entry-level challenge.

Distance: 28km

Ascent: N/A

Time limit: 7 hours

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Yorkshire Three Peaks

UK hiking challenges
Credit: Scott Robinson / Flickr

If you’re after a gentler option, the Yorkshire Three Peaks is for you.

The circular route takes you over Ingleborough (723m), Whernside (736m) and Pen-y-ghent (694m) – three hills in the south of the Yorkshire Dales. Over a total distance of 38.6km, you’ll climb and descend 1,585m, which most people aim to do within 12 hours.

Organize your own challenge, or take part in an organized event. The traditional starting point is Horton in Ribblesdale, which has a train station and a good range of accommodation.

Distance: 38.6km

Ascent: 1,585m

Time limit: 12 hours

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The Lyke Wake Walk

UK hiking challenges
Credit: Martin Dawes / geograph

There’s relatively little climbing in this fun walk, cheerfully themed around the topic of death. Crossing the North York Moors from Osmotherley to Ravenscar, it takes its name from the Lyke Wake Dirge, a traditional Yorkshire song describing the passing of souls through purgatory. And that’s just how you might feel as you traverse the seemingly endless seas of heather on the open expanse of moorland.

If you complete it, you’ll have earned entry to the Lyke Wake Club. Male finishers are called ‘dirgers’, while female finishers are called ‘witches’. One for Halloween, we reckon.

Distance: 64km

Ascent: 1,524m

Time limit: 24 hours

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Best for intermediates

Welsh Three Peaks

UK hiking challenges
Credit: Wikimedia

Fancy crossing the whole of Wales from north to south? This hiking challenge involves climbing Snowdon (north Wales), Cadair Idris (mid Wales) and Pen y Fan (south Wales). It’s all done in one push, which includes driving between them.

If you’re planning on doing this in summer, you’ll probably be able to tick it off in daylight, and a good time to aim for is around 15 hours (though the suggested time limit is 24 hours). You’ll find the landscape very different over the mountains, so you’ll experience three different walks in one. Llanberis near Snowdon, is a good place to start, before finishing in Brecon near Pen y Fan.

Distance: 27.4km

Ascent: 2,334m

Time limit: 24 hours

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Cairngorms 4000s

UK hiking challenges
Credit: Walter Baxter / geograph

Think you can conquer five granite giants in one day? Then head to the Cairngorms, in the East Highlands of Scotland, which has the greatest concentration of 4,000-foot (1,219m) mountains in the UK. The premise of this adventure is simple – summit all five of them (Cairn Gorm, Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochan Uaine and Braeriach) in one epic loop walk.

Achieving it is not so easy – you’ll also have to climb up and down the infamous Lairig Ghru pass at the halfway point. But this truly wild walk is one you’ll remember long after kicking off your hiking boots.

Distance: 35km

Ascent: 2,400m

Time limit: 24 hours

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The Mourne Seven Sevens

UK hiking challenges
Credit: Rossographer / geograph

Say hello to the Mourne Seven Sevens. The aim of the game? To climb all of Northern Ireland’s 700m Peaks. The first organized event was held in 1992 with 11 walkers and four runners taking part. It’s grown year on year, with the option to do it as either a challenge walk or a mountain race.

It’s a test of endurance and mountain skills, as competitors follow their own route between fixed checkpoints. You’ll need to be very handy with a compass, as navigation will be essential, especially in poor weather. The route covers all seven of the Mourne Mountains (Slieves Donard, Commedagh, Bernagh, Meelmore, Meelbeg, Binnian and Lamagan).

Distance: 29km

Ascent: 2,495m

Time limit: 12 hours

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Best for pros

National Three Peaks Challenge

UK hiking challenges
Credit: Peer Lawther /Flickr

This is the famous one. The National Three Peaks Challenge involves climbing the highest peaks of England, Scotland and Wales within 24 hours. You and a team must make it to the top of Snowdon, in Wales, (1,085m), England’s Scafell Pike (987m) and Ben Nevis, in Scotland (1,345m).

You also have to drive between all three mountains within the one-day time limit. Organizing the challenge yourself is usually the cheapest way of doing it, but there are also professionally organized events if you’re looking to pick up tips from experienced mountain guides.

On average, it takes around five hours to tick off Ben Nevis, and four hours for both Scafell Pike and Snowdon. You also need to factor in at least eleven hours of driving. Phew!

Distance: 37km (plus 743km driving)

Ascent: 3,064m

Time limit: 24 hours

Welsh 3000s

UK hiking challenges
Credit: Wikimedia

Suitable for very fit and experienced mountain walkers and fell runners, this is a big step up from the Three Peaks Challenge. To complete it, you have to get yourself to the top of all 15 of the 3,000-foot mountains in Wales within the space of 24 hours, without any form of transport.

The length depends on your exact route but is around 50km including the walks to the start and finishing points. The rocky terrain and steep ascents makes this one of the hardest classic walking challenges around.

It includes a punishing 3,500m of ascent and includes a scramble to the top of Snowdon.

Distance: Approx. 50km

Ascent: 3,500m

Time limit: 24 hours

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Lake District 24 Peaks

UK hiking challenges
Credit: Wikimedia

Looking to push yourself in some of the UK’s most stunning scenery? Then sign up for this

50km challenge through the beautiful Lake District that’s designed to test you mentally and physically. By the end, you’ll have climbed 24 of the Lake District's peaks, each one over 700m high. The mountains you’ll encounter can vary depending on who’s planning the route, but the traditional trek takes in Scafell Pike, Helvellyn, Fairfield and other well-known peaks.

It usually takes challengers around 12 hours on day one and ten hours on day two, with a few hours’ kip in between. Expect tricky terrain with sheer climbs and uneven ground.

Distance: 50km

Ascent: Over 3,900m

Time limit: 24 hours (usually split over two days)

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Tags:    Trekking
Tagged    Trekking