Snowdonia National Park
Earth : Europe : Britain and Ireland : United Kingdom : Wales : North Wales : Snowdonia National Park
Lakes, castles, waterfalls, and steam railways create a surreal experience right out of Lord of the Rings. Local signs are often both English and Welsh and many aspects of traditional Welsh life, including food, clothing, and crafts, are still to be found.
The region is very popular for hiking, mountaineering, white-water kayaking, and other outdoor pursuits. It features Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at 1085m (3560 ft).
Snowdonia National Park was established in 1951 as the third national park in the UK, and the first in Wales. It covers 2,142km² (840 square miles or 214,200 hectares) of the Snowdonia region of north-western Wales. It is also an area steeped in history and legend as the natural fortress for the Princes of Gwynedd and for Llewellyn, the last true Prince of Wales.
Dominated by Snowdon, Snowdonia National Park is to Wales what the Lake District is to England. An area of outstanding natural beauty, this National Park is set in north Wales and visitors can paddle their feet on a sandy beach in the morning and be sitting atop the highest peak in England and Wales that same day.
Lakes are almost as much of a feature of Snowdonia as the peaks, so much so that several hydro-electric schemes have been built to harness the potential energy stored within them (See Dinorwig Power Station in the Do section). The water sports that feature so prominently in this region are fed from the high rainfall in the park and this in turn feeds into the rivers and lakes. Much of this water is exported to England; Liverpool's water comes from here.
Much of the world's slate comes from this region and the landscape is dotted with the scars of slate pits, some of which are still active today. The casual walker needs only bend down and pick up a handful of shale to see where much of the local industry came from.
Main Mountain Groups
Flora and fauna
Snowdonia National Park is an ornithologists paradise with buzzards, ospreys, choughs, peregrines, thrushes, blackbirds, robins, wrens, tits, finches, owls, cuckoos, jays.... you get the idea. Perhaps suprisingly, there is only one RSPB reserve actually located within the National Park — at Mawddach Woodlands, on the beautiful Mawddach estuary between Dolgellau and Barmouth.
The Snowdon lily (lloydia serotina), as the names suggests, is only found in Snowdonia National Park, where it is a rare and protected species. Populations are small and currently make up six different locations, each with small numbers. Distant cousins of this species can be found in Europe. This species is undergoing a biodiversity action plan in order to spread awareness of its importance to this region of Wales.
Another species unique to Snowdonia is the Gwyniad (Coregonus pennantii), a freshwater fish of the salmon family. The Gwyniad is native only to Bala Lake and until recently existed nowhere else in the World. A project to introduce it to another nearby lake has recently been undertaken, to mitigate the risk of its extinction should some tragedy (pollution or similar) befall Bala Lake. The deep waters of the lake are also said to be home to Tegi, Bala's answer to the Loch Ness Monster. Visitors can make up their own minds as to the likelihood of her existence.
The critically endangered Freshwater pearl mussel is another important freshwater species which makes its home in the area.
Mammals including bats, red squirrels, badgers, weasels and polecats may also be glimpsed in this region, while seals, porpoises, dolphins, and even the occasional turtle can be spotted offshore.
Due to the topology, Snowdonia gets its fair share of rain and then some. Even if it is not raining on the tops, they are often shrouded in mist or cloud. Care should be taken when walking them (see Stay Safe).
Mainline train services in North Wales are run by Arriva Trains Wales.
An air service connects RAF Valley in Anglesey, and the journey takes about an hour . For flights from other destinations Manchester and Liverpool airports, across the border in England are the closest bet, or Birmingham airport for the Cambrian Coast area.
The main roads into Snowdonia are the A55 which runs along the north coast, connecting with the M56 and M53 near Chester, and the A5, which leaves the M54 at Shrewsbury and heads west to Betws y Coed and then north-west to Bangor
There are no fees for entering or leaving Snowdonia National Park.
(See also Get in above for details of lines into and across North Wales)
Even trunk roads in the area are generally single-carriageway, the exception being the A55 dual carriageway, which hugs the north coast. Even minor single-track roads are generally well surfaced and suitable for any road-worthy vehicle. As with all rural areas, allow for low average speeds when journey planning, even more so at the height of the tourist season when roads throughout the park can become very busy.
There are a number of castles in Snowdonia dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. They were constructed at the time of the battles by the Welsh Princes of Gwynedd to resist the rule of King John, and more significantly, King Edward I of England. Most of the castles are in the care of Cadw, the historic environment service of the Welsh Assembly Government. Most of the English-built castles forming the "Ring of Steel" around North Wales lie outside the National Park, as they were sited on the coast. The Welsh princes tended to stick to the mountain country where they hoped to hold the upper hand.
Wales' highest mountain and the highest in the UK south of Loch Lomond, Snowdon is also the most popular mountain in Wales, climbed by an estimated 500,000 people every year.
The most spectacular way up Snowdon is via the Crib Goch arete — not for the faint hearted, and not unless you know that the weather will hold up. If you descend via the Lliwedd ridge then you have done the Snowdon Horseshoe. Start and finish at Pen y Pass at the top of the Llanberis Pass on the Llanberis to Capel Curig road. Easier on the heart are the Pyg track and Miners track also starting from Pen y Pass. These are gentle at first before the big climb, and pass by the lakes that sit in the middle of the horseshoe.
Other routes include the Llanberis Path, which follows the train track and is rather boring; the Snowdon Ranger Path from the train station (Welsh Highland Railway) and youth hostel of the same name; the Rhyd Ddu path from the village of Rhyd Ddu (also served by WHR trains), and the Watkin Path from Nantgwynant, which starts at only 60m above sea level and therefore requires the largest gain in altitude, though fortunately there are several waterfalls along the path which are popular for cooling off in on hot days.
Of course you can also get the train to the top, but try to resist standing at the summit looking proud of your "achievement"!
Looking like a giant fossilised Stegasaurus, Tryfan is said to be the only mountain in the country that cannot be climbed without using the arms. At the summit are two large standing rocks known as Adam and Eve, and you're supposed to jump between them to earn the freedom of the mountain. It's not a physically difficult jump, but you'll need a really good head for heights in order to attempt it.
Bristly Ridge links Tryfan to Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr, the main peaks of this range. Don't miss a great photo opportunity at the famous Cantilever on Glyder Fach.
Cadair Idris and the Tarrens
This range is to be found at the southern edge of the national park. The largest (892m/2927ft) and best known mountain is Cadair (sometimes spelt Cader) Idris, which is the 2nd most climbed mountain in Wales. The most popular and arguably, best route is the Minffordd Path which starts from the hamlet of the same name, near Talyllyn Lake. The mountain can also be climbed from the village of Llanfihangel y Pennant at the head of the Dysynni valley, and there are also a number of paths from the northern side, accessed from Dolgellau.
Legend has it that there are only 3 potential outcomes if you spend the night on Cadair Idris. Either you will die in the night, you will wake up insane, or you will wake up as a bard (poet). If you want to test this out then there are some excellent wild camping spots on the shores of Llyn (lake) Cau (accessed from Minffordd), or Llyn y Gadair on the Dolgellau side. Check out the article on Leave-no-trace camping before you go.
The lower Tarren range of hills between Tywyn and Abergynolwyn provide excellent walking, without the crowds that can sometimes be found on Cadair Idris. Ordnance Survey Explorer Map sheet OL23 Cadair Idris and Bala Lake is essential.
As in the majority of the UK, the focus of most Snowdonia communities is the pub. Rare is the village pub that doesn't offer food, and many of these are very good quality. The Wales the True Taste campaign has been very successful in promoting the use of local ingredients in recent years, and your waiter or chef will often be only too happy to tell you exactly where the lamb that provided your chop, the cow in your burger or the scallops in your fish pie grew up. Most pubs serve lunch from about 12:30 until 14:30, and dinner from around 17:30 to 20:00 or 21:00. Where the pub has a restaurant separate from the main bar they may serve later.
As well as the pub, most villages have at least one cafe or tearoom, opening from breakfast time until mid-afternoon. The main focus is usually on tea/coffee and "light bites", such as sandwiches and (usually homemade!) cakes, but in many cases there will be 1 or 2 more substantial hot dishes available at lunchtime.
Larger villages and towns will generally have at least a couple of take-away food shops. Traditional Fish'n'Chips is still the most popular, but you will find Chinese, Indian and Kebab shops springing up too.
As mentioned in #Eat, most villages and towns in Snowdonia have at least one pub. Generally, pubs in the area open from 11:00 or 12:00 and close at 23:00 or midnight. Some close for 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon but this is less common than in the past.
Nightclubs are few and far between in the area, with the exception of the more commercialised seaside resorts such as Barmouth. The University city of Bangor, just outside the park to the north, is the place to go for nightlife and (relatively) bright lights.
Principal towns and villages within and around the National Park
All the places listed have a variety of accommodation.
An array of quality assured Self Catering facilities are dotted in and around the area ranging from modern flats, purposely converted units on farm complexes to fully residential traditional Snowdonia farmhouse cottages.
The Youth Hostels Association (YHA)  has a dozen hostels in, or close to, the National Park. Most of these are located in the northern part of the park, around Snowdon itself. Only Kings hostel, near Penmaenpool and Ffynonwen hostel, near Bala cover the southern or eastern areas of the park.
Snowdonia has a large number of camp sites and finding a pitch is rarely a problem. Facilities range from the most basic with nothing more than a drinking water tap in the corner of a small field, up to plush "Holiday Parks" with electric hook-ups, laundry facilities, on-site restaurants and night-time entertainment. See the relevant town and village articles for listings.
Wild camping is possible but remember that in Snowdonia, like other UK National Parks, the vast majority of the land is in private ownership. Generally at low-level and/or in the busy tourist season, it's better to stick to "official" campsites. On higher ground, in less popular areas, or out of season, you're less likely to encounter any problems. Use your discretion as to what constitutes an appropriate site, and where possible gain the permission of the farmer or landowner. Please follow the guidelines in Leave-no-trace camping.
Snowdonia presents no exaggerated danger to personal safety on a social front. Locals are well-used to tourists and appear to tolerate them admirably given the heavy footfall.
The greatest personal threat comes from conditions on the peaks. These can turn at short notice, often from a clear warm day to heavy cold rain, the latter of which Wales has in a plentiful supply. It is therefore strongly advised that warm clothing and waterproofs are packed for the peaks along with a good supply of water and some food high in carbohydrates. Always carry a suitable map. The Ordnance Survey  1:25000 scale Explorer series are ideal, covering the whole national park on 3 (double-sided) sheets. Alternatively the 1:50000 scale Landranger series, though these are less detailed due to the smaller scale. Harveys Maps  also produce excellent quality maps of the main mountain areas, specifically aimed at hill walkers.
Some 70 people a year are injured seriously on Snowdon alone and around 10 lose their life. Accidents occur mostly on descent where fatigue and speed is greater. Follow the Mountain Safety Code to reduce your chances of becoming part of these statistics:
Before You Go
When You Go
If There is Snow On The Hills