Mini Guide: Snowdon

© Francesco Politi

From the best paths and scrambles to local pubs and places to stay, Dan Aspel has the lowdown on the Snowdon range, the highest and arguably the most dramatic peaks in Wales (and England). This giant boasts features to thrill walkers, scramblers, climbers and mountaineers alike. Discover its highlights in this (not so) mini guide.

The highest peak in England & Wales was always going to attract attention. Thankfully Snowdon had the decency to be a truly magnificent mountain. As quite possibly the most popular walkers' mountain on planet earth, Snowdon does not need much advertisement. What does need reiterating is what a truly awesome piece of mountain architecture it is. Rising within clear sight of the Irish Sea and filling over 30 grid squares with its glaciated ridges and cwms it can confidently be described as alpine in design.

The Snowdon horseshoe in winter, from Crib Goch  © Dan Aspel
The Snowdon horseshoe in winter, from Crib Goch
© Dan Aspel

This is clear from whichever direction you approach the peak. It noticeably towers above its surrounding foothills - and even the neighbouring ranges of the Glyderau and the Carneddau to the north. Its slopes boast everything from crags and aretes to ensnare the most ambitious to smooth and forgiving ramblers' highways to usher the most casual of walker to its summit. Since 1896 its softest side has even hosted the Snowdon Mountain Railway, which carries passengers from the town of Llanberis to a hardy station on its summit. No matter your level of experience there will be something to excite and tempt you on Yr Wyddfa.

Contemplating Snowdon  © Nicholas Livesey
Contemplating Snowdon
© Nicholas Livesey, Aug 2014

History, too, runs deep through this volcanic mound and this 1085m peak's connection with perhaps the greatest moment in mountaineering history is a distinct one. It is on its sides that the 1953 Everest team trained and tested their Himalayan equipment in preparation for the ultimately successful expedition to earth's highest summit. And despite sitting over 7700m closer to the sea, Snowdon's appearance is strikingly similar to that of its Nepali-Tibetan cousin as well.

"Outside Pen-y-Gwryd, in the calm frosted air of Snowdon, I looked up at those still unrivalled pyramids, snow-covered and dimly shining in the starlight. I thought back to the storms and cold, cold immeasurably greater than that which made me shiver now, that had bent and smoothed those outlines. To compare tiny Snowdon with Everest is absurd; yet not so absurd, if you think of Snowdon as a withered and shrunken ancestor. When the top of Everest floored the sea, Snowdon stood greatly upon pedestals whose fragments remain. And now she lay coiled in dreams of that past, yet watching, as it seemed, the tiny creatures preparing to swarm up her gigantic successor."

Wilfrid Noyce, South Col (1954)

Granted, an unthinkably savage winter season excepting, you're not likely to hit an equivalent of the Khumbu Icefall straight out of your Pen-y-Pass "Base Camp"... but the area beyond Llyn Llydaw substitutes quite painlessly for the Western Cwm, Bwlch Glas for the South Col, Crib Goch for Nuptse, Carnedd Ugain for Lhotse, with Snowdon (naturally) stepping in as Sagarmâthâ itself. A thought well worth considering if you're ascending with impressionable children (or happen to be one yourself).

Crib Goch and Yr Wyddfa from the Glyderau  © David Dear
Crib Goch and Yr Wyddfa from the Glyderau
© David Dear, Dec 2009

The Snowdon range in a nutshell

1. Climb the highest summit in England & Wales by a variety of routes from easy paths to thrilling scrambles

2. Discover the many sides and rich heritage of this huge peak, from Llanberis to Rhydd Ddu to Bethania and Pen-y-Pass

3. Traverse hillwalking's most exposed and committing ridge: the arresting Crib Goch

4. Take on the Snowdon Horseshoe - arguably the greatest day walk in the British hills

5. Or just let the train take the strain all the way up to Wales' highest cafe

"... a magical setting... a landscape of copper-green lakes and towering peaks"

Garry Smith, North Wales Scrambles (2014)

Principal summits

Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) 1085m

No match for crag id:"Crib y Ddysgl" 1065m

Crib Goch 923m

Y Lliwedd 898m

Yr Aran 747m

Moel Eilio 726m

Moel Cynghorion 674m

Foel Gron 629m

Gallt yr Wenallt 619m

Snowdon Summit in the Snow  © captainH
Snowdon Summit in the Snow
© captainH, Dec 2014

Must-do routes

There are six named trails to the summit of Snowdon: the PYG Track; the Miner's Track; the Watkin Path, the Rhyd-Ddu Path; the Snowdon Ranger and the Llanberis Path. Converging on the summit from all points of the compass, each offers a different take on this complex massif.

Cwm Clogwyn round via Ranger and Rhydd Ddu paths

The attention of most walkers is focused on Snowdon's eastern side - from which the classic horseshoe as well as Pyg and Miners' tracks ascend. Consequently the western slopes are quieter and less visited. This may seem justified on the rounded lower portions of the Rhydd Ddu path, but ascend to slender Bwlch Main and first sight of the grand Cwms of Tregalan and Clogwyn tends to leave a lasting impression. As finale, the descent via the Ranger path (the oldest route on the mountain) passes above the folkloric climbing base of Clogwyn Du'r Arddu, described as "the best crag in the world" by Leo Houlding.

  • See the UKH route card here

Cwm Clogwyn from Llechog on the Rhyd Ddu path - Snowdon  © Nicholas Livesey
Cwm Clogwyn from Llechog on the Rhyd Ddu path - Snowdon
© Nicholas Livesey, Jan 2015

Llanberis path

Sneered at and shunned by those of experience, the mountain's most popular ascent route is nevertheless worth a mention. A long and consistent slog up from Llanberis and almost directly following the line of the mountain railway it's easy to see why the cognoscenti eschew it. But those walking up with young children or novice friends will not find a less threatening ascent path. The well-maintained flagstones and truly stunning views of the Glyders to the north-east and cliffs of Clogwyn Du'r Arddu to the south-west speak strongly in its favour.

Cloggy  © john1963
© john1963, May 2015

Pyg and Miners' tracks

Cutting right into the heart of the horseshoe this deservedly popular ascent route is one of the quickest ways to Snowdon's summit. It's also amongst the most magnificent. Starting at Pen-y-Pass it wanders below Grib Goch on a scenic traverse above Llyn Lldaw and Glasyn before rising steeply to Bwlch Glas to the left of which rises Yr Wyddfa's peak. The return route is identical save for following the historical Miners' path once back in the Cwm. Beware: in the height of summer this is Three Peaks territory, so plan accordingly and avoid busy bank holidays unless you yearn for crowds.

Why the "PYG" Track? Opinion is divided as to the origin of this name. It could refer to Bwlch y Moch ("pigs' pass") that it travels through, it could be because it was used to carry 'pyg' (black tar) to Snowdon's copper mines, or it could be named for the Pen y Gwryd Hotel at the mountain's base. All sound plausible.

Pyg track inversion  © john1963
Pyg track inversion
© john1963, Sep 2013

Watkin Path

Being the path of greatest ascent it's no surprise that the southerly Watkin Path climbs through scenes of tremendous variety and interest. Starting in Bethania you'll find broad woodland, waterfalls, disused slate mines, wild headwalls and shattered rock on your way to the Snowdon/Y Lliwedd shoulder on this path. You can choose to descend the same way or use the Sherpa bus or a second car to link it with any of the mountain's other main paths. Fans of peculiarly British trivia may be interested to learn that the Watkin stood in for the Khyber Pass in the raucous 1968 classic Carry On... Up the Khyber, a fact marked by a plaque along its lower sections. There is currently no legislation dictating what you must or must not wear beneath your kilt while you ascend.

Y Lliwedd  © Siobhan Miller
Y Lliwedd
© Siobhan Miller, Jan 2012

Snowdon Horseshoe

And now for something completely different. It's not one of Snowdon's named paths but almost certainly the greatest hillwalking route in north Wales, and arguably one of the finest across the whole of the UK. This exposed and committing grade one scramble takes in the blade-like arms of Snowdon's most appealing ridges as well as the grand summit itself. Starting at Pen-y-Pass it ascends the steep battlements of Crib Goch before crossing that famously thin arete en route to the broad and impressive summit of Carnedd Ugain. After the crowds of Snowdon's 1085m peak the adventure continues with a traverse of Y Lliwedd's shattered peaks before dropping down to Llyn Llydaw and back to the car. Approached in benign summer conditions this is a thrilling and life-affirming route. Taken on in winter - where deep snow drifts, frictionless verglas and inclement weather are to be considered - it is a mountaineering challenge which aspires to the sublime.

  • See the UKH route card here
Scrambling on Crib y Ddysgl  © alastairbegley
Scrambling on Crib y Ddysgl
© alastairbegley, Mar 2012
Dave striking a pose on Crib Goch  © Moritz L
Dave striking a pose on Crib Goch
© Moritz L, Mar 2014
"Perhaps in the whole world there is no region more picturesquely beautiful than Snowdon, a region of mountains, lakes, cataracts and groves, in which Nature shows herself in her most grand and beautiful form."

George Borrow, Wild Wales (1862)

Photo Dan Aspel  © Dan Aspel
Photo Dan Aspel

Assorted scrambles

Like your hillwalking adventures a little more vertiginous? There are a slew of classic routes to enjoy on this roughest and most dramatic of mountains. These range from the supreme Clogwyn y Person arete (grade 3) and Crib Goch north ridge (grade 1) horseshoe on the Llanberis Pass side of the peak to the beautifully situated Y Gribin ridge (grade 1) and the fearsomely committing Bilberry Terrace scramble (grade 3) within the heart of Snowdon's horseshoe itself. Approach if you dare.

Crib Goch  © andy tetsill
Crib Goch
© andy tetsill, Dec 2008

The Welsh 3000s

A brutal challenge which sees far more succumb to exhaustion or injury than actually endure to its painful conclusion. This 15-peak odyssey takes in every 3,000ft mountain in Wales in a single sub-24hr challenge, typically beginning on Snowdon and finishing on the Carneddau outlier of Foel-fras. Total distance is over 40km, while the total ascent tips 3000m. A fine boast if you can complete it, to be sure.

  • See the UKH Route Card here

Welsh 3000's sunrise  © sorry what
Welsh 3000's sunrise
© sorry what, Jun 2008


OS Landranger (1:50,000) 115

OS Explorer (1:25,000) OL17

Harvey British Mountain Maps (1:40,000) Snowdonia North


Snowdonia National Park Authority is a good resource for the more commonly trodden routes on the mountain, but for more unusual and hands-on options see:

North Wales Scrambles by Garry Smith (Northern Edge Books)

The Ridges of England, Wales and Ireland by Dan Bailey (Cicerone)

Hillwalking in Snowdonia by Steve Ashton (Cicerone)

Scrambles in Snowdonia by Steve Ashton (Cicerone)

Weather forecasts

Snowdonia forecast from MWIS

Mountain Weather forecast Snowdonia from the Met Office


Snowdon by the National Park Authority

Weather crapped out?

Here's What to do When it Rains in Llanberis

Snowdon inversion  © john1963
Snowdon inversion
© john1963, Sep 2013

Best bases

There are a wide range of choices in this busy portion of northern Snowdonia, and which one you pick will largely depend upon which route you intend to take on the mountain. For the horseshoe, Crib Goch, Pyg Track and Miners' Track it makes impeccable sense to stay at YHA Pen-y-Pass, from which you can simply trip onto the mountain. A similarly sensible choice would be the Pen y Gwyrd Hotel just a short hike down the Llanberis pass. For the Rhyd Ddu and Ranger paths the village of Rhyd Ddu has camping and B&B options, while the Watkin path is best served by Bethania and Nant Gwynant. However, if it's good facilities, gear shops and places to eat that you're looking for it's difficult to avoid Llanberis itself. Similarly, Betws-y-Coed is further flung but overflows with an almost indecent density of outdoor stores. Those in search of a quieter setups would do well to consider the villages of Nant Peris and Capel Curig.

Moonlight wild camp on Garnedd Ugain, Snowdonia, Wales  © Francesco Politi
Moonlight wild camp on Garnedd Ugain, Snowdonia, Wales
© Francesco Politi, Apr 2015


Plas Curig the only hostel in Snowdonia to receive Visit Wales five-star rating and the level of luxury and attention to detail is hard to fault. You will pay for it though.

YHA Pen-y-Pass doesn't deliver quite the same experience, but is still an excellent and handily-located place to stay with good facilities.

Pen-y-Gwyrd is rich in heritage and character, and offers a rather more vintage experience within striking distance of Snowdon.

Cwellyn Arms in Rhyd Ddu is a comprehensive choice with rooms, farmhouses, a bunkhouse and camping on offer.

Nant Peris has a pair of very basic campsites and other accommodation options, details of which can be found here


Trains to Betws-y-Coed or Bangor then bus to Llanberis:

Once in Snowdonia the Sherpa Bus operates an excellent service around Snowdon:

Note that parking at Pen-y-Pass is charged at £10/day. It is considerably cheaper to park at Nant Peris and use the park and ride, which operates every Saturday and Sunday during the summer.

Pubs and food

Tyn y Coed, Capel Curig

Bryn Tyrch, Capel Curig

Pete's Eats, Llanberis

Vaynol Arms, Nant Peris

Cwellyn Arms, Rhydd Ddu

  • For more mini guides check out the rest of our series:

The Scafells

Skiddaw, Blencathra and the Northern Fells

Dan Aspel head shot  © Dan Aspel

About Dan Aspel

Dan Aspel is a freelance journalist who specialises in mountaineering, motorcycling and the outdoors. He spends most of his hill time in Snowdonia, where he regularly works as a Mountain Leader.

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