Mini Guide: The Yorkshire Three Peaks

© milus

The Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge takes in a trio of much-loved mountains, covering nearly a marathon's worth of ground and around 1600m ascent. It's demanding, it's fun and it's rightly popular. Here's everything you need to know to take it on yourself.

On a busy summer's day, between two and three thousand walkers can be found in the boggy, broad and beautiful landscapes between Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. Many of them will be marauding across the route in vast charity groups and between them will raise £6-15m for good causes every year. Depending upon your point of view that either sounds worthy and enjoyable, or like a vision of hell that you'd do anything to avoid. But if you're of the latter group, then don't stop reading - because the Y3P is a tremendous walk, worthy of anyone that enjoys fresh air and the brutal vistas unique to northern English moorland and mountainscape.

Ingleborough from near the summit of Whernside - New Years Eve 2008  © milus
Ingleborough from near the summit of Whernside - New Years Eve 2008
© milus, Dec 2008

In my most recent May-time experience of the challenge the single 24mile (39km) walk brought with it drizzle, snow, 40mph winds, burning sunshine and drilling waves of hail… all of which painted "God's Own Country" of North Yorkshire in the vivid and exciting colours it was made for. And completing the full circuit in under the commonly-agreed time limit of 12hrs made for a memorably brisk physical experience too. There's joy and achievement to be found on and between these dramatically-sculpted hills, whoever you may be.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks in a nutshell

- Summit the shapely trio of Pen-y-ghent (694m), Whernside (736m) and Ingleborough (723m)

- Optional diversion to see Hull Pot, a huge hole formed by a collapsed cavern

- Pass by Ribblehead Viaduct: a 32m high, 400m long engineering icon made of 1.5 million bricks

… and enjoy 24miles (39km) of moorland striding in between

Ribblehead Viaduct and Whernside  © Simon Ash
Ribblehead Viaduct and Whernside
© Simon Ash, Apr 2012

"An objective is an ambition, and life without ambition is... well, aimless wandering" Alfred Wainwright

The hills


The only summit of the three also visited by the Pennine Way, Pen-y-ghent may be the smallest but it is no less mountainous in appearance, with a line of steep crags on its western flank. Thought to be Cumbric in origin (a relative of Welsh) there are various interpretations of the name: we like Head of the Winds.

Pen-Y-Ghent from the top of the Horton path  © painterman61
Pen-Y-Ghent from the top of the Horton path
© painterman61, Nov 2011


The highest point in Yorkshire - though the summit ridge is shared with Cumbria - Whernside rises in a great green wave above Ribblehead. It is the gentlest and most grassy of the three, but a grand viewpoint.

Whernside   © john1963
© john1963, Dec 2013


With its steep flanks and striking sawn-off top, Ingleborough is generally regarded as Yorkshire's greatest summit. Site of an ancient hill fort, it has a long history. The geology is fascinating too, the whole thing being composed of a series of distinct layers, from a summit cap of millstone grit, down through bands of shale and sandstone to the limestone of the lower slopes. This latter is riddled with caves like a swiss cheese, and forms spectacular and extensive pavements.

Ingleborough  © Haighy
© Haighy, Jul 2010

The route

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority does a superb job of managing the Y3P as a challenge, as well as disseminating information on how best to approach it (more of which below). It's therefore the best source for information on the traditional route. You can find a PDF containing a map and route description here

Members of the Hull Universty Mountaineering Club admiring the view on the last summit of the Yorkshire Three Peaks  © Miles Walmsley
Members of the Hull Universty Mountaineering Club admiring the view on the last summit of the Yorkshire Three Peaks
© Miles Walmsley, Nov 2011

Local views

Steve Hastie headshot  © Steve Hastie

Steve Hastie, Area Ranger and Project Manager for 3 Peaks in the Yorkshire Dales

"I've lived in the area for 30-odd years, and I've been with the National Park Authority for 20 of them - so it's an area I know well. It's great walking country and there's lots of variety. You notice it most when you come back from holidays, and realise what you're returning to. Two of the three hills, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent, have absolutely iconic profiles. That's part of what makes it such a fantastic challenge, but there are other great walks in the area too. Coming for a three day stay, and taking in a little each day is the best way to appreciate it. For example, there's a route around Ingleborough, up at the northern end from Ribblehead, where you gain a lot of height quickly and make a traverse around towards the peak. When Ingleborough suddenly comes into view it's stunning, with the great natural bowl of Humphrey Bottom beside it. You can still have quiet walks up there - and on other walks like it - even on the busy days. All you have to do is avoid the main path and the obvious times of day."

Ange Harker, Yorkshire based walking guide, route writer and (many time) Y3P veteran

Ange Harker headshot  © Ange Harker

"It's definitely more than a 'challenge' for me - within those 24 miles are so many layers to this glacial landscape and its stunning views. I find Ingleborough the most fascinating: its 'hill fort' is now thought to be something much older, one of the 'cairns' was a refuge which lasted just a day before drunken Victorians destroyed it! And underneath the spectacular limestone pavement is an incredible subterranean world of its own. The landscapes have been shaped by thousands of years of human intervention - to this day hill farming is the main industry and it's important to consider how our feet impact on local families. Why not give something back by making a weekend of it: stay in the area, explore more, and get to know the locals."

Points to remember

If you've never taken on the challenge (and even if you have) then local expert, and long-time Yorkshire Dales National Park employee, Steve Hastie urges you to bear the following in mind...

  • Avoid walking on a Saturday in May, June or July!
  • Consider downloading the official Three Peaks app - it can really add to the value of your visit.
  • "When you come off Pen-y-Ghent, we really need people to stay on the Pennine Way and walk down to the end of Horton Scar Lane before crossing to the north-west over Whitber Hill and Jackdaw hill" says Steve. "It's signposted as part of the Yorkshire Three Peaks and avoids going over Black Dub Bog. Before 2012 around 85% of people went the boggy way, which is the most direct, to get towards Ribblehead. The old path is still open access, so you can still go that way, but the modern one is much more sustainable and though longer it's just as quick. We'd urge you to use it instead. Thankfully around 94 per cent of walkers do."
  • Remember that the only signage you'll see is to reassure you that you're going in the right direction. There are aluminium waymarks scattered around the place with the three hill icon on them. They're very recognisable.
  • Please don't drop any litter. Plastic bottles are a nightmare for Steve and crew, but even organic matter, particularly banana skins, takes far longer than you might think to degrade. "In reality it's best not to drop or leave anything" advises Steve.

Pen Y Ghent  © Chris Clayton
Pen Y Ghent
© Chris Clayton, Jun 2009


OS Explorer (1:25,000) OL2; OS Landranger (1:50,000) 98; Harvey British Mountain Map (1:40,000) Yorkshire Dales


- The Yorkshire Dales: South and West by Dennis Kelsall and Jan Kelsall (Cicerone)

- Walks in Limestone Country: The Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent Areas of Yorkshire, by Alfred Wainwright

- Three Peaks, Ten Tors and other challenging walks in the UK by Ronald Turnbull (Cicerone)

Weather forecasts

Mountain Weather Information Service: Peak District and Yorkshire Dales

Met Office Mountain Weather Forecast: Yorkshire Dales

Met Office Mountain Weather: peak specific forecasts: Whernside; Ingleborough; Pen-y-Ghent

Best Base

You can start the walk from any point on the circuit (Chapel-le-Dale and Ribblehead are possible options), but by far the most common place to base yourself is the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale. The plus side is that it has a good range of accommodation and food options (see below) and puts you in a great position to both start your walk straight up the rocky flanks of Pen-y-Ghent and get you back down for a nice rest and recuperation shortly after you've come off Ingleborough. It's also the home of the Pen-y-Ghent cafe, which runs its own (rather charming) clock card machine and "Three Peaks of Yorkshire" club for those who successfully finish the round in under 12hrs. These are reasons enough to base yourself here above any other option. The downside is that it's by far the most popular place to start and finish the walk and can host hordes of individuals, teams and charity mobs during peak times. So, if you plan your attempt on a Bank Holiday weekend during the summer holidays, you will be be far from alone. In fact you may be assimilated.


There are a selection of B&Bs, Inns and bunkhouses around Horton-in-Ribblesdale as well as a decently sized and very central campsite with basic facilities. You can find full details of them here.

Glacial boulder above Chapel-le-Dale  © Lankyman
Glacial boulder above Chapel-le-Dale
© Lankyman, Mar 2013


Horton-in-Ribblesdale train station lies on the Settle-Carlisle line ( The number 11 bus runs between the village and the Lancashire border settlement of Tosside, stopping at Settle for most connections - see here. By road, it's easily accessible from the A65 via the B6479.

Pubs and Food

The Pen-y-Ghent cafe serves good walkers' refreshments, as well as offering the delightful chance to "clock in and out" before taking on your sub-12hr odyssey. As you're likely to begin before the cafe is open they advise that: "those wishing to use the clocking service can get a card from the café. More likely you will be setting off before opening time and you can post the following details through the door: name, address, address of your accommodation tonight, phone numbers, car registration, where your car is parked, starting time. The staff in the café will create a card for your return, and will wait after closing time until everyone has returned. Should you not complete the walk or not return to the Café for any reason it is very important that you ring (01729 860333) to prevent a search party!". Beyond this central cafe there is another tea room (the Blind Beck) and two hotels (Golden Lion, Crown) with public bars - for details of them all see here. You can also pick up basic supplies from the village shop (The Trading Post).

Pen y Ghent from Whernside  © Catherine Speakman
Pen y Ghent from Whernside
© Catherine Speakman, Nov 2008

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