National Parks Without the Crowds: Snowdonia

© jethro kiernan

Ruggedly beautiful, and only a couple of hours from several major cities, it's no wonder that Snowdonia draws the crowds. In this year's visitor boom it's likely to be busier than ever, says Dan Aspel. From traffic to litter, issues arise if we all head in similar directions at once, and the usual hotspots are bound to bear the brunt. But beyond the main tourist centres and a handful of popular peaks squeezed into the north of the area, there's plenty of Snowdonia National Park to go around. Head to quieter corners and you'll help spread the load - and probably have a more relaxed time too.

In this series of articles we aim to suggest crowd-avoiding alternatives to the standard visitor fare in some of Britain's busiest and best-loved National Parks.  

An astounding 595,000 people are thought to target Snowdon / Yr Wyddfa every year. But there's hope. Aim your eyes away from the tallest peaks at the top of the map, and let them drift across the land that lies below...

View from Arenig Fawr  © AllanMac
View from Arenig Fawr
© AllanMac, Jan 2009

At 2,142 sq km Snowdonia is similar in size to the Lakes and the Dales*, so there is a good amount of space here to work with even on busy days. However, for a little perspective, it's less than half the size of the Cairngorms, and within a two-hour drive of the millions-strong conurbations of Birmingham and Manchester. That goes some way to explaining why estimated numbers of visitors to the park lie at around four million per year, and - including the 140,000 carried to the top each year by the Snowdon Mountain Railway - a genuinely astounding 595,000 people are thought to target Snowdon / Yr Wyddfa on those trips.

*(if you're really into your trivia, it's also around the same size as the Great Smokey Mountains, the 19th largest National Park in the USA, and Daisetsuzan on the island of Hokkaido, the largest National Park across all of the Japanese isles)

Evening light on Rhinog Fach.  © Myfyr Tomos
Evening light on Rhinog Fach.
© Myfyr Tomos, Oct 2018

Put another way, if we were to divide that latter figure evenly between all 365 days of the year (a questionable exercise as the totals will vary greatly due to holidays, weekends, conditions and seasons, but bear with me) then the mean figure is 1,630 people per day. On one mountain alone. And anyone who's been up Yr Wyddfa in winter can attest that it's often deserted, so on a busy summer's day you can feel free to multiply that 1,630 by any factor you think sensible.

A pandemic is not the best time to add to the crowding problem on Snowdon's summit  © Mark Reeves
A pandemic is not the best time to add to the crowding problem on Snowdon's summit
© Mark Reeves

So. Yeah. It can get busy in Eryri. But there's hope. Because as the Snowdon figure implies, people tend to cluster around certain points. And if you were to get access to some sort of Nick Fury-level live, interactive heat map of the area you'd notice that these focal points are incredibly specific and entirely predictable. 

Seeking solitude in the Moelwynion  © Dan Aspel
Seeking solitude in the Moelwynion
© Dan Aspel

In terms of walking centres, the hotspots are the three groups of 3000-foot peaks - Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa, the Glyderau and the Carneddau - and this spring and summer more than ever, these will be the places to think twice about if you want to give the hordes a miss:

In short: avoid the Ogwen valley. Don't climb up Snowdon. Pick certain bits of the Carneddau. Think twice about Cadair Idris. Go elsewhere. Have fun. I'm being flippant, of course. There's more nuance to it than that. So let's dig in.

General advice

Tourist traps, parking congestion and public transport

Generally speaking, the north of Snowdonia is busier than the south. This is because the Ogwen valley (home to Tryfan, and jumping off point for Glyder Fawr, Glyder Fach, Carnedd Dafydd, Carnedd Llewelyn) and the Snowdon area, as well as the tourist hubs of Betws-y-Coed (replete with gear shops, cafes, nearby woodlands and accessible waterfalls) and Llanberis provide a major draw to a broad range of visitors.

If you're set on making these areas your destination, then definitely check out the National Park's excellent map of all available parking spaces and prepare to arrive early (pre-8am is the bare minimum for the free roadside spots). Also bear in mind that the car park at Pen-y-Pass is now pre-booked only and prices start at £18 for an 8hr session. Visit Snowdonia has some very good general advice about travel here, as does the National Park Authority. You'll definitely want to check out the Sherpa Bus if you can't guarantee your arrival time and would like to avoid the melee - it's a tremendously helpful service which connects with all six of Snowdon's major footpaths and links the major towns of the north as well as more far-flung locations from Porthmadog to Llanwrst.

Evening traffic through the Ogwen Valley   © CrushUnit
Evening traffic through the Ogwen Valley
© CrushUnit, Jan 1970

All of this, of course, adds balm to the issue of overcrowding. So consider aiming your eyes away from the tallest peaks at the top of the map, and let them drift across the land that lies below them. There are relatively seldom visited wonders even in this north part of the park, and the further south you make it (Cadair Idris excepted) the more room you'll find to breathe during the busiest times. Almost every town and village in the park (Llanwrst, Capel Curig, Beddgelert, Rhydd Ddu, etc…) have capacity for visitors and it's easy to broaden your horizons beyond the busy centres of Betwys and Llanberis. Particularly as the Sherpa Bus can help facilitate your wanderings from most places.

But hey, enough of my yakkin'. Want some on-the-ground thoughts from a clued-up, long-term local resident and outdoor business owner? I did too. So I spoke to Kate Worthington of local firm RAW Adventures:

Kate head shot  © Kate Worthington

"Pen-y-Pass was notoriously bonkers in the summer of last year," says Kate "and even here in Nant Peris it was occasionally difficult to negotiate between the terraced houses because of all the parked cars."

"The National Park addressed that quite quickly and they put in place a pilot scheme where you had to pre-book for the limited space at the top of the pass, as well as increasing the prices. It was quite rudimentary, but it seemed to work and it dispelled the queues of people constantly waiting to get in (even though it had been busy since 6am that morning!)."

This footage from last summer illustrates how bad the traffic and parking situation can get under Snowdon:

"Generally I'd say don't even try to drive up Pen-y-Pass" says Kate.

"And the times for the free parking spaces, such as the layby by Tryfan, are getting earlier and earlier as they come at more and more of a premium. The police have even had to "cone off" certain areas that were being used as a backup by later arrivals. So I'd say just treat these places as though you're going shopping in Oxford, and rely on the park and ride systems. The Sherpa buses have increased their number of services of the S1 and S2, and they've even brought in the S6 that links Pen-y-Pass to Llyn Ogwen (the first time it's been accessible via public transport in a long time) and Bangor, which means you could even treat Bangor as your "park and ride home" for the day. It's not as prolific as the S1 and S2 but it's a really good start."

"There have also been new arrangements with land-owners in Nant Peris who can now open up space for parking for up to 28 days year. So a few fields are being made available for visitors (most usually on busy Bank Holiday or particularly sunny weekends), from which you can then catch the nearby park and ride. Speaking of the park and ride, there are electric parking spaces there, refurbished public toilets which are clean and amenable, digital information boards... it's become a really desirable place to leave your car.

"You can find lots of information about the Park's plans to deal with overcrowding via the #PlanDiscoverProtect part of their site. I think the underlying message is that they're not purposely trying to siphon people off to far-flung corners, they're just trying to make the honeypots work better. And those that have a little more knowledge of the area will always be able to find quieter spots!"

Peace and quiet is easy to come by, even close to the busier hills  © Dan Aspel
Peace and quiet is easy to come by, even close to the busier hills
© Dan Aspel

Some thoughts from the Snowdonia Society

John Harold, President of the Snowdonia Society (a 54-year-old conservation charity founded "to ensure that Snowdonia is well-protected, well-managed and enjoyed by all") adds:

"Our staff and volunteers are out on Friday, Saturday and Sunday every week from April to September, providing information and advice to visitors, clearing litter, supporting the warden services and providing reassurance to local communities.  Their work will always be more pleasant if the visitors they are dealing with have arrived safely and sensibly and know what to expect from a day on one of the world's busiest mountains.  

"That's why we are putting our support behind the efforts, begun by the Snowdon Partnership and picked up by the NPA to develop more substantial solutions to the long-standing challenges of parking and sustainable transport around Snowdonia's honeypot areas. The most striking thing so far is that everyone agrees there is a problem, and few are claiming that more parking space is the solution. There is cause for hope here. While that work takes its course, we need to spread awareness of the options - alternative destinations, an improved Sherpa service, pre-booking of Pen y Pass car park and better real-time travel and visitor information".

Sunrise on Bristly Ridge  © jethro kiernan
Sunrise on Bristly Ridge
© jethro kiernan, Apr 2021


Generally speaking you can map the busiest times on the biggest hills and mountains to the same rhythms of the working day. Which is to say that, much like the result of the 1937 CECAFA Cup Final between Uganda and Kenya, it's a nine-to-five affair. Therefore the best way to avoid crowds on headliners such as Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa is to operate between 17:00 and 09:00. It's possible to have Crib Goch to yourself (bar the odd scrambling fell runner) in the hours around and just after dawn, whilst you'll find far fewer people beginning a major hillwalking route in the late afternoon than you will in the mid morning. Adapting to these timings requires sacrifice, as well as the competence, experience and equipment to safely navigate and negotiate terrain in potential low-light conditions, but it's proof that there is always a way to escape the throng.

However, bear in mind that smaller ("half-day") peaks - such as Moel Hebog - are often a preferred destination for those whose travel plans mean they will arrive in the middle of the day, and who consequently don't have time for one of the taller peaks, or who simply fancy a less strenuous day of walking. In cases such as these you may find them busiest from lunchtime onwards, whilst the early to mid-mornings are relatively approachable.

Sun peeping over the clouds on Crib Goch  © jethro kiernan
Sun peeping over the clouds on Crib Goch
© jethro kiernan, Apr 2019

Wild camping

There are a generally accepted set of informal rules to wild camping, which you can find illustrated succinctly here by the Snowdonia National Park team. Bring a respectful attitude, leave no trace of your presence and it's unlikely that you will encounter any difficulties - from the human landscape at least - in a lifetime of sleeping out in the hills. More than this, there's no experience that comes close to the meditative serenity of a well positioned wild camp in clement conditions (and with a dram of whisky, naturally). The inclement ones are fun too. But mostly in hindsight.

With a tent, some imagination, and a little leg work, it's easy to completely escape the crowds   © Dan Aspel
With a tent, some imagination, and a little leg work, it's easy to completely escape the crowds
© Dan Aspel

Non-wild camping

There are plenty of excellent campsites across Snowdonia (with Rynys Farm, Gwern Gof Isaf and Gwern Gof Uchaf being strong personal recommendations for the busy northern heartland), and they're a great way to support the local economy, even if you generally prefer to sleep wild in the hills. But it should go without saying that roadside rockups (the kind which, rather than "take only photos and leave only footprints", tend to "bring only beer cans and leave only burn marks") are a big no-no. I feel dirty for even having mentioned them. 


There are far fewer bothies in this part of the world than north of the Scottish border. And sadly the pandemic has made sharing an enclosed space with an unpredictable roster of strangers a foolhardy suggestion at best. As a consequence the popular Dulyn bothy is currently closed and you shouldn't attempt to use it.

Coed y Brenin mist.  © Myfyr Tomos
Coed y Brenin mist.
© Myfyr Tomos, Dec 2020

Forest walks

The Gwydir and Coed-y-Brenin Forest Parks are pleasantly spacious, and relatively difficult to overcrowd ("it's a really large area, so if you can follow your map and the forest tracks it's still very possible to get lost," says Kate Worthington of Gwydir "although it tends to be a lot of slate tracks through conifers"). So if you're looking for structured walking and biking trails check out for more information about both.

Busy places - think twice!


It's justifiably the most popular mountain in the park and a classic peak that deserves to be explored by walkers and scramblers of all abilities from many different angles on many different occasions.

A nice day on Crib Goch  © Paul Hy
A nice day on Crib Goch
© Paul Hy, Nov 2010

Unfortunately, as you'll already have grasped, its capacity for crowds and congestion is the stuff of mountain legend. If you must visit, then consider exploring the "off grid" sections such as the knotty terrain to the north of Crib Goch or the less popular routes of the Rhydd Ddu and Snowdon Ranger paths:


Ogwen Valley (Tryfan, Glyderau, southern Carneddau)

Tryfan is an absolutely magnificent peak that it's almost impossible to look at without wanting to climb on. That goes some way to explaining why it's typically swarmed with people doing exactly that. Whilst it's tough advice to swallow, if you're looking to avoid crowds you're either going to have to scramble up to the summit monoliths of "Adam" and "Eve" at an unsociable hour, or outside of busy holiday and weekend periods.

The same is sadly true of the truly spectacular Cwm Idwal and the Devil's Kitchen, though the higher you ascend the fewer people you'll meet on the uniquely shattered high ground of the Glyderau with its Cantilever Stone and the gothic magnificence of Castell-y-Gwynt. The northern arm of the Glyderau, which stretches up towards Mynydd Perfedd and Elidir Fawr is another way to escape the bulk of the crowds, though you'll still struggle with that bottleneck of entering via the Ogwen valley. Consider hitting these outlying peaks from a point outside the park boundary, as per this route:

On a side note, if you'd like to capture a photograph of as many cars as possible in a single unbroken line, then the side of the A5 in the Ogwen valley mid-morning on a Saturday would be a good place to start.

Cadair Idris and Dolgellau

Although nowhere near as heavily subscribed as the Snowdon area, the tallest peak in the south of the park is still a major attraction. This is helped not just by its own fearsome architecture, but by the fact that Dolgellau is a tourist centre at least as appealing as Betws-y-Coed. One to save for quieter days, or to approach at unsociable hours with a tent on your back, perhaps.

Quieter alternatives

Northern Carneddau

Long-term Llanwrst resident, care home manager and Snowdonia National Park Ambassador Maciej Raslawski (whose face decorates a few of the images accompanying this article) says:

"It's Snowdon and the Ogwen valley that I would always avoid when it's busy. They attract almost all of the main crowds. You'll also see a lot of people on Carnedd Llewelyn and Dafydd as they're approached from Ogwen and are the next highest peaks after Snowdon. But, the Carneddau east of Carnedd Llewelyn are generally not nearly as busy, even on weekends in the summer".

The high ground of the Carneddau, and its sprawling tendrils which reach north towards the sea, really is a very special place to be. And it's spacious and far reaching enough to swallow up even the largest of crowds… which don't tend to cluster here anyway. Highly recommended (see also Llech Ddu Spur below). 

Wide open spaces, and not a queue in sight  © Dan Aspel
Wide open spaces, and not a queue in sight
© Dan Aspel

Crimpiau and Creigiau Gleision

Maciej again: "Llyn Crafnant and Llyn Geirionydd are often very busy with people just going for BBQs and to have a swim, but even then the Crimpiau, which you can easily access from them is a place I'd happily head to on a sunny bank holiday weekend". Tucked above Capel Curig, the Crimpiau manage to pull off the trick of looking mostly unremarkable on the map, but utterly magnificent from on the ground. Between Llyn Geirionydd and the Cowlyd Reservoir you have rich forestry, the knottiest of tussocks to negotiate, the odd rocky crag and summit, and a sense of isolation and charm matched only by the views. Wild camping is possible, but flat, even, dry ground is hard to come by.

Moelwynion (incl Moel Siabod and Cnicht)

Much like the Crimpiau, this long stretch of high ground is very rough underfoot, but comes dotted with tranquil llyns and enticing summits from mighty Siabod to the esoteric Cnicht. Great for day walks and recommended for overnighters too (see below).

Cnicht.  © Myfyr Tomos
© Myfyr Tomos, Oct 2017

The hills around Dolwyddelan and Blaenau Ffestiniog are similarly quiet.


There's a recurring theme here, as the Rhinogydd (often anglicised to "Rhinogs") follow the trend of the Crimpiau and Moelwynion of being beauteous to behold but rough underfoot.

Rhinog Fawr from Cwm Bychan  © AllanMac
Rhinog Fawr from Cwm Bychan
© AllanMac, Sep 2016

The Rhinogydd, however, do this to the power of 10. Most of the crowds will not want to spend their time thrashing and wrestling their way through this strange, off-kilter place. But those that do will fall deeply in love. Best approached as a multiday affair with a wild camp (see below).

Moel Hebog

Rising above Beddgelert to the south-west of Snowdon, Hebog joins the nearby Nantlle Ridge in being an excellent alternative destination on busy days. You will still meet plenty of walkers here, but the numbers will be far lower than in the Ogwen / Yr Wyddfa sphere. Hebog itself "the bare hill of the hawk" is utterly fascinating, being composed mainly of silica-rich volcanic ash. The views from the summit stretch from the sea to the park's tallest peaks.

The Arans

Aran Benllyn and Aran Fawddwy are truly wonderful places to escape to. Peaks that stretch above the 800m range, sharp cliff drops to wander along, a pair of reasonably sized llyns to potentially camp by, and long enough walk-ins to deter most from approaching them go some way to explaining this. Possible to combine with Glasgwm and Maesglase for a connoisseur's mountain weekend in this overlooked south-eastern corner of Snowdonia.

Ralph Goddard on Dduallt with Moel Llyfnant and Arenig Fawr behind  © AllanMac
Ralph Goddard on Dduallt with Moel Llyfnant and Arenig Fawr behind
© AllanMac, Sep 2009

Arenigs and the Migneint

Tucked away in the east of the National Park, this empty corner is among the quietest in Snowdonia. From the bogs of the Migneint to the high peaks of Arenig Fawr and Moel Lyfnant, it's a place of wide horizons and expansive skies, with a rolling character all its own.

Less-trodden scrambles

Llech Ddu Spur

The Llech Ddu (aka Crib Lem) is mentioned so many times as a "hidden gem" scramble in the heart of northern Snowdonia it seems impossible still be so.

Llech Ddu Spur - getting hands-on without the hordes  © Dan Bailey
Llech Ddu Spur - getting hands-on without the hordes
© Dan Bailey

Yet it never feels anywhere near as busy as Tryfan's North Ridge or Snowdon's Crib Goch, despite having a setting to equal both of them. Possibly it's the walk in from Bethesda, or the darkness of Cwm Pen-llafar that keeps the crowds away. But whatever the reason, this rather wild feeling grade one scramble in the enormous airiness of the Carneddau is highly recommended. 

Daear Ddu (Siabod)

Perhaps not quite a grade one scramble, this enticing ridge on the eastern side of Moel Siabod provides plenty of opportunity to use your hands as well as your soles. And although Siabod - which rises above the delightful village of Capel Curig - is not an untouched peak, you'll see far fewer people here than you will on the higher mountains just to the west, whilst also enjoying a magnificent view of all of them.

East face of Tryfan (for experienced teams)

Tryfan's eastern face is riddled with gullies and ridges ranging from grades one to three. They're justifiably popular, but the entry barrier of a serious and confusing mountain face means they can only attract so many parties in a single day. If your abilities and experience stretch to this level, do a little research in advance and escape the crowds with something a little technical.

Senior's Ridge (Cwm Idwal)

A nice sheltered grade one route that ascends between Cwm Idwal and Cwm Cneifion. What it lacks in exposure or airiness it makes up for in atmosphere and approachability. It's likely to be much less busy than Y Gribin and Tryfan to the east as well as the Devil's Kitchen to the west.

Excellent scrambling at the start of Seniors' ridge.
© dmorgan27, Feb 2019

Foel-goch south arete (Nant Ffrancon)

Again, this sits within only a short distance of and Cwm Idwal, but is much less busy than the "main events" to the south-east. It's a rough and mazey place that you can feel free to improvise your way around. Much like Seniors Gully it's an exercise in atmosphere.

If you'd like to do some further research on the best scrambles the length and breadth of Snowdonia - both classic and more esoteric - check out the new Rockfax guide Snowdonia - Mountain Walks and Scrambles by Mark Reeves.

Long distance routes

Crossing the Rhinogydd

There are few more memorable multi-day walks that you can do in Snowdonia. The Rhinogs - rough, knotty, boggy, overgrown, modestly sized and relatively remote as they are - have many natural barriers to crowds. But what they do have is an experiential quality which it feels almost futile to try and express in words.

Perhaps it's the notoriously challenging terrain that helps keep the Rhinogydd so quiet?  © Dan Aspel
Perhaps it's the notoriously challenging terrain that helps keep the Rhinogydd so quiet?
© Dan Aspel

Visit for yourself, witness the stillness, the indifference of the peaks to your presence, the sea-tinged breezes and the navigational conundrums. If you like to experience life off the main track then you'll feel quite at home.

The Moelwynion

Although you risk catching harrowing glances of Blaenau Ffestiniog from some of the tops, the long stretch of the Moelwynion from Moel Siabod to Cnicht and Moelwyn Mawr and Moelwyn Bach is made up of surprisingly rough and challenging ground. Look the right way and you'll be treated to grandstand views of Snowdon and the rest of the park's mightiest peaks, but without having to shoulder your way past too many other walkers. The presence of plenty of bodies of water along this lesser trod terrain makes wild camping a real possibility if you can find flat patches of ground not beset by tussocks.  

Have tent, will travel...  © Dan Aspel
Have tent, will travel...
© Dan Aspel

The Snowdonia Way

If a truly long walk is what you seek then this 156km (lowland) or 196km (via mountain tops) route recently devised by outdoor writer Alex Kendall encompasses a tremendous selection of terrain between Conwy and Machynlleth. There are few better ways to escape the crowds than taking on a challenge like this.

The Corris Round

If you really want to get away from the crowds then heading south of Cadair Idris can lead you to the rolling, wooded hills around Corris. For inspiration check out this delightful 20-minute film by Filmuphigh, which follows fellow instructor Huw Gilbert and his son Tom as they invent their very own Ultra Run straight from their front door.

Dan head shot  © Dan Aspel

Dan Aspel is a journalist and Mountain Leader.

You can find him every month interviewing brilliant people here:

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