Ten Fab Family Hills

© Dan Bailey

It's school holiday time, so to help you get the kids off the couch and active in the great outdoors Dan Bailey suggests some of Britain's best child-sized, user-friendly and easily accessible summits. These ten mini mountains may lack a bit of altitude, but they're not remotely short on quality.

Dawn on Catbells and Skiddaw  © Tom McNally
Dawn on Catbells and Skiddaw
© Tom McNally

The Lake District

Everyone's favourite, surely, and the obvious place to head with kids in tow, the Lake District offers families a perfect package of manageable mountain adventure. There is an embarassing wealth of walking here with options to suit all ages, from toddler and grandparent-friendly ambles in the Beatrix Potter idyll of the dales and along pretty lake shores, to full blown fell days and scrambles on the rugged high peaks above that are better suited to older kids. It's a compact area that's easy to get about by car, bike or bus; the landscape is thoroughly spider-webbed with trails; and around every other corner therer's a pub, cafe or gear shop. As you'd expect from a world-renowned tourist hot spot, accommodation options span the full range too. The only catch, really, is that come holiday time you'll be sharing the car parks and camp sites with practically every other family in Britain. But with scores of summits close to hand there is still plenty of Cumbria to go around, and it's always possible to escape the crowds. The higher peaks might hold their own with any in Britain, but for younger families in particular Lakeland's real charm is arguably to be found on its many mini fells. Try these for starters:

1. Helm Crag

From the picture-perfect tourist trap of Grasmere it's a steep zigzagging ascent onto this prominent little summit, where the nippers (alright, the adults too) can have a great time scrambling about on various craggy tors. The true summit is the tilted rock of The Howitzer, an obligatory photo op. From here older children with energy might be coaxed into making a full day of it with a classic little circuit of the other knobbly fells surrounding Far Easedale and Easedale Tarn. Check out this Route Card

Budding Wainwright bagger on Helm Crag, Photo: Drew Whitworth  © Drew Whitworth
Budding Wainwright bagger on Helm Crag, Photo: Drew Whitworth

2. Hallin Fell

With a high start and a low summit this likeable mini fell must be one of the easiest ascents in the Lakes. Despite the minimal effort needed to climb it you still get a big view out over Ullswater, with the High Street and Helvellyn hills ranged across the skyline. Even real littluns should be able to do it under their own steam, but if the meandering pace gets too much for you then it's not too far for a carry. See this Route Card

Hallin Fell, a perfect child sized day out  © Dan Bailey -
Hallin Fell, a perfect child sized day out
© Dan Bailey -, May 2014

3. Cat Bells

OK you're unlikely ever to have this Cumbrian crowd pleaser to yourself, but then the lovely Cat Bells really deserves its popularity. A distinctive sharp summit overlooking idyllic Derwentwater; a satisfyingly steep ascent with a hint of scrambling to keep the kiddies entertained; a leg through beautiful lake-side woods by way of contrast; and even an (optional) amphibious approach by tourist launch - the sheer variety of this half-day trip makes it an ideal family adventure. The name Cat Bells seems to really appeal to small children too. See the Route Card

Optional waterborne approach across Derwentwater  © Dan Bailey
Optional waterborne approach across Derwentwater
© Dan Bailey
Borrowdale from Cat Bells  © Dan Bailey
Borrowdale from Cat Bells
© Dan Bailey

The Trossachs

One wee corner of the National Park to which they lend a name, the Trossachs mark the transition from lowlands to highlands. It's a convenient corner that's easily reached from Scotland's Central Belt, yet a place that still feels unspoilt and utterly removed from urban sprawl. With its dense woods, pretty lochs and characterful, craggy little peaks, this is very much Scotland's answer to the Lake District, and offers a similar (if not so extensive) infrastructure of family-friendly facilities. With no Munros, and just a handful of Corbetts and other lesser knobbles, the hills of the Trossachs make do-able day trips with kids in tow, but each is rugged enough to feel like a proper mountain - especially for younger children taking their first steps into hillwalking. And at a lower level there's plenty to occupy the whole family too, from waymarked woodland trails and lake shores to muck about on, to small touristy towns like Callander and Aberfoyle.

4. Ben Venue

A good venue for family fun, this is a pint-sized hill but one of full-fat character, rising steep and rugged from dense woods to a gnarled summit with a wide panorama over Loch Katrine and the sawtoothed Southern Highlands skyline beyond - a view of dozens of peaks that should inspire any budding young hillwalker. The standard route up and back the same way is probably a big enough day for little people, but to add some extra challenge it's possible to make a slightly tougher circuit too. See this Route Card.

In the woods near Achray Water  © Dan Bailey
In the woods near Achray Water
© Dan Bailey
Slow progress up Gleann Riabhach  © Dan Bailey
Slow progress up Gleann Riabhach
© Dan Bailey
Loch Katrine from Ben Venue  © Dan Bailey
Loch Katrine from Ben Venue
© Dan Bailey

5. Ben Ledi

With its edge-of-the-Highlands position, Ben Ledi can be seen from far away in the Central Belt. An accessible base, a quick simple ascent and summit views spanning both Highlands and Lowlands combine to make this an understandably popular Corbett. Stick with the normal route and you can be up and down in a couple of hours. Longer rounds are of course an option too. Here's a Route Card.

Approaching the summit of Ben Ledi  © Dan Bailey -
Approaching the summit of Ben Ledi
© Dan Bailey -, Mar 2010

6. Ben A'an

Named by Sir Walter Scott, who more or less invented the Trossachs as a coach tour destination, Ben A'an is thought to be a mistranslation of Am Binnean, or Small Pointy Peak. It certainly does what it says on the tin, cramming a lot of rocky mountain into its miniature 460m stature. The short, steep, wooded ascent is a great favourite with families, topping out on a little lump of rock that looks exactly like the idealised sharp mountain summit that a child would draw. On Ben A'an you can play at being a mountaineer for a couple of hours in the morning and still be down in time for lunch.

The Peak District

The first of our National Parks to be established, and one of the most visited in the world, the Peak's location in the heart of England puts it in range of an easy day trip for millions. An island of protected upland lapped by major conurbations, cross the park boundary into the Peak and you instantly escape from town to deep country - a quick journey by car, train ride or even bike. It's a varied area too, the stern heather moors and gristone edges of the Dark Peak nicely offset by the lush limestone dales of the White Peak. Both parts of the park offer superb family walks, the hills being just the right size for kids while still big enough to feel worthwhile to adults. Try these for starters:

7. Win Hill

A short steep climb, an attractive summit ridge, some of the most dramatic views in the area and one of the Peak District's few genuinely peaky summits - if you're hoping to get the children enthused by hillwalking then this mini mountain overlooking the Hope Valley would be a good place to start. For a logical loop see this Route Card

Win Hill loop - the summit of Win Hill  © Alan James
Win Hill loop - the summit of Win Hill
© Alan James

8. Alport Castles

Hidden away in the middle of the Dark Peak is this intriguing miniature mountain landscape, a castle-like collection of rocky towers and secluded hollows formed by a landslip. With a scenic little tarn, some (careful) scrambling opportunities and interesting corners to poke about in there's plenty to occupy the kids. The Castles are easily reached form the nearby A57 Snake Pass road, but longer circuits are also possible - this Route Card for instance.

Alport Castles  © red devil
Alport Castles
© red devil, Feb 2012

9. Mam Tor

A distinctive little top, a famous landslip, and close to interesting caves and the visitor friendly village of Castleton, Mam Tor has the ingredients of a great family outing. The summit is an ideal focus for a short round suited to smaller kids, while teenagers needing a greater challenge could instead do it as part of the classic ridge walk along the southern rim of Edale. Here's a Route Card on one of the quicker options.

On the ridge leading up to Mam Tor from Hollins Cross  © Alan James
On the ridge leading up to Mam Tor from Hollins Cross
© Alan James

10. Chrome Hill and Parkhouse Hill

The remains of a coral reef, these two adjacent limestone hills are among the most distinctive summits in the White Peak, archetypal steep-sided 'mountains' but on a child-sized scale. Done together they make a small but perfectly formed ridge walk. The ground is surprisingly airy, and famously there's even some scrambling on the crest of Parkhouse Hill, where the limestone outcrops provide some modest hands-on adventure (mostly avoidable).

Reef Atolls in The Peak?  Must be Global Warming.  Chrome Hill to ParkHouse Hill.  © ChrisJD
Reef Atolls in The Peak? Must be Global Warming. Chrome Hill to ParkHouse Hill.
© ChrisJD, Feb 2007

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