Wild moorlands, rambling hikes, and storybook villages await in the UK’s first national park.
Few places epitomise camping better than the Peak District, home to the Dark Peak and White Peak. (Though they sound like opposing forces in the battle between good and evil, we can assure you both are equally worth exploring!) Smack-bang in the middle of England and within day-trip distance of Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds, the Peak District National Park is Central England’s go-to spot for hikers, cyclists, and campers. Explore more than 1,600 miles of rights of way, tackle Olympian-approved mountain biking trails, or challenge yourself with some of the country’s best rock-climbing. Adventures come with sweeping views—craggy peaks, emerald hills, and country lanes—and there are endless options for campers, glampers, and caravanners. Back-to-basics campsites offer a place to pitch your tent in secluded surroundings, while others offer relaxing glamping retreats. May through October provides the most favourable weather for hikers and tent campers, but there’s always a chance of showers (this is England, after all).
The northern Dark Peak area is characterised by soaring gritstone ridges and windswept moors, which make for impressive hiking, rock climbing, and a wilder feel. The whole region is atmospheric even on a grey day and especially beautiful in summer when flowering heather forms a carpet of purple. Set out from Edale along part of the legendary Pennine Way footpath, scale the park’s highest point at Kinder Scout, or explore the lakes of the Upper Derwent Valley.
The spa town of Buxton leads the way to the central highlands of the Peak District, where the heather-blanketed moorlands and cottongrass meadows are crisscrossed with hiking, cycling, and horseback riding trails. Villages like Hathersage, Hope Valley, Castleton, and Eyam provide a variety of camping options, from simple tent campsites and farm campgrounds to caravan parks with fully serviced and electric pitches.
The riverside village of Bakewell, best known for its iconic Bakewell tarts (plan a pitstop here for afternoon tea), is the gateway to the Derbyshire Dales, the sheep-dotted southeastern section of the park. Hit the High Peaks Trail for spectacular views or hike the 46-mile-long Limestone Way, which winds its way through White Peak’s caves and gorges. Camp out at rural Hipcamps or bunkhouses along the way.
The southwestern limits of the Peak District National Park tumble over into the counties of Staffordshire and Cheshire. The Staffordshire villages of Leek, Wetton, and Ilam make ideal basecamps for hiking The Roaches or family day trips to the Alton Towers theme park, while country walks and National Trust properties await in Cheshire to the north.
You could spend weeks wandering the heather moorland of the Dark Peak and yet more days rambling beside streams in the White Peak—and you still might risk missing out on some of its most spectacular spots. That’s why we’ve put together a list of some of the best things to do in the region.
1. Walk on Kinder Scout
A great place to start your camping holiday in the Peak District is at Kinder Scout, where it’s said that the park began. Follow in the footsteps of the ramblers who paved the way for the “right to roam” back in the 1930s.
2. Climb on gritstone
Whether you’re a hiker, a climber, or a lover of good views, you won’t want to miss out on a visit to Stanage Edge, a four-mile gritstone edge offering stellar views across the Dark Peak. Elsewhere in the park, experienced climbers can find dozens of routes to try, while beginners can join an outdoor adventure outfitters offering guidance and equipment hire.
3. Discover Bronte country
The Peak District provided ample inspiration to Charlotte Bronte as she penned her famous novels. Walk the Bronte Way or visit Haddon Hall, said to be the best example of a medieval manor house in existence, and the set of no fewer than three film versions of Bronte’s tales.
4. Walk up Mam Tor
A walk or run up the National Trust-protected Mam Tor at the western end of the Hope Valley will take you to an elevation of more than 500 metres, from where you can see panoramic views.
5. Cycle the High Peak Trail
A perfect route for families, the 17-mile, traffic-free High Peak Trail is made for cycling, walking, and horse-riding along the route of a former railway.
6. Visit Chatsworth House
One of England’s most magnificent stately homes, Chatsworth is home to the Duke of Devonshire. A visit may provide a bit of a contrast to your tent or glamping accommodation, but with the house, gardens, playground, and farmyard, you’ll be entertained for the whole day.
7. Cross the River Dove
The River Dove runs through the Dovedale National Trust Nature Reserve, a picturesque place to walk, picnic, and look out for wildlife. While in the area, it’s almost obligatory to cross the river on the Dovedale stepping stones.
8. Try a Bakewell tart
The Peak District’s largest town, Bakewell is a pretty place on the banks of the River Wye. It’s a convenient place to stock up on provisions and most importantly, try the local produce—including Bakewell pudding, which was invented here.
9. Head underground
Explore the intriguing underworld of Castleton’s caves: The Derbyshire caves are the only place in the world where you can find the semi-precious Blue John stone. Take an underground boat trip to the Bottomless Pit in Speedwell Cavern to spot stunning stalagmites and stalactites.
10. Enjoy a spot of stargazing
Sitting round a campfire in the middle of the Peak District is the perfect time to brush up on your astronomy skills or simply gaze in wonder at the stars. There are also three designated Dark Sky Discovery Sites at National Trust car parks where conditions are perfect for stargazing.