The best family bike rides in the Lake District, Cumbria
If you're searching for a scenic location to go cycling with your kids, Cumbria in northwest England is an excellent choice.
Whether you're visiting the Lake District on holiday or live locally there's plenty of options for family cycling - for all ages and abilities.
Cumbria and the Lake District provides an array of cycling paths, so it is easy to find child-friendly bike rides as well as more challenging trails for older children.
In this article, we'll show you some of the best cycle routes for families in the Lake District and the county of Cumbria, for different abilities and hopefully inspire you to try them out.
A word of warning about cycling with kids in the Lake District
Cycling with your children in the Lake District can be an exciting adventure, but it is important to be aware of the area's steep hills and potential challenges.
There are some really great flat cycling routes around lakes and along old railways, plus some brilliant pump tracks that are suitable for balance bikes and upwards. However, things can quickly get steep and remote when you head into the mountains.
Remember these are mountains, not hills and you can't rely on mobile reception - always take a map. The weather can change quickly and Cumbria is England's wettest county so be prepared for all eventualities.
Safety should always be your top priority, so take necessary precautions such as checking if the route is suitable for your child and their bike (and you!) before setting out.
Keswick to Threlkeld cycle route
- Suitable for: all ages and abilities. Fully accessible for trailers and tagalongs
- Length: 6.4 miles round trip
- Difficulty: easy
- Elevation: relatively flat
- Traffic: traffic free route
- Starting point: Keswick Leisure Pool
- Public transport: none that take bikes. There are regular buses to Keswick from Penrith train station if you're walking the route with a balance biker.
- Parking: Keswick Leisure Pool
This cycle route starts at Keswick and is a short, easy, and traffic free journey following the route of the old railway line to Threlkeld.
It's a great family friendly bike route suitable for all ages and abilities - if little legs don't want to do the entire length you can just turn around and head back.
The route is very scenic; it runs next to and crosses over the River Greta.
There are various spots you can stop and get down to the river for a paddle or bring a picnic filled with all your favourite snacks which is a great idea on a sunny day.
There's even a tunnel for some great photo opportunities and echo fun!
The cycle route itself has only recently been completed so it is like riding on a brand new road - great for smaller children who are looking to build their confidence riding their bike.
Langdale Valley Cycle Route
- Suitable for: Mountain or hybrid bikes to complete the full length. Elterwater stretch suitable for all including balance bikes
- Length: 11 miles full route - 3 miles short route
- Difficulty: easy to medium
- Elevation: Relatively flat route but there is a section involving some hills on the full route
- Traffic: Mainly traffic free with parts on quiet lanes on the full route
- Starting point: Stickle Ghyll (full route) or Elterwater Village (short route)
- Public transport: this route is difficult to access by public transport, unless you're taking a balance bike on the bus from Ambleside
- Parking: Stickle Ghyll Car Park (full route) or Elterwater Common (short route)
Langdale Valley Cycle route takes in some of the most iconic scenery in the Lake District. The entire there and back cycle route is more suited for older kids riding geared bikes as it has a couple of hills.
The real attraction on this route is the stop off at a wonderful vegetarian café called Chesters By the River - be aware of their early-ish closing times though to avoid disappointment. There are also places in Elterwater village if you can't make the entire distance or are a confirmed carnivore.
If you are taking younger children on smaller wheeled bikes or toddlers on balance bikes you can park at Elterwater and then cycle 1.6 miles on the flat multi-use path (pictured) which is also suited for buggies, wheelchairs and adapted cycles.
If you're taking this option you can continue on to the last little bit to the café, which also passes a waterfall viewing point (please note this last stretch is not fully accessible for wheelchairs).
It is the perfect pitstop to refuel, sit and take in the beautiful views, and watch the river go by before cycling or walking back.
Western Shore of Windermere
- Suitable for: for all ages. Trailers and tagalongs can be taken on car ferry
- Length: Up to 11 miles there and back trip depending on start point
- Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation: undulating
- Traffic: traffic free cycle path (with a very quiet road if you are coming via Windermere Car Ferry)
- Starting point: This route can be accessed from the east side of the lake via the Windermere ferry from Bowness, or bike boat from Brockhole. On western side start at Harrow Slack or Wray Castle
- Refreshments: Bowness Ferry and Wray Castle
- Public transport: train to Windermere then 2.5 miles on cycle path/pavement to the Bike Bus at Brockhole (summer only - check website for boat times)
- Parking: Bowness Ferry, Harrows Slack National Trust Car Park or Brockhole Visitor Centre (summer only)
This family friendly cycling and walking route runs for 5.5 traffic free miles along the western shore of Lake Windermere.
It's relatively flat and as there's no traffic to worry about this an enjoyable route for all the family.
You can make this into a really fun day out for the kids by including a boat ride from the eastern shore.
There are two options. First is to take your bikes, trailers and tagalongs on the ferry from Bowness which allows for a longer bike ride north along the shore.
Second option is to take a trip on the Windermere Bike Boat which runs from May half term to the end of the summer holidays (daily during the holidays and weekends in term time). This drops you off halfway along the shore route, making it more suited for families with smaller children who are pedalling or scooting themselves.
EDITOR'S NOTE: 21st July 2023 - due to staffing shortages the Bike Boat is currently suspended. Please contact Windermere Lake Cruises to see when it will be reinstated
As you set sail with your bikes across Lake Windermere you can take in the picturesque views and when you arrive you are instantly transported to a much more tranquil place as you leave the crowds of the east shore behind you.
Head north along the cycle path towards the National Trust owned Wray Castle which is a stunning Victorian Folly. If you make it that far there is plenty of space for a picnic or you can stop at the tearooms that are situated right next door to the castle.
If you are looking for more excitement there are lots of activities inside the castle but there are admission fees.
Pump tracks in the Lake District and Cumbria
- Locations: Keswick (Fitz Park), Windermere (Queens Park), Seascale, Bolton Village and Allithwaite
- Suitable for: for beginners (including little ones with supervision) and advanced cyclists
- Difficulty: Pump tracks can be used by everyone from beginners on balance bikes through to advanced riders on mountain bikes and BMXs
- Traffic: traffic free
- Public transport: Windermere train station
- Parking: Available close to all the pump tracks
If you want an exhilarating cycling experience for the kids without having to venture too far, then Cumbria has a number of different pump tracks.
The tracks are suitable for riders of all skill levels with the chance for older kids to practice berm corners, step-ups, rollers, doubles, triples and more challenging jumps.
Younger children will have fun just riding around on their balance bike or pedal bike, picking up speed and confidence, and I'd highly recommend having a go yourself!
All this can be enjoyed whilst enjoying stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
All the pump tracks are well-maintained, with most being either newly built or recently resurfaced.
They're a great way to have some cycling fun in the most beautiful natural settings.
Arnside to Grange Over Sands train and balance biking adventure
- Suitable for: balance bikers
- Length: Train journey then short cycling area
- Difficulty: very easy
- Elevation: flat
- Traffic: promenade is traffic free
- Starting point: Arnside or Grange-over-Sands railway station
- Public transport: train to Arnside or Grange-over-Sands
- Parking: Arnside Promenade
If you've got a very young child who is keen on riding their balance bike whilst you walk alongside them, then an exciting trip can be to go on the train from Arnside to Grange Over Sands.
The train crosses Morecambe Bay in just over 5 minutes with fabulous views over the Lake District.
Once at Grange there's a lovely traffic free 1 mile-long promenade that you can access from the railway station. It is great for safe balance biking and ice cream eating which always goes down a treat!
Once back at Arnside if it's low tide you can enjoy some muddy beach fun especially if you’re lucky to venture out on a sunny day! Although be aware the tide comes in very fast so don't stray too far from the shore.
Green Quarter Fell
- Suitable for: confident riders on mountain bikes
- Length: 10.7 miles
- Difficulty: medium to hard
- Elevation: Has sections that ascent and descent. Be mindful, what goes up must come down. Descending at speed, either on or off road requires skill.
- Traffic: mostly traffic free but sections involve quiet roads, remote and steep bridleways, and farm tracks
- Starting point: Staveley or Kentmere
- Public transport: train to Staveley
- Parking: Staveley or Kentmere
For this challenging bike ride in the Lake District fells you can start in either Staveley or Kentmere. However, it is important to note that Staveley has cafés, pubs, bike shops and toilets whereas Kentmere does not.
This cycle route is an amazing adventure if you're up for the challenge! Just keep in mind that it's quite remote and you'll need to be prepared for anything that comes your way. It's definitely one for older kids and teenagers, who are competent at mountain biking and have a well maintained bike.
The terrain can be challenging, especially after heavy rain (which happens often in the Lake District), so be sure to wear the right gear and stay together as a group.
And just in case low clouds roll in, it's always a good idea to know how to navigate with a compass and map. But don't worry, with some careful planning and a positive attitude, you're sure to have a great time on this remote but stunning cycle route!
Whinlatter Forest mountain bike trails
- Suitable for: mountain bikes (red routes) and well maintained hybrid bikes (blue routes)
- Length: varies in length dependent on the route you take
- Difficulty: medium to hard
- Elevation: steep inclines and declines
- Traffic: traffic free
- Starting point: Whinlatter Forest (North West of Keswick, CA12 5TW)
- Public transport: none that allow bikes
- Bike hire: Cyclewise Whinlatter
- Parking: Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre and main car park is just west of Keswick and is signed from the A66
Whinlatter Forest a is brilliant mountain biking destination that boasts blue and red trails designed to get the adrenaline pumping.
The blue trail is named Quercus and is a great route for those who want all the thrills of singletrack mountain biking without having to ride over rocks and roots. You get to enjoy some wonderful fast sweeping berms which make the uphill sections more than worth it.
If you are wanting to build confidence and get familiar with a singletrack then you can ride the blue route in sections.
It begins with a short loop which is perfect for beginners as it is only around 300 meters long so younger children can enjoy going round and round without ever straying too far from the car park and visitor centre. It may be short but in my experience it will keep the kids entertained for hours!
If you're looking for more challenging mountain biking routes, there's two red routes that can be ridden individually or in a figure of eight.
These are difficult and remote routes with some very steep uphills and lots of technical sections. You need a proper mountain bike and very strong legs (or e-bikes) to ride the red routes at Whinlatter.
Remember this is mountain biking in Cumbria, and these are proper mountains! Start short and easy and build up when you know what your kids (and you) are capable of in terms of skill and stamina.
Kentmere Valley Road ride
- Suitable for: road bike, or hybrid. Suitable for trailers and tagalongs.
- Length: up to 12.5 miles round trip from Staveley (or 25 miles if you are starting from Kendal)
- Difficulty: medium to hard
- Elevation: undulating road which steepens significantly as you begin to approach the head of the valley.
- Traffic: low traffic
- Starting point: Staveley (or Kendal for a longer day out)
- Public transport: Station in Stavely (or Kendal)
- Parking: Staveley Mill Yard or on road parking
The Kentmere Valley road ride is a true gem for any road cycling enthusiast and is a great place to introduce younger riders to the joys of riding a road bike.
The picturesque scenery offers captivating views and the valley is usually reasonably quiet traffic wise.
The road is undulating, gently rising all the way from Staveley up to the hamlet of Kentmere before a steep climb up to Kentmere Church.
If you're feeling strong you can carry on up the private gated road towards Kentmere reservoir for a couple more hilly miles until the road runs out.
When you've had enough riding uphill then you just turn around and head back to Staveley with it's cafes and ice cream shops for a well deserved treat.
The return journey is much quicker, with some sweeping bends and a chance to pick up some real speed, so good bike control and confidence in braking is a must.
If you're staying in Kendal you can extend this route by about 14 miles by cycling via Burneside and Bowston which is a reasonably low traffic route all the way.
Kentmere Valley is a great introduction to road riding in the Lake District, without any of the big hills and with very little traffic. And it's one of my favourite routes so do say hello if you see me!
Grizedale Forest mountain bike trails
- Suitable for: Hybrid bikes (green route) Mountain bikes (red/black route)
- Length: 2 to 10 miles
- Difficulty: easy (green) - hard/very hard (red/black)
- Elevation: steep slopes/declines
- Traffic: traffic free on most routes (some trails have short on road sections)
- Starting point: Grizedale Visitor Centre, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 0Q
- Parking: Grizedale Visitor Centre
Grizedale Forest is a remote location high above Hawskhead village. There are some short green rated cycle routes which are designed for younger and novice riders, that make use of the forest roads.
Some kids love this type of riding, others find it a hard slog. I don't think I've ever been there and not seen at least one young child in tears due to being taken on a bike ride that is too long, too steep, too boring, or a mixture of all three.
For that reason I really recommend choosing routes such as the Silurian Way or the Mushroom Trail for younger children as they have things to find and explore on the way around. This really helps keep up morale - yours and theirs.
Sadly Grizedale doesn't have a blue trail or a skills park so it's not an ideal location for children just starting out single track mountain biking (check out Whinlatter instead).
For advanced riders able to cope with very technical trails there are red and black routes. They do involve significant portions of uphill slogging on forest roads so you need very strong legs and a tolerance for this sort of riding (or an e-bike) as well as be very competent technically to cope with the downhill single track.
Remember to pack plenty of snacks and be ready for the weather to close in quickly, and know there's no mobile signal.
If you're looking for a family cycling challenge with older kids and teenagers and aren't afraid of hills or forest roads then Grizedale is an absolutely stunning location.
Suitable: All abilities
Length: A range of different length trails
Difficulty: A range of Easy/Moderate/Challenging trails
Starting Point: Lowther Estate, Penrith
Public Transport: Penrith train station, or local bus
Parking: SATNAV - CA10 2HH (free parking)
The cycle trails at Lowther Castle have everything you could want for a cycling adventure. Whether you're into wildlife, history, the stunning landscape or just plain good fun, the area has something to offer for everyone.
The trails cater for all abilities and range from easy, moderate, to challenging.
Lowther Estate has developed this wide range of cycle trails to allow free access to this beautiful estate and ancient woodlands.
The routes are well sign-posted and graded to suit every rider.
Mountain bikes suit the terrain of the 30km of dedicated trails which range from open fell side with views over Ullswater to quiet lanes & tracks.
You can bring your own bikes, or cycle hire is available at the Castle through, Arragons cycle hire Lowther. Tagalongs and trailers are also available.
Both the car park and the cycle trails at Lowther Estate are free to use.
Family cycling in Cumbria and the Lake District
Overall, Cumbria and the Lake District host a variety of family friendly cycling routes for children of all levels of experience.
Whether you're looking for a leisurely ride or a challenging adventure, there's a route for you and your family.
Cycling in Cumbria is a great way to explore the region's beauty, from the magnificent views of the Lake District to the peaceful coast.
Just remember to be prepared for the changeable weather, and that if you're cycling any distance you're likely to come across steep and challenging terrain with limited mobile reception.
So, whether you're riding with toddlers on balance bikes or teenagers on mountain bikes be sure to try out one of the cycling routes in the Lake District and experience the Cumbrian scenery for yourself. Do drop us a comment in the box below to tell us how you got on.
Before you go..... If you are looking for a bike trailer to use on your next ride, then you should check out this article next.
Keep up to date with the latest Cycle Sprog articles
Sign up to receive our newsletter straight to your inbox.
Other articles you might be interested in:
- 8 reasons to go on an organised family bike ride
- Kids hydration packs; pros and cons of using them on a family bike ride
- Family bike rides in and around Bath and Bristol
- England's Top 10 forests for family cycling
- The best kids bikes; our pick of the very best
- 10 ways to keep your kids safe when cycling on a hot day
- The best kids packable waterproof cycling jackets
- Cornwall and Devon family cycle routes
- What to look out for in an adult's bike