Our family mountain biking holiday in south Wales

Summer holidays are an amazing opportunity to go mountain biking in different places. As a family we really enjoy multi-centre trips where we drive to a campsite or an AirBNB, ride the local trails for a couple of days and then move onto a new area.

That’s why we found ourselves cycling and camping in South Wales for a couple of weeks during the very hot summer of 2022.

Monmouthshire / Forest of Dean

We started in Monmouthshire, which is just on the Welsh side of the England/Wales border. It’s a short drive back over the border to the fabulous mountain biking hub at the Forest of Dean – also known as FoD.

This is a really family friendly place to take children of all ages and abilities. As well as loads of different graded trails from flat and easy to seriously technical, there’s also a vibrant trail centre with a bike skills area, café and shop.

Over the course of three days we rode a range of the blue and red trails – a far cry from the first time we visited FoD over a decade previously when our boys were in a rear bike seat and only just pedalling!

Sign at Forest of Dean mountain biking centre showing the different trails

Monmouth itself is a historic market town with a good selection of supermarkets, cafes, takeaways and restaurants to suit all ages and tastes.

We stayed in an AirBNB (complete with hot tub) which was great for soaking away the stresses and strains of mountain biking, and getting us in the holiday mood.

We could have easily had the entire fortnight riding at FoD, which is one of the trade-offs of a multi-centre holiday. Just as you’re starting to feel really at home riding the trails at one location you move on somewhere else!   But it wouldn’t be a Welsh adventure if we’d ridden in England all the time, would it?

Mountain biking at Afan Forest Park

After our three days of luxury accommodation, we moved on to Afan Forest Park and the start of our camping holiday - just as the weather went from very hot to scorching.

Whilst Afan Forest isn’t that far from the M4 there’s a real sense of leaving the chaos of modern life behind as your head out along the valley.

There are two trail centres in Afan Forest. The first you reach is the Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre where the majority of the routes start.  We’d stopped and ridden there on our previous trip to Wales, and is highly recommended, especially if you have younger kids wanting green and blue routes.

However, this time we were venturing right down the valley, to the village of Glyncorrwg, where there is a second, much smaller trail centre and one village shop.

We stayed at Willow Spring Campsite which felt as remote as anywhere we’ve ever stayed, despite its being only 14 miles from the motorway.

It’s a very relaxed campsite high above the tiny village, with both tent pitches and wooden huts, plus some basic facilities.

A perfect place to get away from it all, and the height and forest meant it was as cool a place as any to camp during a heatwave, if you have foolishly chosen to camp in a small tent with two teenage boys during a heatwave!

South Wales MTB holiday - Afan forest park

If you want longer and more challenging red routes you can ride straight from the campsite.

A quick descent down to the Glyncorrwg Mountain Bike Centre allows you to pick up the red graded “Whites Level” trail.

Alternatives head off straight up the forest trail to pick up the amazing views of the Blade Trail.  This cut out the steep climb up from the visitor centre, and allowed us to ride more of the single track up on the top of the mountain – an added bonus, especially as the sweltering weather wasn’t conducive to too many steep climbs!

The red-graded Blade runs alongside a windfarm - it was a very strange experience getting up close to these huge structures!

South Wales MTB holiday - Afan forest park
Family cycling holiday in South Wales

The views over the surrounding countryside are quite breathtaking, and once you’re up the top you can circle round some fun single-track routes time and time again.

Just be careful not to descend all the way into the village if you don’t want to climb back up again to the campsite.

There’s also a much longer 46.5km red graded Skyline trail up the top beyond the Blade trail, which we vowed to return to ride at some point.

The heatwave meant a long and exposed remote route wasn’t an option as we couldn’t carry enough water and needed to be in the forest during the heat of the day.

The only downside of the campsite were the midges. (If you’re not familiar with these annoying little flying creatures, they favour warm places and leave little red, itchy bites – nowhere near as bad as mosquitos but painful none-the-less.)

The website and booking email warned that we could have evening encounters with midges during the months of June to September, and they weren’t joking.

Campfires and a wide range of repellents (some bought with us and other purchased from the campsite owners) along with early nights were needed to avoid the worst of the bites.

On our final morning it was a short drive from the campsite to the Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre where Chris and I rode the Blue Scar route whilst the two boys headed off together to ride the classic Y Wal red route (aka The Wall).

It’s a bitter-sweet feeling – finally getting time to ride together as a couple, but only because we can no longer keep up with the boys!

There’s a good range of family routes, including two green trails for younger or more inexperienced riders, direct from the trail head.

For more experienced riders there’s red and black routes, plus a Bike Park.  Of course no trail centre is complete without a bike shop and café, plus Afan even has a shower block!

Blue scar bike route - family mountain biking holiday to South Wales

Cycling on the Gower Peninsula

From Afan we’d planned in a couple of days camping on the Gower Peninsular, to get a bit of a beach holiday as well as some cycling.

It was a rather rude awakening going from the isolation of Afan Forest to the hustle and bustle of a crowded holiday destination, via a huge supermarket in Swansea to replenish our supplies.

We were camping at Nicholaston Farm, which whilst very busy still had quite a relaxed feel. It was also incredibly family friendly, with loads of kids playing ball games all over the site, great showers and an early lights out time which was respected by everyone.

It also had an excellent site shop with fresh pastries and coffee every morning, ice cream during the day, plus a mobile pizza van which turns up several times a week. And it had a huge number of fridges which were desperately needed to keep all food stuffs from melting on the spot.

To the south of the campsite is the lovely secluded sandy Crawley Beach that can only be accessed by a rather steep path direct from the campsite, meaning it remained quiet when we could see other beaches around the bay were overrun with people.

We got rather good at carrying all our beach paraphernalia up and down the steps each day - just make sure you pack everything as it’s a long trudge back when you realise you’ve forgotten something!

Crawley beach - South Wales family mountain biking holiday

To the north of the campsite is a 5-mile ridge called Cefn Bryn which runs down the spine of the Gower Peninsula and forms part of the Gower Way.

It’s an ancient bridleway so you can cycle or walk all the way along it, far away from the crowded roads lower down, with breathtaking views over the peninsula and across the water to the north Devon and south Wales coasts.

It also has a neolithic monument called Arthur’s Stone, which certainly makes you stop and think about all the people who have travelled this route before you.

Getting out on our bikes and riding along Cefn Bryn provided a bit of much needed relief from the stifling heat of the beach and campsite.

The elevation provided a slight breeze coming in off the sea during the heatwave, which by this time was breaking all known UK records.

Our eldest teen wanted to spend all his time on his bike rather than the beach, so devised a circular route incorporating many of the bridleways and roads all around the Gower Peninsula.

However he returned very annoyed by the sheer number of cars and their tendency to close-pass at every opportunity.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend riding on the roads with younger kids as they’re not designed for the volume of traffic they take on a sunny day.

South Wales mountain bike family holiday

Bike Park Wales

The final destination on our Welsh MTB holiday was Bike Park Wales.  Not for the faint-hearted, and certainly not for beginners, this is an amazing place to ride.

In return for parting with a lot of cash you get the luxury of uplifts to take you and your bike quickly up the forest roads, meaning you only have to concentrate on enjoying the most awesome descents.

The routes at Bike Park Wales are all clearly graded in difficulty from some reasonably easy blues upwards, and each colour is subdivided into smooth or technical.

My favourite trails were Sixapod and Willywaver, both fast smooth blue runs, which three of us rode on rotation for most of the day whilst the eldest went off and rode the technically challenging red runs.

Family cycling holiday - bike park Wales
Cycling the bike park Wales - family cycling holiday

The key to going to Bike Park Wales is to maximise your time on the trails. Being there really early so you’re ready for the first uplifts of the day plus being super organised around lunches and snack stops is important to getting your money’s worth.

The other thing to be aware of is that descending all day is hard on your knees and legs if you’re not used to it, so be prepared to ache like crazy the next day.

I so wished we’d saved the hot tub accommodation until the last night of our holidays!

Instead we were staying at Grawen Caravan and Camping Park, which is about 5 miles from Bike Park Wales on the road to Brecon.

It’s a relaxed site with a couple of showers and a small laundry with washing machines and driers, plus some places to charge your devices.

You’ll probably find that lots of other people are also there for Bike Park Wales too, and split into two groups – those getting up early to ride the trails today, and those sleeping in, shattered from yesterday’s riding!

Sadly, that was the end of our Welsh mountain biking summer holiday. With typical timing the heatwave broke on our last morning, meaning we had to strike camp in the pouring rain.

After a fortnight struggling in intense heat it was off home to dry absolutely everything out, and start planning our next family cycling adventure.

Before you go….. I’d love to hear about your favourite routes for family cycling.  If you’re on Komoot you can share your GPX with our community, or else do drop us comment in the box below.


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