Ultimate Guide to Wild Camping in the Lake District

One of the great pleasures of wild camping is the opportunity to sleep under a starlit sky in a stunning location. Our guide to wild camping in the Lake District is ideal for novice wild campers wanting to make the most of the experience. We take a look at the laws regarding wild camping, share expert tips, what kit to take and take a look at the best spots to pitch your tent. 

Read on to find out why more people than ever are enjoying camping in the wild and wonderful Lake District. 


What is wild camping?

Is it legal?

Wild camping is legal in Scotland but not in England and Wales, where all land is owned and campers require permission to pitch a tent overnight. That being said this is often overlooked if you pick the right spot such as the remote mountainous areas of Snowdonia and the Lake District.

The one exception to this rule is Dartmoor; where if you are away from a public road and not in an enclosed area you can camp for a maximum of 2 consecutive nights in the same location.

This video discusses where and how to wild camp in the UK 

Lowland wild camping is not looked upon favourably and with good reason; conservation charity the National Trust says;

“Our rangers spent hundreds of hours each week in 2017 clearing up litter and left over equipment.”

So, how can you enjoy getting closer to nature and experience a wild-camping adventure?


What are the regulations regarding wild camping?

The two most important things to remember when wild-camping are choosing the right location, and leaving the spot exactly as you find it. If you are going to wild camp following these rules are essential. 

  • Travel light - you can only stay one night in any spot, a well-organised rucksack should have enough room for everything you need. If it doesn’t and you want to bring more stuff, perhaps it is an indication that a traditional campsite might be more suited to your needs. 
  • Take away your litter - You may be surprised to learn that many campers in the Lake District don’t clean up after themselves, which has an impact on the landscape and wildlife. Ensure you take all your rubbish away with you and check the site before you leave.
  • Leave things as you find them - don't leave any evidence of having stayed there, don’t damage the environment, if you need to go to the loo make sure the spot is not within 30 metres of any water and that any waste is well-buried so it can biodegrade.
    (don’t bury the loo roll, take sealable bags and take it away with you.)
  • Fire - There’s a lot of controversy about open fires when wild camping, we recommend you use a camping stove instead, while an open fire may be great fun, they’re hard to light in bad weather, and in dry weather there is always a small chance you could be responsible for a large scale blaze. If the ban on wild camping is ever to be lifted it will probably include fire restrictions. (plus a fire gives away your whereabouts).
  • Keep numbers small - To keep noise and light pollution to the minimum and not disturb wildlife it is essential to keep your party to one or two people.
  • check
    One night only - arrive late, leave early and stay just one night is the best practice for wild camping.

How is it different to normal camping?

Arrive at an official campsite and you will be greeted by facilities such as toilets, electric hook up points, and showers at the very least. Some have shops, Wi-Fi access, bars, entertainment and play areas for the kids.

Whilst a host of facilities is great for families, some of us want seclusion, peace and tranquility, the chance to relax, get close to nature and watch the sunset without being surrounded by noisy campers.

If you are prepared to sacrifice onsite amenities; try wild camping, it’s free you will be rewarded by an experience like no other.

If you can’t do without your phone, and need a daily shower perhaps wild camping isn’t for you! In which case you can find a list of Lake District campsites here


What you need to camp?- Basic kit

Arriving in the perfect wild camping spot and finding out you are missing an essential piece of kit can ruin your trip.

This video gives you some idea of what you will need and below is a list of the basics

  • Rucksack - You will need a decent quality rucksack of between 35-60 litres depending how many nights you are camping and how much stuff you are going to take. Make sure it is lightweight and preferably waterproof. It is worth spending a little extra as you don’t want the seams splitting or arriving to find all the contents soaked.
  • Rucksack Liner - Not essential but it weighs very little and will provide your camping gear with extra protection should you get caught in a downpour.
  • Bivy bag or tent - A bivy sack is an alternative to a conventional tent, simply a covering to protect you from the elements when in your sleeping bag. If you prefer a bit more room we recommend the lightweight Vango Nevis 200, ideal for 2 people it weighs around 2kg
  • check
    Sleeping mat - When wild camping there is a good chance you will be sleeping on rough terrain so a mat is essential if you want to get a decent sleep. While not cheap a self inflating mat is worth every penny and provides insulation if the ground is cold.
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    Sleeping bag - The lake district fells get cold even in the summer, so a quality sleeping bag is essential when camping in the wild. Do look for a lightweight one though, not a duck down filled cocoon, remember you will be lugging it around all day.
  • First-aid kit - Accidents happen, and when camping in remote areas, the nearest doctor is probably miles away so a first aid kit is essential. Make sure it includes painkillers, bandages, safety pins, antiseptic cream or spray, compeed blister treatment, imodium, scissors, tweezers, dressings and tape.
  • Swiss army knife - A handy tool which will come in handy in all sorts of situations, from cutting veg and tent ropes to opening a bottle of wine.
  • Suncream - The sun can be intense on the mountains even when it’s not particularly warm.
  • A map/compass - GPS is all very well, but mobile phone signals can be a bit hit and miss in the Lake District and an old fashioned map and compass can prevent you getting lost.
    (You can find a beginner’s guide to using a compass here)
  • Wet wipes - You may be able to wash in a stream but it will likely be freezing taking a packet of wipes will enable you to walk into a country pub without everyone wrinkling their noses.
  • Torch - You don’t want to be wandering around in the dark, a good tip is to bring a head torch, which leaves your hands free and is perfect for those late night toilet trips 
  • Water filter - You can buy tablets or an innovative Lifestraw which weighs only 2 oz, removes 99.9999% of bacteria and parasites found in water and allows you to drink safely from rivers and streams. 
  • Camping stove - You should always use a stove when wild camping instead of lighting a fire, Fires can be destructive. The limited amounts of trees and dead wood in the fells are essential habitats for insects. There are tons to choose from that are powerful, lightweight and won’t cost the earth. 
  • Pan - You are going to need some sort of container to boil water for hot drinks and cook, look out for compact and lightweight mess tins or special camping pans.
  • Thermal flask - Great for keeping drinks warm and a much better alternative to plastic or metal cups. 
  • Plastic plates - Not essential, but a bit more civilised than eating from the packet.
  • Insect repellent - Do not forget this, midges can be a nuisance during the summer months, especially near water.
  • Camera - Also, not essential, but it would be a shame not to capture the stunning lake district views and take home memories of your camping adventure.
  • Trowel - Why? I hear you ask, well not to put too finer point on it but you will need to bury your poo and a lightweight trowel is the tool for the job, and on that note, don’t forget the loo roll!

What food to take?

There are tons of dehydrated and boil in the bag specialist camping foods to choose from and while they can be a bit pricey, they offer a fantastic choice from curry and all-day breakfasts to chocolate pudding. But, what if you need a boost of energy while hiking or want lunch without setting up camp? Here are some lightweight foods to take with you.

  • Dried meat
  • Nuts (rich in fat)
  • Dried fruit
  • Porridge sachets
  • Cup a soups (fill a flask with hot water in the morning for hot drinks during the day)
  • Coffee sachets/T-bags
  • Dried milk
  • Kendal mint cake
  • Granola bars


If you know where you are heading, and are camping in the wild for a few days, a handy hint is to post yourself supplies to a local post office. There are few supermarkets in the Lake District and plenty of local shops but these can be expensive. 


Camping in the lake district wilderness - Choosing the best wild camping spot

Is Keswick good for camping?

Keswick, situated between Derwent Water and the majestic beauty of Skiddaw, the 6th highest mountain in England, is a popular tourist destination in the Lake District. Surrounded by incredible scenery, this small market town has an excellent range of shops and eateries along with tons of attractions and activities nearby.

There are plenty of official campsites in the vicinity and the area is popular with water-sports enthusiasts, but if you want to go wild camping it is best to avoid Derwent Water which can get busy during the summer months.

A much better option is to walk or cycle towards Skiddaw and take one of the tracks up the mountain, the higher you get the better and the more likely you will find a secluded spot ideal for wild camping. 

Overnight parking in the Lakes

The best wild camping sites can’t be reached by car, as you need to be well away from the road. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take a car or motorhome and park up while you explore the area and perhaps enjoy a night under the stars.

There are several car parks in the Lake District which allow overnight parking of both cars and motorhomes but it is essential to do your research before you go as some are free, some charge a small fee and others do not allow you to stay in the vehicle.

You will also find a number of pubs which offer overnight parking, you may have to pay a fee or at least have a packet of crisps and a drink there.

On the Honister Road heading towards Buttermere there are several laybys where you can usually spot campervans and motorhomes although these are better if you’re just planning a day’s hike.

You can find details of authorised motorhome stopovers here

​Before you go

Wild camping may sound like a spontaneous way to enjoy the blissful beauty of the Lake District but it will need planning if you want to enjoy it fully, so do your research.

Here are some things to consider;

Are you travelling by car or public transport?

  • Train - The main railway stations are Windermere, Staveley, which is surrounded by fantastic walking country, Burneside and Kendal. Connections can be made which will take you up to Penrith and the western lakes are readily accessible if you travel on the Cumbrian coastline from Lancaster. Unless you are a seasoned hiker you will want to choose a spot which is no more than an hour or so away from the station.
  • Car - As mentioned above there are plenty of places to park your car, motorhome or campervan in the Lake District, but it helps if you have a list of these places before you go and once again choose somewhere away from habitation, but not too far to walk.
  • Bus - You will be pleased to learn that the Lake District is served by a fabulous bus network, enabling you to explore the length and breadth of the area. Hop onboard the Coniston Rambler 505 or check out the most popular bus routes here
    Travelling by bus gives you lots of wild camping options check out the routes, open Google Maps and plan your visit with ease.
  • Cycling - many visitors to the Lake District travel around by bike and without doubt it allows you to reach places inaccessible to other forms of transport. However, do remember wild-camping needs to be fairly high up so you may need to get off and push.

What do you want?

There is a reason you have chosen to go wild camping; it might be the views, it may be for a romantic getaway, it could be for the nearby hiking trails, perhaps you want to photograph the wildlife? Whatever the reason use the internet as a resource for example; search for the “best walks in the Lake District” Then look on the map and find the most suitable spot in the area.

Check the weather

A bit of rain never stopped a wild camper, but it does make a difference when choosing the best wild camping site, if you know the weather is going to be wet and let’s face it that is often the case in the Lake District choose somewhere protected from the elements, like a wooded area, or bothy

This video explains the symbols on an ordnance survey map

Time of arrival

After choosing your spot, you will need to plan your journey so you don’t get there too late, you don’t want to be walking to your destination in the dark. A good tip is to try and arrive about an hour before sunset that gives you time to set up camp, perhaps enjoy a bite to eat and be sat with a hot drink or glass of wine when the sun goes down. Bliss!

Remember, you need to be in an elevated location to wild camp, away from buildings, public footpaths, bridleways, farmland and roads. 


Essential clothing when hiking in the lakes

The weather can be changeable in the Lake District so a pair of shorts and trainers just won’t cut it. If you’re going wild camping it will involve some hiking and below are some of the basic items of clothing you will need for both comfort and safety.

  • Hiking boots - A must when walking in the Lake District, it’s worth paying the extra money for quality waterproof ones as the weather is unpredictable and the terrain can be boggy and rough, especially on the fells.
  • Trousers - You will need trousers which are comfortable and easily dried, athletic leggings are a great choice. Do not wear denim as they fail miserably on both these points
  • Waterproofs - No matter what you wear underneath you will always need a waterproof jacket and trousers, they may not be the next big fashion statement but are essential items when camping in the Lake District
  • Walking socks - These provide more warmth and cushioning than regular socks
    (Top tip - Merino wool socks are an excellent choice being odour-resistant, moisture-wicking, cool in the summer and toasty warm in the winter)
  • Base Layers - You will need a t-shirt in the summer or thermal top in cool weather and a warm fleece; as the temperature drops 1 degree for every 150 metres ascent.
  • Coat - A down jacket is invaluable in the winter months
  • Hat - You lose heat through your head, so a hat is essential, when camping in the wild.
  • Gloves - Again if hiking in cold weather an absolute must, choose a lightweight thermal, waterproof pair not big chunky sheepskin mittens

​Some of the best wild camping spots in the lakes

1

​Holme Fell, Hodge Close, Coniston

  • Location: Grid Ref: NY 3150 0060
  • XY Coordinates - 331503, 500603
  • Nearest postcode - LA21 8DH
  • Height: 298.2m
  • OS Explorer map: OL7: English Lakes

Holme Fell is a great spot for free camping in the Lake District. A relatively low fell of just under 300m it boasts superb views over Coniston Water and there are plenty of discreet spots among the heather to pitch your tent.


Halfway up you will find a small lake which warms up nicely on a summer’s day, ideal for a wild swim From here, the boulders, to the right will lead you to the summit.


Be sure to explore Hodge Close, sign-posted from the A593 Coniston Rd. This incredible lagoon quarry is popular with abseilers and divers. As you climb you will reach the lake at around 300 metres with some lovely spots to wild camp nearby. 

2

​Fleetwith Pike

  • Location Grid Ref: NY 205141 
  • Coordinates 320584, 514178
  • Nearest postcode - CA13 9XA
  • Height 648m 
  • OS Explorer map: OL4: English Lakes

One of the best spots, to sit and to watch the sun go down. Fleetwith Pike overlooks Buttermere while on the northern side stark grey cliffs lie above the Honister pass.


If you have brought a car you can park at Gatesgarth Farm for a small charge.It is quite a climb, turn left towards Honister.then turn right beside the signpost just after the last house, then immediately left.


As you ascend the path gets steeper, but accomplished walkers should find the route doable.


There is really only room for one tent at the summit so you may have to find another secluded place to make camp but the stunning views, sound of the birdsong and clear skies make the trip well worth it.


There are a couple of bothies run by the MBA (Mountain Bothies Association) It does get cold on a night, even in the summer, so make sure you pack those thermals. 

3

​Sprinkling Tarn, Rosthwaite

  • Grid reference NY 2278 0910
  • XY coordinates - 322781, 509104
  • Nearest postcode - CA12 5XJ
  • Height 598m 
  • OS Explorer map: OL6: English lakes

This tarn is one of the one of the better known wild camping spots in the Lake District and it is doubtful you will have it to yourself. The good news is; there is plenty of room so you can still enjoy peace and quiet in the imposing shadow of Scafell Pike.


From Rosthwaite follow the B5289 for approx 3km and turn left to Seathwaite just before Seatoller you will be able to park your car.

Continue upstream for 1.4km until you arrive at Stockley footbridge cross and head up the right side of Seathwaite Fell. After about 1.5km you will reach reach Styhead Tarn and after another 800m, Sprinkling Tarn

Sprinkling Tarn boasts an island for dives and jumps into the water making it popular with families that have older children and there are plenty of secluded spots to wild camp in the area. 

4

​Codale Tarn

  • Grid reference NY 338077
  • XY coordinates - 329683, 508807
  • Nearest postcode - LA22 9JU
  • Height 467m 
  • OS Explorer map: OL6: English lakes

Codale Tarn is perfect for those wanting seclusion as it has few visitors, it is a bit remote and getting there is not for the faint-hearted but it is well worth it to camp by the side of one of the prettiest tarns in the Lake District with amazing views.


Just a 2 ½ miles from Grassmere, former home of the poet William Wordsworth and hub for tourist activity in the area.


Codale Tarn be reached by following the path up from the town (via Easedale Tarn) or alternatively from Great Langdale. The terrain includes some scrambling and can be wet and boggy in places.


A word of warning if walking by the waterfalls at Belles Knot, the rocks are slimy, extremely slippery and can be very dangerous. 

5

​Haystacks (Innominate Tarn)

  • Grid reference NY 1975 1294
  • XY coordinates - 319750, 512948
  • Nearest postcode CA13 9XA
  • Height 525m 
  • OS Explorer map: OL4: English Lakes

Located at the south-eastern corner of the Buttermere Valley, Haystacks is one of the most popular fells in the Lake District for fishing, hiking and wild camping.


Starting at the National Trust car park,west of Buttermere, turn right and walk toward the lakeshore. Then turn right and and head towards the stream which runs between Crummock Water and Buttermere. Cross this, follow the path through woodland then follow the trail leading to Scarth Gap for around a mile.


At the top of the pass you will discover another path which runs from High Crags to Haystacks, turn left and follow it as it leads up the western side of the fell.


Near the summit you will find Innominate Tarn this attractive tarn with its indents of tiny islets sits, 520 metres above sea level and offers splendid views of the surrounding fells.


Some areas can be boggy and if you want seclusion it’s probably best to avoid a warm bank holiday weekend, but the there is a huge sprawling area at the summit so you can usually find a quiet corner to camp relatively undisturbed. 

6

​Lingmoor Fell

  • Grid reference NY 3060 0426
  • XY coordinates 330600, 504265
  • Nearest postcode LA22 9PD
  • Height 411m 
  • OS Explorer map: OL7: English Lakes

With a name derived from an ancient Norse word meaning heather covered. This pretty fell lies just 5 miles from Ambleside, on one of the most popular Lake District camping routes and boasts some of the best views of the Langdale peaks.

Easy to get to due to the great public transport links between Ambleside and Great Langdale, which boasts a couple of pubs and a large campsite, the ascent is steep but not as challenging as some of the higher fells.

There are styles and obstacles making it unsuitable for all but the most active of dogs and the terrain can be boggy. You will definitely be ready for a brew when you get to the summit. 

7

​Angle Tarn

  • Grid reference NY 2442 0766
  • XY coordinates - 324427, 507662
  • Nearest postcode CA12 5XJ
  • Height 563m 
  • OS Explorer map: OL6: English lakes

Another option for wild camping in the Great Langdale area is Angle Tarn which is overlooked by the northern face of Bow Fell. It is a popular spot for campers but there are plenty of spots to pitch a tent so it never feels busy.


The walk begins at the parking area in the picturesque village of Patterdale, from there climb to Boredale Hause, a mountain pass between Place Fell and Angletarn pikes. Continue to Stony Rigg and then onwards to Angle Tarn.


Many camp on the shores of the Tarn but if the sound of cascading water splashing into the tarn from Bow Fells crags will inhibit a good miles sleep, the track leading off to Rossett Pike might be a better bet. 


​Safety when camping in remote areas !

Wild camping in the UK will not see you waking-up and discovering a bear trying to get into your tent but it is not completely without risk. Which is why you need to prepare and take certain precautions.

  • Taking a map and compass with you, will reduce the chance of getting lost. A phone is all very well, but chances are you will run out of charge or will lose signal. Map-reading isn’t all that difficult and even small things like remembering that the sunsets in the west and rises in the east, or that moss grows best on the north side of a rock or tree could help. 
  • You should always tell someone where you are going and when you will return that way if the worst happens and there is an accident or you get lost, they can alert search and rescue. 
  • Remember you will usually be a long way from medical help should you become ill or have an accident and you may have no mobile phone signal so taking a basic first kit is imperative. 
  • check
    As we’ve mentioned above you should in theory ask permission to camp on someone’s land so there is always a chance you could be woken by an irate landowner. Calmly apologise, offer them a small amount of money perhaps £5 and don’t be cheeky, after all you are breaking the law and some of them have guns! 
  • check
    If you are parking in the lakes, you run a small risk of your vehicle being broken into. Find a safe car park, don’t leave valuables inside and always make sure your motorhome or car is locked before you go off exploring. 
  • The biggest danger you will face while wild camping is; (no, not a badger attack) without doubt the weather. The Lake District is renowned for the amount of rain it gets and in the winter the weather can be unpredictable. Check the forecast before you leave, and always be prepared with suitable clothing. Heavy rain can result in flash floods, landslides and snow can reduce visibility dramatically, as well as making certain routes extremely dangerous. The Lake District in winter, whilst stunning, can be a hostile environment and is not for novice wild campers. 

FAQ’S

Is wild camping allowed in the lake district?
Wild camping is not allowed anywhere in England apart from Dartmoor but in remote places like the Lake District it is tolerated as long as you keep away from buildings, roads, public footpaths and lowland.

Where to go wild camping in the Lakes?
With over 200 fells and some of the most remote areas of the country there are plenty of opportunities to go wild-camping in Cumbria and the Lake District.

Are you allowed open fires whilst camping?
You need permission to light a fire on someone’s land, when you are remote camping in the Lake District. In fact, you need permission to wild camp but while you may get away with pitching up a tent, unless you are in a really secluded area a fire will be noticeable.


Final word

Wild camping is terrific fun, and a fantastic way to connect with nature, blow away those cobwebs and get away from the hustle and bustle of modern day living. Start with a short trip and if it all gets a bit much you can head to the nearest official campsite or return home.

We hope the tips above will help if you are planning to go wild camping in the Lake District. Just remember to choose a remote spot, close to water and which is protected from the elements such as Angle Tarn.

Ready? Then pack your backpack and head to the lakes for an adventure to remember!

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