Wild Camping in the Lake District: The Ultimate Guide To Surviving the Lakes
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 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 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.
How is it different from normal campsites?
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 it, 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 or even better a list of luxury lodges here.
What you need to camp? - Basic kit
Arriving in the perfect 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
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 and plenty of local shops but these can be expensive.
Camping in the lake district wilderness - Choosing the best 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. 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?
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, away from buildings, public footpaths, bridleways, farmland and roads.
Essential clothing when hiking in the lakes
The weather can be changeable 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.
6 of the best wild camping spots in the lakes
Holme Fell, Hodge Close, Coniston
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 camp nearby.
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.
Sprinkling Tarn, Rosthwaite
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 camp in the area.
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 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.
Haystacks (Innominate Tarn)
Located at the south-eastern corner of the Buttermere Valley, Haystacks is one of the most popular fells in the for fishing, hiking and 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.
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.
Another option 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 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.
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 fact, you need permission to 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.
Camping wild 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 AROUND 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!