Idyllic tranquil forests, wonderful wildlife, and only a short train journey from London - the New Forest has plenty to offer. A place where ponies, cattle, donkeys and deer roam free, it’s hard not to fall in love with the place.
Cycling in the New Forest is the best way to truly experience it all and get close to nature. And the best thing is, there are over 140 miles of car-free approved cycle trails. There are plenty of easy-to-follow routes for the whole family to enjoy, as well as picturesque paths through pretty villages and ancient woodland. There are also more demanding New Forest cycle trails for experienced cyclists, and lots of cycle-friendly accommodation on offer for an overnight stay. There really is something for everyone in this beautiful part of the country, so to celebrate National Parks Week, we’ve put together a list of our top 15 New Forest cycle routes so you can experience Mother Nature at her best.
If you’re planning a cycle trip to the New Forest, find out everything you need to know before you set off with our essential rundown to cycling in the New Forest.
Best New Forest cycle routes for families
1. Brockenhurst to Lyndhurst - 6.5 miles
If you’re looking for a family-friendly cycle route with the chance to spot wildlife along the way, this 6.5-mile route is for you. You’ll start at Hollands Wood Campsite at Brockenhurst, and from there you’ll follow clearly marked cycle trails through beautiful Forestry Commission Enclosures, across heaths, and on to Lyndhurst via gravel tracks. All but 0.2 miles of this route is off-road, but the part that is on road is on a quiet lane near to Lyndhurst, making it ideal for families.
Look out for New Forest ponies, donkeys and cattle along the route. And bike hire is available in Brockenhurst (and Lyndhurst) if you don’t have your own bikes.
2. Sway and Setthorns Loop - 9 miles
The New Forest Sway and Setthorns Loop is a great bike ride for families as it’s mostly off-road on quiet gravel tracks. The whole route is 9 miles long, but it can be shortened to 3.5 miles if need be for the little ones. You’ll start and finish at Sway Train Station, and there are easy directions to follow using the waymarked posts.
This ride showcases the very best of the New Forest’s landscapes. allowing you to see some wonderful nature and wildlife along the route. And gaps in the trees alongside the old railway line that once ran from Brockenhurst to Ringwood provide glimpses of ponies grazing on the open heathland.
3. The Old Railway - 9 miles
This 9-mile route follows one of Hamspire’s oldest railway lines (completed in 1847), which is known as 'Castleman's Corkscrew' because of the man who promoted it, Charles Castleman, and the shape it cut across the forest. This is a simple route to follow, and it’s mainly off-road, making it ideal for families. And the short stretches which go in and out of Brockenhurst and Burley are on quiet roads.
Both Brockenhurst and Burley are great locations to enjoy a drink or a snack, and The Old Station Tea Rooms at Holmsley are very popular. You can also hire bikes at Brockenhurst Railway Station, which is where the route starts.
4. Beaulieu to Bucklers Hard - 2 miles
This short, easy-to-follow path is one of the most popular for families. At just 2 miles long, it’s the perfect distance for little ones to show off their country cycling skills. The route starts at the fantastic National Motor Museum in the idyllic village of Beaulieu, and it ends at the historic Buckler’s Hard, a picturesque hamlet on the banks of the Beaulieu River. You’ll take in stunning river views along the way, as well as Beaulieu Mill, an old disused tide mill, and the Mill Dam, an old tidal mill pool.
There’s plenty for the whole family to enjoy once you reach Buckler’s Hard, including the popular Maritime Museum, the Apple Orchard, and why not enjoy a relaxing cuppa at Captain’s Cabin Tea rooms? Bliss!
Best New Forest cycle routes for groups
5. Northern Forest Circular - 17.8 miles
If you fancy a day cycling with some friends, look no further than the Northern Forest Circular, which starts and ends in Ringwood. This 17.8-mile trail has it all, with a superb range of wildlife, picturesque villages, vast green spaces and hilly climbs. Plus, a selection of well regarded pubs along the route.
This trail kicks off at the Appleslade Bottom car park, and it’s seen as one of the more inspiring New Forest cycling experiences.
6. Burley Hill Fort Loop - 9.3 miles
Explore the picturesque village of Burley and the surrounding areas on this 9.3-mile ride. This circular route starts and ends at the Queens Head Pub, so you can enjoy a pint or two with friends after your ride.
Burley is a chocolate box village with some beautiful walks, and plenty of souvenir shops to keep everyone happy. It also has a unique and quirky character with smuggling, witchcraft and folklore playing a large role within the village history. Combine this with stunning open views over heathland and you have an interesting and enjoyable cycle route. There are also good transport links, and plenty of cyclist approved accommodation on offer.
7. New Forest Road Loop - 45 miles
This route starts and ends at Brockenhurst Train Station, with excellent transport links from London. This 45-mile cycling route loops around the New Forest and offers some beautiful views, and includes Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve, where you can spot a vast array of birds and wildlife.
If you’re looking for a spot of lunch, the market town of Ringwood and the pretty village of Burley offer great options. And if you fancy stopping over, there are a range of hotels for a comfortable night’s sleep. Or why not book a pitch at Setthorns Campsite and spend a night under the stars?
8. Coast and Castle Circular Tour - 20 miles
If you want to take in some fresh sea air, this 20-mile route is great for experiencing the New Forest and its breathtaking coastline. It encompasses Keyhaven Nature Reserve, and we recommended forking off to pay a worthwhile visit to Hurst Castle. Steeped in history, the castle was originally built by Henry VIII, and it was one of the most advanced artillery fortresses in England. It was also used as a prison for eminent 17th century captives, including Charles I, and it has since been extended and was used as a lookout and arms store in WWII.
If you fancy hopping across the Solent, why not take the opportunity to visit Osborne House on the Isle of Wight? Just take a local ferry crossing from Lymington to Yarmouth.
Best New Forest cycle routes for experienced cyclists
9. Red Shoot Route - 37 miles
This popular 37-mile route is perfect for an afternoon ride - especially if it’s sunny! It’s named after the Red Shoot Inn, located on the tree lined climb, which is a great place to stop for a well-earned pint of real ale after all that pedalling. The route will showcase the very best of New Forest cycling, with challenging climbs, brilliant descents and stunning views to be had from the higher slopes across wide open vistas.
Suggested start / finish points are Brockenhurst, Ringwood and Hordle, which all have parking and places to stock up on supplies. And keep a look out for deer if you’re riding early in the morning.
10. The Gridiron - 61 miles
If you’re serious about cycling, this demanding 61-mile figure-of-eight route packs a punch! It starts in the beautiful market town of Lymington and passes close to the coast before heading north through Beaulieu and Ashurst. You’ll take in some of the most picturesque Hampshire countryside, villages and hamlets before returning to Lymington (via Ringwood and Burley), where you can enjoy fish and chips overlooking the harbour.
The Gridiron Challenge Ride is part of Cycling UK's Challenge Ride Series and takes place in early October every year when the forest is at its best. It’s a tough ride but so completely satisfying, and a great way to explore the British countryside and meet other keen cyclists.
11. The Royal Oak - 32 miles
A route not for the faint hearted, this trail provides a great mix of country lanes, off-road cycling trails and pretty villages boasting traditional pubs with great food, including The Royal Oak in Fritham. The ride takes you to the north western boundary of the national park and it’s certainly a trail for more experienced riders. The route is 32 miles, but it’s well worth extending your ride out to the deer sanctuary.
This cycle route is challenging in length, and it’s a fairly complicated route to follow too. But don’t worry if you do lose your way, as it’s easy to find your way back to Burley with a Smartphone or a local map. It’s worth doing the whole route over a couple of days to truly take in everything it has to offer, so you might want to consider an overnight stay in a local holiday park, cottage or cycle friendly B&B.
12. New Forest 100 Sportive - 100 miles
This New Forest cycling event is hugely popular, with riders coming back year after year. It’s been running since 2012 and has since established itself as being one of the biggest cycling events in the UK. The route begins at the stunning Somerley Estate in Ringwood, an area usually closed to the public, so riders will have the opportunity to explore the stately home before setting off. Riders will then weave through the New Forest, taking in the beautiful autumn colours of the National Parks foliage - transforming the forest into a southern England wonderland.
For those who choose it, the 100-mile route could potentially be one of the easiest century rides you’ll do, so places do tend to sell out long before the day. Post-ride, there is a huge celebration with music, food and entertainment for the riders and their families - making it a great event for any keen cyclist.
Best New Forest cycle routes for mountain biking
13. Looping Lepe and Exbury - 9.3 miles
Traveling along the New Forest’s charming coastline and cutting inland, this 9.3-mile circular route is full of coastal delights. With splendid sea views, this rugged trail makes for an easy ride on dry summer days, just look out for some parts of the route which may be overgrown. It begins and ends at the picturesque Lepe Country Park, and passes through the quieter areas of Langley and Blackfield.
In winter, this route can be muddy and challenging on the by-ways, so a mountain bike is a must!
14. Moors Valley Country Park - 7 miles
The Moors Valley Country Park showcases New Forest mountain biking at its best. There is a central short 2-mile circuit, but there is the option to take three additional loops to extend your ride to 7 miles. These routes follow wide gravel tracks and are waymarked with round posts with coloured bands. There are many miles of paths and tracks through Moors Valley Country Park and Forest to put your mountain bike through its paces, and there is also a wide selection of bikes to hire, including children’s bikes and trailers.
The Rangers organise lots of cycle rides throughout the year, from introductory courses for adults who want to get back in the saddle, to more demanding off-road events for regular riders. They also run mountain bike events for children during the school holidays.
15. Cadman's Pool to Pinnick Wood to Broomy Circular - 15 miles
This loop trail is located near Lyndhurst, and it’s primarily used for hiking, walking and mountain biking. It’s a great route and easy to find your way around, with lovely views and a nice mixture of landscapes.
Cadman’s Pool is a great spot for a picnic, or just to sit and enjoy the view of the Pool. Then you’re onto Pinnick Wood, where you’ll be surrounded by peace, tranquility and mighty beech trees - and you might even be lucky enough to spot a badger! You’ll finish off at Broomy Walk, a 3.3-mile lightly trafficked loop near Ringwood. Then why not treat yourself to a refreshing drink and a bite to eat at The High Corner, a charming country pub and inn. Or you can even stay the night.
Fancy swapping the New Forest for the diverse rides of the Peak District? Explore the top 10 Peak District cycling routes in Derbyshire’s beloved National Park.