The Peak District’s bike routes range from idyllic flat paths to surprising woodland trails and challenging uphill journeys sure to satisfy all sorts of riders. Add to that the incredible sights and sounds that’ll form the backdrop to your pedal-pushing - think frothing streams teeming with quacking ducks, bluebell-filled fields and white-washed cliffs - and we’re sure you’re already looking for your hydration pack.
Key info for cycling in the Peak District
Before we take you through the best bike rides in and around the Peak District, there’s some info we thought you should know. Firstly, even though most cycle routes are traffic-free, many will take you through villages where there are cars and a handful require crossing a busier road to continue your adventure, so remember to be alert to dangers and ride safely - that means with your helmet and recently tested lights, brakes etc.
Secondly, you don’t have to bring your own bike to enjoy the Peak District’s cycle paths. Perhaps you don’t have one, don’t have room in the car or fancy mixing your camping holiday up with walking, climbing and cycling, so would rather not lug two wheels around.
There are four main bike hire places in the Peak District: Ashbourne, Derwent, Parsley Hay and Manifold. You can book your bike hire ahead of time online - each one has its own website - and it’s worth knowing which is the nearest to where you’ll be, as they also offer repairs.
Thirdly, as with any lengthy bike ride, pack the essentials. Bring plenty of water, snacks and a first aid kit, as well as a map and your phone as a minimum. While there are cafes, shops and people around, it always pays to be prepared in case you get lost or injured. All sorted? Let’s go!
Here’s our pick of the best Peak District cycling routes…
Difficulty level: Easy - suitable for kids and trailers
For anyone who fancies incorporating cycling into their Peak District adventure but doesn’t want to bring a bike with them, the Tissington Trail is ideal. Whether you start at the Ashbourne or Parsley Hay end, there are places you can hire two wheels and, depending on your riding level, you can cycle one way (13 miles) or make it a longer, more varied and challenging circular route by crossing onto the High Peak Trail towards the end. You’ll take in vast stretches of greenery peppered with livestock, dramatic forests and the charming village of Tissington itself with its quaint, historic church, sweet cottages and a pretty pond. There are other towns nearby if you wanted to make a day of it - it’s amazing how reinvigorated you’ll feel after a hearty pub lunch!
Difficulty level: Easy peasy! Great for families
This trail is a flat two-mile cycle along the old railway line just south of Ladybower Dam and close to expansive green, so you can do some gentle walking/riding or enjoy a picnic before setting off. From there you won’t even need to check the map - it’s a straight line and Thornhill Trail is clearly marked - and will reach Water Lane before you know it. Bamford Station is nearby.
Why not consider making it a loop by travelling back to Yorkshire Bridge via the River Derwent?
Difficulty level: Easy - a flat, straight route, ideal for beginners
For something a bit different (see also: wildly varied!), try the Monsal Trail. Start at Hassop Station if you’re coming on the train and choose between either Bakewell or Blackwell Mill (where there’s a good snack bar and cycle hire) if you’re driving.
The Monsal Trail is 16 miles there and back and provides an impressive view of Wye Valley from atop the infamous viaduct before leading onto more unruly terrain along the cliffs at Chee Dale. The highlight for most cyclists is negotiating two wheels through the six tunnels on this route, which are lit - though not very well - and open to pedestrians, so do be careful.
Difficulty level: Easy - some small hills and road crossings, but mostly flat and quiet, ideal for groups/families
A thoroughly enjoyable, picturesque eight-mile trail that goes all the way around Carsington Water. Carsington Loop is brilliant for beginners of all ages, as well as more advanced riders looking to cool off. You’ll start and finish at Carsington Water Visitor Centre where there are toilets and refreshments, and pass churches, pubs and of course, reservoir views en route.
Sailing and fishing is popular here, so if you’re looking for an action-packed weekend in the Peak District, add it to your list quick.
Difficulty level: Easy-moderate - the terrain chops and changes quite a bit and there can be a lot of hikers on the paths in summer
If reservoirs are your jam, why not ride around three of the Peak District’s best in one go? This cycle route is 15 miles and takes you on a mixture of smooth road and less-smooth tracks along the Ladybower, Derwent and Howden reservoirs. It’s the kind of route that has something for everyone - there are opportunities to stop and bird watch or swim and sunbathe, and Derwent’s past-life as a practice site for the Dambusters is sure to keep the historians in your group interested (be sure to plan a stop at the small museum at Ladybower).
The High Peak Trail
Difficulty level: Moderate - it’s a long-ish ride but for the most part, you’re rolling downhill
The High Peak Trail is a day spent well (assuming you’re advanced enough a rider to manage 18 miles in one day). As the name suggests, you’ll be riding high for a good portion of this route but you won’t have to struggle with too much uphill pedaling to enjoy those far-reaching views - because you push off quite high up, it’s actually more downhill than anything else, making this journey a relatively low-energy one. Start at Parsley Hay and head to Middleton Top where you’ll drop down to High Peak Junction - the vista over the Matlocks is incredible - and then along the canal to Cromford where you can hop on the train home.
The Bradfield Tour
Difficulty level: Hard - those steep climbs are not for the faint-hearted! Be sure to pack water and a repair kit
For a real uphill challenge, allow us to point you in the direction of The Bradfield Tour, a circular 26-mile tour of the villages of Bradfield, which was part of Tour de France 2014’s Stage 2 (avid followers may remember the ‘Cote de Bradfield’ climb and this is your chance to try it).
If that hasn’t scared you off, plan to start in Sheffield and push up the Loxley Valley. The roads are quiet and there’s lots of open countryside to distract from the rarely-flat terrain. You’ll pass plenty of pubs and cafes on your way but this route works best when done in one go, so why not remember them for a post-ride reward?
The Pennine Cycleway
Difficulty level: Tough in places with big gaps between potential stops - we recommend this one for experienced, confident riders
Not the same as the super-popular Pennine Bridleway, The Pennine Cycleway is a long-distance cycle which goes all the way through the Peak District and beyond to Scotland. It’s about 350 miles, so ideal for anyone hoping to plan a week-long cycling holiday with overnight camping or B&B stays, but you can, of course, do it in less.
Unsurprisingly, you’ll experience a varied roster of terrain and sights across the distance from quiet cobbled roads to narrow canal paths, grassy inclines to winding woodland. The hardest bits are Woodhead summit and around Hebden Bridge, but otherwise just take your time when things get bumpy or busy and you’ll be fine.
The Great North Trail
Difficulty level: While there are easier sections that are suited to families, much of this trail is on tricky ground, uphill and ambiguously sign-posted, so we’re going to give it a difficult/advanced rating, just to ensure you take it seriously!
The Great North Trail cycle route is one of the more newly established routes, which runs for 800 miles from the Pennine Bridleway to John O’Groats, ticking off four National Parks and an incredibly diverse mix of scenery and largely unsurfaced terrain, as well as canal paths, disused railway and open moors.
In short, this is a trail for the off-road adventurer and you’ll need a good mountain bike to do it. If you don’t want to do the whole thing or only have a weekend to spend riding, the trail can be broken into eight different sections, for example, Middleton Top to Hebden Bridge or Appleby-in-Westmorland to Kielder. Be sure to plan properly before you set off.
Difficulty level: Hard. The consistent incline and likelihood of traffic make it best for experienced riders who like a short, sharp challenge
A notorious part of the Tour of the Peak sportive, Winnats Pass is known as the Killer Mile by those that take part (it’s 1.4 miles in total though). Once you’ve left the pretty village of Castleton, travelling west, you’ll be hit with the steep limestone cleft.
Unfortunately, bar the day of the sportive, this narrow road remains open and can be quite busy, so set off early if you can to really enjoy the sloping grasslands and rugged rock faces on either side without the worry of traffic. The incline is around 10% but reaches 20% near the top, so make sure you’ve got fresh tyres and legs!