National Park Spotlight: North York Moors

North York Moors

Sutton Bank at Dusk By Welcome to Yorkshire

In the latest installment of our weekly series looking at the National Parks of Great Britain, we’re staying in Yorkshire. After last week’s look at the Dales, today, we are exploring another part of the region. Let’s take a look at the North York Moors National Park.

North York Moors

Marcus British (

North York Moors National Park was created in 1952. It covers 554 square miles. More than 23,000 people make their home within the park’s boundaries. Bordered on one side by the coastline, the moors are one of the largest areas of heather moorland in the country. The Park is easily accessible, with York, Harrogate, and Middlesbrough all a short distance away, An estimated 7.6 million visitors come to the North York Moors each year.

North York Moors

There are tourist information offices in a number of the villages and towns throughout the park, including Helmsley, Pickering, and Northallerton. National Park Centres are located at Sutton Bank and Danby. All of these are good spots to pick up maps and other leaflets. Some also have further services such as hotel bookings and coach tickets.

What to do. 

With their rural landscapes, purple moorland, and small villages, the Moors attract a number of walkers and outdoors enthusiasts. More than 1,400 miles of public footpaths criss-cross their way across the land and the National Park site has numerous walks available to download. Cyclists and horse-riders can also enjoy the variety of paths and trails. For a shorter (under 8 miles) walk, popular choices are the White Horse Walk, the Wainstones Walk, and Farndale. The latter is especially popular in the spring when the landscape is awash with wild daffodils.

North York Moors.

Helmsley. Courtesy of the North York Moors National Park Association.

At 37 miles long, the Esk Valley Walk offers more of a challenge. The path is clearly marked and passes through a stunning selection of moorland and woodland. Longer still is the 109-mile Cleveland Way National Trail. Walkers can choose to begin in the coastal town of Filey or the market town of Helmsley, and follow an upside-down horseshoe along the coast and across moors. Dramatic photographic opportunities abound.

For cyclists, the Park is very proud of its Moor to Sea Cycle Network, a 150-mile route that passes through Scarborough, Whitby, and Pickering, as well as other stops. To cycle the entire trail, allow 5 or 6 days. Alternatively, pick one section or one of the shorter circular trails for a day’s exercise.

The streams and rivers through the moors are perfect for fishing, and the coastline is becoming an increasingly popular spot for surfers. Boat trips or sea kayaking also provide excellent opportunities to make the most of the coast.

North York Moors

The High Bridestones, Sleights Moor. © Copyright Jim Champion and licensed for reuse.

The North York Moors are also a haven for wildlife. The area is a European Special Protection Area for merlin and golden plover. Birdwatchers come from around the world to admire the moors’ expansive breeding grounds. The northernmost colony of Duke of Burgundy butterflies in the UK live here, and flower-lovers will know that this is also the most southerly place for the dwarf cornel to grow. Don’t forget about the abundance of marine life. Seals, whales, dolphins, and a variety of sea birds live in the North Sea and whale watching tours from Whitby offer the chance to see many different species.


North York Moors

North York Moors Railway. Courtesy of Welcome to Yorkshire.

What to see.

It seems that we can’t mention a National Park without mentioning at least one railway, and the North York Moors are no exception. Passengers on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway can ride 24 miles on one of the railway’s magnificent steam locomotives. Or how about enjoying a meal in the historic dining car?

With more than 700 scheduled monuments and close to 3,000 listed buildings in the Park, we don’t have room to list them all. Suffice to say, you can visit again and again and always visit somewhere new.

North York Moors

Ryedale Folk Museum. By Chris J. Parker.

The Ryedale Folk Museum offers a fun glimpse into the past with living history demonstrations of traditional farming methods, and a collection of historic buildings.

Be sure to allow time to explore some of the small villages dotted across the moors. Take in some afternoon tea at one of the many tearooms; enjoy a food festival; or visit a local pub or brewery for a pint of the local ale.

North York Moors

©VisitBritain / James McCormick

Avoid the crowds.

The visitor centres and key attractions such as Castle Howard attract crowds, especially at peak times and school holidays. However, with so much isolated moorland, it shouldn’t be too difficult to escape and enjoy the scenery.

Where to stay. 

There are camp sites throughout the park. They range from family sites to smaller farm locations. Wild camping is only available with landowners’ permission.  Pubs and B&Bs abound and there is even a spot called The Pigsty, but trust us, it’s unlike any pigsty you’ll find elsewhere!

Whatever your accommodation preference–hotel, bed and breakfast, rural farmhouse, or self-catering–you will find a huge range of options to suit a variety of budgets. Our sidebar includes several affiliate links to hotel chains and cottages within the area.

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