Lake District Cycling Climbs: Mountain Passes, Routes and Views

Updated on May 31, 2018
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Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer, he ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

The mountain scenery of the Lake District has some fantastic cycling climbs.
The mountain scenery of the Lake District has some fantastic cycling climbs. | Source

Classic Cycling Climbs With Views of the English Lake District

The Lake District is a National Park in the county of Cumbria in North-West England.

The Lake District is a cyclist's dream, whether you're looking for exceptional mountain biking, quiet country lanes, beautiful views or some of the most challenging cycling climbs in the UK.

The Lake District offers a great variety of road cycling routes. You can follow gentle roads along the edges of some of the world most beautiful Lakeland scenary, or tackle some steep and challenging road cycling climbs followed by a cup of tea and fantastic home-made cakes.

Cycling England's High Mountain Passes in the Lake District

The Lake District is home to the highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike at 976m, as well as some of England's highest mountain passes which surround the area and interlink many villages and towns throughout the Lake District.

Lake District Mountain Passes

In order of height:

  1. Kirkstone Pass 454m
  2. Hardknott Pass 393m
  3. Wrynose Pass 393m
  4. Honister Pass 356m
  5. Whinlatter Pass 318m

While these climbs are not by any means high by European standards, British road-bulding technique prefers building a road over an obstacle to building a road meandering around it. Therefore there are many more steep cycling climbs in the UK.

Plan Your Ride: Map of High Passes of the Lake District

A
Kirkstone Pass:
Lake District National Park, Kirkstone Pass, Cumbria LA22, UK

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The highest of the Mountain passes of the Lake District, Cumbria at 454 meters above sea level.

B
Wrynose pass:
Wrynose Pass, Lake District National Park, Broughton-in-Furness, Cumbria LA20, UK

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The Lake Districts second highest Mountain Pass and a real challenge of a cycling route reaching 393 m in altitude

C
Honister Pass:
Lake District National Park, Honister Pass, Cumbria CA12, UK

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Honister Pass is the fourth highest Mountain Pass in the Lake District but offers a fantastic cycling route up to 356m

D
Whinlatter Pass:
Lake District National Park, Whinlatter Pass, Cumbria CA12, UK

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Probably the easiest of the Lake District Mountain Passes due to it's meander up to the Grizedale Forest. Peaks at a mild 318 m

E
Hardknott Pass:
Hard Knott, Lake District National Park, Holmrook, Cumbria CA19, UK

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The point of Hard Knott in the Lake District is one of the UK's toughest cycling climbs at 393 m

Hardknott Pass- The hardest climb in the Lake District

Hardknott Pass viewed from the Cockley Beck side. Arguably the hardest cycling climb in the Lake District and England
Hardknott Pass viewed from the Cockley Beck side. Arguably the hardest cycling climb in the Lake District and England | Source
The start of the Hardknott Pass as signed from Cockley Beck T-junction
The start of the Hardknott Pass as signed from Cockley Beck T-junction | Source

Hardknott Pass is arguably the most challenging cycling climb in both the Lake District and England.

From Cockley Beck is the hardest side of the climb with sections of 30% (that's almost 1 in 3!). The road climbs up via a series of switchbacks up to Hardknott Fort. An old Roman Fort up high in the Pennine Hills. Once you're riding up you begin to question the logic of why you started the climb why you cry out for it to finish.

This is a climb for which a compact chainset or even (don't crucify the author) a triple chainset could be acceptable for. You'll still be on the rivet and in your largest cogs on the rear.

Recommended gear for Hardknott Pass 39x27, 34x25 or even smaller

Hardknott Pass as photographed from OS Explorer OL6. Ordnance Survey Explorers are ideal for working out cycling routes in the Lake District.
Hardknott Pass as photographed from OS Explorer OL6. Ordnance Survey Explorers are ideal for working out cycling routes in the Lake District. | Source

Tackling Hardknott Pass from Eskdale by bicycle

Cycling through the beautiful Eskdale valley you pass the Hardknott Brewery and Eskdale Youth Hostel before the road starts to snake upwards after a car parking area at the base of Eskdale where the switchbacks commence. Some very tight and even steeper on the insides so keep to the outsides where visibility will allow it. Almost 300 meters and 2.5 km of climbing later you will be at the top of Hardknott Pass with exceptional views of the Fells of the Lake District.

The view of the The Hardknott Pass from Eskdale
The view of the The Hardknott Pass from Eskdale | Source

Cycling the Wrynose Pass to Langdale

Cycling the Wrynose Pass to Langdale from Cockley Beck
Cycling the Wrynose Pass to Langdale from Cockley Beck | Source

Following the descent off Hardknott comes the almost-as-intimidating climb of Wrynose Pass. It's not quite so well known as it's next-door neighbour Hardknott Pass, but it's on the same road running from Eskdale.

With sections getting up to 25% Wrynose Pass by bicycle is not quite as steep as Hardknott but just as hard work, especially if your legs are tired from an initial climb. The Wrynose Pass offers breathtaking views toward the Pike of Blisco and down into the valley to Langdale.

The climb either starts from the junction at Cockley Beck with an initial ride alongside the River Duddon. Or from the opposite direction you can start the climb from Little Landale.

Recommended gear for cycling Wrynose Pass: 39x27, 34x25

The climb over Birker Fell as taken from an Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL6

The climb over Birker Fell. Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL6
The climb over Birker Fell. Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL6 | Source

Looking for a cycling climb in the Lake District with amazing views?

If you're looking for a cycling climb which will give you some phenomenal views of the Lake District Mountain scenary consider the climb over Birker Fell either from Ulpha, or Eskdale. It offers a rise up[ to a mountain plateau at a height of around 250 m above sea level but gives the opportunity of views over to Harter Fell, Dow Crag, the Old Man of Coniston as well as the Scafell Massif, Bow Fell and Crinkle Crags. Barker Fell offers amazing views while cycling in the Lake District.

The climb over Birker Fell is not excessively challenging,m although if you start in Ulpha village it does initiall kick up to around 15% gradient for the first half a kilometre. Once over the initial difficult section the views over the many Fells from your bike will be worth the effort.

Recommended gear for cycling Birker Fell: 39x25 or 34x23 (if tackling the tougher Ulpha climbing section)

At the top of Birker Fell feeling remote for cycling

Atop Birker Fell. A remote feeling climb which rewards the cyclist with fantastic views
Atop Birker Fell. A remote feeling climb which rewards the cyclist with fantastic views | Source

The Kirkstone Pass Inn atop the Highest Mountain Pass in the Lake District

A cyclist grabbing a drink outside the Kirkstone Pass Inn after complting the highest pass in the Lake District
A cyclist grabbing a drink outside the Kirkstone Pass Inn after complting the highest pass in the Lake District | Source

Climbing out of Windermere- The Kirkstone Pass

The Kirkstone Pass is the highest mountain pass to cycle in the Lake District. The road climbs instantly out of Windermere on the A592 road which offers fantastic views of the high Fells of High Street, Ill Bell and Harter Fell which look incredibly imposing out in front as you climb gradually up to a height of 454 m above sea level over the course of 5 miles. Some sections kick up to around 10% but generally this isn't a challenge in the same league as Hardknott Pass in terms of steepness and relentless gradient.

Atop the climb of the Kirkstone Pass lies the Kirstone Pass Inn which is a great opportunity to stop and wait for anyone that may be behind you or simply take in the views.

The hardest climb of the Kirkstone Pass is via 'The Struggle' which heads out of Ambleside on a minor road which leads to a 20% end section up to the Kirkstone Pass Inn and is shown in the distance below.

Both are great cycling climbs to ride in the Lake District and offer stunning views.

Recommended gear for cycling Kirkstone Pass: 39x23 or 34x21

Looking down from the top of the Kirkstone Pass on 'The Struggle'

Looking down on 'The Struggle' from the Kirkstone Pass Inn
Looking down on 'The Struggle' from the Kirkstone Pass Inn | Source

We would love your feedback on cycling in the Lake District

We hope you've enjoyed this guide to the cycling climbs and high mountain passes of the Lake District. If there's a particular pass you feel should be included or you would like to have your say please feel free to do so in the comments below.

Alternately if you have any photo's that you would like to see on this page please contact CyclingFitness (via his profile) who will add them to the article. The Lake District is a magical place for cycling for which we would love to share our love for.

Questions & Answers

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        londonfixie 

        6 years ago

        Nice showcase of the lake district and it’s mountain passes- Some of those climbs look brutes

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