The UK isn’t known for its cloud-topping cols and high altitude mountain passes. But we do have Snowdonia, a region blessed with unparalleled natural beauty and a ton of challenging climbs for you to test yourself on.
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From leg-breaking routes through the region’s toughest hills to rip-roaring MTB trails in the much-loved Elan Valley, here are three of the best bikes rides for you to try in and around Snowdonia National Park…
1 – Snowdonia Loop
Climbing is fun, but sometimes you want to just appreciate the stunning, mountainous terrain without having to bust a gut riding to all the summits. This flat(ish) route around Snowdonia allows you to do just that, throwing in a long but gradual climb after the half way point to get the blood pumping and endorphins flowing.
Starting from the former mining village of Llanberis, this ride heads out towards the coast and the quaint town of Caernarfon. The route is almost pan flat, save for one slight hillock that brings you out at an amazing viewpoint where you can see down to the coast and the sparkling Irish Sea.
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Riding through the town centre you’ll spot Caernarfon Castle, a 13th-century building built for an English King, Edward I. Leave Caernarfon behind and head inland towards the village of Beddgelert. The roads that lead to this village are incredibly quiet and super quick – if the sun is shining and you’ve got a tailwind at your back it can be one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole route.
Beddgelert is the perfect spot for a mid-ride refuel, the village seemingly boasting more eateries than people! From cute little tearooms to gastro pubs, there are a massive amount of food choices on offer – just make sure you don’t fill up too much, the climb of the day is just around the corner.
From Beddgelert the roads begin to rise almost instantly, through the Gwynant Valley and towards the summit of Pen-y-Pass. This is a long climb, but very gradual, so there are plenty of opportunities to relax, sit up in the saddle and drink in the stunning vistas. The climb tops out at 360m – considering you’ve basically just climbed from sea level that’s one serious hill!
Take the long, flowing descent back to Llanberis to finish your scenic Snowdonia Loop. Before you pack up and head home however, be sure to visit Pete’s Eats – one of the most famous cafés in the Snowdonia region. There’s no better way to finish an epic ride than with a warm pot of tea and a hearty portion of homemade grub.
2 – The Elan Valley Trail
Hidden within the heart of Wales and due south of Snowdonia National Park is the world-renowned Elan Valley, a haven for mud-hungry, thrill-seeking mountain bikers. The valley is home to an untold number of routes, but this one – the Elan Valley Trail – is without a doubt the pick of the bunch.
This 35km-long route sets off from the pretty village of Cwmdauddwr, the unofficial capital of this beautiful, yet isolated valley. The route heads west towards the hilltops, plodding along the disused and now re-surfaced old Birmingham Corporation Railway.
Soon the route joins the National Cycle Route 81 and swings south towards the first reservoir of the day – Craig Goch. The long but gradual climb along the shores of this reservoir provide some stunning views and on a clear day you can just make out the grand old city of Birmingham to the east.
The Craig Goch reservoir soon turns into the Garreg Ddu Reservoir, but not before a small but much-anticipated tearoom appears. If you’re already feeling the burn then this is the perfect, and only, opportunity for a pit-stop. If you’re feeling good then carry on south towards Elan Village, it’s mainly downhill from here on in.
The final stretch to the finishing town of Rhayader is well paved and virtually traffic free, perfect to pick up some speed on and feel the wind whip through your hair. Once you arrive in the town centre, go and grab a bite to eat – there are several eateries in the town serving everything from local Welsh favourites to spicy, Indian curries.
3 – The Wild West of Snowdonia
In this beautiful but devilish corner of the UK the climbs bow to no rider – even the pros would quiver in their bib tights at the sight of them.
Rolling out from the town of Machynlleth, this route heads straight into the rugged wilds that straddle the Cambrian Mountains and Snowdonia. Pick up the A493 and follow it west towards the coastal town of Tywyn. You’ll encounter a short, sharp climb along the way – a perfect opportunity to test the legs and prepare yourself for the gruelling hills still to come.
From Tywyn, head back into the rolling terrain at the foothills of Snowdonia and through the Dysynni Valley. This is a beautiful part of the route and an ideal spot for a mid-ride photoshoot. The roads are pan flat as you head through the valley and into the quaint village of Abergynolwyn, but don’t get too comfortable – soon you’ll be climbing up a narrow road to the very top of the valley.
The descent from the summit is thrilling, taking you back out west towards the coast. The road along the coastline undulates and really starts to sap your energies, which isn’t ideal considering the climbs you’ve still got left to come.
Fly straight through the town of Llwyngwril and continue along the undulating roads to Arthog. From this small village one of Wales’ hardest climbs rears its ugly head. It’s only 2km long, but over that distance you’ll climb a massive 250m which really starts to take a toll on your already aching legs.
The views at the top of the climb are well worth the effort however, the roads at the top skirting around the beautiful Cregennen Lakes. Soon you’ll descend into the valley on the other side and follow the fast, flowing road towards the town of Dolgellau.
All downhills in this part of the UK lead to an uphill however, and before you know it you’ll be climbing again, this time up a 2.3km-long climb with an average gradient of 9%. Follow this snaking road to Tabor and join the A487 back to Machynlleth. It’s a fast road but relatively quiet, offering a relaxing end to an otherwise punishing ride.
Keep an eye out for the next instalment in our Great British Bike Rides series. Until then, why not check out our cycle insurance packages and get planning your cycling trip to this stunning part of the UK.
Words by Will Newton