A family friendly walk
The Elterwater to Skelwith Bridge walk is suitable for all ages, from tiny toddlers to reluctant teenagers. For very little effort on this flat, linear walk you are rewarded with beautiful views, lots of places to rest and play, and one of the best bakeries around.
Where is Elterwater?
Elterwater village is about 10 minutes west of Ambleside, travelling along the A593.
From Coniston, travel north along the A593. It takes around 15 minutes.
The 516 bus runs from Ambleside and stops at the Britannia Inn in Elterwater village, you can find the timetable here.
Elterwater National Trust car park
From personal experience as National Trust members, this is where I would try to park in Elterwater. As you can imagine, this is a VERY popular walk so I would recommend getting there as early as you can. This is where those early toddler mornings come in handy!
If you can’t get there before early, I would recommend leaving this walk until the evening. A lot of the visitors have left by then and it is often easier to park.
If the car park is full, there are lay-bys on the road approaching the village where you can sometimes get a space.
This walk is linear and can be started at either end. We have walked it both ways several times and parking at Elterwater is definitely our favourite.
The walk is approximately 3.8 miles in total (there and back) and can take around 2-3 hours. You can see it took us 2.5 hours this time, we did a lot of stopping and playing along the way in various spots. Our favourites are marked with a 1 and 3 on the map.
Walking boots or wellies are recommended, although on dry days it is perfectly possible to do this walk in trainers. We always manage to get wet though so wellies are a must for us!
Elterwater to Skelwith Bridge
From the Elterwater National Trust car park, go through the gate behind the pay machine wall.
You are now on the path that you can follow all the way to Skelwith Bridge.
The path is almost all flat, and is a mixture of path and short sections of boardwalk. Along the way there are plenty of places to stop and play, a mixture of lake shore, rocks and boulders, and even a rope swing!
The path follows the river to start with, which flows alongside you as you walk.
Eventually, the path opens up to Elterwater (the lake), with big sweeping views up into the Lake District. This is a great place to stop for a snack on the benches on the lake shore. There are enough stones and sticks to keep the kids busy for a while!
Further on, you will come to a small, short incline as you go through a gate. After the gate you will see an iron bridge on your right.
To get to Skelwith Bridge (you’re nearly there at this point!) continue with the bridge on your right, do not cross the river.
The path after this bridge is still an easy walk, but it become more uneven and there is a definite decline. If either of those things make walking tricky I’d recommend turning around at the bridge and heading back.
Along this section, you will see a ramp leading down to some rocks by a waterfall. We ventured down there on our last walk here, and it was beautiful but VERY slippy. I would absolutely proceed with caution here, and if in doubt, miss this bit out.
About five minutes after the iron bridge, the path will open out into a car park with a few industrial units. You have reached Skelwith Bridge! It’s number 2 on the map at the top of the page.
Now it might just be time for a little treat from Chesters at Skelwith Bridge…
Chesters Skelwith Bridge
Chesters by the River is a bit of an institution and is super popular with local families, along with this walk. It’s a bakery and a shop, open every day from 9:00-4:00. It does hot food from 11:30-3:00.
We love to take away a few treats to eat along the walk back, but there is plenty of seating if you want to stay for a while. I highly recommend trying their cakes and pastries if you can, they’re an absolute treat.
It’s also worth knowing there are toilets here for paying customers. This is not an easy walk for a wild wee so this is important information!
Skelwith Bridge to Elterwater
Now for the return leg of the walk! We tend to take any cakes with us back along the path, as an incentive to keep little legs going. There are a few places to stop along the way, but we try to make it to the lake shore again before we crack open the treats.
Follow the path back along all the way back to Elterwater. For the adults, it’s nice to see the views from a different perspective.
For the kids, we have often ‘saved’ some of the things they might want to do for the walk back as motivation. For example this time we saved the rope swing for the way back, which helped keep their interest up for the last bit of the walk.
Keep along the path until you reach Elterwater village and the Elterwater National Trust car park. You have completed the Elterwater to Skelwith Bridge (and back again) walk!
Just occasionally, the Lake District gets weather that’s slightly less than perfect! Do you need some ideas for how to keep the kids busy indoors if the rainclouds appear? Read 10 Things to do in Bowness on Windermere in the Rain for some ideas.