How to swerve the crowds in Snowdonia this summer

Sunrise in Snowdonia
Sunrise showcases Snowdonia in all its glory - Tamas Beck/Shutterstock

It may now officially be known under its Welsh moniker – Eryri – but Wales’ most famous national park (formerly Snowdonia) means the same thing to most people whether named in Welsh or English: high places (including the highest point in Wales and England) and lots of them. Yet, there is more to the region than its namesake, Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa.

Spanning a total area of 2,142 sq km (around the size of the tropical island, Mauritius), the area’s total population of 26,000 swells during the summer months as a huge percentage of the annual four million visitors descend on Wales’ first (designated in 1951) national park.

Many do, of course, come for the walking both the mountains and – after he recent BBC Pilgrimage TV show – flatter walking trails (interest in the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way that cuts through the lesser known areas of the park has increased dramatically since it aired). Consequently most pubs, bars and cafes are proudly ‘muddy boots friendly’, but there are plenty of other activities on offer. From mountain biking in forests to white water rafting in the valleys, to stand-up paddleboarding at the coast or inland lakes, birdwatching along the estuaries and riding the rails up mountains and between the many comely towns and villages, there’s ample adventure within Eryri’s waterfall-lined boundaries.

Even those who fancy a more sedentary exploration are satiated, by exploring the many castles, wandering amid independent shops and art galleries, visiting slate mines, learning about Welsh legends (did you know the summit of Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa is said to be the burial mound of Rhitta Gawr, slayed by King Arthur?), or following their stomach to explore the tasty local food scene.

Snowdonia is home to some of the UK's most dramatic mountiains - joe daniel price/Getty

Accommodation options are just as diverse – ranging from budget-friendly campsites and hostels to B&Bs, boutique guesthouses and five-star luxury country house hotels, with both family-focused and adults-only choices available.

Whether climbing the highest mountain or keeping your feet firmly at sea level, here’s how to avoid the crowds and reach new heights on your next holiday in Eryri.

Where is Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park?

The national park lies in the north-west corner of Wales, with Cardigan Bay to its west, the lakeside town of Bala to the east, the castle town of Conwy just outside its northern tip and the quirky, eco-friendly town of Machynlleth at its southern edge.

What is Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park known for?

It’s no coincidence that people associate the park with mountains. It was not only the training ground for mountaineer George Mallory, who attempted to climb Mount Everest in 1924, but also for Sir Edmund Hillary and the team who went on to successfully become the first to reach the summit in 1953.

It’s also the place where, in 1831, Charles Darwin confirmed the theory of glaciation while standing on one of its smaller peaks and visiting the scoured valley of Cwm Idwal (there are two boulders named after him visible today).

Its rugged peaks also caught the imagination of non-mountaineers and geologists back in 1896, when the Victorians constructed train tracks to transport curious visitors from the town of Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon (1,085m), Wales’ highest peak – the same journey is still possible during the summer.

snowdon railway
The Snowdon Mountain Railway has been climbing up the mountainside from Llanberis for over 100 years - Shutterstock

What do to in Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park

Take a hike

Hill walkers are spoilt for choice with Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa), Tryfan, the Glyderau, and the Carneddau in the north, and Cadair Idris to the south – not to mention the far less crowded Rhinogs, Arenigs and Arans. For hikes in the shadow of waterfalls, there’s Swallow Falls near the central hub of Betws-y-Coed, Aber Falls near Abergwyngregyn in the north, and Nant Gwernol in the south. For coastal bimbles you can’t beat Barmouth and for woodland walks Gwydir Forest Park.

Ride the rails

In addition to the famous Snowdon Mountain Railway, which has been climbing up the mountainside from Llanberis for over 100 years, there’s the two-centuries-old Ffestiniog Railway, which transports visitors both back in time and along 22km of track between the harbour town of Porthmadog to the slate-quarry at Blaenau Ffestiniog. The Welsh Highland Railway runs for 40km between Caernarfon and Porthmadog under the flanks of Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa).

Up the adrenaline

Zip World offers both the longest zipline in Europe and the fastest in the world, as well as underground trampolines at Bounce Below, and quarry karts, which freewheel down the slated hillsides. For mountain biking Coed-y-Brenin, near Dolgellau in south Snowdonia has purpose-built trails for all levels. And for an unforgettable overnight adventure there’s Go Below, in Blaenau Ffestiniog, where you can sleep 419m underground in an old Victorian mine in what is believed to be the deepest accommodation in the world.

zip world
Find the longest zipline in Europe and the fastest in the world at Zip World

Follow the foodie trail

The Rhug Estate serves organic, zero-food-mile meat including speciality bison burgers. Bodnant Welsh Food offer local wine, cheese, bread and more. Brasserie at Castell Deudraeth serves modern Welsh cuisine with a side helping of sightseeing (diners get free entry to Portmerion – the Italian style village by the sea). Welsh Tapas is tasty and moreish at Olif in Betws-y-Coed, and the Michelin starred Palé Hall is perfect for special occasions.

See the sites

Llechwedd’s Deep Mine uses a steep cable railway to access the underground slate quarry and the park’s mining history. Visitors should also pinpoint the affectionately named Tŷ Hyll / Ugly House near Capel Curig, the legendary Gelert’s Grave in Beddgelert, and lonely Dolbadarn Castle.

the legendary Gelert’s Grave in Beddgelert
The legendary Gelert’s Grave is in Beddgelert - Shutterstock

How to get there

Driving to Eryri is a straightforward affair, with the M56 and A55 taking you easily to the north and western edges of the national park. From the Midlands and the South the M6 and M5 connect roadtrippers.

Avanti West Coast trains travel directly to Bangor and Llandudno Junction from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and London. From the former take the picturesque Conwy Valley Line through the national park and get off at Betws-y-Coed or Blaenau Ffestiniog, from where local buses can take you everywhere you need to go. For the southern end of Eryri, the best option is the Cambrian Line which runs from Shrewsbury along the edge of the park and stops at Machynlleth before tracing the coast north, stopping at Barmouth (to link with Dolgellau and the peaks around Cadair Idris) as well as Porthmadog.

From Ireland, both the Irish Ferries and Stena depart several times a day travelling to Holyhead from where a train can take you into Snowdonia.

Once in the park, the Sherpa bus is the best way to get around as it links the different towns and starting points for many mountain trails. If determined to bring your car, note that most car parks are run by Gwynedd Council and all charge a fee. Don’t be tempted to park along the roadsides as they are very quick to remove vehicles that are not left in designated areas.

Where to stay

Best for mountain lovers

The Victorian Pen y Gwryd Hotel (or PYG – rumoured to be where the name of neighbouring Snowdon’s Pyg Track originates) was home to the members of the 1953 Everest Expedition before their successful trip to Nepal, making it the ideal base from which to make your own mountain memories. 
From £112 per night;

Best for families

Families wanting to take advantage of the ziplines, ‘fforest coaster’, bouncing nets and slide of Treetops Nets and Zipworld in Betws-y-Coed, can stay on-site in one of the new Forest Lodge Basecamps. Glass-fronted and set within the trees, they each sleep up to 2 adults and 3 children and come with an outdoor hot tub and dining area set on the generously proportioned balcony. 
From £107 per night;

pale hall
Palé Hall is on the outskirts of the park at Bala

Best for luxury

For the ultimate luxury experience, the five-star country house hotel, Palé Hall, is on the outskirts of the park at Bala. It has 18 sumptuous and individually decorated bedrooms, four garden suites and acres of land perfect for walking off the Michelin green star meals you’ll sample. 
From £314 per night;

Find more of the best hotels in Snowdonia National Park in our guide.

How to visit on a budget

For low-cost accommodation the YHA hostels found in the park are great value and clean (with private rooms available) and placed in key areas: for Snowdon / Yr Wyddfa there’s Pen y Pass (opposite the Pyg and Miners Tracks for early access); Llanberis (for the path of the same name), Snowdon Ranger (for the little-used Ranger Path). For Tryfan, the Glyderau and Carneddau ranges there’s Idwal Cottage and for Cadair Idris there’s Kings in Dolgellau. Some are self-catering only but others have restaurants with a surprisingly diverse array of meals. Prices start from £20 per night.

Camping is another inexpensive option in Snowdonia – for tents Snowdon Base Camp offers million-dollar views for £14 per night next to a huge lake to swim in or paddle on. Motorhomes or glampers should try Graig Wen, which gives easy access to Cadair Idris and the beaches of Barmouth, and has yurts, bell tents and a shepherd hut, as well as hookups for vehicle.

Graig Wen
Glampers should try Graig Wen - Roy Riley

To get around, the Sherpa bus is the thrifty travellers friend and saves the steep parking fees – all day tickets cost from £6.50 (£14.20 for two adults and up to three children). Don’t forget, enjoying the views and walking will cost you nothing at all…

When to visit

The weather in Eryri is often better in high summer (June – August) – however, this coincides with UK school holidays when the park reaches its busiest. Avoiding this period is the most obvious way to swerve the crowds – also consider that schools in Wales sometimes have different term dates to England.

arnedd Moel Siabod Daear Ddu east ridge
Time it right and it's easy to avoid crowds in Snowdonia - Pearl Bucknall/Alamy

There are other ways to beat the crowds in peak season. Avoid Saturdays and bank holidays for a start. When there, start your day early or go for a late-afternoon/evening stroll (taking advantage of the prolonged daylight), and use public transport to avoid parking problems and tourist traffic.

If hiking consider switching Snowdon, Tryfan and Cadair Idris for hills in the lesser-known Carneddau, Rhinogs or the Moelwynions. Even if you’re set on reaching the summit of Snowdon there are plenty of paths – half of all visitors use the Llanberis Path, whereas only three per cent use the Rhyd Ddu one, for example.