Mountain ranges of Wales

The Welsh mountains which make our landscapes so distinctive were carved out in the Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago. They’re our defence and our lifeline, a challenge and an inspiration. Their peaks, slopes and views attract mountaineers, artists and Olympic sportsmen. And they’re endlessly exciting to explore.

Snowdonia

Best for: mountaineering, hiking, mountain biking, abseiling, wild swimming, whitewater rafting, narrow gauge railway, waterfalls, lakes, photography

Cader Idris, Snowdonia

Cadair Idris, Snowdonia

Rocky, rough and tough – that’s how we like our mountains in North Wales. Don’t think that just because you can take a train to the top, Snowdon isn’t a proper peak. In fact, Snowdonia National Park is a mountain and adventure capital that’s up there with the classic Alpine destinations. Each of the six official eight-mile routes to the highest mountain in Wales (1085m) offer sensational hiking.

In Snowdonia’s nine ranges, there are 15 peaks over 900m high, including Snowdon itself. You may have heard of some of the others. Tryfan (918m) is a famous landmark, a triangular peak offering some of the best scrambling – and views – in Britain. Cadair Idris, which rears up from the shores of the beautiful Mawddach Estuary, is 893m high.

Cambrian Mountains

Best for: birdwatching, reservoirs, wilderness walks, bog snorkelling

Elan Valley

Elan Valley Reservoir, Powys, Mid Wales

Cambrian Mountains is a name that’s sometimes used literally, to mean the rocky spine that reaches all the way from the craggy heights of Snowdonia to the softer peaks of the Brecon Beacons – in other words, all the mountains in Wales. But it’s also used more specifically to describe the Mid Wales uplands – the sparsely populated landscape from Plynlimon (752m) near Machynlleth to Mallaen (462m) near Llandovery. 

The Cambrian Mountains are separated from Snowdonia and the Black Mountain Range by the Dovey and Tywi valleys. They’re home to the sources of the Wye and the Severn, the peaceful Elan Valley reservoirs, and miles of wild scenery, home to owls and other birds of prey.

Black Mountain Range, the Black Mountains, Fforest Fawr and the Brecon Beacons

Best for: walking, cycle touring, mountain biking, horse riding, hang-gliding, canal boating, stargazing, caving, nature trails, ancient sites

Llangorse Lake

Llangorse Lake, Brecon Beacons

No, the Black Mountain Range and the Black Mountains aren’t one and the same – but they’re both found within the grassy expanses of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

The Black Mountain Range, sometimes just called Black Mountain, is to the west, north of Swansea. It’s one of Wales’ most wild and remote corners with impressive, glacier-carved escarpments and isolated lakes, several miles from the nearest road. Its highest peak is Fan Brycheiniog (802m).

The Black Mountains are to the east, on the border with England. Abergavenny, Hay-on-Wye, Llangorse and the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal stand at their feet and their highest point is the Waun Fach plateau (811m). Confusingly enough, this range is also home to a peak called Black Mountain.

To the southwest is Fforest Fawr (Great Forest), an upland area of remarkable limestone cliffs and caves. It’s the only Geopark in Wales.

A view of Cribyn from Pen-y-Fan, Brecon Beacons

Cribyn, viewed from Pen-y-Fan, Brecon Beacons

 by Paula J James

Dominating the centre of the Brecon Beacons National Park are the Brecon Beacons, whose most celebrated peaks, Pen y Fan (886m) and Cribyn (795m), are the highest in southern Britain. The Brecon Beacons are popular, with plenty of footpaths and bridleways. But they’re quieter than Snowdonia. Head off on foot and at times it can feel as if you have an entire mountainside to yourself.

Find out more about Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons.