The Elan Valley in rural Mid Wales has been inspiring visitors for centuries. Inhabited since the stone age, the area became known for mining, religious sites and for taking part in the Rebecca Riots of the 1840s. Today the valley is famous for the spectacular dams and scenery. The nearest large town is Rhayader, on The Cambrian Way snaking through Mid Wales.
Over 80% of the valley is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), home to reservoirs, aqueducts, hundreds of animals and loads of opportunities to have fun. We’ve put together a few suggestions on how to have a truly memorable and adventurous time in the beautiful Elan Valley.
Elan Valley dams and reservoirs
The dams and reservoirs were built to supply regular fresh water to Birmingham. Building work began in 1883, continuing until the last dam was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. There are six impressive dams altogether. Four follow the Elan River - Craig Goch, Pen y Garreg, Garreg Ddu, and Caban Coch and two are on the river Claerwen - the Claerwen dam and the unfinished Dol y Mynach dam.
How to get there
The easiest way by car is to head to Rhayader, at the crossroads of the A44 from the east or the A470 from North or South Wales. Follow the B4518 to the west then look out for signposts towards the Elan Valley Visitor Centre.
Rhayader is easy to get to by public transport - Traveline Cymru can help. It's around three miles to the Visitor Centre so you can walk if you're feeling active or pre-book a taxi with a local firm. Cyclists can follow the Lon Cambria trail which takes you right into the heart of the Elan Valley.
What to do around Elan Valley
Bike and hike
With open access to most of the 72 square mile Elan Valley estate, there are so many routes you can take to explore the area. Whether you want a gentle stroll through the greenery and dams or a more challenging hike amongst rocky crags and waterways, there will be a route to suit your needs and ability. Bike hire is readily available, if you fancy seeing the sights at a faster pace. Head to the Elan Valley Trail if you’re after surfaced paths. There are various grade mountain bike trails, including two new downhill skills tracks that are aimed at experienced and intermediate mountain biking enthusiasts.
Elan Valley has International Dark Sky Park status, meaning that on clear nights you can see stars, planets and constellations twinkling away with little light pollution. The Elan Valley Astronomy Group holds regular meet-ups at night in the Elan Valley visitor centre to educate visitors on the night sky and give people a chance to explore it through telescopes.
Keeping kids occupied in Elan Valley is relatively easy. The visitor centre runs fun family activities and active days out throughout the year, so keep an eye on their calendar of upcoming events. Typical events include bug-hunting, high ropes courses and pond-dipping, with wet weather alternatives too.
If you want to cover more ground, why not drive around the estate? You’ll get the chance to see many spectacular views in a shorter space of time. Alternatively, enjoy a bespoke tour, joining a ranger on patrol to discover hidden features of the valley.
You could also combine your drive with a visit to Penbont House tea room, near Pen y Garreg Dam.
A short drive away...
If proper on-foot adventuring ticks your boxes, Offa’s Dyke Visitor Centre is worth a visit. It has exhibitions on the history of the area, plus gives access to the Offa’s Dyke Trail. Knighton also has the Spaceguard Centre, a National Near Earth Objects Information Centre (NNEOIC) - the UK's only centre addressing the danger of comets and asteroid impact.
This old country town is a charmer. It has the Judge’s Lodging, which lets visitors discover what life was like for servants, judges and guests there in Victorian times.
Vale of Rheidol Railway
How’s this for a gentle adventure? One of the Great Little Trains of Wales runs through the Rheidol Valley, from Aberystwyth to Devil's Bridge. For over 100 years, the Vale of Rheidol Railway been treating passengers to the beautiful scenery of the area. Explore more of the Elan Valley by taking the remote, narrow Cwmystwyth road to Devil's Bridge to catch the train.
The Thomas Shop, Penybont
Take a trip to Penybont near Llandrindod Wells to visit the Thomas Shop, a unique vintage store, tea room and shop. There’s a nostalgic museum, a Wool Emporium, galleries and a cafe.
Gigrin Farm and Red Kite Feeding Centre, Rhayader
Overlooking the Wye and Elan Valleys is this 200-acre family-run working farm. It’s most famous for its Red Kite Feeding Centre, where visitors can watch hundreds of the birds feast on a daily basis.