The Snowdonia National Park is a supersized adventure playground built of mountains, hills, river valleys, woodland and beaches. There are activities for all the family, not just the rough tough stuff for mountaineers. Here's a guide for a holiday that is wild, exhilarating, diverse and social. It couldn’t be more Welsh!
Day 1 - Into the mountains
Morning: Walks in the Ogwen Valley
We start in the Carneddau and Glyderau, the heart of the mountains. Here in the Ogwen Valley, Tryfan is the spur on which Edmund Hillary trained for Everest in 1953. With stamina and nerves of steel you can stand on its vertiginous summit after two hours. A note of caution: Tryfan is technical in nature and should only be tackled by experienced mountaineering families or with a guide. From a car park by the lake, pick up the path by Gwern Gof Uchaf farm.
A walk that is as rewarding, but far less effort, starts from the car park at the far end of Llyn Ogwen. After a stiff 20-minute ascent is Cwm Idwal, a glacial lake ringed by peaks fit for an Arthurian blockbuster. Afterwards, drive into the U-shaped Nant Ffrancon valley for the most beautiful glacial geography lesson in Wales.
Afternoon: Snowdon – high or low
Backtrack and stop for lunch in Capel Curig or Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel, Hillary’s training base. Now for the big one – Snowdon. Slabs in the Llanberis Pass beneath are a cradle of British climbing. Accredited operators like the Plas y Brenin National Outdoor Centre in Capel Curig will show you the ropes (literally) and provide a primer in mountain safety. Alternatively, park at Pen-y-Pass to ascend the highest peak in Wales and England itself: the return trip on the Miners’ Track or Pyg Track is at least five hours. Too long? Drive into Llanberis and catch the Snowdon Mountain Railway up for a very high tea in the summit café.
Day 2 - High wires and Harlech
Morning: Around Blaenau Ffestiniog
Once the world's largest slate quarry Penrhyn Quarry, near Bethesda is now home to the longest zipwire in the northern hemisphere. Zip World Velocity is a mile long and goes at speeds aeronautical boffins call ‘like the clappers’.
For a shared family adventure, continue south to Coed y Brenin. Welsh princes once hunted in King’s Forest but now families can hit the trail in Wales’ mountain bike mecca Coed y Brenin, with bike hire and family-friendly trails.
Afternoon: Walk at Harlech Castle
There are so many castles in Wales that we’re never going to agree on the best, but Harlech Castle will always be in the top ten. Nobody can resist its turreted silhouette on a bluff above golden sands, with Snowdon spiked up north and the peaks of the Rhinogydd range behind. Harlech is a highlight of the Wales Coast Path and the two-mile Branwen Walk circuit takes in a tiny section of its 870 miles. On route are views of the castle from all angles. Allow time to build a castle of your own on one of the finest beaches in North Wales.
Day 3 - Eastern Snowdonia
Morning: White water rafting near Bala
It’s striking how quickly the landscape softens as you leave the central National Park towards Bala. The River Tryweryn tumbles down in Snowdonia’s eastern foothills, canopied by oaks and home to more otters than anywhere else in Wales. Your best chance to see one is at the National White Water Centre on a Tryweryn Safari. It’s a lovely trip, slipping through the lower Tryweryn Valley for 3.7 miles (6 km) on a family-friendly adventure, overshadowed by the upper Tryweryn. A dam releases the water, rapids fire and everyone whoops down a short whitewater rollercoaster. Book in advance and bring spare underclothing for your wetsuit and a towel for a shower.
Afternoon: Horse-riding near Betws-y-Coed
You’ve walked and climbed; soared, pedalled and paddled. It’s high time someone else did the hard work so that you can enjoy the scenery. Accredited by the Wales Trekking and Riding Association (WTRA), Gwydyr Stables has access to the traffic-free bridleways that criss-cross Snowdon’s eastern foothills. These are beginner’s rides, taken slowly because of rough ground. This gives time to drink in the horizon-busting panoramas of peaks. Speaking of which, there are few better ways to round off a midsummer activity break than an evening ride to the pub.
Exploring the outdoors is fantastic fun, but please read up on the risks and make sure you are prepared.