Explore the Valleys Regional Park
Stretching right across southern Wales, the South Wales Valleys ripple out from the border with England all the way to Swansea and beyond. Once the heartland of our mining and manufacturing industries, they now form the Valleys Regional Park - an outdoor playground packed with forest and parkland, offering fresh air and adventure of all sorts.
Dotted amidst the greenery you'll find interesting reminders of the area's industrial and historic past too, like the UNESCO heritage Big Pit National Coal Museum at Blaenavon and the moated towers and battlements of Caerphilly Castle.
Afan Forest Park, Port Talbot
Leafy Afan Forest Park sits just a short hop from bustling Port Talbot. There's stacks to do here, from lazy strolls through the woods to turbo-charged descents on mountain bike trails.
The biking is suitable for all levels. Easy riders will love pedalling the family trails which run along the route of the old railway, whilst adrenaline addicts can try six world class trails and practice their skills in the Afan Bike Park or Glyncorrwg mountain bike centre. There are several places for bike hire too.
If you'd like to learn about the area's industrial past, head for the South Wales Miners' Museum. There's a campsite nearby and plenty of B&B and guesthouse accommodation in the area.
Read more: Mountain biking for families and beginners
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Bryngarw Country Park, Bridgend
There are more than 100 acres of woodlands, wetlands, meadows and gardens to explore at Bryngarw Country Park.
Three waymarked trails take you on peaceful and easy strolls through woodland, along the river and across the flower-strewn meadow. There are lots of spots for picnics and a barbecue area too.
Kids will love joining one of the park rangers for a wildlife adventure and pond dipping session, whilst gardening fans will enjoy the tranquillity of the Oriental Garden. A formal series of paths and ponds fringed with brilliant magnolia, rhododendron and azaleas, it has an ornamental bridge and conveniently located tea house at the centre. There's a friendly visitor centre and café for a spot of lunch too.
Read more: Things to see and do in Bridgend County
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Cwmcarn Forest, Cwmcarn
What was once a busy mining area is now a tree-filled forest - they've been replanting trees here since 1922!
There are several easy walks for smaller feet amidst pretty woodland and gurgling streams and several bigger hill climbs to get your lungs pumping. Check out the spectacular views at the top! Elsewhere there's a brace of quite challenging mountain bike trails - primarily reds and oranges.
The handy visitor centre includes a café and play area for kids and there's a range of accommodation options - including some luxurious new lodges and camping pods, as well as pitches for tents and caravans. The Forest Drive features all sorts of interesting stop-offs including a storytelling zone, seating areas and picnic spots.
Read more: 10 country parks in Wales
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Cyfarthfa Park and Castle, Merthyr Tydfil
There are 160 acres of parkland to enjoy at Cyfarthfa Park with nature trails, accessible woodland walks and sensory gardens.
Alongside the natural highlights, there are lots of cultural attractions. You're on the site of historic Cyfarthfa Ironworks. The sturdy towers of Cyfartha Castle, the former home of the wealthy 'Ironmaster' Willam Crayshaw II, dominate the landscape. It's now a brilliant gallery and museum, packed with interesting artefacts spanning 2000 years of Merthyr's past.
You can also explore an old ironworker’s cottage, birthplace of the composer Joseph Parry, ride on a miniature railway, go fishing on the lake and visit the tearooms for tasty cakes and sandwiches.
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Dare Valley Country Park, Aberdare
Hewn by an ancient glacier eons ago, it's hard to believe that Dare Valley Country Park was once a booming coal mining area. These days it's home to this 500-acre country park full of woodland, pasture and moorland.
The rewilding project began as far back as 1971 and it's held up as a world class example of careful, natural regeneration of a former industrial era. You'll find lakes full of water birds, wild moorland and woods thronging with wildlife.
There are lots of easy walking trails for families to explore, including one that's tarmacked so ideal for prams and wheelchairs. If you want to get more active, hire a canoe or kayak and head out onto the lake or try out one of the new mountain biking trails. There's lots of accommodation right here too - including camping, caravan pitches and a freshly renovated hotel.
Read more: Family friendly activities in the valleys
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Llyn Llech Owain, Cross Hands
Llyn of course means 'lake' - so you won't be surprised to find that there's a big one right at the centre of Llyn Llech Owain. It's actually the source of the two Gwendraeth rivers and surrounding it there's a vast peat bog. These habitats are increasingly rare and it's the reason the park has been named an area of Special Scientific Interest.
All around the lake you'll find acres of moorland interspersed with shady glades - a wonderfully wild, natural environment just made for adventure. There's a network of trails, including many that are accessible for wheelchair users and pushchairs. There's also a specially constructed path that takes you closer to the peat bog to explore its unique wildlife habitats.
Make sure to drop into the visitor centre for lots of handy info and sparkling views across the lake. Stop for a bite at the café too if you're feeling peckish.
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Parc Bryn Bach, Tredegar
For action and activity, Parc Bryn Bach is the perfect package - whether you're four or 84. There are acres of grassland and woods to lose yourself in and a huge lake too.
Plus, it's also a busy activity centre with a huge range of activities on offer. You could spend a week here and do several different things every day: bushcraft, caving, climbing, biking, canoeing, paddleboarding and rafting. The list goes on - ever heard of footgolf? It's all done under the watchful eye of expert trainers of course. Not all activities take place at the park - for some you're driven a short distance.
Of course you don't have to get kitted out and have a big adventure - there's lots of more relaxing enjoyment to be had just exploring the park. There's a visitor centre and café too, perfect for a well-deserved break!
Read more: Explore the South Wales valleys
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Parc Penallta, Ystrad Mynach
Rolling green hills and vast views await at Parc Penallta. There are three easy waymarked trails through the park, all starting from the main carpark.
At the top you'll find the High Point Observatory - a striking steel pod topped with a space-age spike from where you get 360 degree panoramas for miles. There are lots of other interesting sculptures including a giant hare and massive metal egg.
Most striking of all is Sultan the Pit Pony. Formed from 60,000 tons of coal shale waste and covered with living grass, this massive horse-shaped artwork is more than 200 metres long and 15 metres high. Sultan was created to remember the tireless contribution that pit ponies once made to the prosperity of the area. Sultan himself was one of the last pit ponies. Long retired, he was still alive when the sculpture was completed in 1999.
Parc Slip Nature Reserve, Bridgend
Parc Slip Nature Reserve is home to all sorts of rare species so it's ideal for curious kids (and parents too!). It's an ideal spot for really immersing yourselves in nature. If you're lucky, you might see great crested newts, darting lapwings, bright wild bee orchids and fluttering butterflies.
There are 300 acres to explore and to help you find your way around there are four themed walking trails and a tranquil cycle trail too. Stop by the visitor centre to find out about guided walks featuring activities like bug hunting and pond dipping. You might even get to help make bird boxes.
Bird spotters can book one of several hides dotted around the reserve, ideally placed for seeing rare species. There's also a café with an outdoor seating area and space to park bikes.
Read more: Get up close and personal with the best of Welsh wildlife
Ynysangharad Park and National Lido, Pontypridd
Ynysangharad Park is a leafy green space right in the centre of Pontypridd. It's been a place to relax and have fun for locals since 1923 and you'll still find the ornate bandstand, bowling green and pitch and putt here for some good old fashioned family time.
However, there's no denying that the main attraction here is the Grade II listed Lido Ponty, the National Lido of Wales. It has been lovingly restored and still features original turnstiles, changing cubicles and a curvaceous Art Deco-style café and visitors' centre. All the facilities are bang up to date - with three heated pools, fountains and sun loungers - ideal for kids who want to splash and serious lane swimmers alike.
The Taff river with the long distance Taff Trail skirts the park - so you can stretch your legs a bit more if you fancy.
Read more: Things to do in Rhondda Cynon Taff
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Visit the Valleys Regional Park website to find out more about the area and plan your visit. Or get involved on social media:
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Valleys Regional Park is funded by the Welsh Government European Social Fund and European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.