Gravel cycling routes in Wales

The mountains of Wales draw in riders to explore the heights of Eryri, the Cambrian Mountains and Bannau Brycheiniog, yet there’s so much more when it comes to gravel riding in Wales, from coastal delights to quiet rural tracks in the hills.

Unlike some other parts of the UK, many of Wales’ gravel roads and byways are rocky rather than muddy, meaning they offer great riding year-round. With many miles of countryside and wilderness between towns and villages, Wales offers gravel riding on a totally different scale too.

Exploring Wales by gravel bike is more than just the riding, though. The warmth of Welsh hospitality is some of the finest I’ve experienced, a stack of fresh Welsh cakes make for the perfect cycling snack, and the variety of wildlife you’ll find on the trails in these wild landscapes really is the cherry on the cake.

With some fantastic gravel races and events as well as long-distance bikepacking routes across the country, it’s not hard to see how Wales has become such a popular choice with gravel riders visiting from across the UK and further afield.

Here I’ve included four of my favourite gravel routes in Wales, from beginner-friendly loop of Llyn Brenig to an all-day epic in the Cambrian Mountains, sandy singletrack on Gower and my all-time favourite, the wild Nant-y-Moch Reservoir trail near Machynlleth.

Llyn Brenig and Alwen Reservoir

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 24 kilometres / 15 miles

Terrain: Predominantly traffic-free route on the Two Lakes Cycle Trail.

Places to stay: Head to the nearby towns of Ruthin or Betws-y-Coed for a good choice of accommodation options.

For beginner gravel riders, family outings, leg looseners and more, a ride around the smooth gravel tracks of Llyn Brenig and Alwen Reservoir comes highly recommended.

All too often bypassed as people make a beeline for Eryri National Park, these two reservoirs sit in a spectacularly beautiful part of Wales known as Mynydd Hiraethog, or the Denbigh Moors. There are no less than seven fully waymarked cycle trails to choose from of varying distances, with the Two Lakes Cycle Trail being the longest.

A bike resting on a metal farm gate, overlooking a lake in hills.

Llyn Alwen in Conwy County Borough, North Wales

The trail boasts a great variety of terrain from forest doubletrack to a rocky moorland descent to the wooden bridge across the Alwen Reservoir, wide gravel tracks alongside the shores of Llyn Brenig and a fantastic undulating singletrack at the head of Llyn Brenig through the Gors Maen Llwyd Nature Reserve.

Though you won’t pass through any towns or villages along the way, there’s a great café at Llyn Brenig Lake Visitor Centre at the start and finish point for refuelling with a view across the water.

Lapping the Gower Peninsula

Difficulty: Intermediate

Distance: 66.5 kilometres /41 miles

Terrain: Mixed terrain and hilly with some road links.

Places to stay: YHA Gower at Port Eynon offers scenic, affordable and bike-friendly accommodation.

Boasting an impressive selection of sandy beaches, moorland commons and quaint country pubs, the Gower Peninsula is a fantastic place to explore by bike, and is within easy reach from Swansea and Cardiff. This loop starts at Gowerton Station, though you could easily take the excellent Swansea Bay cycle path out from the city to join the route at Blackpill.

A wide, hard surfaced cliff top pathway overlooking the sea and a dramatic rock formation.

Rhossili, Gower, West Wales

Though this route combines quieter country roads and tidal lanes with off-road sections, it’s still not one to be underestimated, as the Gower Peninsula is anything but flat. Chugging your way up the hills will be rewarded in spades, though, as the high points at Rhossili Down, Llanmadoc Hill and Cefn Bryn offer far-reaching views along the coastline and as far as North Devon!

Slate and singletrack from Machynlleth

Difficulty: Challenging

Distance: 55.5kilometres / 34.5 miles

Terrain: Hilly and sometimes technical off-road riding with a river crossing.

Places to stay: Choose from a great selection of accommodation options in Machynlleth.

There are many good reasons to visit the quirky town of Machynlleth, nestled between Eryri and the Cambrian Mountains, known for its arts, environmentally-conscious locals and food scene – not to mention the miles upon miles of fantastic riding on its doorstep.

A number of mountain biking routes were established twenty years ago here, most of which now make for excellent gravel routes and are fully signposted thanks to local community group Beicio Mynydd Dyfi.

Views from a mountain top looking over green moorland and lakes.
A gravel biker riding a gravel track in remote hills.

Nant-y-Moch reservoir from Pumlumon, and nearby gravel trails, Cambrian Mountains, Mid Wales

This route takes in some of the best parts of these trails, including a spectacular balcony gravel road and thrilling forested descent. It also includes a loop further south which takes in my favourite gravel track in Wales; the rocky doubletrack around Nant-y-Moch reservoir. Wonderfully remote with dramatic scenery and a good technical challenge to boot, including a river crossing, this is a ride that’s seriously hard to rival.

Elan Valley spectacular

Difficulty: Challenging

Distance: 73 kilometres /45 miles

Terrain: Hilly and sometimes technical off-road riding with a river crossing

Places to stay: Rhayader boasts a good number of inns, guesthouses and camping options

Lastly, but by no means least, Elan Valley, in the heart of Wales, holds some of the most sublime gravel riding that you’ll find anywhere in the UK. Named the ‘desert of Wales’, not due to its aridity, but sparse population, you’ll need to pack your own snacks but you’ll be handsomely rewarded with magnificently wild landscapes.

A cyclist riding along a gravel track alongside a mountain reservoir.

Cycling in Elan Valley, Rhayader, Mid Wales

This ride takes in a generous chunk of the Trans Cambrian Way multi-day mountain biking route, including the breathtaking gravel track around Claerwen Reservoir. Phill and Polly of MTB Wales offer the route as a guided three-day trip, as well as guided gravel excursions.

The final climb back towards Rhayader is a significant one on silky smooth tarmac, but the descent of the Gold Links trail that you’ve earned down to the town is one of the best around.

Gravel cycling events and racing in Wales

There really is something for every rider when it comes to gravel events in Wales. For the most competitive racers, the enduro-format of Gritfest near Llyn Brianne in the Cambrian Mountains is a great choice, as is The Gravel Rally, held in the mountains of Eryri.

Lauf Gritfest - The UK’s Premier Gravel Race

If exploring at your own pace is more your bag, then consider Wild Cycles’ Wild Wales weekender, or sign up for Glorious Gravel’s North Wales Gravel X, taking in the supreme gravel around Llyn Brenig.

Looking for a multi-day challenge? While there are many bikepacking routes to choose from which you can take on at any time, join The Racing Collective for their weekend-long off-road challenge, WalesDURO, riding from Bangor to Cardiff.

Just six weeks to the glorious North Wales Gravel X -...

Posted by Glorious Gravel on Friday, March 3, 2023

Further information

Before heading out, please follow the safety advice from Adventure Smart to make sure you're properly prepared.

Read more about Katherine's adventures and expert bikepacking advice on her website KatherineBikes, or check out her Instagram @katherinebikes.

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