Shimmering waters: Welsh lakes and reservoirs
What could be more relaxing than kayaking across a calm reservoir, cycling through lakeside woodlands or steaming along a shoreline in a vintage train? Wales’ inland waters are havens for wild birds, mammals and nature-lovers, with masses of opportunities for peaceful days out.
Best for watersports
Llyn Tegid Lake Bala at sunset, Gwynedd, Snowdonia
Lake Bala (Llyn Tegid), Snowdonia. Bala, like many of Snowdonia’s lakes, was formed when a long, deep glacial valley became blocked by Ice Age debris. At four miles long and well over 40m deep, it’s the largest lake in Wales, with its own Loch-Ness-style mythical monster. With plenty of space and predictable conditions, it’s perfect for kayaking, sailing and windsurfing. You can rent gear from accredited activity operators in Bala at the lake’s northern tip.
Best for cycling
Craig Goch dam and reservoir in autumn, Elan Valley, Powys
The Elan Valley Reservoirs in Powys, Mid Wales are a chain of reservoirs created by damming the Elan and Claerwen rivers between the late 19th and mid 20th centuries to provide water for Birmingham. You can explore the reservoirs’ peaceful shores on two wheels by following the nine-mile Elan Valley Trail, a Sustrans National Cycle Network route created in conjunction with the Elan Valley Trust. Leading from Rhayader to the Elan Valley Visitor Centre and Craig Goch Dam, this easy route follows an old railway line and is mostly traffic-free. It takes just over an hour each way.
Best for mountain scenery
Llyn Llydaw lake, Snowdonia, Gwynedd
Llyn Llydaw (Brittany Lake), Snowdonia - of all the Welsh lakes we could mention here, Llydaw is one of the most ravishing, especially on a calm day when Snowdon reflects perfectly on its glassy surface. The Miners’ Track from the Pen-y-Pass car park off the A4086 leads straight to the lake. It’s an easy, surfaced path with wonderful views of the Gwynant Valley and the Snowdon Horseshoe. For a more challenging hike, you could continue up to Llyn Glaslyn or even to the summit of Snowdon. There’s some steep climbing along the way, but a reasonably fit hiker could make it from Pen-y-Pass to Hafod Eryri and back in six hours.
Find out more about walking in the Snowdonia National Park
Best for birdwatching
Glyndwr's Way walk overlooking Lake Vyrnwy, Mid Wales
Lake Vyrnwy (Llyn Efyrnwy) in Mid Wales is a huge Victorian reservoir hemmed in by a stone dam built in the 1880s, the oldest of its kind in the world. Surrounding the peaceful waters are the grassy hills and woodlands of a nature reserve managed by the RSPB and Severn Trent Water. You’re sure to see buzzards, siskins and grebes here, and you’ll hear the calls of pied flycatchers, wood warblers and redstarts. For a luxurious break, take a room at the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel, one of the few hotels to be situated right on the shore of a Welsh lake.
Best for toddlers, pushchairs and wheelchairs
Llyn Cwellyn, Snowdonia - Snowdonia’s lake shores offer superb opportunities for people of all abilities to enjoy the natural environment. Starting at the Snowdon Ranger YHA Car Park, which has disabled parking, an accessible toilet and a Snowdon Sherpa S4 bus stop, the Janus Path is a scenic, 400m wheelchair-friendly trail through stunning National Park scenery. A gravel path gives way to a timber boardwalk which loops through pretty woodland beside Llyn Cwellyn, a glacial lake which was dammed to create a reservoir.
Best for ancient history
Llangorse Lake (Llyn Syfaddon) is in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Close to the shore of this picturesque lake is a partly reconstructed 10th century crannog, or man-made island stronghold. Built on water for defence, crannogs were common in Ireland and Scotland between 5000 and 400 years ago, but Llangorse’s crannog is the only one in Wales or England. It’s thought to have been a residence of the King of Brycheiniog. An interpretation centre provides more details about this tranquil spot.
Best for trout fishing
Llyn Mwyngil (Talyllyn Lake) in spring, Snowdonia, Gwynedd
Tal-y-Llyn, Snowdonia is a large glacial ribbon lake at the foot of Cader Idris famous for its wild brown trout. This is also a good place for wildlife-watching – hares, otters, weasels, stoats and polecats are found here, and you’re likely to see ravens and red kites overhead. You may even catch a glimpse of an osprey from the Dyfi Osprey Project, which is based in the Cors Dyfi Reserve near Machynlleth.
Best for vintage railway buffs
Llyn Padarn, Snowdonia is a glacial lake, two miles long, a quarter of a mile wide and an impressive 29m deep. Near its southeastern tip is the outdoorsy village of Llanberis and the hamlet of Gilfach Ddu, home to the National Slate Museum and the Llanberis Lake Railway. Its little steam locomotives take around an hour to do their five-mile return trip, chuffing along the lakeshore and stopping at Cei Llydan halfway. You’re welcome to hop off here for a waterside picnic, then catch the following train back.