Wales has hundreds of miles of wonderful traffic-free and low-traffic routes thanks to the National Cycle Network. Many of the routes also connect with holiday areas, country parks and historic attractions, allowing you to combine your traffic-free bike ride with a Welsh sightseeing experience. You won’t always need a bike – hire is plentiful – just a free hour or two. Bang-for-buck, it’s the best family value around.
North Wales cycle routes
The high mountains are always looking down on you, but that doesn’t mean you have to cycle up them. These North Wales cycle paths are flat and friendly, making them perfect family cycle routes.
Mawddach Trail, Eryri (Snowdonia), North Wales
The Mawddach Trail is everything a family-friendly cycle route should be. It’s a spectacularly scenic route from the market town of Dolgellau to the beach resort of Barmouth, along the gorgeous Mawddach Estuary.
What to expect: Flat, easy pedalling along a disused railway line, almost exclusively traffic-free (apart from tiny sections in the start/end towns). The estuary is one of our loveliest, with iconic wooden bridges, echoes of a ship-building past, the Arthog Bog RSPB nature reserve, and mountains ever-present on the near horizon.
Length/duration: 19 miles there and back. Allow two to three hours to cover it at a pleasant dawdle.
Bike hire: Your best bet is Dolgellau Cycles, whose fleet includes family-friendly tag-alongs and trailers.
Lôn Las Cefni, Anglesey, North Wales
Running between of Llangefni and Malltraeth, Lôn Las Cefni offers a blissfully easy family cycle down to the sea, with options for further adventures at either end. It’s Anglesey’s best cycle route for beginners.
What to expect: Most of the path runs along the pan-flat Malltraeth Marsh alongside the River Cefni - watch out for otters - past the Cors Ddyga RSPB reserve, and along the Cob embankment that was built to reclaim farmland from the saltmarsh. You’ve got options to extend your ride at both ends. At the top, head through the Dingle woodland nature reserve with its boardwalk and sculptures, and climb up to the Llyn Cefni reservoir. Down by the sea, you can take the off-road trails through Newborough Forest whose Corsican pines are home to a major red squirrel population. From here, head off on foot to Llanddwyn beach and island.
Length/duration: 12 miles each way. Two or three hours, allowing for stops.
Refreshments: The county town of Llangefni has all you need, with extra options in the villages of Malltraeth and Newborough.
Lôn Eifion Cycleway, Caernarfon, North Wales
The Lôn Eifion Cycleway is a favourite North Wales cycle path, running southwards from Caernarfon along a broad green avenue. It's wide, tarmacked and traffic-free all the way.
What to expect: Starting in the considerable shadow of Caernarfon Castle, this cycle route runs alongside the Welsh Highland Railway before parting company at Llanwnda. It’s gently uphill most of the way, before a last freewheel down to the village of Bryncir. The mountain peaks are ever-present - notably Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), Yr Eifl and the Nantlle Ridge – and it’s easy to duck into nearby villages or take a short detour to Glynllifon Country Park.
Length/duration: 12.5 miles each way, so around three hours for the round-trip.
Bike hire: Head for Beics Antur in Caernarfon.
Alwen Cycle Trail, Llyn Brenig, North Wales
High on the Denbigh Moors, Llyn Brenig Lake and Visitor Centre is a peaceful place for watersports, walking … and family bike adventures, naturally. There are seven family cycling trails to choose from; we’ve picked a pretty route around Brenig’s smaller sibling, Llyn Alwen.
What to expect: Starting in Llyn Alwen’s car cark, this family-friendly trail runs through forest, moorland and along the water’s edge on surfaced paths and forestry tracks. Note that cyclists go anti-clockwise, while walkers go clockwise – and there’s a healthy hill to climb at the halfway point. There are ever-changing views across the reservoir and to the mountains of Eryri (Snowdonia). Information boards at the side of the path explore the wildlife, culture and folk tales.
Length/duration: Seven miles, and less than two hours.
Refreshments: Head back down to Caffi Brenig at Llyn Brenig for sustenance, and osprey-spotting during the summer.
Bike hire: Again, the visitor centre is your place for hiring bikes to suit all ages.
Mid Wales family cycle trails
Mid Wales is popular with both road cyclists and mountain bikers, but there are also traffic-free cycle routes that make for ideal family cycle trails.
Ystwyth Trail, Ceredigion
What to expect: The 21-mile trail follows the River Ystwyth valley before dropping south along the River Teifi to Tregaron, mostly tracking the old railway line. It’s a solid day-trip there and back, but you can pick easier sections to suit your family. The first 6.5 miles out of Aberystwyth to Llanilar is a good bet. Or start at Llanilar and head south on an easy 4-mile section along the river. Down at the bottom end, there’s a lovely off-road stretch along the edge of Cors Caron Nature Reserve.
Length/duration: 21 miles for the whole thing – each way. That’s a proper day out. But you can pedal those easy shorter sections in an hour or two.
Refreshments: Plenty of choice in the top section between Aberystwyth and Llanilar - but stock up on snacks in Tregaron if you’re heading north.
Bike hire: Aberystwyth’s Afan Bike Hire has everything from tag-alongs to tandems.
Elan Trail, Rhayader, Mid Wales
The Elan Valley reservoirs are a mighty feat of Victorian civil engineering set in a landscape that’s kept in pristine nick to protect the water purity. Their family bike trails are the perfect way to explore, with nine routes to choose from.
What to expect: The Elan Trail runs from the outskirts of the town of Rhayader along a disused railway track, passing the visitor centre and heading up past the Caban Coch and Garreg Ddu reservoirs, with their fine dams and water tower, to the end of Penygarreg reservoir. You’re climbing all the way to the top of this last section, but the stunning upland scenery makes it worthwhile – and then it’s downhill all the way home.
Length/duration: An 18-mile round-trip. Allow a good three hours to do it justice.
Refreshments: The visitor centre has a good café in a strategically handy location, and there are toilets at the furthest point. Rhayader’s a lovely town with plenty of places in which to refresh.
Bike hire: The visitor centre’s bike hub does the full hire service and has a bike wash if you’ve brought your own.
West Wales cycle routes
The quiet lanes of West Wales are great for safe cycling, but these off-road cycling routes make it accessible for young children, too.
Port Talbot to Afan Forest Park, West Wales
What to expect: The Afan Valley route takes you on a steady but gentle climb from sea level, where the traffic-free tarmac quickly leaves industrial Port Talbot and turns into a pretty woodland path alongside the river. Your final destination is the Afan Forest Park visitor centre – or perhaps it’s just the start of further adventures. There are family-friendly mountain bike trails here, as well as the South Wales Miners' Museum. Also worth noting is that the cycle path carries on right to the top of the valley, where it joins a network of paths that connect the whole of the South Wales Valleys.
Length/duration: A 13-mile round-trip. Two hours there and back, but expect to spend a bit of time exploring the forest park.
Refreshments: The Afan Forest Park visitor centre has everything you need, with plenty of other options back on the coast.
Bike hire: Afan Valley Bike Shed specialises in mountain bikes to tackle the local forest trails.
Millennium Park, Llanelli, West Wales
The Millennium Coastal Path runs for 13 miles along the Carmarthenshire seafront. It’s a coast-hugging favourite for family bike rides.
What to expect: If you’re a first-timer, the best place to start is the mid-point at North Dock. Then decide whether you’ll head eastward past the Jack Nicklaus-designed Machynys Golf Course and visit the resident flamingos at the Llanelli Wetland Centre, or strike west towards Burry Port harbour and on to Pembrey Country Park’s multiple attractions (beach, ski slope, crazy golf, nature trails and more). The cycling is flat and easy either way, with great views across the cockle beds to the Gower peninsula. For families with very young children, the cycle route can be tackled in four short self-contained sections.
Length/duration: Allow a half-day if you’re doing the whole 13 miles there and back, but it’s easy to cherry-pick shorter routes.
Refreshments: There are cafes and facilities every couple of miles, so you’ll never get caught short. If you’ve parked at North Dock, the St Elli's Bay brasserie would round the day off nicely.
Traffic-free cycle routes in South Wales
The de-industrialisation of the South Wales Valleys had an unexpected benefit for cyclists: disused railway lines and canal towpaths became a network of family cycle routes, and nature has reclaimed the old coalfields.
Cardiff to Castell Coch, South Wales
A great ride for families and novice cyclists, this route takes you on a traffic-free path from the centre of Cardiff all the way out to the fairytale Castell Coch.
What to expect: The Taff Trail runs for 55 miles between Cardiff and Brecon, but this six-mile section is a good way for family cyclists to explore the green heart of our capital, with a gorgeous castle thrown in. If you’re hiring bikes in the park, then it’s an easy run up alongside the River Taff on tarmac paths. There’s a small (but quiet) road section through Tongwynlais village just before you reach Castell Coch, and a short, stiff climb up to the castle itself, so it may be better suited to older kids. With younger children, a potter around Bute Park is a delightful way to spend an hour or two.
Length/duration: The 12-mile round-trip won’t take much more than 90 minutes – but allow at least an extra hour to explore the castle.
Bike hire: Cardiff Pedal Power has hire centres in Pontcanna Fields and Cardiff Bay, including accessible bikes. If you’re renting in the Bay, add an extra three miles each way to your trip.
Peregrine Path, Monmouth, South Wales
The Peregrine Path is a short, mainly traffic-free ride that takes you across the border into England, following the River Wye along one of its loveliest sections. That’s international travel, but without the carbon footprint.
What to expect: Starting in the handsome, historic town of Monmouth, the trail winds alongside the River Wye and through the Wye Gorge. About two-thirds of the way, you’ll cross the English border and arrive at Symonds Yat. Watch out for peregrine falcons overhead – this is one of the best places in Britain to spot these splendid raptors. Then head back to explore the many charms of Monmouth.
Length/duration: An 11-mile round-trip. Two hours at a very leisurely pace.
Refreshments: Plentiful options in Monmouth, and also at Symonds Yat (but nothing in between, note).
Bike hire: Launch Bikes in Monmouth have all you need.