How to walk up Pen y Fan
Pen y Fan is one of the most popular walks in Wales. When the weather is fine, the views are truly splendid. Mile upon mile of rolling hills disappear into the distance, fringed by eons-old sheer cliffs.
Just like Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), its popularity can detract from the experience, as trails get very busy at peak times. If you're visiting in mid-summer you might want to try the nearby Black Mountains or the Cambrian Mountains - particularly if you like to walk without lots of other people around.
If you do walk Pen y Fan please keep to marked trails and take care - some sections are steep and the drop at the top is precipitous. Please also only park in designated parking spaces.
So 'how difficult is it to walk up Pen y Fan? Well,it totally depends which route you choose. The good news is even active children can manage the first route - which I've called 'The gentle one'. More seasoned hikers will love the challenge of the Horseshoe Ridge.
Before heading off, do check the current weather and trail situation on the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park website or their Twitter feed @BreconBeaconsNP.
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The gentle one: Storey Arms Pen y Fan to Pont ar Daf
Length: 4 miles/6.5km
Time: Around 3-4 hours
The regulars call it The Motorway – but they love it all the same. The 4 mile circular walk from the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre or the nearby Pont ar Daf car park is a classic. Starting at around 440m, the climb to Pen y Fan’s 886m peak is very manageable. But there’s nothing modest about the wild, open, moorland. It takes my breath away as I stride along.
When the weather’s good, even small children can climb Pen y Fan via this route. 'We walk it several times a year,' says father-of-three Michael Rhys from Cardiff, who’s visiting with his family. 'I’ve been coming here since I was a boy. My youngest has done the whole thing twice already, and she’s only six. You could say it’s a mountain walk for softies, but if it gets kids hooked on being outdoors, that’s a very good thing.'
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The big one: the Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Taf Fechan Circular
Length: 11 miles/18.5km
Time: Around 7-8 hours
The name Pen y Fan roughly translates as Top Spot. That’s top as in highest, but there’s no doubt it’s inspiring in other ways. At the summit, walkers perch on the cairn to grab a selfie. The bragging rights are not to be sniffed at – this is, after all, the highest point in southern Britain, with Mid Wales swirling around it like a carpet of green.
Pen y Fan is just one of several walkable peaks and ridges in the central Beacons. By following an exhilarating 11 mile circuit from the Storey Arms, you can also take in Corn Du (873m) and Cribyn (795m). 'I wouldn’t dream of missing out on Corn Du when I’m climbing Pen y Fan,' says Darren James, a veteran walker who’s pausing for a swig of coffee on Corn Du’s crowning plateau. 'Both summits were used as burial places in the Bronze Age, so there’s something mystical about them.'
The quiet one: the Cwm Llwch walk from Cwm Gwdi
Length: 7.5 miles/12km
Time: Around 5 hours
This challenging 7.5 mile climb starts north of Pen y Fan at Cwm Gwdi car park (310m) and follows an ancient track up to Cefn Cwm Llwch ridge and Pen y Fan (886m), with stunning views east over the River Nant Sere and west over Llyn Cwm Llwch.
It’s said that if you stand on Pen y Fan and look northwest, you can see all the way to Eryri (Snowdonia). Binoculars and a very clear day would probably help. But if, like me, you’re up there on a day that’s part sunny and part showery, you’re in for a different kind of treat – a perfect rainbow, nature’s cheerful bunting, hanging over the hills.
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The tough one: Horseshoe Ridge
Length: 10 miles/16km
Time: Around 5-6 hours
The last of my Pen y Fan routes is a blinder. It’s a demanding 10 mile circuit leading from the Taf Fechan Forest up to Corn Du (873m), Pen y Fan (886m), Cribyn (795m) and Fan y Big (719m), the one with the diving board rock, returning via the eastern Neuadd Valley.
Right from the start it’s impressive, with views up the valley to Pen y Fan. The steep yomp up to Craig Fan Ddu has me gasping, but it’s worth it just to admire the sweep of these mighty glacial valleys while red kites cruise overhead. I share the ridge with keen walker Marianne Bailey and her energetic labrador. 'It’s a hefty route, and it’s our favourite', she says. 'The skies are so big, they seem close enough to touch. It’s a tremendous feeling.'
Read more: Walking in Wales: Region by region
Stay safe climbing Pen y Fan
Before you head out, please read our safety advice for exploring Wales' National Parks. Here are a few other things to bear in mind:
- Always check the forecast as the weather can change suddenly in the mountains. On hot days you’ll need sunblock and plenty of water.
- Prepare your clothing and kit carefully. Walking boots or sturdy shoes are recommended.
- Keep dogs on leads and always keep an eye on children - particularly at the top.
- Adventure Smart Wales has plenty of advice on how to ‘make a good day better’, and I recommend you read it before planning your days out.
- Traveline Cymru is a useful public transport journey planner.
- There are a number of apps and online maps where you can to find the location of electric vehicle charging points across Wales.
- Help Wales to become the first Refill Nation by using nearby Refill Points to fill up your water bottle before you head off. Find out more, including how to download the free Refill app on the Refill Wales website.