Set within the Cambrian Mountains, the beautiful, inspiring Elan Valley has a fascinating history dating back to ancient times. It's now known for the series of impressive dams and reservoirs across the estate, encompassed by an abundance of native trees, plants and animals.
The Elan Valley Woodlands are a valuable wildlife habitat, owned and sensitively managed by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water. Elan Valley is also a designated International Dark Sky Park. According to the UK media, Elan Valley is one of the most Instagrammed locations in the UK - there are awe-inspiring views and photo opportunities everywhere!
Elan Valley Visitor Centre
The Elan Valley Visitor Centre is home to a lovely dog-friendly, accessible cafe, gift shop, and exhibition about the estate. It's the perfect place to stock up on equipment before your walk, such as maps or binoculars, and to refresh yourself with a cuppa (and a cake!) after your walk. The friendly staff are happy to advise visitors about activities and the walks.
Other facilities include bike hire (including ebikes) and EV charging points on site.
There are plenty of footpaths, cycle trails and narrow roads heading off from here you can use to explore the verdant valley. Dogs are made very welcome, but please be responsible and keep them on the lead and under control.
Below you'll find recommendations for trails provided by the Elan Valley Rangers, who have the privilege of looking after this special place. Expect spectacular views, breath-taking dams and plenty of rejuvenating fresh air.
You can find more walk details, essential safety information and details of any diversions in place on the Elan Valley Walking Routes webpage.
Cnwch Woods Trail - a family favourite
Walk length: 0.8 miles / 1.3k
A stroll around Cnwch Woods links up with the Visitor Centre and adventure playground, making it perfect for young families. Discover pretty woodland filled with ancient oaks, with plenty of birds to spot and identify. Along the way you’ll see Caban Coch Dam, which was designed to look like a waterfall when overflowing. It's a beautiful sight all year around. If you visit during the wetter months, you may be lucky enough to see the colossal feat of Victorian engineering at its best if the dams are in spill. The Blue Route is pushchair and wheelchair accessible.
The dams look incredible when they are overflowing - take a peek via the Caban Coch Dam webcam before you head out.
Nant y Gro Dam's wartime connections
Walk length: 3 miles / 5k
As well as visiting the dam remains on the Nant y Gro Walking Trail, enjoy great views of Caban Coch Dam and Reservoir and marvel at the iconic beauty of Garreg Ddu Viaduct. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see Caban Coch Reservoir, Garreg Ddu Dam, Nantgwyllt Church and Drygarn Fawr (the highest point in the Elan Valley Estate) at 641 metres above sea level. It's a perfect route for photographers!
Check out the history behind Nant y Gro Dam, which was originally built for the village workers. The dam is now famous for its role in the Second World War Dambusters raid. The British government requested the use of the 35 feet high dam for secret experiments. Barnes Wallis, who invented the Bouncing Bomb, carried out these top secret experimental trials on Nant y Gro Dam.
Elan Valley Trail to Craig Coch Dam
Walk length: 6.2 miles / 10k each way
Discover the three mighty dams on this wheelchair and pushchair accessible walk alongside the reservoirs. On the way to Craig Goch Dam you’ll pass Garreg Ddu and Pen y Garreg Dams. As you wander higher, you'll get lovely views over the reservoirs and valley below, so get your camera ready.
The Elan Valley Trail follows the line of the dismantled Elan Valley Railway between Rhayader and the estate, which was built by the Birmingham Water Corporation to transport the materials and workers needed to construct the dams. At its busiest time, the railway had an estimated 53 kilometres (33 miles) of track around the Elan estate.
Take care when crossing or walking on the narrow roads. Penbont House Tea Rooms are around half-way along, and there are public toilets when you reach Craig Goch.
Garreg Ddu Loop
Walk length: 6.2 miles / 10km
Enjoy the Garreg Ddu circular walk following meandering paths through spectacular woodlands and fields. Visit the remains of Cwm Elan House Garden Walls – where the poet Shelley stayed in 1811-1812, and walk across the impressive Garreg Ddu Dam. Sturdy footwear is especially recommended for this 'hard' graded route, and some areas may be wet underfoot.
Parking is available near Pen y Garreg dam. You can refuel post-walk with a tasty lunch or afternoon tea at Penbont House Tea Rooms.
Walk length: 0.5 -1 mile / 0.8km
Beautiful wildlife can be seen in Penbont Woods. It's a family-friendly, accessible route, with a flat gravel path suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs. Watch out for birds, including Dippers, Red Starts and Flycatchers. Head to the top of Pen y Garreg Dam, the smallest of the Elan Valley dams. On Dam Open Days you can even walk inside a tunnel through Pen y Garreg - and be amazed by the unique view over the dam from the central tower!
The magnificent Claerwen Dam
Walk length: 0.6 miles / 0.5km
Where small meets big! This short tarmacked trail, following the green arrows from the car park, takes you to a small but beautiful waterfall and then to Claerwen Dam, the biggest dam in in the Elan Valley. There is a longer walk heading up to a mountainside waterfall (follow the purple arrows) if you want to stretch your legs a bit more. Toilets and parking are near the dam. Walk information is on the Elan Valley Lakes website.
To find out more about the walks featured, visit the Elan Valley walking routes website, or you can buy an ‘Elan Valley Walking Trails’ pack from the visitor centre during your trip.
If you want to delve further into the history, there's an exhibition within the visitor centre, or book onto a ‘Dam Open Hour’ tour which are held throughout the year.
You can catch a bus to Elan Village - check out Traveline Cymru for bus times there and back.
When out walking on the Elan Valley Estate, safety is a priority.
- Always be prepared for sudden weather changes, have warm, waterproof clothing, stout footwear, and food and drink.
- Visit AdventureSmart.uk for information on how to stay safe whilst exploring Wales.
- Follow the Countryside Code.
- Swimming, canoeing and boating are not allowed on the reservoirs.
- Mobile phone coverage is very poor on all networks in this area.
- Please close all gates after you and keep dogs on leads or under strict close control.
- Please be considerate on shared trails and give way to pedestrians.