Best for mountain scenery
Llyn Llydaw (Brittany Lake), Snowdonia - of all the Welsh lakes we could mention here, Llydaw is one of the most ravishing, especially on calm days 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.
Best for birdwatching
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 the RSPB Lake Vyrnwy 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 & Spa, one of the few hotels to be situated right on the shore of a Welsh lake.
Best for toddlers, pushchairs and wheelchairs
Llyn Cwellyn in Snowdonia offers 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.
Check out more Access for All routes in Snowdonia National Park.
Best for cycling
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. There are also mountain bike trails, including two new downhill skill tracks for more experienced riders.
Best for watersports
Llandegfedd lake Visitor and Watersport Centre, South East Wales, offers a wide range of watersports, including kayaking, windsurfing, raft building canoeing and dinghy sailing. There are sailing experiences for adults, children plus groups and equipment hire for all the activities (March to October). The lake, which is only 20 miles from Cardiff, has clean water and there are no currents or tides, making it a great place to try out stand up paddle or pedal boarding. You can also enjoy bird watching at this Site of Special Scientific Interest, with 240 species of birds recorded. It's a great place for fishing and walking, plus there’s a dog friendly restaurant and café.
Best for ancient history
Llangorse Lake (Llyn Syfaddon) is in the Brecon Beacons National Park and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 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. The Welsh Crannog Centre provides more details about this tranquil spot, with a journey back into Crannog time and an ideal day out for anybody who has an interest in Welsh history, culture, archaeology, wildlife and plant-life.
Best for vintage railway fans
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.
Best for trout fishing
Tal-y-Llyn Lake (Llyn Mwngil), 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 Wildlife Centre, which is based in the Cors Dyfi Nature Reserve near Machynlleth.