Walking mountains with children is easy enough. You just need a fine day, plenty of time, a little patience and a lot of chocolate. You’ll also need a mountain, of course – and we’ve got lots of them. The most famous are Snowdon, Cader Idris and Pen y Fan, which collectively form the Welsh Three Peaks Challenge.
But even the biggest Welsh mountains are fine for families, as long as you stick to a few common-sense rules. Most importantly, swot up on mountain safety – you can read all about it on the Snowdonia National Park website. Exactly the same rules apply when walking with children, only more so: you can’t cut corners. A map, compass and wet weather gear might seem excessive in a sunny car park – but when the clouds roll in unexpectedly, believe me – they’re essential.
Pen y Fan (886m)
First up is the highest point in the Brecon Beacons, and indeed southern Britain. The beauty of Pen y Fan is that it’s easy to get to – just 40 minutes from Cardiff - and it’s relatively easy when you get there. A four-mile (6.4km) circular walk heads up from the car park, and I’ve done the whole thing with children as young as six, in less than three hours, including a picnic stop at the top. Even so, once you’re up there it does feel like a proper mountain, with soaring views and scary drops - although the path steers well clear of any real danger.
Cader Idris (893m)
This is a children’s favourite walk, partly because of the many legends associated with the mountain, but mainly because it’s such a cracking adventure. Our six-mile circular route begins at the Minffordd Hotel, climbing up through a steep wooded gorge towards the glacial lake of Llyn Cau, which is as good a place as any for a picnic and a paddle. From here you ascend the ridge and follow a spectacular horseshoe around to a series of subsidiary summits, before arriving on top of Cader Idris itself. The walk down is fairly straightforward, apart from the children laughing at your creaking knees as you tackle the final steps through the woods.
There are several routes to crack Snowdon – up Pyg and down Miners’ is the most popular – and almost all routes are easily done by kids. There are a few to avoid, though: the Watkin Path is hard going, and anything involving Crib Goch’s knife-edge arête is strictly for experts. Conversely, the Llanberis Path’s shallow gradient is easy going but can feel a bit of an endless slog. The Rhyd-Ddu path up Snowdon’s quieter western flank is a good compromise: it’s relatively gentle, but with just enough thrills. And you can always cheat by taking the Snowdon Mountain Railway up to the summit, and walking down, which gives children a taste of mountain-walking that plays to their downhill strengths.
Have fun, stay safe
A final thought: it’s the safety thing again. I can’t emphasise it enough. Take all the gear, know how to use it, and plan escape routes - paths that lead easily down in case you need to duck out early.
Also, it’s meant to be fun. You're nurturing a love of the great outdoors that’ll last a lifetime. I’ve found that kids need plenty of gentle encouragement on the way up, lots of rest stops, and a lot of chocolate. On the way down, it’s usually the opposite: children tend to skip ahead, while adults suddenly realise that young knees are much better at going downhill than old knees (which makes the kids laugh, a lot). Stay safe, have fun.