Whether you’re a walker, thrill-seeker, or adventure-blog-binger, this report has everything you need when it comes to inspiring your next British outdoor adventure.
For those wanting to experience some of the spectacular national parks that the UK has to offer, look no further as we reveal the most popular national parks and the activities you can do there!
What are the UK’s most popular adventures, and which counties offer the biggest number of opportunities for people to enjoy their favourite adventure?
Camping is the UK’s most popular adventure with over 5 million annual searches last year. This is almost double the number of searches for camping the previous year (2,761,500), suggesting that camping saw a sharp increase in popularity over 2021. Likely due to the pandemic, people have shown an increased interest in camping close by rather than travelling abroad. There are camping sites all across the UK. Camping is also a great outdoor activity all year round as it can be fun to camp in all weathers and terrains.
Backpacking is low-cost, independent travel where you carry everything you need around with you. With just shy of 1.5 million searches, backpacking is one of the most popular adventures in the UK. With the cost of living squeeze, many are looking for budget-friendly means of holidaying, and backpacking fits the bill. Backpacking is usually done abroad but can be just as fun done through the UK, particularly in the larger national parks. The summer would be the best time to backpack in the UK, as you probably wouldn’t want to spend too much time walking around with a backpack on in the rain and cold of UK winters.
A slightly more thrilling adventure activity, mountain biking is the third most popular adventure activity in the UK with 1.27 million annual searches over 2021. All means of getting outdoors have fantastic benefits for your physical and mental health, and mountain biking is a cost-friendly way of exploring the great outdoors. Mountain biking has actually seen a large decrease in popularity over 2021 compared to 2020, perhaps as a result of the pandemic. Mountain biking is recommended to be done in the summer months when there is less rain and chances of slipping are reduced. As the name suggests, mountains are brilliant spots for mountain biking and can be found in many national parks across Britain.
Walking is a fantastic way to explore nature and take on new challenges. Suitable for people of all ages and abilities, walking is free and easy for everyone. With over 1 million Google searches over the last year, walking is also the fourth most popular adventure activity in the UK and has shown stable popularity over the years with a similar volume of searches for walking in the UK the previous year. Walking can be done anywhere you wish, but the best places are national parks, fells and mountains, where you can capture some amazing views. There is no best time of year for walking as it is a brilliant adventure to engage in all year round.
A classic way of staying healthy, running rounds off our top five most popular adventure activities in the UK, with 913 thousand annual searches. In recent years running has become more popular due to advancements in weatherproof running gear technology and of course the pandemic – which may explain the activity seeing a slight decrease in popularity from 2020 to 2021. Running is similar to walking in that it is fantastic fun all year round and it’s best to find the most natural places to run through to enjoy scenic views.
Accessing data from alltrails.com, the number of opportunities to engage in 18 most popular outdoor activities has been recorded for each of the UK’s counties. There is so much to do in the UK, and this list should give you an idea of where you can go to do whatever adventure you are looking for.
Cumbria is possibly the most adventurous county in the UK, offering the most opportunities for 11 outdoor activities, including: Hiking, and rock climbing in areas such as the Langdale Pikes, mountain biking and walking the trails of Grizedale Forest. Or, camping on the shores of one of the Lake District waters where you can bird watch, fish and take part in water sports.
The Scottish Highlands are best known for their driving and skiing opportunities, with all 5 of its main outdoor activities relating to these activities. Highland offers the most opportunities to experience off-road and scenic driving, snowshoeing, skiing, and cross-country skiing. The most famous scenic drive in the Highlands is the North Coast (NC) 500, a breathtakingly beautiful road trip around the north of the highland region.
According to alltrails.com, London is the best place for cyclists, offering the highest number of trails for both road biking and bike touring. Popular cycling routes include the Thames Valley Cycle Path and the Epping Forest loop. Road biking is especially popular, with Greater London offering 216 trails, 180 more than the runner-up, Greater Manchester.
National Parks are great locations for anyone and everyone to experience the great outdoors and engage in their choice of outdoor adventure. From walking and cycling to abseiling and canoeing, national parks offer it all.
These are the most popular national parks in the UK, which offer amazing atmospheres and the opportunity to meet and engage with other outdoor enthusiasts. They are home to some of the more iconic views and experiences of the UK countryside. We looked at figures from 2019, for pre-pandemic representation of popularity.
The most popular national park was South Downs with 2.31 million visitors in 2019. Designated in 2010, South Downs is also England’s newest national park. Stretching from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne, the park covers 628 square miles. With 3,300km of footpaths, bridleways, and byways, there are plenty of opportunities to walk, cycle or even ride on horseback at Beachy Head in the South Downs.
Located in Cumbria, North West England, the Lake District National Park is the second most popular national park on this list with 2.17 million visitors. It is known for its spectacular glacial lakes, challenging fell mountains and historic literary connections. Activities, at this national park include boating on the lakes, you can hire rowing and motor boats from Bowness pier, and there are many sailing schools on the lakes, such as at Millerground on Windermere. Other outdoor activities include: walking, cycling, and its dark skies are renowned for stargazing.
The third most popular national park in the UK is the Peak District National Park. Hosting 1.77 million visitors in 2019, Peak District National Park is not one to miss. Spanning close to 555 square miles, the Peak District is known for climbing, caving, and camping. Explore the Peak District’s steep limestone valleys or take a turn crossing the famed stepping stones. There are many walking and cycling trails, alongside ranger events, camping spots such as Reynards Cave in Dovedale, and horse riding.
If you prefer to explore the outdoors alone or want to experience true escapism by adventuring away from popular areas, then these least crowded national parks may be a better match for you.
Dartmoor National Park saw the least amount of visitors in 2019, so if you like to enjoy the great outdoors away from busy walkways and crowded parks, then Dartmoor might be the national park for you. Dartmoor National Park offers amazing cycling and horse riding routes, alongside more adventurous activities like canoeing on the river Dart and climbing. Letterboxing and new geocaching locations constantly spring up across the national park, by signing up to the geocaching website you can see them and take part.
The fourth-largest national park in the British Isles, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National park is one of the least visited national parks in the UK. Home to 21 mountains that are higher than 3,000 feet, such as Ben A’an, this national park is a dream for hikers wanting to avoid busy walks. Loch Lomond & the Trossachs’ lakes and rivers offer unique opportunities for boat tours, kayaking, and canoeing. There are also many golf courses and hiking trails to check out.
Exmoor national park saw half a million visitors in 2019 making it one of the least trodden national parks in the UK. Despite this, there is plenty to see and do here. Experience Exmoor’s dramatic coastline or catch a glimpse of wild deer and ponies on the moorland. Exmoor national park is known for a full host of outdoor activities including coasteering, kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing, abseiling, canoeing, raft building, archery, hill walking and orienteering.
National parks are great days out all year round, offering some exquisite landscape viewing and exciting outdoor activities. There are, however, certain times of the year which offer the perfect weather conditions for any preference.
If you are wanting a warm visit, then July is the absolute best for all national parks on our list. National parks across England, Scotland, and Wales all have their highest average yearly temperatures across the month of July.
This naturally makes the summer months the busiest time to visit. If you’re after a quieter day out yet don’t want to compromise on warmth, we recommend visiting in September and October. You can still take part in most activities on offer in these months too.
If you’re one who prefers to avoid the rain rather than chase the sun, then you can plan your trips to most national parks between February and May when the average rainfall for 13 out of 15 of our national parks is at its lowest.
These may be some of the quieter months too, before the peak summer holiday season.
For inspiration, see this list of the top 10 biggest UK adventure influencers on Instagram.
Bear Grylls OBE is a well-known British adventurer who has very much become a TV personality in recent years, presenting shows such as Man vs. Wild and Bear Grylls: The Island. With just under 5 million followers, Bear is the most popular adventure influencer, posting about his greatest adventures, achievements and his fitness routine.
British Instagrammer, Luke Stackpoole, participates in travel, and has a keen interest in nature on his Instagram platform as he often posts photos of species native to both the UK, and parts of the world where he travels. We’re hugely inspired by Luke’s adventures and the stunning landscapes and wildlife he captures in some extreme conditions.
TV presenter Ben Fogle is the third most followed on Instagram, with almost half a million following his profile. The 48 year old Londoner is best known for his role on Countryfile, where he often presents about outdoor adventure. Sunday Times best-selling author and UN Patron of the Wilderness, Ben offers some fantastic adventure inspiration on his Instagram – as well as some super cute posts with his Labradors, including his puppy Swift!
Brendan Fairclouch is a talented British mountain biker who has a huge following on social media, where he demonstrates his skills out on his bike, often in point of view video style. Fairclough currently has just over 400,000 followers, making him the 4th most popular UK adventure influencer.
Helen Skelton is the greatest female adventure influencer in the UK, the Cumbrian tv presenter is one of the most familiar figures on British television. She has presented many top shows including Blue Peter, and is currently a mainstay on Countryfile where she gets out in the outdoors. She’s the first woman to kayak the entire length of the Amazon, she’s completed the gruelling 78-mile Namibia Ultra Marathon, and she’s the first person to travel to the South Pole on a bicycle.
TV presenter Matt Baker only has a thousand fewer followers than Helen Skelton, but this still puts him behind her in the rankings. Known for being the anchor of the One Show along with Alex Jones, he now focuses fully on Countryfile. Baker’s work on TV in the outdoors earned him an MBE in 2022.