England’s Coast to Coast hike traverses the north of the country through Cumbria and Yorkshire, following a route through the Lake District, as well as the Yorkshire Dales and Moors, devised by Alfred Wainwright, the famous fellwalker, or hiker of England’s fells.
These areas are glorious throughout the year, and change according to the season. But when is the best time to hike the Coast to Coast path? When are the best times to visit the Lake District and explore Yorkshire? After the Easter influx, spring promises a riot of colour and the countryside comes to life. Summer can be beautiful but busy, and the autumn colours and quieter paths shouldn’t be missed. So which should you consider? When is the best time of year to hike the Coast to Coast route?
On a long-distance walk that typically takes around two weeks, you’ll want to target the drier months of the year. However, England is notorious for rain and changeable weather. The Coast to Coast hike traverses the north of the country, which can be particularly damp, so whenever you attempt the walk expect at least a day of rain and probably several more. Equally, you’ll get some glorious days.
Weather conditions can easily change from day to day, or even by the hour. But as Wainwright himself once quipped, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,’ so just come prepared with the appropriate kit and take it in your stride.
The peak hiking season on the Coast to Coast starts at Easter. Numbers on the trail reach their highest during July and August before falling away again in September. The volume of walkers on the trail tails off quite quickly and by October the Coast to Coast is pretty quiet. Many places along the route start to shut down for the winter from this point and just a few people trek the route.
Taking everything into consideration, often the best times of year to hike the Coast to Coast are during the shoulder seasons, in late spring, such as May and June, and early autumn, such as August and September, when the weather is mild, conditions more stable and the crowds are smaller. But of course, each season has its magical moments. Below, read our seasonal guide to walking the Coast to Coast route to discover the best time of year to hike the iconic route.
The first western section of the Coast to Coast hike weaves through the Lake District, a region that comes alive during the bright spring season. With the winter frosts disappearing, the first wildflower blossoms appear, dotting the English countryside in a wild bouquet of flowers.
Wordsworth’s early hosts of golden daffodils give way to bluebells, stunning bell-shaped flowers that blanket the woodland in a vibrant carpet of blue and purple each May and June. The blackthorn’s white blossoms decorate hedges, rhododendrons flower in, trees start to bud and hazel catkins flutter in the breeze.
During spring on the Coast to Coast, the lush green grass unfolds in each direction, and newborn animals scamper in the fields. Particularly adorable are the bouncing lambs for which England is famed.
During spring, birds are in full song. On the cliffs at St Bees, fulmars and herring gulls begin to gather and you can see black guillemots. Lapwings and curlews return to the Yorkshire Dales and chiffchaff, warblers, meadow pipits and skylarks can be seen and heard in the skies.
Spring is a wonderful time to hike the Coast to Coast trail. Although the weather can be changeable, May is historically one of the driest months in Cumbria, and if you chance upon a couple of dry weeks during spring, you’ll be in for a treat. There are slightly fewer hikers on the trail, so accommodation is more readily available.
As the spring turns into summer, the landscape comes into full bloom and you’ll pass through fields of wildflowers. Yorkshire’s hay meadows are in flower during June while the brightly coloured bell heather emerges on the moors in July and by mid-August the common heather starts to bloom, filling the air with a fragrant perfume.
The viewpoints at St Bee’s reveal thousands of guillemots crammed onto their breeding ledges, and kittiwakes, razorbills, herring gulls and fulmars are all easy to spot as you start the trail. Linnets, stonechats, whitethroats and rock pipits sing from the heath and gorse.
The longer days and prolonged periods of sunshine are ideal for exploring the national parks. Lakes and mountains take on a new hue, while shady forests provide shelter. In the towns and villages, local calendars brim with events and activities to look out for. It is generally sunny throughout the summer months but you’ll still be exposed to the odd summer shower or two, so don’t forget to bring a waterproof.
All of this means that there are increased numbers of hikers on the Coast to Coast are high and it can be busy, especially in the Lakes where walkers and day-trippers converge on the honeypot locations. Consequently, you’ll get the chance to meet plenty of other Coast-to-Coasters and chat with them along the route but you will have to compete with them for accommodation and places to eat in the popular village tearooms and pubs.
With the summer holidays ending, autumn heralds the start of a quieter season. The leaves turn to fiery oranges, yellows and reds, crunching underfoot as they begin to fall. Hillsides are clothed in swathes of golden bracken. While the seabirds have left the coastal cliffs, game birds like pheasant and grouse still wander the moors.
In the Lake District such as near Patterdale and Haweswater, you also stand the best chance of seeing rare red squirrels gathering food for winter.
The weather often remains sunny during early September, before becoming a little more changeable. Nights start to shorten and temperatures cool. On the flip side, it’s time to start enjoying cosy evenings in front of roaring log fires once you’re back from a day on the fells or moors. Tuck into hearty food and locally-brewed ales on crisp autumn evenings.
Another benefit of the longer nights and clear conditions is that you can do a bit of stargazing in the dark skies of the Lake District and North York Moors.
Walking the Coast to Coast in winter is feasible but best left to experienced hardy trekkers. The weather typically turns cold and wet, with the chance of snow. The days are short, and you’ll have less time to complete the stages of the trail. Sections of the route, especially the high-level paths through the Lake District, and traversing the vast moorlands, could be more dangerous and on occasions impassable.
Much of the accommodation and services along the route will also be closed meaning you’ll have to plan your route, day-by-day stages and places to stop carefully.
The benefit is that you’ll have tracts of the Lake District to yourself, and how often can you say that about a popular World Heritage Site? What’s more, the lakes, dales and moors make a dramatic backdrop for winter walking and, among the drier days, you might get brilliant, brisk winter conditions, with clear, crisp air, far-reaching views and some spectacular sights.
If you’re considering taking on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast hike and want to explore England, you can find out about our Coast to Coast guided hiking holiday, view the itinerary, which includes accommodation and transfers, and see upcoming departures below.