Everyone loves conquering a summit and bathing in the views and feeling of achievement to be found there. From short and easy walks to bigger days out, all with the essential ingredients of a proper top to reach and plenty to see along the way, here are some of our favourite mini mountains to climb with kids. Photo gallery at the end of the article.
1. Hound Tor, Dartmoor
Perfect for family holidays, Devon has beaches for rockpooling and sandcastling, grassy hills to roll down, ancient woodlands for tree climbing and rocks for scrambling. The wilds of Dartmoor feel like another world compared with the sunny coast and you’ll find the weather more changeable too. The rocky, granite tors that rise across the whole of Dartmoor are the visible ‘knuckles’ of ancient volcanic activity across this part of the country, exposed by weathering over thousands of years. Many tors make a great day out for kids, often with an easy, grassy walk to the rocks and then plenty of opportunities for lower-level scrambling. Hound Tor is a great choice for its ease of access – there’s a car park at the bottom of the hill – and, for older children, a number of easy scrambles to the very top of the tor for panoramic views across the moor. It’s a place steeped in local myth and legend too, and said to be the inspiration for Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Start/finish: Hound Tor car park, TQ13 9XG, OS grid ref: SX739793
Summit: 414 metres
Walk distance: 1 mile/1.6km
Facilities: Refreshments trailer in the car park (seasonal)
2. Golden Cap, Dorset
Rising from the coastline that edges the grassy hills and pretty woodlands of the National Trust’s Golden Cap Estate, Golden Cap is a perfectly mountain-shaped hill, particularly when viewed from further along the coast. The iconic greenstone sand peak is the highest point on the whole of England’s south coast and part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. The Short Walk to the summit is well-signposted and begins with a winding trail through Langdon Wood, carpeted with bluebells in summer, before emerging onto open hillside with glorious views of the sea. The final section to the trig point-topped summit is a bit steeper with some stepped sections, but the feeling of reaching the top is well worth the effort. Once you’ve made your ascent
Start/finish: Langdon Hill car park, DT6 6JW, OS grid ref: SY412930
Summit: 191 metres
Walk distance: 3 miles/5km
Facilities: National Trust shop/café on estate, family-friendly pub and campsite in Seatown.
3. Cley Hill, Wiltshire
Cley Hill rises from the vast, flat landscapes of the Longleat Estate, its slopes carved into fascinating shapes by ancient seas and human habitation. A network of inviting trails covers the area, worn white into the grass-covered chalk hillside and ideal for littler legs. The hill’s natural and archaeological features are exciting for younger children to play in, and an interactive history lesson for the older ones, with an Iron Age hillfort, two bowl barrows and the remains of ancient field systems to be explored. Cley Hill is a haven for wildlife, with butterflies and wild flowers flourishing on its chalk grasslands.
From the small car park at the foot of Cley Hill the walk to the top begins along a rough farm track, following the Mid Wilts Way and gaining access to the hill via some steps and a kissing gate. From here, pick your route up the steep sides to the top.
Start/finish: Cley Hill car park (free), BA12 7RE, OS grid ref: ST837443
Summit: 245 metres
Walk distance: Approx 1 mile/1.6km
4. Black Down, Surrey/Sussex border
The trig point-topped summit of Black Down is the highest point in the South Downs National Park and a great day out within easy reach of London. Surrounded by pine trees and heather-clad heathland there’s plenty to keep children of all ages interested and the sandy trails are buggy-friendly too. From the wonderfully-named Temple of the Winds with its inscribed stone bench glorious views open out over the Low Weald of West Sussex and south-west Surrey. The place is packed with history too: it was once the home of poet Alfred Lord Tennyson and flint artefacts suggest people have lived here for 8000 years.
Black Down is a great place to simply spend some time wandering, particularly in the summer when the bilberries and blackberries are ripe for foraging. To reach the summit, begin at the National Trust Tennyson’s Lane car park and head generally south following well-used paths to the viewpoint at Temple of the Winds. The trig point stands on the crest of the ridge, shortly before the viewpoint.
Start/finish: Tennyson’s Lane main National Trust car park, GU27 3BJ, OS grid ref: SU917311
Summit: 280 metres
Walk distance: 2 miles/3.2km
Facilities: Shops and cafes in Haslemere
5. Mam Tor, Peak District
Some of the best child-friendly mini mountain walks are those that start high, so you get all the experience of a bigger hill but without the leg work. The airy summit of Mam Tor rises above the Vale of Edale in the Dark Peak region, one of a series of tops set along a soaring ridge that extends north-east to Lose Hill. The whole ridge makes an outstanding walk for older children, or the simple ascent of the stone-clad path from Mam Nick car park to the top is a perfect way to get started. Either way you’ll be greeted by some of the finest views in the Peak District and a real feeling of being high up in a wild, mountain world. Should you find yourself there in winter it’s a popular sledging spot too.
Start/finish: Mam Nick car park, S33 8WA, OS grid ref: SK123832
Summit: 517 metres
Walk distance: 1 mile/1.6km
Facilities: Penny Pot Café in nearby Edale, S33 7ZA
6. Roseberry Topping, Yorkshire
Sometimes called Yorkshire’s mini Matterhorn, Roseberry Topping’s distinctive conical shape has made it a well-known landmark, rising from the edge of the North York Moors and visible from many miles around. Once a more symmetrical sugarloaf shape, the cliff on its western slope was carved by a landslip in 1912. The hill has a long history of human fascination and was named by the Vikings; even today there’s something about Roseberry Topping which inspires people to climb it, and it’s a perfect day out for families.
The shortest route to the top, from Newton-under-Roseberry, starts on a winding trail through Newton Wood, a great place to spot deer and ablaze with bluebells in summer, before emerging on open hillside and tackling the obvious, steep track to the summit. The panoramic views are worth every moment of the climb.
Start/finish: Newton-under-Roseberry car park, TS9 6QS, OS grid ref: NZ570128
Summit: 280 metres
Walk distance: 1.5 miles/2.4km
Facilities: Toilets in Newton-Under-Roseberry, café in Great Ayton
7. Side Pike, Lake District
The Lake District is a haven for outdoor adventure lovers and, if you know where to look, a great place for family adventures too. The perfect mini mountain of Side Pike overlooks the National Trust’s Great Langdale campsite on the opposite side of the valley from the Langdale Pikes. The climb is most suitable for footsure children as there are several small scrambles, not much more than a big step up for an adult but a fun series of mini climbs for kids. Don’t be fooled by the false summit at The Knoll – the true top is marked by a big pile of rocks and outstanding views of the surrounding mountains, Blea Tarn and perhaps even your tent pitched far below. The campsite itself is perfect for kids with a wild play area, small stream and well-stocked shop; you could roll out of your tent in the morning and have your breakfast on the summit.
Start/finish: Parking at the Old Dungeon Ghyll (LA22 9JY ) or Sticklebarn (LA22 9JU) pubs, or camp at National Trust Great Langdale, LA22 9JU.
Summit: 348 metres
Walk distance: 1 mile/1.6km
Facilities: Well-stocked campsite shop (open to public), Sticklebarn Pub is very family-friendly.
8. Sugar Loaf, Brecon Beacons
At 596 metres, Sugar Loaf, in the Brecon Beacons, is just short of having official mountain status, but its long, ridge summit with far-reaching views across the National Park feels every bit a proper top. This distinctive-shaped hill lies on the far-western edge of the Beacons in the Black Mountain range. The nearest car park is over 300 metres high, meaning you’re straight into the action from the moment you leave the car, and the wide, clear paths to the top mean you can always see where you’re heading, often a useful motivator for children. From the car park head north on clear paths, steepening as you near the top. Spectacular views from the trig point reach across the Severn Estuary and into South West England.
Other nearby summits that are great for littler legs include Skirrid Fawr, Sugar Loaf’s similar-shaped but smaller neighbour, and Hay Bluff, whose wide, flat summit plateau is a perfect playground and covered with bilberries in summer.
Start/finish: Llanwenarth car park (free), NP7 7LA, OS grid ref: SO268166
Summit: 596 metres
Walk distance: 3 miles/5km
Facilities: Nearest facilities are in Abergavenny.
9. Holyhead Mountain, Anglesey
Despite its name, Holyhead Mountain is not an official mountain at all, however the summit is the highest point of Anglesey, on the north-west coast of Wales. The rest of Anglesey is absolutely flat, so the imposing rocky outcrop at Holyhead, rising over the sea, is an inviting challenge . The views from the top are stunning, out across the wide expanse of the Irish Sea in one direction, or over the Menai Straight to the brooding peaks of Snowdonia in the other. One of the more direct routes to the summit starts out across glorious heather and gorse heathland, passing the RSPB centre at Ellin’s Tower and heading for the northern shoulder of the mountain. Following winding trails parallel with the sea you’ll eventually find yourself on the shoulder between North and South Stack lighthouses; this is probably enough for younger children, however for the mountain goats there’s a scrambly path to the very top.
Start/finish: RSPB car park, LL65 1YH, OS grid ref: SH210818
Summit: 220 metres
Walk distance: 2.5 miles/4km
Facilities: Café at South Stack Lighthouse
10. Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
Arthur’s Seat is the highest point in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park and a walk to the top is a must for anyone visiting the city. Kids love the idea of climbing an extinct volcano, and there’s a 2000-year old hill fort at the top to explore which adds to the excitement. The main path to the top in particular is a popular walk and can get busy on a fine weekend, but there’s a nice feeling of being part of a sociable, shared experience. The city rapidly shrinks below as you climb and you’ll find grand views from the summit across to Edinburgh Castle, the Pentland Hills and the Firth of Forth.
There are several different routes to the top, depending on how far you want to walk. The shortest starts at Dunsapie Loch car park and approaches from the east, following the obvious short, steep path to the top, but if you’re happy with a slightly longer walk then starting at Holyrood Palace car park and climbing up via the ruin of St Anthony’s Chapel and a more interesting and enjoyable route.
Start/finish: Holyrood Palace car park, EH8 9UL.
Summit: 251 metres
Walk distance: From 1 mile/1.6km
Facilities: Wide variety in Edinburgh