The Lake District National Park is known for its dramatic and varied landscape. With so many impressive bodies of water scattered around the area, there are also plenty of streams, rivers and waterfalls that have become very popular tourist and sightseeing spots.
Many of the established walking routes around the Lake District combine visits to famous waterfalls with trips to some of the area’s best-loved villages, tourist attractions, mountains and other notable natural phenomenons. Almost all of the ones on this list have nearby parking or are on the route of well-known walking trails, so you can plan a visit to each site specially or factor it into a longer journey.
But first, to help you decide where to visit in the first place, here’s our guide to eleven of the best waterfalls in the Lake District.
Aira Force, Ullswater
Aira Force is perhaps the most visited of all the Lake District waterfalls. Located just off the banks of Ullswater in an area of land owned by the National Trust, rainwater collected from the nearby fells cascades down a 65-foot drop into a pool beneath, surrounded by rocks and lush greenery.
One of the reasons that Aira Force is such a popular spot is because the famous English poet William Wordsworth wrote a verse ‘Airey-Force Valley’ inspired by the Ullswater waterfall, praising how the sound of the water could “stay the wanderer’s steps and soothe his thoughts”.
The falls are part of a larger area of landscaped park that is home to winding paths, stone bridges and various trails for younger visitors. You can reach Aira Force on foot or by car, or a brilliant option is to arrive on a Ullswater Steamer by travelling from Glenridding across the lake.
Rydal Falls, Rydal
One of the most beautiful and popular waterfalls in Cumbria is Rydal Falls. Located only a short distance away from the famous Rydal Mount, the water here descends a relatively short distance but can be admired from a stone building at the base of the falls known as ‘The Grot’, which is thought to have been one of the first viewing stations for a natural scene built in Britain.
Rydal Falls is another place in the Lake District that has been made famous by its association with William Wordsworth. The poet’s historic home was the nearby Rydal Mount, so the influential writer likely spent a lot of his time admiring these falls and walking through the surrounding woodland as he composed some of his great works.
Stanley Ghyll Force, Eskdale
Stanley Ghyll Force is one of the most dramatic waterfalls in the Lake District, found in the Eskdale valley on the west coast of Cumbria. The water is channelled through a narrow opening and then plunges straight down a 60-foot drop into a pool beneath, surrounded by high, rocky ravine walls on either side.
What makes Stanley Ghyll Force such a standout location is that the greenery around the area is particularly dense and sheltered, creating a humid atmosphere that has allowed plenty of rare plants and moss to grow. You’ll feel as if you’re in a part of some otherworldly rainforest instead of the Lake District when you visit the area, particularly in the summer months.
Work has recently been done around Stanley Ghyll Force to clear the area of some of the invasive rhododendron species that were blocking the waterfall from view. A special viewing platform has now been installed that allows visitors to step out over the ravine and look down to the floor beneath, which is a thrilling experience not suited for anyone afraid of heights!
Scale Force, Buttermere
The title for the highest waterfall in the Lake District goes to Scale Force, found between the landmarks of Crummock Water and Red Pike in Buttermere. The water here descends a 170-foot drop into a pool right at the bottom of a tree-lined gorge, with several smaller falls splitting off closer to the bottom.
Since tourism began in the Lakes, visitors have been coming to Scale Force to admire the impressive height of the waterfall. Not only does its reputation make it a popular spot, but the route to get to the falls is also relatively flat and accessible, which makes it a good option for walking parties with younger members, dog walkers or those who struggle with long distances or varied terrain.
Because of the popularity of Scale Force, those visiting the waterfall in the summer months should bear in mind that the area gets particularly busy when the weather is good and should arrive early if they want to find somewhere to park.
Skelwith Force, Skelwith Bridge
Skelwith Force is one of the smaller, quieter waterfalls found in the Lake District, but still deserves a place on this list. Dropping only 15 feet, the incredible speed and sound of the water are caused by the meeting of the River Brathay and Langdale Beck further upstream, so if you’re visiting after it has rained you can expect quite an impressive display as the water surges over the rocks.
If you’re looking for Lake District waterfalls that won’t be overrun with tourists, even during the high season for tourism, Skelwith Force is an excellent place to visit. You can walk to the falls either from Elterwater or Skelwith Bridge, with plenty of different footpaths to choose from depending on how far you want to travel.
Tom Gill Falls, Coniston
Whilst walking towards the famous Tarn Hows lake in Coniston, you’ll pass the tumbling Tom Gill Falls. A stream splits at the top of the falls and forms a wide, rushing waterfall that descends over a wall of rocks like it is slipping down a staircase, providing an excellent opportunity for a long-exposure shot of the water if you have the right equipment.
Tom Gill Falls is best visited on your way to or from Tarn Hows, but you’ll have to watch your step as you pass as the path is known for getting very slippery from the spray produced by the falls.
Rutter Force, Appleby
If you’re looking for a waterfall in the Lake District that is not only very accessible, but magical enough to be straight out of a fairytale, look no further. Rutter Force is an idyllic, small set of falls located right next to an old mill that is now a self-catering property, gently flowing down a rocky wall into a calm pool of water that drifts alongside a classic millwheel.
Rutter Force can be easily reached on foot from the market town of Appleby, where you can stand on a nearby footbridge to admire the view. Because it’s not as dramatic as some of the Lake District’s other impressive falls, this spot tends to be quieter all year round and is a perfect place to stop, reflect and enjoy the natural surroundings. It’s also thought of as one of the more romantic spots in the area, so is an ideal place to bring your partner for a few quiet moments together.
Lodore Falls, Derwentwater
One of the most popular waterfalls near Keswick is Lodore Falls, located just above the southern end of Derwentwater. A beck from Watendlath Tarn cascades down over rocks and boulders for a distance of over 100 feet, providing an incredibly dramatic series of falls, twists and turns which you can follow with a footpath.
Lodore Falls are another area of the Lakes that have inspired famous poetry, with the writer Robert Southey composing his piece ‘The Cataract of Lodore’ which is known for its onomatopoeic meter.
This waterfall is found on private property, and visitors are expected to leave a contribution in the honesty box after visiting. It’s one of the quieter spots that we have covered in this blog post, so if you want to enjoy watching the water undisturbed then it’s a great place to visit.
You should bear in mind however that this waterfall is at its most impressive during rainier months when there is a lot more water flowing from Watendlath Tarn, whereas over the summer the falls can often be reduced to just a trickle.
Colwith Force, Elterwater
Nearby to the village of Skelwith Bridge in Elterwater is Colwith Force, a pretty little waterfall surrounded by quiet woodland. Water from the River Brathay travels through the forest and tumbles around 40 feet down in a few different stages and finally splits into two different streams before it hits the water beneath.
Colwith Force can be reached in a half-mile walk from a car park at the bottom of the hill it is found up, or as a highlight of a circular walking route from nearby Elterwater. The popular Skelwith Force is also nearby, so you can bag two famous Lake District waterfalls in one on your walk!
Sourmilk Ghyll, Grasmere
Sourmilk Ghyll gets its name from the frothy, white water that bursts from the rocks down these falls. Fed by water from Easedale Tarn, this Grasmere waterfall cascades down a gentle slope crossed by bridges and edges with boulders and large rocks, forming several different falls that are particularly impressive after it has rained.
The Ghyll is a favoured spot for scramblers, but several different, easy walking paths take you to and around them. Or, if you fancy a bit more of a challenge, local organisations lead guided climbs up the falls in the summer months when the water is less fierce.
Stock Ghyll Force, Ambleside
The final addition to our list of the best waterfalls in the Lake District is one of the most stunning examples you’ll find in the whole area. These falls are only a short walk from the middle of Ambleside village and drop 70 feet in two stages, forming a ‘V’ shape at the bottom of the descent where two different streams of water meet.
The footpath to Stock Ghyll Falls is relatively accessible and well-signposted, passing by several small and manmade waterfalls on the route that provide plenty of excellent photo opportunities. There is a range of different viewing platforms as you approach that allow you to take in the full height of the waterfall, with the best views found towards the end of the summer and autumn months when a lot of the foliage has died down and the water is less obstructed.
A circular walking route takes you up to the falls and then back to Ambleside, which lasts around 1 hour and is a popular choice for those visiting or staying in a holiday cottage in the area.
Waterfalls in the Lake District range from idyllic sites surrounded by natural beauty to dramatic dips in the landscape where water tumbles through the air. With the option to visit powerful, gushing waterfalls and tranquil, beautiful spots in forests and fells, you can enjoy a variety of different scenery that shows off just what makes the Lake such a popular part of Britain to visit.
If you’re planning a holiday to Cumbria and are looking for outstanding accommodation options, why not take a look at our range of Lake District self-catering properties.