The National Cycle Network offers easy-to-follow, traffic-free cycling routes that crisscross some of the UK’s most beautiful landscapes; many taking you right into the heart of our best-loved national parks. We reveal our five favourite family-friendly cycle routes that take you to, and through, some of the UK’s wildest natural reserves, with easy-going terrain and plenty of roadside attractions.
1. Deeside Way, Cairngorms National Park
This route starts in Ballater’s Station Square on Royal Deeside and follows a waymarked path along the Old Royal Deeside railway line. Never far from the River Dee, you’ll pass through quiet woodland with lovely views of the surrounding mountains. After two miles, take a short detour to Tullich Kirkyard, to see old graves and historic Pictish stones, before continuing on to Cambus O’May, where you’ll find a timeworn station building and an impressive suspension bridge — a favourite picnic spot for families. From here, you can detour again to explore Burn O’Vat, a huge geological pothole, and the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, or continue on to Dinnet.
Terrain: A flat, gravel off-road cycle path, with a short on-road section if you decide to cycle to the Burn O’Vat Visitor Centre and Loch Kinord. Cycle route signposted: NCN 195.
Length: Burn O’Vat 5.5 miles or Dinnet seven miles.
Cycle Hire: Cycle Highlands
2. Rob Roy Loop, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park
A beautiful, circular loop with plenty to keep the kids entertained, following tracks north through Strathyre Forest, where red squirrels can be spotted by the sharp-eyed. Emerging from the forest, the route passes through pretty Balquhidder — home to the grave of Rob Roy McGregor, local outlaw/folk hero (depending on your perspective). The route then follows a quiet road through Auchtubh before rejoining cycle route NCN 7 at Kingshouse, where there are fantastic views of Loch Lubnaig and Ben Ledi.
Terrain: A mixture of quiet rural roads and flat, off-road cycle paths.
Length: 13 miles
Cycle Hire: Strathyre Bike Hire
3. Plym Valley Trail, Dartmoor
Start in Coypool to cycle this exceptionally picturesque trail that runs up the side of the Plym Valley, surrounded by dense woodland. There are also lovely picnic meadows and swimming spots at Plymbridge Woods. You’ll pass over four viaducts, including Cann Viaduct, where nesting peregrine falcons are often spotted on the steep side of the slate quarry. From there, travel through the long curving Shaugh Tunnel to Clearbrook, where views open up towards Dartmoor. For a longer journey, start your ride at the Georgian mansion Saltram House, located in the rolling parkland of Saltram Estate. Continue north on the Drake’s Trail to Yelverton and over the spectacular Gem Bridge to Tavistock.
Terrain: An almost entirely traffic-free route with gentle inclines as it rises up to the edge of the national park.
Length: Six miles
Cycle Hire: Rockets and Rascals
4. Tissington Trail, Peak District
There’s lots of wildlife to learn about along the Tissington Trail. Leave Parsley Hay’s scenic patchwork of fields to reach Hartington, once one of the busiest railway stations on the Ashborne Line but now a tranquil picnic spot. Here, you’ll find the flower-rich pastures of Derybshire Wildlife Trust’s Hartington Meadows Nature Reserve,where you should be on the lookout for skylarks, orchids and butterflies. Carry on down to Tissington where green and fertile countryside takes over and a stretch of lush woodland leads to a cafe at Tissington station.
Terrain: A gentle descent along a compact gravel trail.
Length: 13.5 miles
Start: Parsley Hay
Cycle Hire: Parsley Hay Cycle Hire Centre
5. Castleman’s Corkscrew, New Forest
This ride follows National Route 2 along a section of the railway line between Brockenhurst and Wimborne, taking you through a varied forest and heathland landscape where a group of friendly wild ponies is never far. The first mile is along Sway Road, passing the Brockenhurst Manor Golf Club on the right, over the rail bridge and on to Latchmoor House. From there, the route meets the old railway at Cater’s Cottage, once the crossing-keeper’s home, and heads west towards the new replacement bridges at Long Slade Bottom. Here you leave the railway to cycle south for 100 metres along to Wooton Bridge, where the trail once again becomes traffic-free at Wooton Coppice Inclosure, before ending at Thorney Hill just north of Bransgore.
Terrain: Traffic-free with a short initial on-road section, and 300 metres on-road at Wooton Bridge.
Length: 11.4 miles
Cycle Hire: Country Lanes Cycle Hire