10 great bikepacking routes for summer

Two people are cycling on an off-road track next to a lake. They are on mountain bikes, and are both wearing shorts and T-shirts. There are mountains in the background.
Traws Eryri takes riders through the spectacular countryside of Mid-Wales. Photo: Sam Dugon
Make the most of longer days and warmer nights by taking a bikepacking break this summer. Content officer Rebecca Armstrong highlights 10 of the best routes around the UK

Summer is the best time to go for a long bike ride. Longer days and warmer weather mean it’s ideal for cycle touring, especially bikepacking. Nights out under the stars are so much more pleasant when it’s warmer. The heat should also dry out trails and lanes that get slippery, wet and muddy in winter, making them easier to navigate.

Below you’ll find 10 great bikepacking routes all around the UK. Many of these are challenging, but you don’t have to ride the whole thing. Try breaking the longer routes into more manageable chunks or take your time and plan shorter rides and throw in a few rest days.

1. King Alfred’s Way, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Surrey and West Sussex

Start/finish: Winchester
Length: 350km
Further info

This 350km off-road adventure route can get very wet in the winter months, so now is the time to tackle it if you haven’t already. Starting and finishing at Alfred the Great’s statue in Winchester, the ride takes you through 10,000 years of history.

It takes in a host of iconic monuments, including Stonehenge, Avebury stone circle, Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals and much more. It follows gravel tracks and off-road trails through the heart of Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire.

The active Facebook group is the perfect place to get advice before planning your trip.

2. Chilterns Cycleway, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire

Start/finish: Henley-on-Thames
Length: 274km
Further info

If off roading isn’t your thing, then you might want to consider this long-distance road ride through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. More than 95% of the route is on road – mostly following minor roads – with the remainder on towpaths, surfaced cycle lanes and bridleways.

Passing through Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, it takes in historic villages and lively market towns, country pubs, National Trust properties and the Chiltern Hills, with some steep climbs and descents.

A person is riding a grey gravel bike past a field with Stone Henge in the background. They are wearing a T-shirt and shorts, a cycling helmet and sunglasses. They have a backpack on.
Cycling UK route King Alfred’s Way passes sights such as Stone Henge. Photo: Robert Spanring

3. Pennine Bridleway, Derbyshire, Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Cumbria

Start/finish: Middleton Top/Ravenstonedale
Length: 330km
Further info

Follow in the hoofprints of packhorses on this National Trial that runs south to north along the whole of the Pennine Hills. The route was designed for horse riders and was officially opened by Martin Clunes, president of the British Horse Society, in 2012. It’s also an excellent trail for mountain bikers and is very popular among bikepackers.

It’s not an easy trail, with a lot of climbing and some technical elements. However, it passes through some spectacular countryside, including the Derbyshire and Yorkshire Dales. It follows a variety of surfaces including ancient drovers’ roads, aggregate tracks, grassy singletrack and woodland trails.

4. Traws Eryri, North Wales

Start/finish: Machynlleth/Conwy
Length: 200km
Further info

Wending its way through the stunning scenery of Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park, this off-road adventure route has more than 4,000m of climbing. It’s a challenging ride, but the longer, warmer and (hopefully!) drier days of summer are the ideal time to tackle it.

The route links ancient forests, incredible mountains and fascinating history. It was designed with mountain bikes in mind, and the steep gradients and loose rocky terrain mean you’ll be grateful for those fatter tyres and low gears.

Join the Facebook group for tips and advice from people who have already cycled the route.

5. Claerddu Bothy, Mid-Wales

Start/finish: Rhayader
Length: 78.3km
Further info

This short circuit can be done over two days. The route takes you into the beautiful Cambrian Mountains. It includes some of Wales’s most breath-taking scenery, such as Claerddu and Penygarreg Reservoirs, the wooded Hafod Estate and Craig Goch Dam. It starts and ends in the picturesque market town of Rhayader.

Spend the night at Claerddu Bothy, one of the most luxurious bothies around. It boasts a flushing toilet, a full log store and even a kitchen with a tap and small cooker. Make sure you’re well rested for the steep climb over Pen y Bwlch.

A scenic shot showing a loch with mountains in the background and trees and bushes in the foreground.
The NC500 is a challenging road route but you are rewarded with views like this one

6. The Capital Trail, East Lothian, Borders

Start/finish: Edinburgh
Length: 245km
Further info

This long-distance circular route starts and ends at the Tide Café on Edinburgh’s Portobello Beach. While never venturing too far from the Scottish capital, it still visits some of the country’s most beautiful and remote places.

It’s best tackled in summer when both the weather and trail conditions will be better. It features some rugged, challenging sections as well as a lot of climbing. But you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the Firth of Forth, the River Esk, Saltoun Big Woods and much more.

The return to Edinburgh sees you ride along the River Almond to the shores of the Firth of Forth and along the Water of Leith.

7. North Coast 500 Cycle Route, Highland

Start/finish: Inverness
Length: 800km
Further info

Also known as the NC500 – it’s around 500 miles long – this more cycle-friendly version of the original driving route was created by Markus Stitz. It follows quiet roads, avoiding the busy A9. It’s a challenging road ride with more than 8,000m of climbing.

It circumnavigates almost the whole of the north coast of Scotland, delivering some of the most remote, rugged and breath-taking scenery you’ll get in the UK. You’ll experience sea loch crossings, beautiful bays, spectacular gorges and picturesque villages, as well as plenty of cycle-friendly cafés.

Sleep under the stars at campsites or use one of the many bothies on the route.

8. Cape Wrath, Highlands

Start/finish: Ferry jetty, down the road from Durness
Length: 39km
Further info

Cape Wrath is the most north-westerly point in mainland Britain. Surrounded by marshland, it’s also one of the most remote – an untouched wilderness of heather, red deer, puffins, eagles and other wildlife.

You might question why this short route qualifies as bikepacking, but you’ll be completely on your own. It’s wild and desolate and miles from anywhere. Take a ferry across the Kyle of Durness then cycle the short distance to the Cape. There’s a bothy nearby where you can spend the night before heading back to the ferry.

There’s a lighthouse and café at the Cape. Take a photo of yourself at the lighthouse to qualify for the Cape Wrath Fellowship.

9. Loughshore Trail, Co Antrim

Start/finish: Antrim
Length: 182km
Further info

Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake in Britain and Ireland, and this route encircles it all. It’s largely flat and on quiet, virtually traffic-free minor roads and lanes with short stretches of traffic-free path, making it an excellent introduction to bikepacking.

It wends its way past beaches and marinas offering panoramic views across the lough, and through nature reserves and parks. It passes tourist attractions such as the 1,000-year-old Celtic cross at Ardboe, Clotworthy House and the railway viaduct at Randalstown.

10. Belfast to Ballyshannon, Counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Londonderry and Tyrone

Start/finish: Belfast/Balleyshannon
Length: 390km
GPX: None available
Further info

Ireland’s first fully signed coast-to-coast cycling route starts in the Northern Irish capital of Belfast before heading across to Ballyshannon on the west coast of the Republic of Ireland.

Cycling on mostly minor roads and traffic-free lanes, you’ll start on shores of Belfast Lough before passing through the docks where the Titanic was built.

The route takes in the magnificent landscape of the Sperrin Mountains, the tranquil Fermanagh and Leitrim lakes, the shores of Lough Neagh, Newry Canal, market towns and cathedral cities. It ends at Rossnowlagh beach in Ballyshannon, where you can paddle in the Atlantic Ocean.

A note on wild camping

There are campsites close to or on all these routes; some have bothies where you can spend the night. It’s a good idea to plan ahead and book your pitch in advance, especially as you might be arriving late in the evening.

However, many bikepackers like to wild camp – pitching their tents in fields or forests away from designated sites and other people. The laws around wild camping are complicated in the UK, so it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with them.

Wild camping is essentially prohibited in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, you can camp with the landowner’s permission. Ask in advance and be respectful and you may find the landowner is willing to let you stay. If you camp without permission, you’ll be trespassing.

Things are different in Scotland, where camping is allowed on unenclosed land. This doesn’t mean you can camp anywhere and there is a general set of rules to follow. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code explains more.

Wherever you end up spending the night, remember to respect those around you and the environment – be a responsible camper.