A Lesser-Known Malham Circular Walk (Avoid the Yorkshire Dales Crowds)

A Lesser-Known Malham Circular Walk (Avoid the Yorkshire Dales Crowds)

Do you want to spend a few hours in the Yorkshire Dales seeing natural beauty sights but without the crowds? Then this Malham circular walk is for you! This 7-mile walk visits three of the best sights – Malham Cove, Janet’s Foss, and Gordale Scar. In this post, there is step-by-step advice, maps, and pictures and I’ll let you in on the secrets to avoiding the crowds! It’s honestly one of my favourite walks around Malham and is perfect on a sunny day.

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Malham Circular Walk Map + Overview
Walk Start Point
Leg 1: Watersinks Car Park to Malham Cove
Stop 1: Malham Cove
Leg 2: Malham Cove to Janet’s Foss
Stop 2: Janet’s Foss
Leg 3: Janet’s Foss to Gordale Scar
Stop 3: Gordale Scar
Leg 4: Gordale Scar to Watersinks Car Park

Walk Map + Summary

Distance: 7.3 miles/11.8 kilometres
Elevation Gain: 469 metres (cumulative)
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Walking time: 3.5 to 4.5 hours
Start and endpoint: Watersinks Car Park

Distance reduces to 5.9 miles/9.5 km if taking the alternative route from Gordale Scar to Watersinks Car Park (see below for more information)

Route Option 1 (Avoids sheer rock climb)

Route Option 2 (Includes sheer rock climb)

Note: Both walks are exactly the same until the last leg from Gordale Scar back to Watersinks Car Park. For details on the different final legs, read the section below on Leg 4 of this Malham Circular Walk.

Click the links above to download the file for use in a GPS viewer. This way you’ll be able to track where you are on the route using your phone’s GPS – avoiding accidental detours and providing reassurance for less experienced countryside walkers! Once you’ve downloaded the GPX file above, install a GPX viewer app (Google PlayStore or iPhone App Store) and load the GPX file.

Malham Circular Walk Starting Point: Watersinks Car Park

A key part of avoiding the crowds in Malham is to not park with the crowds in Malham! Pretty much all walks start in the village of Malham, as the National Park Centre is there, so everyone tries to park there. As a result, the car parks are full by 10am. Then, the roads are flanked by cars parked on both sides causing even more traffic. And, to accommodate the cars still arriving well into the afternoon, overflow car parks have been set up in local fields, charging £5 for the day.

This Malham circular walk route starts (and ends) at the free Watersinks Car Park, located between Malham and Malham Tarn on Pennine Way Road. It’s just a 10-minute, 2.8-mile drive out of Malham, although most of that is uphill. But, it does mean that the first half of this Malham circular walk is downhill!

To get to the car park, use the Google pin Watersinks Car Park‘ or the Ordnance Survey map above (grid reference: SD 89420 65812)

Important: Watch out for the cows that roam freely on and/or around the roads near the car park!

Leg 1: Watersinks to Malham Cove

From Watersinks Car Park, walk along the road to the right, and join the trodden path on the other side of the road behind the wooden gate. Here, there is a signpost indicating the way to Malham Cove, so head in that direction. This is the start of the Malham circular walk taking in Malham Cove, Janet’s Foss and Gordale Scar.

Shortly after the path quickly forks in two (first image below), take the path on the left towards Malham Cove. This part of the walk in particular is spectacularly scenic! And, when I was there mid-morning in late July, I only saw a couple of other people on the path. This is truly off the beaten track for Malham!

Next, the path runs parallel to a drystone wall for a while, and it’s easy to follow the rocky path (second image below). The path then continues between the hills. In this valley, there is plenty of exposed and broken down limestone rock around (third image below). Plus, a lot of sheep roam the hills, so do keep an eye out!

As the path emerges out of the valley (third photo below), it then cuts to the right. Here, you’ll be looking out over the hills! You’ll feel like the only person for miles around, it’s very humbling and what makes this Malham circular walk route special.

Next, the path snakes around and then heads downhill quite steeply (fourth photo below). At this point, you’ll be glad you are walking down and not up! The path down is formed of some uneven steps created from the rocks underfoot. Be careful as these could become loose and more slippery in wet weather. At the bottom of the hill, the path flattens out and continues through another small valley. Keep following the path and at the end of it you’ll come out on the top of Malham Cove (final photo below)!

The start of the Malham circular walk! Signpost indicating that Malham Cove is 1.5 miles to the left along the Pennine Way. A green hill inclines in the background
Follow the signpost to Malham Cove along the Pennine Way
The path runs parallel with a dry stone wall and between the cliff faces of rocky hills
Follow the path that runs parallel to the dry stone wall
The path heads into the valley between rocky hills with many limestone rocks and rockfaces visible
The path snakes between rocky hills
Looking down along the pathway to Malham Cove, the path heads downhill below a large rocky cliff and into a valley
The path becomes rocky steps as it drops down toward Malham Cove
A rocky landscape is shown in the valley of two hills, a dry stone wall runs along the middle of the valley.
Continue to follow the path parallel with the dry stone wall until you reach the top of Malham Cove
Beauty spot number 1 on this Malham circular walk! Looking over the edge of Malham Cove, the pathway from Malham Town to the cove is clearly visible and green fields run parallel on either side
Enjoy the view from the top of Malham Cove!

Malham Circular Walk, Stop 1: Malham Cove

The first of three stunning sights of nature on this Malham circular walk. The top of Malham Cove is instantly recognisable from its limestone blocks that spread 300 metres across! Walking across the tops requires some concentration as gaps, called grykes, have formed between the blocks.

The quietest part along the top of Malham Cove is the far left section (when looking out), where the path you arrived from emerges. The busiest part is the far right (when looking out) as this is where the path up/down is.

If you want to, you can take the 400 steps down to see the cove from the bottom! The best photo spot for looking up at Malham Cove is from the middle of Malham Beck. I sound crazy, but you can just hop rock to rock over Malham Beck to get there! But, to rejoin this route, you’ll have to climb back up again! I did it, got overtaken by a 5-year-old child whilst huffing and puffing and being slow, but it was worth it!

Inside the cove, it can be quite busy as many people take the flat walking route here from Malham village, and there are often large groups. However, it is as impressive from the bottom as the top!

Zoe is stood on the edge of the top of Malham Cove - the first stop on this Malham Circular Walk. The view looks out over the Yorkshire Dales and there are a number of hills on the horizon.
Plenty of time for an impromptu self-timer photoshoot

Malham Cove History

The limestone rocks at Malham Cove were formed around 360 million years ago! However, the cove itself was created more recently – just 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. The rain continues to erode the limestone rocks at Malham Cove leading to the gaps slowly widening over time!

Additionally, the water flowing out of Malham Tarn created the cove that we see today. The water would have rushed over the side as a waterfall creating the 80 metre-high cliff face. Today, the water from Malham Tarn goes underground at Watersinks (just across from the car park) and emerges from the bottom of the cove as Malham Beck. The views are as spectacular as ever, making it a very popular tourist attraction. In the summer months, 1000s of visitors a day enjoy a Malham Cove walk to see it for themselves.

Eagle-eyed Harry Potter nerds out there may recognise Malham Cove from the Deathly Hallows part 1 film. It’s here that Harry and Hermione set up a tent after separating from Ron and try to figure out the horcruxes!

From the bottom of Malham Cove, water trickles out from under the rockface and along the strem. The limestone rocks rise high into the sky
It’s as impressive from inside Malham Cove

Leg 2: Malham Cove to Janet’s Foss

Once you’ve finished admiring the view at Malham Cove you need to join the path to head to Janet’s Foss. Head back to where the path came out on the tops of Malham Cove, and head left. There is a gap in the dry stone wall you can cross and then head uphill.

The path continues to the side of Malham Cove and offers fabulous views of the sheer cliff face (first picture below). At first, the path isn’t particularly clear as it is grassy, but it soon becomes well-trodden and easy to follow. This is definitely the most scenic Malham Cove to Janet’s Foss walk, so enjoy the view!

Keep following the path until you come to the road (second photo below). Climb the steps over the wall and then cross over the road and rejoin the path. From here, the path is very easy to follow and continues parallel to a dry stone wall. Next, the path then turns to the right slightly as you head through a metal gate and down a few steps. Continue across the field and head towards the dry stone wall on the other side.

On the final section, you’ll see the road at the bottom as you head downhill. At the road, turn right and walk for approximately 100 metres. On the left, you’ll see a National Trust sign welcoming you to Janet’s Foss – head through the wooden fence and explore the waterfalls!

Taken from the far side of the top of Malham Cove, the rocks and cliff face are visible, the surrounding area is very green and the hill rises into the background
Looking back over Malham Cove
The photo is taken from the middle of a quiet, single-path country road. The road snakes off into the distance and empty fields and rolling hills can be seen in the distance. A dry stone wall runs parallel to the road on either side
The path crosses a road after approximately half the distance. Climb the stile and rejoin the path through the gate on the other side of the road
Beauty spot number 2 on this Malham Circular Walk! Janets Foss waterfall leading into a pool of water which is yellow/green in colour but clear enough for rocks to be seen below the water. Trees surround the waterfall and pool
Janet’s Foss and pool, perfect for dipping your toes on a hot day!

Malham Circular Walk, Stop 2: Janet’s Foss

As the legend goes, Janet’s Foss is named after a fairy believed to live in a cave behind the waterfall. The word foss is from Norse meaning waterfall, and along with ‘force’ is a common name for waterfalls in northern England.

It’s a popular spot on almost all Malham walks due to its close location to the village as well as Malham Cove and Gordale Scar. A flat path from Janet’s Foss links all of these natural sights.

In the summertime, it’s common to find children (and adults) splashing and swimming in the pool under Janet’s Foss. The area is mostly under tree cover, which gives it a more magical feel. Once you’ve taken it all in, it’s time to head to the next stop on this Malham circular walk!

Leg 3: Janet’s Foss to Gordale Scar

It is just a short walk to Gordale Scar from Janet’s Foss. Head back to the road, turn right, cross Gordale Bridge and keep going along the road until you reach Gordale Scar Campsite.

Enter through the metal fence and continue along the path that heads into the valley between the hills. The grassy areas also make a great place to stop for a drink or snack and offer a wonderful view of the cove! Refuelling is essential as there are still some miles left in this Malham circular walk!

Keep following the path as it snakes round the bend, parallel to Gordale Back and up towards Gordale Scar. To get near to the waterfall you’ll have to cross a lot of wet and mossy rocks, so be careful!

In the Gordale Scar Valley as the hills rise on both side and you can see where the cliffs and waterfall have retracted over the years
The path to Gordale Scar snakes in the valley between two rocky cliffs

Malham Circular Walk, Stop 3: Gordale Scar

Made of limestone rock, Gordale Scar is made up of two waterfalls within a huge gorge up to 100 metres high! Similar to Malham Cove, the creation of the large gorge dates back to the Ice Ages.

You can only truly appreciate the size and scale of Gordale Scar when stood inside the gorge. And this is accompanied by the almost deafening sound of thousands of litres of water pouring over the waterfall!

Beauty spot number 3 on the Malham Circular Walk! Gordale Scar, a waterfall over limestone rocks, is shown between two large cliff faces that tower above it
The waterfall is tucked away between the cliff faces

Leg 4: Gordale Scar to Watersinks

There are two options for the final leg of this Malham circular walking route back to Watersinks Car Park. I’m going to go through my preferred option first, as that’s the one I’d recommend for safety reasons. But the second option is also detailed below. The first option avoids the need to scale the sheer rockface of Gordale Scar waterfall, which is particularly inadvisable during or after wet weather or if you are not experienced. The second option proceeds via Gordale Scar, requiring some climbing skills and a side of ballsy-ness (not for the faint-hearted)!

Malham Circular Walk, Final Leg: Option A (recommended)

To avoid climbing a waterfall, the final leg is quite long, but it’s peaceful and very much off the beaten path. First, walk back on yourself out of Gordale Scar all the way to the road. Turn right onto the road and then right again back on the footpath back towards Malham Cove. Follow the path back up alongside the drystone wall and across the field. Continue back up the stone steps and through the metal gate, turning left back along the path. Keep going as far as the road.

When you reach the road, turn right heading uphill along the road. This quiet countryside road has hardly any cars passing so it’s more than safe to walk here (applying common sense of course!). Continue along the road until you reach a signpost on the left-hand side next to a ladder stile (second photo below). Climb the ladder to access the footpath and join this footpath, passing more limestone rock formations and views of more remote parts of the Yorkshire Dales.

Keep following the path as it crosses the fields. Although it may become less trodden at times, it always picks back up! After about 600 metres, the path forks in two. You can take either route, as they join back together later on (the map above shows the right-hand path option). Continue along the footpath until you reach the signpost in the third photo below! It will feel like you are walking for quite a long time, and you’ll wonder whether you’re lost, but keep going!

At the signpost, follow the signs for Watersinks Car Park. When you reach the large wooden fence and road, turn right, walk a little down the road and you’ll be back at the car park. Congratulations, you’ve just completed this Malham circular walk!

Click the link above to download the file for use in a GPS viewer. This way you’ll be able to track where you are on the route using your phone’s GPS – avoiding accidental detours and providing reassurance for less experienced countryside walkers! Once you’ve downloaded the GPX file above, install a GPX viewer app (Google PlayStore or iPhone App Store) and load the GPX file.

From the bottom of Gordale Scar looking out of the rocky cliffs either side
Turn back on yourself from Gordale Scar and retrace your steps as far as the road that you crossed earlier with the style on one side
Dry stone wall with stile crossing from the road onto the footpath towards Watersinks Car Park. This marks roughly half way on the final leg of this Malham Circular Walk.
After following the road along, you’ll see a sign for Watersinks Car Park and a style to climb to access it
Almost at the end of the Malham Circular Walk! 4-way signpost in the middle of a green field with rolling hills in the background
Continue following the trodden ground, follow the signs for Watersinks Car Park. This is the final sign giving a rough distance of 350 yards remaining

Malham Circular Walk, Final leg: Option B (not recommended)

So let’s set the scene again. You’re stood inside Gordale Scar, the waterfall crashes next to you, the gorge rises high towards the sky. Where do you go next?

From the bottom of Gordale Scar, the path technically continues up the side of the waterfall. It’s roughly a 15-foot climb, but it’s pretty vertical. And definitely more of a climb than a scramble. You may have noticed the sign that warns of the dangers of climbing the waterfall…

The path continues up the waterfall on the left-hand side as you look at it. However, the safety and feasibility of this route are dependent on a few factors.

Firstly, the amount of water. If there has been a lot of rain then there may be no dry or safe route. Secondly, experience. This isn’t a scramble, you’ll need to find ledges on the rocks for your fingers and toes, and there is not a clearly defined route. You should only attempt this climb if you think you can do it safely. Thirdly, how you’re dressed. I’d avoid climbing the waterfall if you don’t have sensible shoes (walking boots) on. You might also consider waterproofs depending on how quickly the water is flowing and spraying. And finally, ballsy-ness. This climb isn’t suitable for young children, those without a certain level of physical fitness, as well as those who aren’t confident in doing so.

If you choose to climb the waterfall, you will first reach the second level where there is an additional waterfall. From here, keep walking and head out of the gorge. The path heads in a mostly straight direction until you reach the road.

At the road, it will be a bit like a T-junction. Take the road heading straight in front of you, and then the next left. From here, it will just be about a 500-metre walk back to Watersinks Car Park.

Enjoy a well-deserved sit-down! Or if you really wanted to treat yourself, consider driving to The Buck Inn in Malham for some food and drink. The pub also offers accommodation if you want to spend the night in Malham.

Click the link above to download the file for use in a GPS viewer. This way you’ll be able to track where you are on the route using your phone’s GPS – avoiding accidental detours and providing reassurance for less experienced countryside walkers! Once you’ve downloaded the GPX file above, install a GPX viewer app (Google PlayStore or iPhone App Store) and load the GPX file.

The Gordale Scar waterfall crashes over rugged limestone, brown rocks. A second waterfall is seen in the background. A few people are at the bottom admiring the natural sight. From here, one option on the Malham Circular Walk is to climb the left side of the waterfall to rejoin the path above. An alternative and less risky option is also available
Please only choose to climb the waterfall if you think you are physically capable and prepared enough

Malham Circular Walk FAQs

Is this walk suitable for children?

The walk itself is not too difficult (unless you take the path up Gordale Scar waterfall), but it is quite long. As it’s a circular walk there isn’t much of an option to make the walk any shorter and still see all the sights. If you’re after a shorter walk, I’d recommend taking a route that starts in the village of Malham.

Is Malham Cove / Janet’s Foss / Gordale Scar open?

Yes! These places have been open all through the pandemic, and are great for visiting and maintaining social distancing.

Is Malham Cove / Janet’s Foss / Gordale Scar free to visit?

Yes. Malham Cove (and Tarn) and Janet’s Foss are both maintained by the National Trust but are entirely free to visit. The Yorkshire Dales National Park also maintain the area.

Is Malham Cove suitable for dogs?

For most dogs yes, very small dogs may need to be carried in some parts where the gaps between the rocks are larger. In some places, these gaps can be bigger than 12 inches/1 foot. The rest of the walk is entirely suitable for dogs other than if you opt to take the path up the waterfall at Gordale Scar.

Where is Malham / Malham Cove?

Malham is a small village located on the southern rim of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in northern England. It’s approximately 10 miles from the nearby town of Skipton. Malham Cove is located roughly half a mile north of Malham village.

So there it is in its entirety, one of my favourite walks around Malham if not the whole Yorkshire Dales! I love the Yorkshire Dales, and in my opinion, it is definitely Yorkshire’s best national park (sorry North York Moors!) On this route, I love that you can take your time at each of the beauty spots, and still enjoy outstanding views on the walks. Your walk time could easily reach 6 hours with lots of stops for photos, snacks and enjoying the views! The route has a total elevation gain of around 500 feet, so you’ll definitely have earned a drink and lay down at the end. Did you try this Malham Circular Walk? Let me know in the comments below!

If you have any questions or want any more information drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Directions and descriptions mentioned are correct as of July 2020 but are subject to change in future. You are responsible for your own safety and should assess your preparedness and physical fitness before attempting any extended walk in challenging terrains.

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