Do you want to spend a few hours in the Yorkshire Dales without being among the crowds? Then this Malham circular walk is for you!
Enjoy the peace and quiet of the North Yorkshire countryside on this 7-mile Malham walk to three of the village’s best sights. First, you’ll visit the top of Malham Cove for fantastic views. Next up, is the beautiful Janet’s Foss waterfall under the shadow of the woodland. And finally, you’ll get to see the splendid Gordale Scar waterfall and gorge.
In this post, there is step-by-step advice, maps, pictures guides and I’ll even let you in on the secrets to avoiding the crowds! It’s honestly my favourite of the Malham walks and is perfect on a sunny day.
Last updated: March 2022. First published: September 2020.
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 climbing Through Gordale Scar)
Route Option 2 (Includes climb Through Gordale Scar)
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 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.
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. As a result, the car parks are usually full by 10am on weekends, bank holidays and during school holidays. Plus, when the car parks are full the roads are filled with cars being parked on the embankments causing even more traffic. If you’re not lucky enough to get a free spot in Malham village then overflow car parks are available in the local fields for around £5 for the day.
To avoid the crowds and parking fees altogether, this walking 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 grid reference: SD 89420 65812.
Leg 1: Watersinks Car Park to Malham Cove Walk
- 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. Follow the signpost pointing to Malham Cove.
- As the path forks in two, again follow the sign towards Malham Cove (the left-hand option). This part of the walk is spectacularly scenic and remote with few people!
- Continue following the path as it runs parallel to a drystone wall for a while. The path then continues between the hills where you can enjoy the exposed and broken down limestone rock scenery. Watch out for the sheep!
- As the path emerges out of the valley, it then cuts to the right to look out over the Yorkshire hills! You’ll feel like the only person for miles around!
- Next, continue on the path as it snakes around and heads downhill quite steeply. 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!
Stop 1: Malham Cove
The first of three stunning sights of nature on this Malham 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. Conversely, the busiest part is the far right when looking outwards 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. And no, I’m not kidding! But don’t worry, you can easily step across the rocks in the stream!
Inside the cove, it can be quite busy often with large groups as many people take the flat walking route here from Malham village. However, it is as impressive from the bottom as the top!
If you do decide to walk to the bottom of Malham Cove, you will need to climb the 400 steps back up to re-join this route! Trust me, there’s no shame in getting overtaken by a 5-year-old child whilst huffing and puffing!
Leg 2: Malham Cove to Janet’s Foss Walk
- Once you’ve finished admiring the view at Malham Cove you need to join the path to head to Janet’s Foss. Return to where the path came out on the tops of Malham Cove. From here, you should see 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. At first, the path isn’t particularly clear as it is grassy, but it soon becomes well-trodden and easy to follow.
- Keep following the path until you come to the road. Then, climb the ladder over the wall, cross the road and re-join the path.
- From here, follow the path parallel to a dry stone wall. Then, as the path turns to the right slightly, go through the metal gate and down a few steps. Continue across the field and head towards the dry stone wall on the other side.
- For the last stretch, 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!
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 this along with ‘force’ are common names 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 – though this route can become exceptionally busy.
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 Walk
- Luckily, this Janet’s Foss to Gordale Scar walk is the shortest leg of the route! From the waterfall, 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 Gordale Scar Gorge. The grassy areas also make a great place to stop for a drink or snack and offer a wonderful view of the cove!
- Keep following the path as it snakes round the bend, parallel to Gordale Back and up towards Gordale Scar waterfall and gorge. To get near to the waterfall you’ll have to cross a lot of wet and mossy rocks, so tread carefully!
Stop 3: Gordale Scar
Made of limestone rock, Gordale Scar has 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 standing inside the gorge. And this is accompanied by the almost deafening sound of thousands of litres of water pouring over the waterfall!
Leg 4: Gordale Scar to Watersinks Car Park
There are two options for the final leg of this Malham circular walk route back to Watersinks Car Park.
The first – and easiest – option avoids the need to climb up Gordale Scar next to the waterfall. Something that is particularly inadvisable during or after wet weather or if you are not experienced. The second option takes you through Gordale Scar, requiring some climbing skills and a side of ballsy-ness (not for the faint-hearted)!
Final Leg: Option A (Easy & Safe)
To avoid climbing a waterfall, the final leg is quite long, but it’s peaceful and very much off the beaten path.
- First, from Gordale Scar walk back on yourself all the way to the road. Turn right onto the road and then right again back on the footpath back towards Malham Cove.
- Continue following 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.
- At the road, turn right heading uphill. This quiet countryside road has hardly any cars passing so it’s safe to walk here (with common sense of course!). Continue along the road until you reach a signpost on the left-hand side next to a ladder stile.
- Climb the ladder to access the footpath following it across the open land. You’ll pass more limestone rock formations and have incredible views of some of the most 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 for Watersinks Car Park! It will feel like you are walking for quite a long time, and you’ll wonder whether you’re lost, but keep going!
- Keep following the signposts pointing towards 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!
Final leg: Option B (For the Adventurous)
So let’s set the scene again. You’re standing 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…
- After climbing alongside the waterfall, you’ll 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.
You should only attempt this route if you have the experience and physical ability to climb through Gordale Scar. Also, if there has been a lot of rain then there may be no dry or safe route. Do make sure you’re dressed appropriately including shoes to give you grip on the wet or slippery rocks and thin ridges.
You’ve done it! You can 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.
Malham Circular Walk FAQs
Is this Malham 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. Additionally, as this Malham walk is a circular route there isn’t much of an option to make the walk any shorter and still see all the sights. If you’re after a Malham Cove short walk, I’d recommend taking a route that starts in the village of Malham.
Are Malham Cove, Janet’s Foss and Gordale Scar open?
Yes! They are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year round!
Are Malham Cove, Janet’s Foss and 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 this Malham Cove circular walk is entirely suitable for dogs other than if you opt to take the path up the waterfall at Gordale Scar.
Where Are Malham and 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.
When was Malham Cove Formed?
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. Nowadays, 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 to try to figure out the Horcruxes after separating from Ron!
If you have any questions or want any more information drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!
Directions, descriptions and prices mentioned are correct as of March 2022 but are subject to change in future.
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YORKSHIRE DALES: Buckden Pike Walk (The Perfect Yorkshire Dales Day Out)
YORKSHIRE DALES: Grimwith Reservoir Walk, Yorkshire Dales (Circular Route)
YORKSHIRE DALES: A Yorkshire Dales Waterfalls Walk (4 Keld Waterfalls)
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