Extreme Ironing has taken place on Mount Snowdon, as has playing the piano, but no caravan has, as yet, been ‘found’ at the summit. To appreciate Wales’ tallest mountain during a caravan holiday you really need to find one of the many campsites that adorn Snowdonia National Park – there are one or two literally at Snowdon’s foot.
While Snowdon, at 3,560 feet (1.085m) may be the focal point of Snowdonia, the national park in North Wales has a lot more to offer, with a diverse landscape of glacial valleys, steep gorges, forests, lakes and sandy beaches. Nine conjoined mountain ranges cover almost 52% of Snowdonia National Park, which itself covers a total of 823 square miles.
Its natural beauty and rugged terrain attracts adventure seekers and sports enthusiasts in their droves, whether to climb a mountain, hurtle down a mountainside on two wheels or navigate along a fast-moving river in a kayak.
Walking here, however, doesn’t have to automatically mean an ascent of Snowdon. It can include a leisurely stroll along the coastline. Pick the fifteen-mile stretch of beautiful golden beach from Barmouth to Harlech Point, for example, on the west coast of Wales and overlooking Cardigan Bay. There are accessible walks for wheelchairs and pushchairs too, such as the Mawddach Trail, utilising an old railway line between Dolgellau and Morfa Mawddach, or the Janus Path near Lake Cwellyn.
One of the best places to enjoy mountain scenery without the need for strenuous uphill climbs is a walk in the glacial Nant Ffrancon, with facilities at the Ogwen Centre. Walking here offers the rugged beauty of the Carneddau and Glyderau mountain ranges without actually having to climb them.
When taking a family caravan holiday, the Mawddach Trail is great for gentle traffic-free cycling, although Snowdonia does offer some of the best mountain biking terrain in the UK. All three forest parks in the area – Coed y Brenin (in southern Snowdonia), Beddgelert (closest to Snowdon) and Gwydyr (near Betws-y-Coed) offer a selection of mountain biking and family cycling trails, from easy routes through to moderate and the very extreme.
Of course, if taking to the water is more appealing, Snowdonia is also littered with lakes and rivers. Lake Bala (also known as Llyn Tegid) is renowned for its watersports while Lake Celyn is home to the National Whitewater Centre and Lake Trawsfynydd, a manmade reservoir, is used, along with its surroundings, as an outdoor adventure site and is popular with anglers. Some of the UK’s finest white water kayaking can be found on the Afon (River) Ogwen in Nant Ffrancon, although you’ll find a slightly milder course for rafting at Betws-y-Coed.
Climbing is naturally, a major component of adventure activities in Snowdonia. For those who find the prospect of Snowdon too great, Cader Idris, a mere baby by comparison at 2,926 feet (892m), in the southern part of the national park, is also popular.
Outdoor climbing courses at all levels are available at Plas y Brenin, the National Outdoor Centre at Capel Curig to gain some experience prior to setting out. However, for a day climbing and swinging through the trees, there’s no better place to head than Zip World Fforest at Betws-y-Coed. In addition to high ropes, bridges and zip wires here, there’s a Net Trail, designed for children from 3 years (with a participating adult).
Of course, for the ultimate in zip wires, it has to be Zip World Penrhyn Quarry at Bethesda, with Velocity 2, the world’s fastest. Then there’s Zip World Llechwedd, an entire zip zone at the famous Llechwedd Slate Caverns in Blaenau Ffestiniog. The caverns are a lasting legacy of a major Welsh industry that’s worth investigating to see the remnants of a Victorian slate mine (although slate mining continues to this day in the area).
The town of Blaenau Ffestiniog is also at the start of the Ffestiniog Railway, which steams its way to the coastal town of Porthmadog. The steam railway is one of seven Narrow Gauge railways in Snowdonia. Six of them were created originally to carry slate from the mines to the ports for export around the world. Now they offer some of the most scenic railway journeys in Britain.
The shortest, at just 1¾ miles long is the Fairborne Railway, on the coast between Fairborne and Penrhyn Point. It provides a stunning coastal, indeed, beachside ride with views of the Mawddach estuary. Other picturesque routes include the Llanberis Lake Railway and Bala Lake Railway, both offering pretty lakeside vistas, the Welsh Highland Railway from Porthmadog to Caernarfon and the Tal-y-Llyn Railway from Abergynolwy to Tywyn in southern Snowdonia. But the king of them all is the Snowdon Mountain Railway.
A deliberate tourist train (rather than transporting slate), the rack and pinion railway was created at the height of Victorian Britain and the European Grand Tour, when wealthy tourists wished to conquer all the sights. It continues to provide tourists today with the opportunity to ‘conquer’ Mount Snowdon.
Llanberis, at the foot of Snowdon, is the busy little town from which to ‘catch’ the train. It is a dedicated tourist town, as is Betws-y-Coed, an attractive gateway east of the national park that’s filled with outdoor clothing shops, and as many eateries.
Dolgellau, at the foothills of Cader Idris and on the banks of the River Wnion, is a pretty market town with more than 200 listed buildings. It made its name in the 19th century with the discovery of gold there; the Clogau St David’s gold mine at nearby Bontddu offered up rare Welsh Gold until its closure in 1998. Gold from the mine has been used to make royal wedding rings since 1911.
Aberdyfi, Harlech and Barmouth are all coastal towns within Snowdonia National Park. Harlech Castle, once right on the coast, now sits back ‘inland’ with the waters of Tremadog Bay receding over time, the impressive fortress pinned to a rock erupting from the town. But, arguably, the prettiest settlement to visit is the tiny village of Beddgelert, seven miles northeast of Porthmadog and to the southwest of Snowdon. It’s a great base from which to start ‘that’ all-conquering climb on foot, but not before sampling the picturesque charm of the village and devouring afternoon tea post-climb while nursing sore feet.
Things to do
1. Whether on foot or by the mountain railway, climbing Mount Snowdon is one of Snowdonia’s absolute must-do activities on your caravan holidays in North Wales. Take the Snowdon Mountain Railway one way and walk the other along one of the well-trodden routes to the summit. The views from the top are out of this world.
2. Take an adrenalin-fuelled ride on the fastest zip wire in the world when staying at one of the campsites in Snowdonia. ‘Flying’ over the Penrhyn Quarry, you’ll reach speeds of 100mph, 500 feet above the ground.
3. Take surfing lessons inland at Adventure Parc Snowdonia. From novice surfers to those experienced on a board, you can ride the waves against a backdrop of mountains and forests. The man-made waves roll-in along different zones, depending on your proficiency.
4. Discover the underground world of stalactites and stalagmites in the colourful chambers when you visit the Sygun Copper Mine, where copper was mined commercially from the Industrial Revolution until the end of the Victorian era. Once back on the earth’s surface, try panning for gold, too.
5. On your caravan holidays in North Wales, you can visit Conwy Castle or Harlech Castle, both 13th century coastal fortifications built by Edward I. Alternatively, in the heart of Snowdonia National Park are the romantic ruins of Dolwyddelan Castle, a solitary fortress that stands atop a craggy hill.
When to visit
Snowdonia is dominated by sporting events throughout the year with numerous running, cycling and triathlon-based programmes of varying degrees of difficulty from fun-runs to the Snowdonia Slateman (equivalent to an Ironman triathlon, although shorter distances are also available) in June and Snowdonia Marathon in October.
If that all sounds too energetic, the pace can be slowed with the annual Bala Challenge Charity Walk around Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala) in May, or a choice of the Barmouth Festival of Walking in September or the Snowdonia Walking Festival in October.
Located close to the far north west corner of Wales, getting to campsites in Snowdonia for your caravan holidays in North Wales is never going to be the quickest journey. The fastest flowing route is the A55 dual carriageway from Chester, which runs right along the north coast of Wales.
When time allows, an alternative is to include the journey to Snowdonia as a part of your caravan holiday and take one of the slower but more scenic A-roads. The A470 from Newtown approaches Snowdonia from the south and divides the area in two, running north to Conwy. The A487 from Aberystwyth and the A458 from Welshpool also serve southern Snowdonia. The other main route is the A5 from Shrewsbury, passing through delightful Llangollen to Betws-y-Coed and beyond to Bangor, and this is arguably one of the prettiest main roads in Britain.
Where to stay
Pick your spot to pitch in Snowdonia from our annual Top 100 Sites Guide, as voted for by you, where we recognise the UK’s best caravan parks. Wales, as a whole, always fares well in our Top 100 Sites Guides, and that’s, in part, because of the number of sites in and around Snowdonia.
Llanberis Touring Park and Riverside Touring Park, which both feature in the 2022 awards, are regular contenders. If you’re looking for coast and mountains, enjoy a stay at Trawsdir Caravan Park, which can also boast an entry in the 2022 guide – you can see the full list of Welsh entries in our round-up of the best caravan parks in Wales.
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Snowdonia's natural beauty and rugged terrain attracts adventure seekers and sports enthusiasts