Lake District Road Trip – Your Ultimate Guide

Boats moored up on Lake Windermere

Introduction to Lake District Road Trip

The Lake District is the most visited National Park in the UK, and for good reason. It is an awe-inspiring place that the naturalist poet Wordsworth called “the loveliest spot that man hath found.” Travellers from all around the world flock to the Lake District to experience its natural wonders. The National Park is 2,362 km² in size, which is a huge area to cover solely using busses and public transport. Therefore we believe that the best way to discover this region is to hire a motorhome or campervan and embark on a Lake District road trip!

Where is the Lake District?

The Lake District is the biggest National Park in England. It is situated in the county of Cumbria, less than an hour’s drive from the Scottish border. (Check out our Isle of Skye road trip guide if you fancy exploring further north!) The Lake District benefits from both beach landscapes along the Irish sea and the rugged scenery of the Cumbrian Mountains.

Map showing location of the Lake District National Park

How to Get There?

The Lake District isn’t particularly close to any major cities. In fact, this remoteness is one of its greatest attractions! Aside from Kendal, the next biggest settlements are the historic cathedral city of Carlisle to the north and Manchester to the south. From the Life’s an Adventure collection site in Manchester, it’s a straight shot up the M6 to start your Lake District road trip in under 2 hours.

If you want to sample a stretch of the British coastline on your journey, drive along the 200-mile Cumbrian Coastal Route during your Lake District road trip. Additionally, when touring through the National Park, follow these roads for some of the best views: the Honnister Pass for commanding vistas over the lakes; Loweswater to Buttermere for a lakeside drive past 3 stunning water features; the Windemere byroad for cruising alongside England’s longest lake.

Best time to head on a Lake District Road Trip?

With almost 16 million visitors each year, the Lake District is one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations. Timing your Lake District road trip is crucial to avoid the bulk of the crowds. Most visitors come to the lakes in the summer. Long days and sunny weather are ideal for warm water swims and idyllic country strolls. However, campsites and local restaurants do tend to fill up quickly, so make sure to book in advance.

Fortunately, the shoulder seasons are still a great time of year for a Lake District road trip. Spring is simply divine. The sounds of trickling water and bird calls fill the meadows. Flowers are in full bloom and the weather is often sunny, albeit punctuated by the occasional rain shower!

Autumn is the perfect season if you enjoy hiking. Frosty but clear mornings and fall foliage are enormously appealing to outdoor lovers. The cold shouldn’t be an issue as long as you wrap up warm on your walks and enjoy your cosy motorhome at night.

Winter is not generally advised for visiting the Lake District. Driving conditions are more challenging and the weather is often poor. Not to mention that some seasonal restaurants/pubs may be closed, and you might have trouble finding designated campsites that are open. Stick to the warmer seasons for your Lake District road trip instead!

Bowness on Windermere

Where to Stay?

Campsites are everywhere in the Lake District. Depending on the chosen route of your Lake District road trip, it should be relatively easy to find a spot to camp in your motorhome. Full-on wild camping is not permitted in the Lake District. However, you can opt for an overnight stay in a designated car park. There are also a range of campsites available from large holiday parks down to no-frills caravan sites.

Ideally, you should make use of the Camping and Caravanning Club sites in Windemere and Keswick. If you rent a motorhome from Life’s an Adventure, you are eligible for the privilege discount scheme and can receive up to 30% off your bookings!

Sykeside is another popular camping spot only a short drive from Grasmere, Windemere, and Helvellyn. If you want to set up camp close to Scafell Pike, visit the National Trust Eskdale Campsite or Fisherground. For more options, check out the Visit Lake District site for a full accommodation list.

VW California Campervan hired from Life's an Adventure on a Lake District road trip

Top Sites

The Lake District was the romping ground for the legendary hillwalker Alfred Wainwright. As a result, many people visit the Lake District to bag some of the 200 fells in the National Park. On your Lake District road trip, you can easily drive between different trailheads hiking as you please. For example, the Lake District is home to Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain. Other famous rambles include the Haystacks, Catbells, and Loughrigg Fell.

For ambitious adventurers, you can attempt the Striding Ridge scramble up to Helvellyn. Great Gable is another iconic peak that offers more of a challenge for experienced hikers. Overall, there are 16 lakes in the National Park with Windermere being the biggest and busiest. Buttermere is picture perfect, Derwentwater is a strolling distance from Keswick, and Ullswater is another local’s favourite. You can often find campsites along the shores of these lakes to round off your hiking adventures.

If you enjoy cultural sites, the Lake District has no shortage of literature locations. The landscape has inspired poets such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey. If you drive to Grasmere, you can stop off at Wordsworth’s house to visit the onsite museum and go on a guided tour.

The beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter also called the Lake District home and in Hawkshead, you can visit the exhibition displaying samples of her work. It’s also worth driving to Hill Top to see her old farmhouse which is now a National Trust museum.

What to Pack for a Lake District Road Trip?

As Lakeland is so renowned for literature, don’t forget to pack a few books for your Lake District road trip! If you want a classic pictorial guide with advice on climbing the fells, Alfred Wainwright is your man. To bring out your inner child, The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter will certainly have you daydreaming. Last but not least, reading a collection of poems by Wordsworth could be the perfect way to spend downtime in your motorhome.

Lake Windermere

Food & Drink

The beautiful thing about renting a motorhome is that you have a kitchen, bedroom, and house on wheels. Making a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea while parked on the sparkling shores of Ullswater is hard to beat! To make the most of your Lake District road trip, stock up on some groceries before departing and enjoy the simple beauty of van cooking.

However, if you want to visit some of the local pubs or enjoy a meal out, there are no shortage of options. Hole in t’ Wall is a legendary spot for a cold pint and local pub grub in Bowness-on-Windemere. The Flying Pig is another excellent pub in Windemere that makes a mouth-watering Sunday roast. If you want to sample some real ales in a traditional brew house, drop by the Bank Tavern in Keswick.

When entering the National Park from the south, stop for a Full English or a hot coffee at Wilf’s Café on the banks of the River Kent. Fresher’s Café in Ambleside is also known to cook up a mean brunch. Of course, no visit to the Lake District would be complete without trying a Kendal mint cake – particularly scrumptious at Bakery No. 4 in Woolpack Yard.

Interior of one the motorhomes from Life's an Adventure hire

Bonus Tips

If you want to extend your Lake District road trip to greater Cumbria, you can check out the Solway Coast, North Pennines, or Arnside & Silverdale AONBs. Wherever you plan to travel around the Lake District, be sure to adhere to the van life code of conduct. Follow the rules of the road by not speeding and staying off the verges. Wherever possible, park in designated areas even if stopping for a short break.

When enjoying your Lake District road trip, clear up after yourself each night and take any litter away with you. Although it may be tempting to go boondocking (campers jargon for wild camping), this is a practice best avoided in the National Park to help keep the area pristine for future visitors. If you are going to visit in the peak summer months, just remember to book campsites in advance as they often fill up.

By now, your mind should be fizzing with ideas. So, to get started with your planning, head to the Motorhome’s for Hire page on Life’s an Adventure to see what vehicles are on offer. After all, in the words of Wainwright, “those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body.” Wise words to take with you on your Lake District road trip!