Hiking Catbells in Keswick, England

The view from the first peak along the ridge to Catbells, the peak on the right.

If your family likes a little adventure with your hike, check out Catbells just outside of Keswick in the Lake District of England. Although it’s considered of modest height for a fell in the area, Catbells offers incredible views and a nice challenge for ages 4 and older. The fun begins with a short boat ride across Derwentwater to get to the trailhead at Hawes End. For the first quarter mile, it’s a relatively gradual climb through a wide trail in the forest. Once you turn onto the rocky trail that climbs the mountain, however, it turns steep very quickly. In fact, the trail climbs nearly 1500 feet in just one and a half miles. Upon arriving to the first peak about halfway up, hikers are rewarded with breathtaking views of the lake and town below and the mountains and valleys all around. It’s a great spot to catch your breath, hydrate and grab a snack before taking on the next portion of the trail. The hike continues with easy open walking trail along the ridge at first, but eventually takes you to a near-vertical rock climb where you’ll get to scramble up the “trail”. This scramble is what I think makes this such a fun hike for kids; they can feel like rock climbing champions. It’s only a short distance from the top of the scramble to get to the top of Catbells. There is plenty of open space at the summit for taking panoramic pictures of the surrounding countryside and enjoying a picnic lunch. For returning back to Hawes End, there are a couple of options down, including returning the way you came or going down the trail on the lake side of the ridge. If you choose to do the latter, it will add on about a half mile, but you won’t have to navigate the descent of the rock climb. If you haven’t had enough walking, you can always opt to walk along the lakeshore path for an additional 2 miles to return to Keswick instead of taking the return boat across the lake.

Things to know about Catbells hike:

  • The hike is approximately 3 miles from Hawes End.
  • In the summer, there is a 9:45 am ferry that takes hikers directly from Keswick Landing to Hawes End.  This saves you a long trip around the lake and gets you on the trail by about 10 am.
  • The route will take approximately 1 hour each way with short stops for resting little legs.  Plan on at least 30 minutes at the summit as well.  
  • Bring layers and a waterproof/windproof shell.  Weather shifts quite quickly in the Lake District and the summit of Catbells is known for being very windy.
  • You do not need to wear hiking boots for this trek, but should wear sturdy tennis shoes as a minimum.
  • Although writer Alfred Wainwright said of Catbells, “It is one of the great favourites, a family fell where grandmothers and infants can climb the heights together,” I wouldn’t recommend the hike for families with children younger than 4 years old; ideally a 4 or 5 year old would have done other hikes prior to trying this one. Also, due to the scrambling involved, I don’t recommend doing Catbells with a child carrier unless you have phenomenal balance.
  • Visit the Keswick Information Center, located in Moot Hall, to obtain information about route variation options.

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