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Peak district cycle routes and bike trails for kids

Peak district cycle routes and bike trails for kids

Blind corners and steep hills mean that the narrow country lanes of the Peak District are not really suitable for a family bike ride. But thanks to old railway tracks criss-crossing the National Park that have been transformed into gravel paths, there are a handful of traffic-free flat(ish) trails that make for some easy Peak District cycle routes for families, such as the Monsal Trail and High Peak Trail. Plus, there are also some lovely routes around reservoirs, such as Ladybower and Carsington.

So grab a picnic, get on your bikes, and enjoy some of the UK’s finest scenery along these Peak District bike trails! This is one our favourite family days out in the Peak District!

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If you are planning a visit to the National Park, please arrive early or late in the day to avoid crowds if visiting over sunny weekends or school holidays. Please also take all litter home with you, don’t bring BBQs and park your car in designated parking areas. Also, please use these route descriptions as a guide; access may change.

Click here to check out more family cycle routes in the Peak District

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PARKING INFORMATION: Please do not rely solely on the postcode for parking directions. In the National Park, a postcode can cover a large area. Postcodes are only provided as guidance. Please either use the Google Maps point provided for every walk, or what3words.

These are our tried and tested Peak District cycle routes with kids:

Cycling through the Monsal Head tunnel

Monsal Trail from Hassop Station to Millers Dale (8km each way)

A former Midland Railway line running between Bakewell and Chee Dale. There are long tunnels to ride through and cycle over the impressive Headstone Viaduct. Lots of places to stop for an ice-cream and play too.

High Peak Trail

High Peak Trail from Hurdlow to Fridden (7.2km each way)

This used to be the Cromford and High Peak Railway, one of the world’s first long-distance railway lines. Now part of the National Cycle Network, this relatively flat section offers superb open views.

cycling between the High Peak Trail and Tissington Trail

High Peak Trail and Tissington Trail (14.8km, circular)

Tying together the High Peak Trail and Tissington Trail to create a lovely circular Peak District cycle route. There’s a steep 800m section, but otherwise, it’s pretty easy going, and the views are wonderful.

cycling the Manifold Trail

Manifold Way
(12.7km each way)

A beautiful ride through the lush Manifold Valley, and a much quieter alternative to the Monsal trail. Half way along you can stop for an ice-cream or slice of cake at Wetton Mill. Plus, you pass right underneath Thor’s Cave, where it’s believed that humans lived 10,000 years ago!

Matlock to Rowsley cycle path

Rowsley to Matlock
(8.2km, each way)

Whilst it’s technically outside the National Park, this is a fantastic cycle route for young kids as not only is it pretty flat, but there are two playground stops, trains to spot, a pub enroute (for thirsty parents), and even a McDonalds. Plus, there are very pretty sections through woodland and along the river, and it’s mostly traffic free!

Ladybower cycle route

Ladybower Reservoir
(9km, circular)

This classic Peak District cycle route takes you around one half of the Y-shaped Ladybower Reservoir, along paved and gravel paths. There are a few hills to negotiate, so kids will need bikes with gears, and need to know how to use them.

Carsington Water

Carsington Water
(12.4km, circular)

Not technically in the Peak District National Park, but as it’s just outside and such a good cycle route for kids, we had to include it. Be warned though, it’s actually quite hilly, and kids will need bikes with gears and know how to use them.

All of these easy cycle routes in the Peak District can be found in the Peak District Cycle Map 18 (Cycle Maps UK).

Peak District Cycle Map 18 (Cycle Maps UK): Features…
  • Cycle Maps UK (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 2 Pages – 07/15/2022 (Publication Date) – Cycle Maps UK (Publisher)

On busy days stay to the left hand side of the Peak District cycle trails to allow for oncoming walkers and cyclists, slow down when approaching horses, and ring your bell before overtaking walkers.

Read on for more information on the Peak District cycle trails.

1. Monsal Trail

Read: Cycling the Monsal Trail with kids

The Monsal Trail runs along the former Midland Railway line for 8.5 miles between Chee Dale and Bakewell and is the most popular gravel bike routes in the Peak District (so if you’re visiting during the school holidays, start your ride early). The trail has a very slight incline going towards Chee Dale, but the fun bit for kids (and parents!) is cycling through the long tunnels that are up to 400 metres long. Operated by light sensors, four of the longer tunnels are lit during daylight hours, dawn to dusk, to make them safe to use.

Peak district cycle routes - Monsal Trail

Hassop Station (which is no longer a working station, but a café) is a good starting point for the Monsal Trail. The café has a lovely menu, including vegan options and a separate kids menu. There’s an outside playground area, as well as a covered outdoor area with a couple of playhouses and toys. Adjacent to the café is a shop selling books and gifts, as well as Monsal Trail bike hire with adult bike hire starting from £18 and child seats and trailer hire available. Parking is free if you’re eating in the café, otherwise there is separate pay and display parking. This is one of our top places for families to eat in the Peak District.

From Hassop station It’s a short 1km cycle into Bakewell to pick up a Bakewell tart, or it’s an 8km cycle to the cafe at Millers Dale (going Chee Dale way). It’s slightly uphill going towards Millers Dale, making for an easy cycle back to Hassop Station after an ice-cream at the cafe.

2. High Peak Trail

Read: Cycling the High Peak Trail with kids: Hurdlow to Friden

The Cromford and High Peak Railway was one of the world’s first long-distance railway lines, built between 1825 and 1830. It is now a traffic-free trail for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Known as The High Peak Trail it runs for 17.5 miles between High Peak Junction (Cromford) and Dowlow (near Buxton), meeting up with the Tissington Trail at Parsley Hay.

On the Buxton end, you can park at Hurdlow Car Park, which is near to the The Royal Oak (the parking machine takes coins only), and cycle towards Parsley Hay and further on to Minninglow Car Park.

Middleton Top is a popular starting point too. This is towards the Cromford end. Here there is a visitor centre, gift shop and cycle hire centre, car park, toilets and picnic area.  The visitor centre is the restored steam engine house built in 1829 to haul wagons up the Middleton incline. It is open on weekends throughout the year, and then every day from Easter through to the end of August, and October half term.

From Middleton Top going towards Cromford, it’s not too far to the National Stone Centre, with outdoor fossil trails, café, and playground. However, there is an extremely steep descent going this way and you will need to get back up in coming back the other way. Kids will have to get off their bikes and push.

Alternatively, cycle from Middleton Top to Minninglow Car Park, which is 6.5 miles each way. Do note that there is a steep ascent after you’ve come out of the Hopton Tunnel (not far from Middleton Top). But after this is all flat and easy riding.

3. Tissington Trail

Did you know you can link up the High Peak Trail and the Tissington Trail to form a circular cycle route? Click here for details.

Running for 13 miles from Ashbourne to Parsley Hay, the Tissington Trail is part of the old London and North Western Railway (LNWR) between Buxton and Ashbourne. The railway line was first opened in 1899, but when it was closed almost 70 years later, the Peak District National Park bought the route and turned it into a traffic free trail for walkers and cyclists.

Tissington Trail cycling

Starting with a 600 metre long tunnel taking you out of the centre of Ashbourne, the Tissington Trail takes you through the pretty village of Tissington (a worthy picnic stop and visit to Tissington Hall) and also passes near Dovedale (famous for the stepping stones across the River Dove). It’s mostly flat with just a relatively steep incline at Mappleton.

Parsley Hay is a good base for your Tissington Trail family bike ride. Here there is paid parking, a small food kiosk (no indoor seating), toilets, and also Parsley Hay cycle hire. The cafe / food kiosk has odd opening times, so don’t count on it being open for a hearty lunch, more see it as a bonus ice-cream or coffee if it’s open.

Click here for a map of the Tissington Trail.

4. Manifold Way

Read: Cycling the Manifold Way

The Manifold Way (not to be mistaken with the Manifold Trail) is a mostly traffic-free footpath and cycle route in the Peak District, that’s great for families. It runs for 12.7km (7.9 miles) through Staffordshire’s Peak District, from Hulme End to the north and Waterhouses to the south, following the route of the disused Leek and Manifold Light Railway (which operated between 1904 to 1934), alongside the River Manifold and River Hamps.

cycling the Manifold Way

It is a beautiful ride through the lush Manifold Valley, and a much quieter alternative to the Monsal trail. Half way along you can stop for an ice-cream or slice of cake at Wetton Mill. Plus, you pass right underneath Thor’s Cave, where it’s believed that humans lived 10,000 years ago!

Do note that the Manifold Way is not entirely traffic-free. There’s a 2.6km (1.6 mile) section from the tunnel just south of Ecton, down to just past Wetton Mill, that’s along a road. This road is very quiet, although at weekends, you are likely to at least pass a few cards making their way to the tea rooms and parking at Wetton Mill.

Also, the Manifold Way is not entirely flat, but it is relatively easy-going and suitable for families. From Hulme End to Wetton Mill there is a gradual descent. Then from Thor’s Cave to Waterhouse, there’s a gradual ascent. Kids will need to have gears on their bikes and know how to use them to keep going on the uphill sections. If they drop down to an easier gear, they will be absolutely fine.

5. Matlock to Rowsley cycle path

Read: Matlock to Rowsley cycle path

The Rowsley end of the Matlock to Rowsley cycle path sits right on the southeast border of the Peak District National Park. Technically being outside the National Park boundary means that it perhaps lacks the remote and rustic vibes of the Monsal Trail or High Peak Trail, but in all honestly, this is the best Peak District cycle route for young kids as not only is it pretty flat, but there are two playground stops, trains to spot, a pub enroute (for thirsty parents), and even a McDonalds. Plus, there are very pretty sections through woodland and along the river, and it’s mostly traffic free!

Matlock to Rowsley cycle path

However, the Matlock to Rowsley cycle path is not one long track. There are sections were you need to cross a road, or cycle a very short stretch of road, to link up the route. But this guide, we take you through the route step-by-step, using photos to help, so you know exactly what to expect.

6. Ladybower Reservoir

Read: Cycling Ladybower with kids

The 9km Ladybower cycle route takes you around one half of the Y-shaped along paved and gravel paths, and is one of our favourite Peak District cycle routes for families. It follows a similar route to our Ladybower Reservoir walk (which is pram friendly), however, this route keeps to the road on the Western side as the footpath is rather narrow for passing walkers. This doesn’t mean that kids need to cycle on the road. Instead, use the pavement, which is clear of walkers as the majority use the footpath alongside the reservoir.

Similar to the Carsington Water cycle route, there are a few hills to negotiate. So kids will need bikes with gears, and need to know how to use them. There were a few places our boys (aged 5 and 7) had to get off their bikes to push them. If you’re looking for a flatter ride in the Peak District, perhaps check out the Monsal Trail instead.

Ladybower cycle route

There is pay and display parking at Fairholmes car park at the Upper Derwent Visitor Centre. Click here to see location on Google Maps. Postcode is: S33 0AQ. There is also limited free roadside parking on the road as you approach Fairholmes car park.

7. Carsington Water

Read: Cycling around Carsington Water with kids

Carsington Water is just outside the National Park, but as it’s very close and is a fantastic Peak District Day Out in its own right, I simply had to include it.

The full route around Carsington Water is approximately 8 miles. Although take note that most of the cycle route is “off road” tracks, with rough surfaces and steep hills in places. Kids will need bikes with gears to get up the hills. Click here for a Carsington Water cycle map.

Carsington Water

However, as with all these trails, you don’t have to go the full distance. There is so much to do at Carsington water that you may just fancy doing a short bike ride along part of the track (there is a marked 3 mile family route) and then enjoy some of the facilities on offer.

There’s a large playground area with equipment geared for toddlers right through to ages 12+, and we love having a wander around the interactive visitors centre. Watersports are on offer throughout the year, and cycle hire is also available (check out Carsington Sport & Leisure website). And of course there are a range of cafes and The Mainsail Restaurant.

For up to date parking charges, please check this page.


You may also like to read:
Ideas for Peak District days out
Best family walks in the Peak District
Things to do in Matlock and Matlock Bath