The Monsal Trail is arguably the most popular cycle track and flat walking route in the Peak District due to its accessibility. But if you step away from the main trail, you will escape the crowds and discover some incredible beauty spots, including Chee Dale Stepping Stones and Monsal Weir.
Here we have compiled our favourite Monsal Trail circular walks. Because let’s be honest, a circular walk is always more interesting than a linear walk.
Planning to cycle the Monsal Trail? Then read our guide: Cycle the Monsal Trail with kids
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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 walks as a guide; access and stiles may change.
During the winter months, it’s important to be extra prepared and safe when out walking and adventuring in the Peak District. The weather can change so quickly, especially on the exposed escarpments, and we don’t want you to get caught out.
Read our top tips for safe winter walking with the kids.
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.
Do check out our top tips for hiking with young kids, as well as our essential items to take on a family hike in the Peak District.
Download and print out our walking guides ready for your family walk. There are over 80 downloadable walk guides available, and these include all the main Peak District family walks, pram-friendly walks, and toddler walks.
Each printable download is just £1.50, whether it’s a short 1km stroll or an epic walk up Kinder Scout.
The history of the Monsal Trail
The Monsal Trail runs along the former Midland Railway line for 13.5 km between Chee Dale (just a couple of miles from Buxton) and Coombs Road in Bakewell. It follows a section of the former Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway, built by Midland Railway in 1863 to link Manchester with London. The line was closed in 1968, and remained unused for twelve years before being taken over by the Peak District National Park authority.
In 1981 the section from Bakewell to Chee Dale was opened as a pedestrian way. However the tunnels had to remain closed for safety reasons and footpaths made for people to walk around them. It wasn’t until 2009 that work started on re-opening the tunnels. The tunnels opened in May 2011 at a cost of £2.25 million to allow pedestrians, cyclists, horses, and wheel chair uses to travel the full length along the old railway track.
Further funding and planning permission is being sought to extend the route into Buxton.
Read on for our Monsal Trail circular walks…
1. Monsal Head circular walk – 2.4km
Monsal Head is one of the most iconic beauty spots of the Peak District and the most popular stop along the Monsal Trail. This is where the impressive Headstone Viaduct, which forms part of the Monsal Trail, straddles the verdant Monsal Dale and the River Wye meanders aimlessly through.
Our short Monsal Head circular walk actually goes over, around and under the Monsal Trail. You don’t actually walk along the Monsal Trail at all!
Start from the main view point by the Monsal Head Hotel, down into the dale to the weir, then across the other side of the River Wye to emerge under the viaduct, with a climb back up to the view point.
2. Chee Dale – 5km
Sheltered beneath the Monsal Trail, is the peaceful nature reserve of Chee Dale where the River Wye meanders through a deep limestone gorge, and two sets of stepping stones provide access to walkers through the dale.
Our Chee Dale Stepping Stones walk starts from Millers Dale and leads you down into the verdant gorge where you need to navigate stepping stones along the limestone walls, before climbing back up to the Monsal Trail and walking through the long tunnels.
In heavy rain, the Chee Dale Stepping Stones are often submerged in water, so plan this walk for when the weather has been dry and perhaps check in our Facebook group for an update. Also, the footpath along the river is rocky and very uneven in places (with a couple of spots where you may need to slide on your bum), so those with little ones in a carrier may find it tricky in places.
3. Cressbrook Mill to Litton Mill – 5.5km
This pram friendly Monsal Trail circular walk starts at Cressbrook Mill and follows the winding River Wye through the valley to Litton Mill and back along the Monsal Trail. The first half takes you through the steep-sided dale of Water-cum-Jolly with its impressive limestone crags. Whilst the second half loops you back along the trail overlooking the breath-taking valley and river you’ve just walked along. There’s also a couple of tunnels to walk through which the kids always love.
Please note, this is one of our trickier pram-friendly walks. During and after wet weather, the footpath along the river can be very muddy. There are also two small sets of steps leading to an uphill and slightly rocky path to the Monsal Trail. It’s doable, just be prepared.
4. Ashford-in-the-Water walk to Monsal Head – 6.2km
Ashford-in-the-Water is a picture-postcard village in the heart of the Peak District and this Monsal Trail circular walk leads you up to the Monsal Trail across the fields, through the Headstone Tunnel, over the top to the viewpoint, and back to the village.
Combine this walk with a pub lunch half way round at The Stables Bar at Monsal Head, or at the Bulls Head in Ashford-in-the-Water afterwards. Kids will love walking through the 400 metre long Headstone Tunnel, and the views from Monsal Head are fantastic. There’s also a playground at the end of the walk, if your little ones still have energy to burn.
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Or perhaps purchase a Peak District Kids iron-on patch. £1 from every sale of the iron-on patches goes towards the Peak District National Park Foundation, a registered charity established to raise funds to care for the Peak District National Park.
Want more ideas for family walks?
Best Family Walks in the Peak District
Pram Friendly Peak District walks
Toddler walks in the Peak District
Also, come and join our friendly Peak District Kids Facebook Group for any questions or to share photos of your walks.