Flowing through the valleys and dales of the Peak District are some some of the UK’s most beautiful rivers and streams, bursting with nature. Peak District river walks often offer a more sedate stroll along the banks and, in comparison to the escarpments, are somewhat sheltered from the elements. Plus, on a warm summers day, there is the opportunity of a Peak District paddle or swim in the waters.
Below we’ve compiled our favourite Peak District river walks here for you to enjoy (selected from our Peak District family walks). From walks through grand estates, to walks with a wild swim, to shady woodland walks on the riverbanks, I’m sure you’ll find a walk right for you!
If you are planning a visit to the National Park, please arrive early or late in the day to avoid crowds, and respect social distancing. 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.
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This Padley Gorge walk is one of our favourite Peak District river walks, especially for young kids, as they can paddle in the stream, climb boulders and trees, and there’s even ice-cream at the end! It’s a 2.7km circular walk that takes in the National Trust’s Longshaw Estate too (which is free to walk though). And even though it may seem a short distance, do allow a good three hours for this walk as there are so many places to play!
Don’t forget your cash for the ice-cream van. They don’t take cards
Our Alport to Youlgreave walk is an easy circular stroll along either side of the River Bradford. The views on the last section are particularly beautiful as you take a short climb up to a hill top. We recommend that kids wear wellies on this walk (during winter) so they can paddle in the river, and if you’re doing this walk in the warmer summer months, bring the kids’ wetsuits and towels as there is a small designated swimming area.
Youlgreave is a very pretty village and worth a detour from the walk for lunch at one of the three pubs (you’re spoilt for choice, although do book a table at weekends and school holidays).
Monsal Head is one of the most iconic beauty spots of the Peak District. 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 takes you 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. Footwear with good grip is essential as this walk can get very muddy in wet weather, and arrive early to secure parking during weekends and school holidays as this is a Peak District hot spot.
Unsurprisingly, due to it’s stunning beauty and iconic stepping stones across the River Dove, Dovedale is one of the most popular hotspots in the Peak District National Park, and Dovedale car park (£3 cash only) is often exceptionally busy. However, this Dovedale circular walk starts from the much quieter village of Thorpe, and leads you around Thorpe Cloud, across Dovedale Stepping Stones. It’s easily one of our favourite Peak District river walks.
This is a much quieter route. But to avoid crowds at Dovedale Stepping Stones, plan to start this Dovedale circular walk either early or late in the day, especially on sunny weekends.
This route also includes an optional detour up Thorpe Cloud from Dovedale Stepping Stones. This is a steep 15 minute climb with superb views. Or perhaps just leave that to another day; it’s up to you.
Commonly referred to as Beeley Woods, Beeley and Hill Bank Plantation is a lovely place for a Peak District family walk. Forming part of the Chatsworth Estate, footpaths criss-cross through the woodland and a brook rushes down little waterfalls. We particularly enjoy it on a rainy day as the trees provide some shelter, and the sound of the rain on the tree tops is beautiful.
This is a short 2.7km walk around the Beeley and Hill Bank Plantation, but allow for a good few hours as the kids will love paddling in the stream and playing in the woods. Wellies during the winter months are a good idea, rather than hiking boots, so they can paddle.
6. River Derwent walk from Curbar to Froggatt – 4km
This easy-going and flat River Derwent walk begins by the The Bridge Inn, Curbar, and leads along one side of the river to Frogatt Bridge, returning on the other side of the river, following a clockwise loop. It’s a very pretty walk; on a clear day the imposing boulders along Curbar and Frogatt Edges are in view, and in spring the river banks are covered in daffodils and wild garlic. Half way is Calver Weir, a Grade 2 listed structure, built in the 19th century to provide water to power cotton spinning at Calver Mill.
You can shorten this walk by just doing the loop from Curbar to the A625 road crossing, just after the weir. This is a 2.4km loop.
Unfortunately, despite the even, flat footpaths, this River Derwent walk is not pram friendly. There are very narrow gates to pass through, and a steep stone steps at one of the bridges. Instead, take little ones in a carrier. Click here to check out our pram friendly walks.
Starting from the Hartington Farm Shop and Café (one of the best cafes for a hot chocolate in the Peak District) this short and picturesque Hartington walk leads you down to Beresford Dale where the River Dove meanders through. Make sure you pack a torch, as half way along this walk there is a cave to explore, which includes a short walk through tunnel! You may even find some ‘Ice Age cave paintings’ (which is what our 6 year old called them). Although do note that the tunnel through is very narrow and really only for small children.
This almost-5km circular Peak District family walk from Hathersage is easy and relatively flat. It mostly follows the footpaths along the River Derwent, through shady trees backed by open fields. The stepping stone themselves are a little trickier than the Dovedale ones, so take care if you’re unsteady on your feet; kids under 5 will need a helping hand as their legs aren’t quite long enough to reach across to each stone.
It’s a very pretty walk, and the reward at the end is a hot chocolate in one of Hathersage’s cafes!
Lathkill Dale is arguably one of the prettiest dales in the Peak District. Considering the heavily industrialised lead mining history of this dale in the nineteenth century, it’s remarkable to see how Mother Nature has healed the scars and restored it to such beauty.
This Lathkill Dale walk starts from the picturesque village of Over Haddon and leads you gently downhill across open meadows to explore the dale further downstream, crossing a packhorse bridge (Coalpit Bridge) and a medieval sheepwash bridge (Conksbury Bridge). This walk then follows the River Lathkill upstream along weirs that the Victorians built for trout fishing, and then leads back up into the village of Over Hadon.
Please note that Lathkill Dale is a SSSI and there are Natural England signs along the river asking you not to go in to the water for a paddle.
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.
Lathkill Dale is one of the prettiest dales in the Peak District National Park. This circular walk takes you to the the cave where the River Lathkill emerges (feel the cold air seeping from underground) and along the river to a waterfall. It then leads back along the top of the dales across a series of open pastures connected by stone stiles.
This Lathkill Dale walk is a moderately difficult Peak District family walk aimed at kids aged 6+. If you want a shorter version, you could just walk down to the cave (the start of the River Lathkill) and back, which is 3km return.
Three Shires Head is where the counties of Derbyshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire meet at a waterfall and collection of pools on the River Dane. It’s a stunning spot and one of our favourite Peak District wild swimming locations.
Even on a cloudy day it’s perfect for a picnic and paddle; our boys spend ages walking over the boulders and dipping their toes into the icy cold waters. The waterfalls mark exactly half way around this Three Shires walk, so it makes for a perfect lunch stop.
The walk starts by crossing the bridge to Wetton Mill and following the track alongside the River Manifold. The second half follows the road on the opposite side of the river back to where you started, passing through a tunnel along the way.
Finish off your walk with a short climb up to Nan Tor cave located up on the hill behind Wetton Mill Tea Rooms. If you visit in the wetter months, the kids will love playing in the shallow river. In the drier months the river disappears underground and re-emerges from a boil hole at Ilam (the boil holes can be seen on our pram friendly Ilam Park walk).
14. Cressbrook Mill to Litton Mill – 5.5km (pram friendly)
This pram friendly Peak District 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 breathtaking valley and river you’ve just walked along. There’s also a couple of tunnels to walk through which the kids always love.
The route is buggy friendly, although there are two small sets of steps leading to an uphill and slightly rocky path to the Monsal Trail. The first section of the route by the river can also get quite muddy in wet weather. We managed fine with our Phil & Teds buggy but be prepared to get muddy wheels if it’s wet. The rest of the walk is flat with well-surfaced paths, so good for little legs.
Hello! 'Peak District Kids' is the go-to website for parents both visiting and living in the Peak District run by Bakewell-based Mum, Jenny. Find out about the best walks, bike rides, attractions and events for families in the UK's oldest National Park.