10 Best Short Dartmoor Walks for the Family
10 Short Family Walks on Dartmoor in some very interesting locations and ranked by difficulty.
In the South West of England, in Devon's rolling hills, lies one of the biggest national parks in the UK. The Dartmoor National Park spans a blanket area of some 368 square miles, it is an area known for its changeable weather and often bleak but interesting landscapes that are full of wildlife and dramatic features.
I am a seasoned Dartmoor goer and I can say for sure you never know what you might find whilst on a day out on Dartmoor, Well apart from a good time that is.
The changeable weather, with its mist and fog that can suddenly blanket the area to lift a short while later, exposing some amazing views and beautiful sunshine.
This ever-changing landscape has only added to the stories that you will hear from Dartmoor. They have shrouded Dartmoor in mystery and created a home to many local legends and stories.
As you explore Dartmoor, you will have the unique opportunity to learn its history and tails whilst exploring some of its many locations.
And the best way to explore the Dartmoor National Park? By foot of course. So check out these walks in Dartmoor
Dartmoor is home to some really great walks, and some of the best circular walks in Devon can be found here, you will find plenty of isolation, wildlife, dramatic landscapes, granite tors, valleys, rivers, and many forests to explore, it really is a gem in the middle of Devon.
Here are our top 10 walking routes and locations on Dartmoor ranked by difficulty.
#1 Have a walk around one of Dartmoor's impressive Dolmans in one of the shortest walks in Dartmoor.
Spinster's rock is a neolithic burial chamber, in fact, a Dolmon is simply that, a small single-chambered tomb. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolmen
In appearance, though it's probably slightly different than you would expect, there is no underground part just four giants rocks, three plymphs and one large rock on top arranged almost like a sculpture.
Spinster was an old term for an unmarried woman and it's said the large rock was placed on top by three spinsters walking past one morning after it had fallen down in a storm. You can be the judge of that one as it's a pretty big rock!!
Location: Spinsters rock is extremely accessible although the roads to it are a little narrow, park opposite the farm in the lay-by and walk into the field through the public footpath.
Spinsters rock lies not far from Chagford at grid reference. SX701908
Difficulty: Very easy - This one isn't so much of a walk as something to see however you can explore the local area, have a wander around the Dolmen and the local bridleways.
Time required: 2 mins to the Dolmen - 15 mins to see it
Clothing: Summer: trainers are fine. Winter: walking boots or wellies.
#2 Stroll around the Bluebells at Emsworthy Common and Holwell Lawn - See the nature along this Dartmoor walks
If your on Dartmoor in April to May, you simply can't go far wrong than to visit Emsworthy Common, the area becomes full of stunning bluebells, stretching as far as the eye can see.
You will want to aim to visit here anywhere from 3-6 weeks after the bluebells are in the woods to get the best blooms.
The area is, of course, worth a visit throughout the year and you will find big oaks, Dartmoors many mires, the famous red-roofed stone barn that was abandoned in 1870 and lots of examples of Dartmoor's stone walls built by the French prisoners from the 100-year war.
The area is very photogenic and great photos of the bluebells shot against the red barn can be taken, be sure to look out for the wildlife as well, such as cuckoos, redstarts, butterflies, or dragonflies.
The area is approximately 99 hectares with ways to explore it, so you can easily spend a good part of the day exploring it. https://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/nature-reserves/emsworthy-mire
Be sure to bring a picnic to this one, there are many great places to sit and relax and have a bite to eat.
Location: There is a smallish car park just up from Emsworthy common and it's a 5 min slight downhill walk to the red barn and center of the area.
To find the car park drive past Haytor rocks with it on your right-hand side, continue past the next big tor (saddle tor) and its car park and it's the next car park on the right.
The center of emsworthy is located at grid reference: SX745765
Difficulty: Easy - This is a nice stroll around slight inclines in a series of open meadows and fields, there are a few paths but you can wander at your leisure to make it more of a circular walk.
Time required: 5 mins to get into the area - a few hours exploring
Clothing: Summer: trainers or walking boots. Winter: Walking boots or Wellies.
#3 Walk to the old Foggintor quarry and see a part of London.
Foggintor quarry is a large abandoned quarry in the heart of the Dartmoor next door to Princetown. It was once used for granite production which was then transported to many locations as well as London by the Haytor Granite Tramway, the Newton abbot Canal and then by ship along the coast. The route followed much of what is known today as Templer way.
The quarry is a semi-large quarry for the area and makes a great medium length walk. You can venture around the lake, explore the old ruined quarry buildings, and see the altered landscape from the works.
A really interesting thing to explore here is to wander down towards Swell Tor and find some spare corbels from the stone-built London bridge, these were quarried and shaped here before going off to London.
There is a funny tale about the stone-built London bridge, when it was dismantled in 1967 for sale at auction an American businessman purchased it at an astronomical fee for the time a cool $2,460,000 because he believed it was Tower bridge and paid almost ten times the going price, the bridge now resides in Arizona.
You can make this into a circular walk by continuing onto King's tor and then back down to the road.
Location: Park in the small car park just off the B3357 and stroll down the lane towards the quarry. The car park lies at grid reference: SX567749
Difficulty: Easy-Medium - This is one of the fairly easy walks in the Dartmoor National Park, but the difficulty increases if you continue onto Kings tor. The walk to Foggintor itself is very flat.
Time required: 20 mins walk to Foggintor quarry. - an hour or so more to explore the area.
Clothing: Summer: Walking boots. Winter: Walking boots or Wellies if you continue to Kings tor as it can get boggy. This part of the moor is quite exposed so warm clothes or a rain coat is recommended.
#4 Have a wonder, explore an old village, and climb at Hound Tor.
Hound tor is a must-visit for anyone new to the Dartmoor National Park, the area is full of great locations to walk and explore, you can easily walk up to and behind the tor and stopping by on the way for some great tor climbing opportunities.
Once you are all climbed-out, walk a bit further to find the historical abandoned medieval hound tor village. It's not known really why the village was suddenly abandoned or what might have happened to residents.
As you walk around the ruins hound tor village, the abandoned houses let your imagination flow and start to wonder what life might have been like all those years ago on Dartmoor.
Another interesting fact is the folktales in the area, Hound tor is said to have three stone dogs on top and is linked to the story of Bowerman's nose.
It's said the three hounds at hound tor are part of the inspiration for a famous Sherlock Holmes novel based in the area. Its believed that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle found his inspiration for The Hound of the Baskervilles While exploring the several areas around Dartmoor https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hound_of_the_Baskervilles
Location: There is a big car park at the bottom of hound tor, just follow the signs or sat nav its location not far from just up from Manaton and Widecombe.
Hound tor abandoned village can be found at grid reference: SX746787
Difficulty: Easy-Medium - This one is up to you, it's an easy incline to Hound tor rock but steeper down to the village. There are several paths but you can wonder where you want at your leisure to make it more of a circular walk.
Time required: 10 mins walk to hound tor - a few hours exploring the area
Clothing: Summer: Walking boots. Winter: Walking boots or Wellies.
#5 Hike Hayne Down to see Bowerman's Nose.
Whilst we are in the area of hound tor, we can follow the tale of another local legend to Dartmoor, we will tell you the story of Bowerman who was once the area's most famous Hunter who used to roam the Moors with a pack of large dogs.
One day while he was hunting, one of his hounds disrupted some witches during their incantation of a spell. If the legend is to be believed, one witch turned herself into a hare and led Bowerman into a mire (a wet boggy hole) to trap him. The witches then turned Bowerman to stone as well as his three hounds.
If you wander Hayne down you can find Bowermans Nose still sat there on the Landscape and his three hounds on top of hound tor.
Anyway enough of legends more about the walk.
Leave your car at hound tor car park, walk to the road you would cross to goto hound tor, walk to the right till you get to the road junction, turn right and walk until see the road split, take the right turning over the cattle grid and walk along the track until you enter through a metal gateway this is Hayne Down and you should see Bowerman at approx the 2 o'clock direction before you open the gate.
Location: Park at hound tor and head towards Hayne Down - Bowermans nose is on google maps, just search or use the grid reference: SX740804
Difficulty: Medium - This is one of the fairly lengthy walks in Dartmoor, but most of the way is level, there is a easy to medium incline at the end but you can take your time.
Time required: 20 mins walk from hound tor car park - one hour to explore Bowermans nose, plus a few more to walk around Hayne Down
Clothing: Summer: Walking boots. Winter: Walking boots or Wellies.
#6. Stroll along the Haytor Tramway and Visit Haytor Quarry - To see a Dartmoor walk with some local history.
Located close to the base of Haytor rocks you can stumble across what remains of an old tramway. The Haytor Granite Railway, Dartmoor was once home to much of England's Granite production and they needed a way of transporting it around the country, This was undertaken by two pioneering brothers.
The Templer brothers, one creating the Newton abbot canal and the other the Haytor Granite tramway. Granite would be loaded onto carts from the nearby Haytor quarries and pulled by horses down behind what today is the Stover country park. here it was then loaded onto Canal barges at Ventiford basin. They would then continue their journey on a canal boat to the river Teign before being loaded onto boats to go around the coast.
You can walk behind Haytor and find this tramway with much of the granite railway tracks still existing and follow them much of the way. https://www.exploredevon.info/activities/walk/long-walks/templer-way/
Location: Park at one of the large Haytor car parks and head behind Haytor rocks to find the quarry at grid reference: SX760774 you can then follow the tramway downhill.
Difficulty: Medium - This is one of the fairly lengthy walks in Dartmoor, with some inclines, a lot of the way is level, this doesn't really work as a circular but there are enough branches of the tramway and you make it into one if you want.
Time required: 35 mins walk from Haytor quarry to where it disappears around Yarner woods.,
Clothing: Summer: Walking boots. Winter: Walking boots
#7 Hike to the mighty Brentor church - One of the walks in Dartmoor with great elevation.
If you're looking for more of a short hike than a walk, an impressive tor to visit with some beautiful views along with a nice little climb you can't beat a visit to Brentor, the area seems like something straight out a ghostly movie set, due to the famous church that sits on top.
The 19th-century church is one of the highest elevation churches in England and the view at the top offers you some breathtaking photo opportunities.
The church at the top even has a popular folktale, the story goes that when the church was being built, the devil tried to stop the builders progress by moving the church every day to the top of the hill, determined to finish it the townsfolk and builders continued to build it at the top of the hill anyway in defiance to the Devil.
The talk to the talk fairly steep but you can wander around when your there its a very short walk but the elevation makes it harder than you think.
Location: Park at the car park for Brentor Church, you can't miss the church, cross the road to get to the entrance.
Difficulty: Medium - This is one of the fairly short dartmoor walks, but it gets steep, but the views are worth it.
Time required: 5 mins walk from the car park for the church.
Clothing: Summer: Walking boots. Winter: Walking boots, it can get pretty windy up at brentor so warm clothing is recommended.
#8 Stroll around the beautiful Meldon Reservoir.
At over 270m above sea level, this is one of Britain's highest reservoirs. As you wander around the shore at the lake it will present you with one of some of the most picturesque photo opportunities you'll find in the entire national park and some great walking opportunities.
Now to get the best out of this one, it's best to do the full 6-mile walk from taking in beautiful views of the reservoir, and the tor and locations of South Down, Meldon Pool, Longstone Hill, Homerton Hill, Vellake weir, Shelstone Tor and Sourton Tor. https://treksandtors.co/2019/01/09/all-around-meldon-reservoir/ or the slightly shorter 4.6-mile walk taking in Black tor.
But as these longer walks take around 4 hours and this is about short walks. we will recommend the Meldon Dam Circuit, this 1-mile short walk takes in the beautiful scenery of the surrounding area and the picturesque Meldon Viaduct.
Location: Park at the car park for Meldon Dam Turn left along the track, and then immediately turn left through the gate signposted Bridlepath to Meldon Viaduct.
Difficulty: Medium - This is one of the pretty easy dartmoor walks but it has medium length and the longer routes mentioned above are more difficult, so we have placed it here.
Time required: 30 mins circular walk from the car park and back.
Clothing: Summer: Walking boots. Winter: Walking boots or wellies.
#9 Climb the elevation to Dartmoors Great Staple Tor - One of the most scenic walks in Dartmoor
This has to be my favorite tor on the Dartmoor National Park to visit, and one of my favorite locations in Devon. Great Staple Tor, is a very dramatic looking tor indeed it consists of four or five stacked peaks of rocks about as high as the average house.
The stacks can be photographed from various angles to create some great pictures or use your imagination and turn them into different animals or characters. The stacks look almost man-made with the stones almost perfectly balanced on top of each other.
The Dartmoor Brewery at Princetown agrees as well as all their beers Jail Ale, Legend, Dartmoor IPA, and Dartmoor Best all feature the stunning Great Staple Tor on their labels. https://www.dartmoorbrewery.co.uk
Great staple tor is a good hike from the car park, has incredible views down towards Plymouth and Tavistock, and sweeping rural views across the stunning moorland.
Location: Park at pork hill car park and wander up the moors to find the tor. When facing North, Great staple tor is approx at the 3 o'clock direction from Pork hill and the 11 o'clock position from Merrivale quarry.
From pork hill car park you should have cox tor roughly north at 12 o'clock and then granite clitter fields, then middle staple tor, and finally great staple tor at around 3 o'clock. Great staple tor is on Google maps, so should be able to follow your phone.
Great staple tor lies at grid reference: SX542760
Difficulty: Hard - This one isn't really a hard walk in general but it's a good steep gradient for the majority of the walk which makes it one of the harder walks in Dartmoor and as such for a short walk we have rated it as hard. The ground can also be a little uneven and there are no defined paths, this means it one of the walks in Dartmoor we would recommend taking a map and compass or a minimum a fully charged phone.
Time required: 30 mins from pork hill car park to the tor, or around 20 mins from one of the smaller closer car parks by the road.
Clothing: Summer: Walking boots. Winter: Walking boots. It can get quite exposed at Great staple tor, its quite high and a good 30 mins away from the car park, so always take warm cloths and a coat.
#10 Walk to Dartmoors twin waterfall.
The twin Venford falls are found in a secluded and quiet spot of land close to Venford reservoir. This mystical and beautiful spot is a great place to visit to get away from the crowds of people and enjoy some remoteness, it's a great spot for a picnic in the summer as well.
The falls themselves have a mystical feel and offered a perfect backdrop to take stunning photographs of your visit.
That being said the falls are pretty hard to find and the walk down to them is pretty steep, I would not recommend a visit in the winter and unless you are a competent hiker. If you are able to visit though, the waterfalls are a must visit for someone exploring Dartmoor.
Dartmoor has very few waterfalls and in my opinion, and the ones at Venford are the best you will find on the Dartmoor national park. so make sure you add this one to your list
Location: Park at the car park for Venford reservoir, you want the car park on the Hexworthy side of the bridge NOT the Holne side. you then need to walk away from the dam and along the fence that borders the South West Water treatment works, if you keep on following this fence it will lead you to the river below in the valley, the waterfall is approximately 500m further down and you should be able to hear it before you see it.
Difficulty: Hard - This is one of the short dartmoor walks but the path down to the waterfall is very steep and can be slippy.
Time required: 15 mins from the car part to the waterfall.
Clothing: Summer: Walking boots. Winter: Walking boots.
What's your favorite places to walk on The Dartmoor National Park? Let us know in the Comments box below!
You might find our blog on the Top 10 Best things to do on Dartmoor useful
We have tried to keep this list full of interesting locations which are great for dartmoor walks, but can't list the all. Some other worthwhile mentions are wistman's wood (which is accessed via two bridges), lydford gorge, castle drogo and the teign gorge, burrator reservoir, two bridges and of course many of the iron age stone circles you will come across whilst undertaking these walks in Dartmoor.
Meet the Author:
I am a Devon based photographer, who enjoys travel, hiking, rugby and photographing the beautiful world in which we live in, I see photography as a creative expression upon visiting beautiful places. Each picture often tells a story.
Thank you for reading this article, please feel to share it with your friends and please check out all my photography - Wall Art and Framed Prints I have for sale at https://www.scoellphotography.co.uk
Sebastien Coell Photography