Complete guide to Dartmoor National Park

Places to Go

Complete guide to Dartmoor National Park

Home to rolling moorland, valleys rich with woodland, and ancient farmland that outlines the moors in an undulating patchwork, Dartmoorhttps://www.classic.co.uk/browse-holiday-cottages/Devon-North-1.html National Park is a very special place to visit, whether you’re looking for a breathtaking backdrop to your walk or a welcoming pub you can cosy into with the dog at your feet.

Hundreds of miles of open access land, footpaths, and trails make Dartmoor a favourite with adventurers, with walking, climbing, cycling, and kayaking just some of the fun-filled activities on offer. You also have the incredible north and south coasts of Devon on your doorstep, giving you easy access to some of the best beaches and coastal scenes in the South West.

A map of Dartmoor highlighting the main towns and villages

Steeped in history, myth, and wild, untamed beauty, Dartmoor is the perfect place to escape the everyday. Read on to uncover its hidden secrets as you build a holiday itinerary full of rugged landscapes, quaint villages, and family-friendly fun.

 

Find out more

About Dartmoor National Park

Towns and villages

Things to do

Walks

Pubs and places to eat

About Dartmoor National Park

A small stone cottage surrounded by trees and bluebells at Emsworthy Mire in Dartmoor National Park

An impressive 368 square miles in size, Dartmoor National Park boasts oodles of space to explore, from the lofty granite tors that watch over the sprawling scenes below to the winding rivers that carve through the lowlands. With such a wild and rugged landscape on offer, Dartmoor has been the inspiration for many artists and writers over the years - most famously as the setting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved Sherlock Holmes adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles. It was also used as a filming location for Steven Spielberg’s epic War Horse.

Today, the rock-strewn scenery promises far less supernatural, but no less captivating, adventures, from walking and kayaking to birdwatching. The ancient moorlands can be enjoyed by all, whether you’re there for a weekend break amongst the hills or an extended exploration of every dip and rising tor. And with hundreds of miles of open access spaces, you can explore every moss-covered corner.

 

Landscape

Rolling hills and scraggly trees in Dartmoor National Park

The largest and highest open moor in southern England, Dartmoor’s landscape is big, beautiful, and the perfect place for an escape into nature. Dartmoor’s reaching heights and expansive landscape expose it to high rainfall and strong winds, which have moulded the moors into the chiselled terrain we know and love today.

Famed for its rocky appearance, an impressive 65% of Dartmoor is granite, with the iconic tors (of which there are over 160) and outcrops covering the moorland for 295 million years. These craggy peaks are popular walking destinations, as not only do they provide a curious spot to explore but the views from the tops are unrivalled. 

Alongside the heather-topped moorland, acres of farmland provide a more uniform scene, with patchworks of small fields wrapping around the unruly moors like a well-worn blanket. Historic farmsteads pepper the landscape, with granite buildings blending in seamlessly with the natural beauty of the surrounding area. 

Another common sight in Dartmoor is the ancient woodlands that cling to the hillsides, offering local wildlife a rich habitat. Many of the National Park’s wooded areas are Sites of Special Scientific Interest and play host to a myriad of critters - not to mention some of the most beautiful walks in the area.

 

Wildlife

A Dartmoor pony foal running down a grassy hill in Dartmoor National Park

Home to an abundance of wildlife, Dartmoor National Park is well worth a visit for nature lovers, with a range of birdlife, insects, and roaming ponies calling the wind-hewn landscape home.

Perhaps the most famous, Dartmoor ponies are an iconic sight and have been living and grazing on the moors for centuries, making them one of the oldest local residents. Other mammals to live in various habitats across the moors include otters, hazel dormice, and nearly all of the UK’s 16 species of bat, including the rare barbastelle and the greater and lesser horseshoe bats.

While Africa has its ‘Big Five’, Dartmoor is home to the ‘Little Five’, which includes the blue ground beetle, cuckoos, marsh fritillary, otters, and ash black slugs, which are the world’s largest land slug and well worth keeping an eye out for even if they’re not the easiest to spot (they’re nocturnal and are often found in damp woodlands).

With such a diverse range of landscapes, Dartmoor National Park is a mecca for birdwatchers. The moorlands boast some of the rarest birds in the UK, including the ring ouzel and cuckoos, as well as the slightly more common snipe and skylark. In the ancient woodlands, species such as the pied flycatcher and wood warbler make their home amongst the trees. 

Dartmoor is also an internationally important place for lichens, which thrive in the woodlands covering the moors and the granite outcrops that reach towards the sky.

 

Towns and villages

With the wild moorlands as their backdrop, Dartmoor’s historic towns and villages offer a lovely rural reprieve, with the promise of sweet-smelling bakeries, cosy village pubs, and fabulous independent shops lining the streets.

 

Ashburton

Looking through the trees at the pretty village of Ashburton in Dartmoor National Park, with a church and houses nestled in the rolling hills

Boasting a friendly atmosphere and a collection of excellent local shops, Ashburton is a quaint town worth exploring when visiting Dartmoor. With a museum, historic chapel, art galleries, and plenty of cafés serving up moreish cream teas (remember, cream first in Devon!), there’s lots to see and do in this lovely town.

 

Bovey Tracey

 

Nestled on the eastern edges of Dartmoor and close to Haytor Rocks, Bovey Tracey is a wonderful place to base yourself when exploring the moors. Pretty parks will keep the kids entertained, while a tempting collection of delis and local food shops offer a true taste of Devon - not to mention the farmers’ market, which runs every first and third Saturday of the month.

 

Buckfastleigh

People walking up one of the colourful streets in Buckfastleigh in Dartmoor National Park

Home to Dartmoor’s famous Buckfast Abbey (and Buckfast Tonic Wine), the pretty town of Buckfastleigh promises a very picturesque day out. With a history woven in wool (as well as quarrying and mining), the small town still bears many remnants of its rich past, from the fascinating architecture on Fore Street to the Valiant Soldier museum, which delves deep into the town’s associations with the wool trade.

 

Chagford

 

A lively town full of bustling pubs and independent shops, Chagford is a popular destination in north east Dartmoor. Spend your days idling in cafés with a coffee in hand as you plan your next adventure on the moors, before exploring the many fascinating buildings that pepper the town, from the beautiful church to the octagonal Market House.

 

Ivybridge

 

The starting point of the Two Moors Way (an epic walk that spans Dartmoor and Exmoor National Park), Ivybridge is a hidden gem for walkers. The historic Ivy Bridge, which gave the town its name, is still there today and makes for a lovely photo opportunity when crossing the River Erme. 

 

Lydford

People standing at the viewing platform looking at the tumbling waterfall between the trees at Lydford Gorge in Dartmoor National Park

Home to not one, but two castles and the deepest gorge in the South West, Lydford is a peaceful village that boasts an impressive history and plenty of places to explore.

 

Moretonhampstead

Pretty stone houses down a street in Moretonhampstead in Dartmoor National Park with bunting hanging between the houses and a church in the distance

A bustling market town and a centre for arts and crafts in the community, this bustling market town is one of the great gateways to Dartmoor. From the rolling countryside surrounding Moretonhampstead to the fascinating nearby Motor Museum and the oh-so-adorable Miniature Pony Centre, there’s an endless supply of things to do here.

 

Okehampton

 

Whether you’re in Dartmoor to hike, climb, or mosey around the shops, you can’t get much better than Okehampton. The Fair Trade town is close to the two highest tors on Dartmoor, High Willhays and Yes Tor, making it an ideal base for walkers, while the Victorian shopping arcade and nearby Okehampton Castle provide day trips aplenty. 

 

Tavistock

A statue of Sir Francis Drake standing in the middle of the street in Tavistock in Dartmoor National Park

In the western reaches of Dartmoor, you’ll find the pretty market town of Tavistock, where independent shops and markets thrive. The birthplace of Sir Francis Drake, you can spend your days walking or cycling the Drake’s Trail while soaking up the incredible surrounding scenery. 

 

Widecombe-in-the-Moor

A white A-board sign reading 'Widecombe Market' in Widecombe-in-the-Moor in Dartmoor National Park

Situated in the heart of Dartmoor, Widecombe-in-the-Moor is the picture of rural life, with stone cottages and a beautiful church blending into the rolling scenery. Stop by the bustling farmers’ market on the fourth Saturday of every month to pick up some incredible local goodies. 

 

Yelverton

The pretty church of St Paul in Yelverton in Dartmoor National Park

A wonderfully picturesque village in the heart of Dartmoor National Park, Yelverton enjoys a simply stunning setting surrounded by verdant hills and quaint, stone cottages. Home to an excellent selection of eateries, from charming cafés to welcoming restaurants, as well as easy access to some incredible walks, it’s a beloved base for a holiday on Dartmoor.

 

Things to do

Boasting some of the biggest and best things to do in South Devon, Dartmoor has something for everyone, from historic landmarks to wildlife.

 

Castle Drogo

The golden-bricked stone Castle Drogo in Dartmoor National Park surrounded by

Cared for by the National Trust and enjoying a magical setting overlooking Teign Gorge, Castle Drogo is an enchanting place to explore, from the beautiful stone castle and gardens to the surrounding woodland, which hosts a myriad of wonderful walks. There’s a lovely café on site too that serves up copious amounts of coffee and incredible light lunches and cakes.

 

Lydford Gorge

A giant moss and leaf-covered crevice at Lydford Gorge in Dartmoor National Park, with a walkway running along the side

A world apart from the wide open moorland of Dartmoor, Lydford Gorge offers a lush wonderland of tangled trees and thundering waterfalls. Head to the bird hide to spot a variety of birds or Devil’s Cauldron for a breathtaking view of the deepest part of the river. 

 

River Dart Country Park

Trees line the gentle waters of River Dart in Dartmoor National Park

An adventure playground for children and adults alike, River Dart Country Park is home to an array of amazing activities, from kayaking and tree climbing to off-road bike trails. There are also lots of lovely picnic spots dotted beneath the trees and alongside the river. 

 

South Devon Railway

A black steam train pulled in at Staverton Station along the South Devon Railway

Running from Buckfastleigh to Totnes, the South Devon Railway is such a great way to see more of the rolling countryside and rivers of Dartmoor and South Devon. The vintage steam trains welcome dogs throughout the day, while the murder mystery experiences and dining carriages offer a wonderfully memorable way to experience the golden age of travel.

 

Stargazing

A starry sky above Leather Tor in Dartmoor National Park

Boasting wide open skies and some incredible foregrounds, Dartmoor National Park is one of the best places for stargazing in the South West. Numerous car parks around Dartmoor make an easy spot to pull up and enjoy the spectacle, with Bel Tor, Coombestone Tor, and Harford car parks amongst the best. Wait for a clear night and fill your camera roll with otherworldly shots!

 

Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast Abbey towering above the surrounding trees in Dartmoor National Park

From the breathtaking exterior, adorned with magnificent stained glass windows, to the beautiful gardens that fill the area with a riot of colour, Buckfast Abbey welcomes you to step into a tranquil world that harks back to a bygone era. Marvel at the extraordinary ceilings in the church, delve into the history of the abbey in the exhibition centre, and settle onto the sun-soaked terrace at the Grange Restaurant for a delicious bite to eat. 

 

Dartmoor Zoo

 

A family favourite, Dartmoor Zoo is home to an encyclopaedia-worth of animals, from the African lion to zebras and (almost) everything in between. Explore the grounds, which are full of incredible enclosures as well as beautiful gardens, before stopping by one of the daily talks to hear fascinating insights into the lives and habits of your favourite animals.

 

Pennywell Farm

A brown and white pony grazing in a field at Pennywell Farm in Dartmoor National Park

Another family attraction that’s fun for all ages is the oh-so-adorable Pennywell Farm, where you can meet the county’s cutest residents. Home to a variety of farm animals, including Pennywell’s famous miniature pigs, this is the place to go to meet your favourite furry friends, whether you want to walk goats, cuddle pigs, or feed little lambs.

 

Museum of Dartmoor Life

 

One for the historians, the Museum of Dartmoor Life welcomes you to step back in time to see how the rich history of Dartmoor has changed over the years, from prehistoric forests and Bronze Age tools to recent myths and legends of black dogs and witches. 

 

Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary and Buckfast Butterfly Farm

A pair of otters playing in the water at the Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary and Buckfast Butterfly Farm in Dartmoor National Park

Combining education with whatever-the-weather fun, the Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary and Buckfast Butterfly Farm is a wonderful destination for anyone wanting to learn more about our furry and fluttery friends. Discover interesting facts about these button-nosed beauties and the important conservation efforts that work hard to ensure their habitats are preserved. 

 

Wild swimming

People swimming in the idyllic Shilley Pool in Dartmoor National Park

Although light on beaches, Dartmoor is a great place to go for a refreshing swim! From beautiful freshwater pools such as Spitchwick Common and Sharrah Pool to the tree-lined delights of the River Dart, there are lots of opportunities to kick off the walking boots and step into cool waters. 

 

Walks

With hundreds of miles of open access footpaths and moorland to explore, walking is one of the best ways to uncover the wild beauty of Dartmoor National Park.

 

The Dartmoor Way

The rolling hills of Dartmoor National Park

With 95 miles of paths for cyclists and a jaw-dropping 108 miles for walkers, The Dartmoor Way boasts one of the best - and biggest - routes to explore when visiting Dartmoor. Skirting the national park, there are lots of clear waymarkers to guide your trek, which can be done in one two-week holiday (give or take a few days) or in little chunks here and there whenever you visit. You’ll pass plenty of pretty towns and villages if you’re looking for a walk with a welcoming pub at the end, or you can fill your backpack with local goodies for a picnic on the moors. 

 

Haldon Forest Park

A wooden footpath sign with trees in the background in Dartmoor National Park

When it comes to woodland walks, Haldon Forest Park has something for everyone, from children’s trails lined with storybook characters and lovely, flat, accessible routes to tree-lined hikes that promise to catch your breath in more ways than one as you uncover dappled views galore. There are also some excellent off-road bike trails if you fancy exploring the woods at a more adventurous pace!

 

Teign Gorge

A beautiful stone bridge across a river and surrounded by trees in Teign Gorge near Castle Drogo in Dartmoor National Park

One of the best walks in Devon, let alone Dartmoor, the Teign Gorge circular is a walker’s delight, with winding trails leading you through the gorgeous wooded valley. With the impressive Castle Drogo as your start and end point (perfect for a bite to eat in the café), you’ll soon discover a wooded wonderland as you make your way down the gorge to the river below. Stop by the Fingle Bridge Inn for a refreshing pint in a serene setting, before heading back up to the castle. The routes are nice and easy to follow and there are plenty of picnic opportunities by the river. 

 

Saddle Tor to Hound Tor

People stood on top of the rock formation at Saddle Tor in Dartmoor National Park

One of the best ways to experience the magnificent sights and sites of Dartmoor is to tour the tors that offer up breathtaking views aplenty. One of our favourites, the wonderful 5.5-mile circular from Saddle Tor to Hound Tor takes in a myriad of incredible Dartmoor destinations, from dramatic, wind-hewn rock formations to a fascinating 19th-century quarry. Taking around 3 hours to complete, pull on your walking boots and experience the wild beauty of Dartmoor for yourself. 

 

Wistman’s Wood

Ancient, moss covered trees and boulders at Wistman's Wood in Dartmoor National Park

Full of magic and wonder, Wistman’s Wood is as close to walking through a fairytale as you can get, with the gnarled, moss-covered trees and boulders creating an otherworldly place to explore in the heart of Dartmoor. While walking through the wood is not recommended so as to protect the woodland from trampling feet, there are some equally mystical trails that skirt the edge of the twisted trees, providing an incredible backdrop to your walk. The Two Bridges Hotel is a great starting point, and their Devonshire cream teas are hard to pass up when visiting.

 

Pubs and places to eat

Nothing beats a pub pit-stop when exploring the rolling landscapes of Dartmoor, whether you’re looking for a hearty Sunday lunch or a Ploughman’s.

 

The Dartmoor Inn, Lydford

A cosy dining room at The Dartmoor Inn in Dartmoor National Park

Michelin recommended and boasting an oh-so-cosy, traditional pub atmosphere, The Dartmoor Inn promises a warm welcome and oodles of delicious food to refuel after a walk on the moors. With a range of menus on offer, including a main, vegan, lighter, and Sunday menu, there’s something for everyone here, whether you’re after a fish finger sandwich or some Westcountry lamb with all the trimmings. 

 

The Three Crowns, Chagford

The thatched and stone exterior of the Three Crowns inn in Dartmoor National Park

Welcoming walkers of the two and four-legged variety, The Three Crowns is one of the top dog-friendly pubs in Devon, making it the perfect place to rest after a moorland stomp with the hound. Get cosy by one of the inglenook fireplaces in the cooler months or soak up the serene vibes in the lovely courtyard on a summer’s day as you feast on seafood platters and cheese boards.

 

The Rugglestone Inn, Widecombe-in-the-Moor

 

With bursts of wisteria hanging from Grade II listed stone walls, The Rugglestone Inn looks as if it’s been plucked from the pages of a storybook. Surrounded by beautiful moorland, it’s the perfect destination for a post-walk pint, especially if you secure a spot in the lovely garden with its pretty stream and rolling views.

 

Two Bridges Hotel, Two Bridges

A table full of food and drink at the Two Bridges Hotel in Dartmoor National Park

Close to the magic of Wistman’s Wood, the lovely Two Bridges Hotel is a firm favourite for a pre or post-walk feed. Offering an array of dishes, including one of the best afternoon teas in the county, and lovely waterside views, it’s wonderfully easy to forget about life for a while as you soak up the serene surroundings. 

 

The Warren House Inn, Yelverton

 

With a menu that shines a light on local produce and a warm and welcoming atmosphere, you’re bound to fall in love with The Warren House Inn. Not only is this traditional pub the highest inn in southern England, but it’s also home to a rather famous fireplace, which has been burning continuously since 1845! 

 

The Old Inn, Widecombe-in-the-Moor

The traditional stone exterior of The Old Inn in Dartmoor National Park

Situated in the heart of the beautiful village, The Old Inn certainly lives up to its name, with a warm and friendly welcome awaiting everyone who enters the historic pub. Dogs are allowed inside and out and the menu offers a hearty mix of pub grub, including pies, cider-battered fish and chips, and Elstone Farm beef burgers.

 

Ready to discover one of the UK’s most beautiful moorlands? Explore our beautiful holiday cottages on Dartmoor and start planning your perfect rural stay, from dog-friendly cottages to bubbling hot tubs.

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