River walks in Cornwall

Places to Go

River walks in Cornwall

Discover the gentle beauty of Cornwall’s rivers, a rich vein of waterways that network their way through the countryside towards the sea. A riverside walk makes for an oh-so-calming and wonderfully peaceful escape away from the hustle and bustle of the every day, where you can spot shy wildlife on the riverbanks and the water, watch ferries shuttle people up and down stream, and even get a glimpse into Cornwall’s industrial past.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro at walking or a family wanting a simple stroll, there are lots of lovely river walks to uncover, from the tranquil creeks in South Cornwall to the wilder rivers on the north coast, dotted with waterfalls. A wonderful thing to do with the dog, it’s also perfect for little ones seeking their own Swallows and Amazons adventure. And if you work up an appetite, there are plenty of eateries where you can stop off and fill your boots (and tums).

Here’s a look at just some of the fantastic river walks you can find in Cornwall…

 

Golitha Falls

The cascading waters of Golitha Falls surrounded by moss-covered boulders

Best for: Magical waterfalls and woodland wildlife

• Distance: Various trails of different lengths

• Difficulty: Easy to moderate

• Starts/ends: Draynes Bridge

• Parking: Draynes Bridge

• Landmarks: Golitha Falls

This gorgeous riverside walk takes place in one of Cornwall’s beautiful National Landscapes, with one of the county’s most famous spots as your backdrop. Golitha Falls are a spectacular series of waterfalls on the edge of Bodmin Moor, cascading along the River Fowey through a gorge and the ancient oak woodland of Draynes Woods. A designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), its woods are rich in plant life, with over 120 species of moss and an array of lichens, bluebells, and wood anemone, while rarer species of bats, dormice, moths and butterflies call this beautiful woodland home.

Parking can be found half a mile along the river at Draynes Bridge, where you’ll also find toilets and the fantastic Inkie’s Smokehouse – ideal for a pre or post-walk bite to eat. There’s a clear sign at the entrance showing all the well-marked woodland trails, which are great for families, with lots of opportunities for a paddle and a woodland picnic. There are also specific paths for those with prams and wheelchairs.

 

Helford and Frenchman’s Creek

A bird's eye view of Helford River in Cornwall

Best for: A pretty literary walk

• Distance: 3 miles

• Difficulty: Easy to moderate

• Starts/Ends: Helford village car park

• Parking: Helford village car park

• Landmarks: Frenchman's Creek, Kestle Barton, and St Francis Chapel 

A relatively short, but oh-so-lovely walk on the southern side of the Helford River, overlooking Frenchman’s Creek, it's easy to see why so many have found inspiration along the banks here. Starting and ending at the car park in Helford village, with its pretty thatched cottages, it’s an easy walk that’s suitable for most. Passing through dappled woods and overlooking the romantic creek made famous by Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name, it’s easy to imagine the French pirate’s first mate waiting here to whisk Dona, the heroine of the story, away to join him on his ship. 

As well as walking along the creek, you’ll also pass through idyllic farmland and Kestle Barton, a 17th century farmstead that also happens to have an art gallery that’s worth a visit (check their website for opening times as it closes for winter). The walk also takes in the secluded Penarvon Cove, with its sandy beach, and the pretty chapel of St Francis at Pengwedhen, so there’s lots to see along the way. This walk is particularly beautiful in spring, when the woodland floor is covered in swathes of wild garlic and bluebells and the bright sunlight dances on the water. After your walk, head to the nearby Shipwrights Arms for a drink and a bite to eat overlooking the river.

 

Trethevy to St Nectan’s Glen

The mossy cliff and falling waterfall at St Nectan's Glen in Cornwall

Best for: A touch of magic

• Distance: 1 mile

• Difficulty: Moderate

• Starts/ends: St Nectan's Glen car park

• Parking: St Nectan's Glen car park

• Landmarks: St Nectan's Glen and St Piran's Church

This lovely walk follows the River Trevillet up to the stunning waterfall at St Nectan’s Glen. Situated on the north coast of Cornwall, it's a fairly steep climb from the car park, which is easy to spot on the main road between Tintagel and Boscastle. Once you’ve parked up (remember to bring coins with you for the cash only ticket machine), cross the road and follow the lane until you pass to the right of St Piran’s Church, where the path joins the river. From here, it’s a beautiful walk up through a lush wooded valley, with trees overhanging the river and moss-covered rocks clinging to the valley’s steep sides. 

If it’s sunny, the valley is a dappled emerald haven, while rain brings a magical air to the place. Follow the river all the way to the top, crossing it in several places by bridge, before the last steep descent to the Glen itself. Here you’ll find toilets, a fantastic café, and a shop. There’s a fee to visit St Nectan’s Glen, but it’s well worth it to see the dramatic waterfall and dip your feet in the river. Afterwards, just follow the path back along the river – we do love a downhill return journey!

 

Fowey to Polruan

Looking through some trees at Fowey River, with boats floating on the surface and Polruan village in the background

Best for: Creek views and excellent pubs

• Distance: 6.5 miles

• Difficulty: Moderate to difficult

• Starts/ends: Fowey

• Parking: There are several car parks in Fowey

• Landmarks: Church of Lanteglos-by-Foweya and Pencarrow Head, 

Following River Fowey and its connecting creeks - not to mention spectacular coastal views - this gorgeous walk is worth taking your time over. Starting in Fowey, you’ll need to catch the ferry across the river to Bodinnick, after which the route passes through stunning woodland with riverside views, skirting pretty Cornish creeks as you go. Reaching Polruan, you take the ferry back over the river to Fowey, before walking through the town back to where you started. 

Highlights as you walk include the church of Lanteglos-by-Fowey, where Daphne du Maurier was married in 1932, Pencarrow head and its breathtaking views out to sea and upriver, and the gentle walk through the stunning town of Fowey itself. Create a feast-worthy picnic at the lovely independent food shops in the town or make the most of the fantastic pubs that sit along the route. The Old Ferry Inn at Bodinnick is fantastic and has great views over the river to du Maurier’s former home, while at Polruan there’s The Lugger, a 16th century pub serving hearty food.

 

Lady Vale Walk, Cardinham Woods

People cycling through Cardinham Woods in Cornwall

Best for: An easy access woodland walk

• Distance: 2 miles

• Difficulty: Easy

• Starts/ends: Cardinham Woods car park

• Parking: Cardinham Woods car park

• Landmarks: Lady Vale Bridge

Covering over 650 acres, Cardinham Woods is a stunning mixed woodland on the edge of Bodmin Moor. There’s four waymarked trails to follow, plus a host of tracks that snake their way through the woodland, ensuring you’ll always find a leafy, quiet place to call your own. Lady Vale Walk is a fantastic, wheel-friendly route that follows the Cardinham Water, the river that flows through the woods. Starting from the car park, the path follows the river upstream to Lady Vale Bridge, named after a 12th century chapel that supposedly sat there, before crossing the bridge and walking back the same way. 

Keep an eye out for buzzards, kingfishers, dippers and the elusive deer who call this beautiful wild space home. Afterwards, stop off at the picture-perfect Woods Café for a drink and a bite to eat, with lots of outdoor seating in the summer and a roaring log fire during winter months. For those with limited ability, there’s the opportunity to hire an off-road mobility scooter – you just need to book ahead of your visit.

 

Lanhydrock

The pretty wooded river at Respryn near Lanhydrock in Cornwall

Best for: History and wildlife lovers

• Distance: 3 miles

• Difficulty: Easy to moderate

• Starts/ends: Lanhydrock House main entrance

• Parking: Lanhydrock car park

• Landmarks: Lanhydrock House and Respryn Bridge

This stunning walk takes place around Lanhydrock, a magnificent Victorian country home with gardens and a wider estate, nestled between Bodmin and Lostwithiel. With almost 1,000 acres of parkland, gardens, and woods, as well as 2 miles of the River Fowey to explore, there’s so much to see and do here. This particular walk takes in the best bits of the estate, as well as being a beautiful riverside route. Passing the main entrance to the house, climb up into the higher gardens of Lanhydrock, before making your way through woodland down to the River Fowey. From here, follow the river to Respryn Bridge and then turn back, passing through the gatehouse and parkland, and ending at the house. 

This is a lovely walk where you can gaze in awe at Lanhydrock’s stunning formal gardens, ornamental trees, and pretty views, while the woods and river offer the perfect opportunity for wildlife watching (the river is home to sea trout and salmon, while the woods are particularly good for fungi during the autumn). You might even spot deer flitting through the trees if you’re very lucky. At the end of the walk, there’s the option to visit the house itself, which was actually a Jacobean dwelling until a devastating fire destroyed it in 1881, when it was rebuilt in the high Victorian style. If you’re a bit peckish, there are two cafés to choose from; one at the house and the other by the car park.

 

Fal River

The pretty St Just in Roseland church next to the river

Best for: Idyllic ferry rides

• Distance: 7 miles

• Difficulty: Moderate to difficult

• Starts/ends: St Mawes Quay or Falmouth

• Parking: There are plenty of car parks in both St Mawes and Falmouth

• Landmarks: St Mawes Castle, St Just Church, and Oyster Way

This longer, linear walk starts from the quay at St Mawes, but it’s great fun to start with a ferry crossing from Falmouth harbour. Covering 7 miles, this is a stomp to set aside a whole day for, taking the time to enjoy the views from the banks of the Fal River as you go, as well as following the Oyster Way. 

Highlights along the way include St Mawes Castle, the picture-perfect St Just Church set in subtropical gardens, and St Just Creek – the perfect point to stop and enjoy a picnic. Afterwards, the path leads down to King Harry Reach where you’ll need to step on board the King Harry ferry to get to the other side of the river, before making your way to the Trelissick Pontoon to catch the ferry back to Falmouth, where lots of lovely restaurants and cafés wait to refuel you. Make sure to plan ahead for this one, ensuring you have ferry times to hand so things all run smoothly.

 

Looe River Walk

The peaceful waters of Looe River lined by trees and a walkway

Best for: A mix of coast and countryside

• Distance: 3 miles

• Difficulty: Easy to moderate

• Starts/ends: Looe

• Parking: Millpool car park

• Landmarks: Giant's Hedge, Looe Island, and St Mary's Church

This relaxing walk takes in the pretty seaside town of Looe and follows the Giant’s Hedge, which was built in the Dark Ages, into the leafy cover of Kilminorth Woods. En route, you’ll pass the pool that powered Looe’s famous mills, before crossing the river into East Looe all the way down to the sea at Banjo Pier and the beach. Here, you might want to make a diversion and pay a visit to Looe Island, a stunning marine nature reserve. You can catch a boat to it from the slipway near the RNLI Lifeboat Station for a two-hour visit, but please note that dogs aren’t allowed on the island to protect the wildlife. 

From the pier, the route passes back through the town, where you’ll pass through medieval alleyways and some of the town’s oldest buildings. At the end of the walk, take some time to wander around the cobbled streets of Looe, popping into the fantastic shops, before treating yourself to an excellent seafood lunch at The Fish Market Bar & Restaurant, which overlooks the river.

 

The Camelford Way

Rich green trees overlooking the tranquil stream along River Camel in Cornwall

Best for: A gentle family walk

• Distance: 2 miles

• Difficulty: Easy

• Starts/ends: Camelford

• Parking: Church Field or Clease car park in Camelford

• Landmarks: Fenteroon Bridge, 

The River Camel is the second longest river in Cornwall at about 30 miles in length, its source high amongst the wilds of Bodmin Moor before snaking its way to the sea at Padstow. This particular walk is a gentle one at just under 2 miles, with gorgeous views across the Camel Valley. Starting at the picturesque market square at Camelford, the route soon leads to the river and takes a path through a woodland valley. 

It’s particularly lovely in spring when the floor is strewn with wild garlic and bluebells, but it’s great whatever time of year with glimpses of the river as you walk. The route turns as you cross Fenteroon Bridge, an ancient ‘clapper’ bridge made of granite that is believed to have been built in the 17th or 18th century to allow heavy carts to cross over on their way to the market. After this, the walk passes through lush green fields as you stroll back to Camelford. Pop into Peckish Fish and Chips when you reach the town, taking your paper-wrapped goodies to find a bench overlooking the river.

 

Luxulyan Valley Walk

The pretty Luxulyan River flowing beneat the moss-covered viaduct

Best for: A peek into Cornwall’s industrial past

• Distance: Various routes to choose from

• Difficulty: Easy to moderate

• Starts/ends: Luxulyan Valley

• Parking: Limited parking at Black Hill and Ponts Mill, further parking at Luxulyan village

• Landmarks: Viaduct, disused mines, Luxulyan Church and a waterwheel pit

With a history dating back over 2,000 years, Luxulyan Valley is a World Heritage Site and a fascinating place for a riverside walk. While today it may seem peaceful, during the 19th century it would have been a bustling site with its huge, ten-arch viaduct, waterwheels turning, and tramways carrying granite. Back as far as the 16th century there’s evidence copper mining took place here, albeit on a small scale, but it was China clay that eventually became the main source of income here and was used right up to 1965. 

Today, this beautiful, steep-sided valley is a peaceful escape, with the delightful River Par running through it. There are several paths to explore with no set route, and as you walk you’ll spot industrial remains peeking through the lush undergrowth, such as granite mine buildings, leats, tramways, mineshafts and a waterwheel pit with river views as well as a waterfall - it’s a strange yet striking juxtaposition. There’s also lots of wildlife that call this magical place home, such as bats, otters, song thrushes and spotted flycatchers. Afterwards, head to the Kings Arms in Luxulyan and put your feet up with a drink or two.

 

Feeling inspired to don your walking boots? Take a look at our gorgeous cottages in Cornwall and start planning your getaway today.

More reading

The Magic of Mount's Bay

The Magic of Mount's Bay

Not just for those with a Bus Pass... this journey is best taken on an open top bus!

Visitors' Book 4 years ago Maz C
A shipwreck adventure on the coast of north Cornwall

A shipwreck adventure on the coast of north Cornwall

‘From Pentire Point to Hartland light, a watery grave by day and night’, so goes the local saying. It’s one of the UK’s most notorious stretches of coastline for shipwrecks...ripe for adventure.

Visitors' Book 9 years ago Ali Ray
An American in Cornwall: Wild garlic foraging in Falmouth

An American in Cornwall: Wild garlic foraging in Falmouth

Everything smelled like rain. It was a smell I hadn't gotten used to yet, the smell of rain in Cornwall.

Visitors' Book 9 years ago Danielle Charles-Davies
River, beach, wood and peak: Four walks in Cornwall

River, beach, wood and peak: Four walks in Cornwall

Walk your way around the county, with your four-legged friend in tow (or way ahead of you)

Visitors' Book 9 years ago Sian Pickles