Holidays Travel

Despite issues with overcrowding, Snowdonia is still a world-class hiking destination – here’s why

Enjoying the mindfulness walk (Cred: Hedd F Williams)
Enjoying the mindfulness walk (Cred: Hedd F Williams)

I feel like I’ve stepped through the wardrobe and into Narnia as we pull up to our hotel in Betws-y-Coed, our home for the next few days.

Set on the north-eastern edge of Snowdownia National Park, the village is only 14.3 miles from Snowdon and the mountain’s peak is visible at almost every corner.

The mountains tower around us, shrouding us from the wind and creating a bubble of tranquillity. There’s no one around but us – even the Royal Oak Hotel, where we’re staying, is deserted aside from the staff.

View from halfway up Moel Siabod (Hedd F Williams/PA) (HEDDFWILLIAMS)

In recent years, Snowdonia National Park has been experiencing an overcrowding problem, with approximately 600,000 people visiting every year, mostly gathering on trails to reach the summit of Snowdon.

But that shouldn’t put you off visiting, as there are still plenty of quiet areas to explore.

To help visitors find these more peaceful spots (and others across the UK’s most popular areas), AllTrails has created a downloadable app, featuring trail maps along with photos, reviews, and user recordings crowdsourced from a community of over 50 million hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers and trail runners.

Eager to see how it all works, I’ve joined a group on a mission to test the effectiveness of the app over the next few days.

AllTrails offers the standard easy/moderate/hard and distance filtering you would expect from any hiking app, but you can also filter for accessibility, child-friendliness, and what kind of views you’re after.

What I’m most interested in, however, is the ‘trail usage’ function, which allows me to filter out all the busier routes.

We dive in at the deep end with a walk to the summit of Moel Siabod, Snowdon’s neighbour. The hike is only 4.6 miles in total, but the challenge lies in the elevation. Parts of the trail are very steep and the thinner air means getting out of breath unfortunately becomes all too familiar. The hike is classified as ‘hard’ and I can definitely feel it once we reach the summit.

There’s very little noise on our way up and we see a grand total of three people along the way – surprising considering how popular Snowdonia is as a hiking destination.

Instead, there are plenty of sheep, although I have no idea how they made it this far up the mountainside. They’re having a grand old time though, bleating at us as we walk by.

A view from the summit of Moel Siabod (Chynna Jones/PA)

The walk up is well sheltered – but Moel Siabod is on the edge of the mountain range, so once we reach the top there’s nothing protecting us from the wind that comes barrelling across the Welsh landscape.

We stop for a few minutes; snack bars are shared around, and we all drink at least half a litre of water. I stand on the edge of the rocks looking down at the sweeping park views. It’s hard to believe something so otherworldly exists in the UK.

A group photo halfway up Moel Siabod (Hedd F Williams/PA) (HEDDFWILLIAMS)

The long way down feels much tougher. But even though my knees are aching, I’m distracted by the scenery.

We stop for a quick pint a the bottom of the mountain before heading for dinner at the Pont-y-Pair Inn, just a little way down from our hotel (mains around £15). The building looks Victorian with its grey-brown bricks and triangle-shaped roof. It’s a typical village pub, mostly empty aside from a few reliable regulars propping up the bar. My meal is delicious and pleasantly filling after the long hike.

Kayaking on Llyn Padarn (Hedd F Williams/PA) (HEDDFWILLIAMS)

Our second day starts with an early morning kayak session at Llyn Padarn in  Llanberis – only a half-hour drive through the National Park. Despite the sun, 9:45am is still early enough to be a little bit chilly, and I’m grateful for the full-length wetsuit I’ve been given.

I’ve kayaked before, so it feels familiar to be on the water again. Dan McGonigle, our instructor, gets us playing a game of ‘keep away’ as he threatens to capsize us if we get hit by his ball. Thankfully, it’s a calm day, so there’s plenty of time to admire the countryside views as sunshine sparkles on the water. Dan tells us that Llyn Padarn is one of just a small handful of lakes in the UK where you can find Arctic Charr, a breed of freshwater fish.

A stretch of Llyn Padarn (Chynna Jones/PA)

The wind picks up as we’re heading back to shore, and I can feel my arms begin to ache from the paddling.

Next, we head to Bryn Williams Porth Eirias, a beautiful beachside seafood restaurant in Colwyn Bay (; mains around £20), where a soundtrack of rolling waves accompanies my meal of freshly caught fish.

Enjoying the mindfulness walk (Hedd F Williams/PA) (HEDDFWILLIAMS)

Later on, we head out on a mindfulness walk led by Davy Greenough – a local who takes hikers through guided meditations as they traverse the forest towards Llyn y Parc. The 3.7mile trail begins right on the doorstep of our hotel, and is a much easier walk than we’ve been doing.

I savour the peace and tranquillity as we walk in silence for 20 minutes, listening to birds digging in the undergrowth as a breeze rustles through the trees.

In a secluded part of the forest, we have the opportunity to meditate on the edge of Llyn y Parc. Davy tells us he started doing the meditative walks by himself when he realised the stress of his day job was damaging his mental health. Now, he tries to keep the habit up daily.

Llyn Elsi (Chynna Jones/PA)

Our third and final day dawns bright and early with an easy walk up to Llyn Elsi – a beautiful lake hidden away in the middle of Gwydir Forest, which encircles Betws-y-Coed. The first half of the hike is up a fairly steep hill, although still not as sharp of an incline as Moel Siabod.

The forest is so quiet – there’s no one around but us and the conifer, oak and beech trees. The trail takes us around the entire lake, showing off all the different landscape Wales has to offer: mountains, forest, countryside and picturesque villages.

The trail feels shorter on the way down, perhaps because I’m aware my time here is coming to an end.

Snowdonia is certainly the place to go to switch off and ignore your emails. And, if you know where to go, you won’t be bothered by crowds.

How to plan your trip

The Royal Oak Hotel ( has rooms from £130 a night, breakfast included.

Download the AllTrails app from the App Store or Google Play for free. Pro membership, which allows you to download trails for use offline, costs £2.99/month or £35.99/year.