We all know that the best bikepacking route is the one you do, rather than think about doing, but here are 10 UK gems to whet your appetite. Some familiar, some hopefully not so much.
They range from one night to one month, and from routes you could take your hybrid-riding other half on, to rocky scream-fests that require the right tools for the job. They assume you’ll be choosing to wild camp, but many of them can be done via campsites, hostels or B&Bs, and even the wildest ones dip near enough to civilisation for an emergency night’s drying out if needed.
Either way, these are all about the journey and not the destination, and they’re all largely off-road. Enjoy!
Wye One-nighter, Kent
32 miles, 2,944ft, 1 night
A recommendation from the ubiquitous Laurence McJannet, author of the book Bikepacking, and no worse for it, you could be pedalling within 40 minutes of leaving London Victoria if you hop off at Ashford International.
Mostly off-road, the route winds its way through woodland, downland and orchards, taking in sections of the North Downs Way and returning in the Stour Valley. Bivvying spots are plentiful, and in summer you could be out after work on Friday, up early on Saturday and home after a breakfast at the Wye Coffee Shop & Kitchen.
- Three words: Accessible, gentle, rural
- What bike: Gravel or hardtail
- How remote: In the unlikely event that you need top-ups for a one-nighter, Faversham is around halfway.
- Getting there: Wye (or nearby Ashford) are on train lines from London. You could also start at Faversham.
Gower one-nighter, Wales
50 miles, 3,432ft, 1 night
If you’ve been meaning to sample Welsh bikepacking, Anthony Pease’s route to the edge of the ocean could be the perfect introduction. It’s a joyful exploration on bridleways, minor roads and singletrack from the edge of Swansea around some of the highest and most beautiful places on the Gower Peninsula, including views across the legendary Rhossili Bay.
And if his stunning photos don’t whet your appetite for tucked away bivvy spots, ocean views and magnificent sunsets, then nothing will.
It’s an area that’s criss-crossed with appetising tracks, so you could easily tweak this route.
- Three words: Stunning, varied, accessible
- What bike: Gravel or hardtail
- How remote: Wild ocean views and plenty of bivvy spots for sunrise, but shops and pubs if you need them
- Getting there: The route starts a couple of miles from Swansea station
Norfolk F2C (Forest to Sea)
137 miles, 4,064ft, 2 nights (there’s also a 68 mile, 1,438ft alternative)
Chris Coles puts his background as a conservation biologist to full effect in this gentle, nature-filled tour of Norfolk.
The route starts in Thetford and meanders to the north Norfolk coast, back inland to the fens, and round to the east coast again, to finish in Great Yarmouth. It follows disused railway lines, tarmac cycleways and sleepy bridleways, and you’ll want to take your time to soak up the rare flora and fauna, and the art and architecture, whichever season you go in. It’ll never be technically challenging - apart from the odd bit of mud after rain.
Perfect proof that you don’t need to hike-a-bike on rocky tracks of death in order to enjoy a proper multi-day bikepacking adventure.
Chris’s website has a detailed paid-for guide to the route and some thoughtfully prepared alternative variations, and you can download the gpx for free.
- Three words: Mellow, nature-filled, big skies
- What bike: Gravel
- How remote: Super-peaceful but plenty of dips into civilization if you want them
- Getting there: Thetford and Great Yarmouth both have train stations. It’s a two hour train ride from the end back to the start
Trans-Cambrian Way, Wales
109 miles, 10,400ft, 2 nights
It’s hard to imagine a more attractive bikepacking proposition than this. Rocky singletrack, sweeping grassland, miles of gravel by stunning reservoirs and dams. All taking you from one side of Wales to the other via the oldest mountain range in Europe. It’ll be properly challenging, especially if it’s wet, but it’s very doable if you’re fit. And if you don’t want to bivvy in wild isolation, you have the options of welcoming pubs and B&Bs along the way - or the Claerddu and Nant Rhys bothies.
- Three words: Remote, challenging, achievable
- What bike: MTB (or gravel with more pushing)
- How remote: Super-remote on the trails, but with the options of B&Bs and campsites - or bothies - if you want
- Getting there: Train station at the start (Knighton), and it’s a £90 taxi ride for up to 3 people with bikes from the end back to the start
Lakeland 200, Cumbria
127 miles, 20,000ft, 3-4 nights
Don’t be fooled by the short distance - this is one of the toughest mountain bike challenges in England, and the most beautiful. While the non-stop record sits at 16 hours, most riders would allow 4-5 days, either bivvying or hostelling along the way.
It’ll be an emotional rollercoaster, as well as a geological one. It’s got everything - quiet lanes, squelchy moor, tricky nav, and lots of rocks. Blogger Callum James described it as “about 40% decent riding, 40% hike-a-bike up mountains & across bogs and 20% holding on for dear life on some of the steepest & techiest descents.”
Despite describing one part as ‘godawful’ and another 3-mile stretch as ‘a bog infested mount of sh*te’, he’d still do it all again: “The views were worth every bit of suffering.”
If you’re slightly masochistic, you’re fit, and you’re comfortable enough on the technical stuff, this should be on your bucket list.
- Three words: Gruelling, technical, stunning
- What bike: MTB
- How remote: High altitudes and challenging navigation, especially in bad weather, but pubs and hostels along the way
- Getting there: A train to the official start at Stavely (via main-line Oxenholme) makes sense, but you can start at almost any point of the circular route.
South Downs 300 (‘Southern Discomfort’), Sussex
187 miles, 18,400ft, 2-5 nights
You’ll find the normal 100-mile South Downs Way on loads of top-10 lists, because it’s a gem, but Jim Barrow’s 300km is an enticing alternative. You’ll get the beauty of the chalky downs, while exploring tracks less ridden. You’ll enjoy wide-open doubletrack, endless rolling grassy hills, and hidden singletrack on woodland trails.
The eastern half spends a fair bit of time on the South Downs Way itself, though with entertaining diversions. The western part is a particular treat if you already know the SDW well, as it meanders through miles of unfamiliar forestry trails here. Jim’s route is a wee bit looser and rootier than the straight SDW, so bear that in mind when you choose tyres.
If you want to stay in towns, Newhaven, Lewes, Storrington and Arundel are all on the route, but spots under the stars are plentiful.
Anyone who thinks the south is flat is in for a surprise - a low gear will be your friend on this route.
- Three words: Fresh, hilly, smile-inducing
- What bike: MTB, or gravel with big tires
- How remote: Plenty of wide-open space and bivvy spots, but rarely more than a few miles from civilization, and the route deliberately takes in towns along the way
- Getting there: The start is a mile from Worthing railway station, but you could join the loop anywhere along the way
Pennine Bridleway, Derbyshire to Cumbria
205 miles, 6,000m, 3-5 nights
Yorkshire, the Peak District and Cumbria offer some of the finest off-road riding and views in England, so this should be a good ‘un. Billed as the longest continuous off-road cycling route in the UK, it’s rightly popular. Not as technical as some of the routes in this list, it still has its share of stones and calf-busting climbs, as it makes its way along the Pennine Hills across open moors, disused railway lines and past old mill towns. Plenty of accommodation options if you want to go luxe, but be sure to book in advance.
- Three words: Moorland, rocks, views
- What bike: Hardtail, or gravel bike with more bouncing and pushing
- How remote: Travels through popular areas in the iconic Pennines, but also wild and exposed, especially further north
- Getting there: Train stations in Wirkworth and Kirkby Stephen
Badger Divide, Scotland
213 miles, 17,400ft, 2-4 nights
Proof that you don’t have to be a singletrack ninja or a hike-a-bike lover to enjoy the best of the Highlands, Stu Allan’s Badger Divide route links a number of existing bike ways to create a very satisfying gravelly line between Inverness and Glasgow.
You’ll wiggle up and down the borders of Loch Ness on the Great Glen Way, reach 770m on the rocky Corrieyairack Pass, and cross the wilderness of Rannoch Moor. You can stay wild overnight, or make the most of the bothies, B&Bs and hostels along the way. Despite a few bumpy stretches and singletrack to keep things interesting, it can comfortably be done on a gravel bike. Comfortably apart from the 17,400ft of climbing… you’ll have to earn the reward of this magnificent route.
If you fancy doing it hell for leather, try The Racing Collective’s ScotDURO event on this route in September.
- Three words: Beautiful, non-technical, hilly
- What bike: Gravel or hardtail
- How remote: It can feel super-bleak if the weather’s bad, but the navigation is mostly very straightforward and there are plenty of options for accommodation
- Getting there: Inverness and Glasgow are very accessible by train and plane. It’s 3-4 hours between them on the train
The Cairngorms Loop, Scotland
186 miles 11,325ft, 3-4 nights
The Cairngorms National Park contains five of Scotland’s six highest peaks and Britain’s largest arctic mountain landscape. No surprise that this rocky, singletrack-heavy bikepacking route is a magnet for adventurers. Classically it’s ridden as an individual time trial (ITT) against the clock, but it also makes for an unforgettable slower tour.
You’ll need to be fit, comfortable in exposed mountain conditions, and ready for some hike-a-bike and river crossings. When the weather closes in, you’ll need to be well prepared too. Preparation is key and there’s a wealth of online accounts, to help you through.
There are a number of MBA bothies along the way, as well as the option to wild camp thanks to Scotland's Land Reform Act. If tackled over five days, the route can be broken up into two bothy overnights, one wild camp, and one youth hostel. You can also divert into Aviemore instead of wild camping, though taking camping kit is a good idea in case bothies are full.
- Three words: Legendary, timeless, exposed
- What bike: MTB - it’s properly rocky in places
- How remote: Very. Reaches 800m elevation. Useful bothies and five top-up towns and villages along the way - but if the weather comes down, you’ll need all your mountain navigation skills
- Getting there: Blair Atholl has a train station, with connections from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness
1218 miles, 90,000ft, 15-30 days
“This is the first time I’ve really questioned why I’m doing this to myself. I was freezing, wet, exhausted, lonely, and I knew I needed to get down into the valley before I could look for somewhere to camp. Each house I rode by made me wish more than anything that I could just go home. I could be warm, dry, and not coated in a layer of mud and grit….
I settled down for a windy and cold night, and that’s exactly what I got. As I closed my eyes I told myself to be proud that I wasn’t giving up, and that tomorrow would be better.” This excerpt from Molly Weaver on Epic Cycles blog gives an insight into the challenges faced on such a huge undertaking.
Another ‘event you can do in your own time’, this truly epic route from the Racing Collective is possibly even more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Molly's evocative account of it swings between one ‘best ever cycling experience’ surpassing another in some of the most stunning landscapes of Britain, then grim hours of despair, and straightforward dull drudgery.
You’ll wind from Cornwall through Wales, Manchester, the Lake District, and up (up and up) to John O’Groats, on pretty much every conceivable surface including bogs and river crossing.
You know you want to do it.
- Three words: Insane, existential, emotional
- What bike: Gravel with 40mm+ tires, or fast hardtail 29er
- How remote: Everything. Boggy moors to the middle of cities
- Getting there: Amazingly, trains are possible - to Penzance, and back down from Wick