Backpacking and hostels in the Lake District

Outdoor people

The Lake District is a Mecca for climbers, hikers, walkers and other outdoors people. Climbs and walks can be found of all levels of difficulty and for all levels of experience within the relatively small, compact but incredibly beautiful area of the Lakes and the National Park.

Footpaths are marked both on maps and on the ground in most cases. Some are so well used that they are causing erosion problems.

A major tourist centre, Ambleside, in particular, is in tune with backpackers and hikers.

It is well provided with outdoor shops that supply waterproof gear, boots, rucsacs, camping equipment and so on. There is a range of accommodation along with shops, restaurants and cafes.

There are two hostels near Ambleside.

YHA (Youth Hostel Association) Ambleside is about a mile south of Waterhead and on the lake itself so is also a popular base for watersports.

Ambleside Backpackers is an independent hostel, run by its owners. It is slightly more expensive and has received a slightly higher customer satisfaction rating, although both hostels receive ratings in the 80’s.

Located beside a range of fells, the town suits both seasoned climbers and beginners. Routes along Loughrigg and Stock Ghyll Force are known for scenic beauty. Loughrigg leads on to Grasmere through steep hills, woodland and farms.

Several classic hike circuits start from Ambleside such as the 16km Fairfield Horseshoe.

The Golden Rule

Certain pubs go out of their way to attract backpackers and hikers. The Golden Rule in Smithy Brow, Ambleside, is a great real ale pub for walkers, climbers and paragliders.

The landlord is himself a paragliding instructor.

Other YHA hostels

There are other YHA hostels at Coniston Holly How, Derwentwater, Hawkshead, Patterdale, Grasmere, Keswick and Windermere. The buildings vary from a 200 year old mansion at Derwentwater to the ‘bright, retro makeover’ at the ‘unique 1970s’ building at Patterdale, near Ullswater.

Independent hostels

Some of the independent hostels will be a little cheaper and some will be dearer. Rooms vary from twins to dormitories for 6, 8 or even 10 persons. YHA Derwentwater, two miles south of another backpacker’s favourite, Keswick, has a 22 bed male dorm!

Some hostels will have en suite bathroom facilities which, like the smaller rooms, cost extra.

Sometimes a light breakfast is included in the price. Some independent hostels will allow you to put up a tent on their land and use the hostel facilities but always check in advance.

Linen, kitchens and facilities

Bed linen is usually provided but not towels. Hostels normally have a self-catering guest kitchen and a common room. Many will have internet access, secure luggage storage and parking spaces.

Some may be able to provide a cafe/restaurant on the premises or nearby and extras like bike storage, a picnic/barbeque area and even currency exchange.


Denton House is a purpose built independent hostel and outdoor centre in Keswick.

The hostel was designed for group use so has plenty of hot water for showers, central heating, a commercial kitchen, a large dining room and solid bunk beds.

It now also welcomes individuals, having upgraded its facilities. The outdoor centre can provide activities for groups of all ages.

It has storage for kayaks and bikes and there is nearby access to the River Greta. Qualified instructors are available to provide advice as well as to run trips and help organise expeditions.

In contrast, the Grasmere Independent Hostel is a small hostel situated on a farm.

The Coast to Coast (C2C) footpath goes right through the farm. A pub with good bar meals is 300 yards down the road.

This four-star graded hostel has en-suite bedrooms, lockers, bedside lights, a coin operated sauna, commercial laundry, drying room, dining room and two self-catering kitchens with microwaves, fridges and toasters. The common room has a large TV; there is lockable bike/luggage store, private parking and resident proprietors.

Camping Barns and Bunkhouses

Some hostels are called Camping Barns or Bunkhouses. They would tend to have less facilities, but they are cheaper!

The Sticklebarn Inn Bunkhouse for example, is situated at the foot of the famous Langdale Pikes, seven miles north west of Ambleside. It is privately owned. The bunkhouse has no common room or self-catering facilities but meals are provided in the pub between specified times.

There is live music every weekend from March to the end of October.

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