Despite the cooler weather, the autumn and winter seasons provide picturesque views over the tors, commons and valleys making it an ideal time to explore the trails that meander around the park. Find out about Visit Dartmoor’s tips for walking in colder climates, the best walks in the National Park, and how to camp at one of the Park's campsites in comfort as the temperatures drop.
Plan Your Visit Ahead Of Time
As autumn hits the park, the weather becomes more and more unpredictable. This means there are extra opportunities for magnificent early evening sunsets and at times, a chance to see beautiful snow-capped hills, but it also means you need to be a bit savvier about your visit and plan ahead.
During the cooler months, many of Dartmoor’s campsites remain open and the lay of the land meaning most walks are nearly all accessible to hikers. Dartmoor can, however, be challenging to navigate, especially in poor weather conditions or when visibility is limited, so plan carefully, familiarise yourself with the area in advance, be proficient with a map and brush up on navigational tools including a compass, and identify any potential hazards or steep terrain.
Naturally, with fewer hours of daylight in the winter months, visitors would do well to set off a little earlier to maximise their walks. Planning a walk with an outdoor app on your mobile phone is great for those new to hiking and for offering suggestions for the seasoned rambler. Being able to track your time and distance is crucial to avoid walking in the dark and getting lost. One of several signed-walking routes that’s with visitors is the Wray Valley Trail which follows the line of the old railway, linking Bovey Tracey to Moretonhampstead. Or instead, visitors may wish to take part in one of the guided tours on offer.
Get The Right Kit
Dartmoor’s weather can change quickly, and the colder months require kit to match. From clothing, to camping equipment, to winter hiking boots, visitors to the National Park in winter would do well to invest in the right kit. Variable conditions of a winter hike mean layers are important. Understanding a good layering system is key for comfort outdoors; having multiple layers of kit to keep you warm, dry, and protected. Base layers next to your skin should manage moisture, with fleece mid-layers providing insulation, and a protective outer layer to create a barrier from the elements. Footwear should not be seen as an afterthought, particularly in winter. This can be a very personal choice and so it is always best to get expert advice from an outdoor clothing store before choosing yours. For winter, it is also worth investing in a headtorch and keeping it fully charged.
Camping from October onwards can be very different from the summer months, even on the fully equipped campsites at the park. A storm-proof tent designed for wet weather and high winds is a must. Sleeping bags that are said to be ‘three season’ are essential for a restful night’s sleep, with mummy-shaped bags offering more warmth due to the close-fitting design. A pair of warm, insulated Montane Slippers also go down a treat on chilly mornings and evenings back at camp.
Stock Up On Supplies
Fuel your days with good food and a great breakfast for the most enjoyable experience. Campsite meals have come a long way since the 90s, with brands now offering vegan and gluten-free options. Julia Rutland’s ‘On a Stick Cookbook’ offers 50 interesting recipes for things you can cook over a campsite fire (please note – no open fires on the moor) Pack plenty of snacks for the day; nuts, seeds, and dried fruit are easy to pack, light to carry, and can be grazed on while out on the trail.
Regular re-fuelling helps to stabilise energy levels to keep you walking for longer so you can get the most out of the experience. Planning a walk with pit-stops at cafes and pubs is also advised for newbie hikers who wish to explore more without carrying too much weight.
The more interesting conditions that come with cold weather camping and hiking can also bring additional challenges. Even with a plan in place, check the weather before you head out. Be prepared to change your plans and head back if the forecast looks to be too challenging for you and your fellow hikers. Before setting off, it may be useful to have a look into the winter skills courses that are available.
Basic first aid, map reading, and compass navigational skills are good tools to have all year around and are particularly important as the cold weather sets in. Having this knowledge may prove crucial, especially in places where phone signal may drop out. Finally, always make someone aware of your plans with an estimated time of return just in case you do run into difficulties along the way.
Explore and Have Fun
Dartmoor is about more than the landscape; the colder months offer the perfect opportunity to explore some of the hidden gems of the park, taking in its rich history and heritage. Remnants of the past can be found across the moorland, from stone circles and tombs to ancient villages. In autumn, it is great to pick a site as a destination or see if you can tick off a few spots along one walk.
The iconic Dartmoor ponies also thrive in harsh weather conditions and are very adept at finding shelter and vegetation when needed. This makes the winter months a perfect time to look out for them as visitors cross the moor. If you find that there are days when the weather is just not on your side, there are plenty of attractions across the park to discover, with numerous galleries, creative studios, and heritage centres scattered across Dartmoor National Park to keep you entertained.
Start planning your trip
To find out more about Dartmoor National Park and to plan your next visit, head over to the Official Dartmoor Tourism website at Visit Dartmoor. Or for more ideas to get outside this season, take a look at #TeamMontane’s favourite off-the-beaten-track hikes across the UK.