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Hiking Cwm Idwal in Snowdonia National Park

Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about traveling in the UK it’s that you can’t let the weather deter you from getting out and seeing what you want to see, or you just might never see anything. (That goes for most of the places we’ve visited in Europe, too, excluding the Mediterranean. Lucky ducks.) After three years of traveling in this region of the world, I’ve learned to accept that warm, sunny days are usually the exception, and cold, often rainy ones are the rule. And so, while I will likely never embrace this sort of weather misbehavior with open arms, the past three years have taught me how to shake the dreariness off, put my boots on, and go out anyway. Because living life in the rain is always better than not living it at all.

Case in point: When we arrived in North Wales for last year’s late May bank holiday, the sun was out, and with it warmer temperatures. As we walked on a footpath through farms with newborn lambs frolicking through bright green pastures, birds singing in the trees, and the late afternoon’s sun rays warming our backs, I was absolutely, without a doubt positive we had not just walked through any old gate to a well-worn, public footpath, but the gates to heaven itself. The children’s storybook edition. It was one of those rare days where the atmosphere and my own personal desires truly were in sync, and I assure you, it did not go unappreciated.

However, when we woke up the next morning, the previous day’s sun was little more than a memory. It might have been raining, but we couldn’t tell through the fog. It was like the sky had become too tired and fallen overnight to settle in between the cottages and over the empty streets for a good, long rest. Had this been my first trip into the UK, I’d probably have settled back into bed, thinking I’d just wait it out, but this wasn’t my first rodeo, and I knew better than to believe I could win against a British fog in a battle of endurance. And so we went out anyway, bracing ourselves against the cold temperatures the fog had brought with it.

Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

When it comes to mountains, hills, and hiking trails, you’re spoiled for choice in North Wales. Snowdonia National Park has a seemingly endless supply of possibilities for all levels of hikers and walkers, which made choosing how to spend the one day we had for hiking a very difficult decision. We had narrowed it down to a handful of trails appropriate for families and then on the day, given the conditions we’d be hiking in, we chose to go with the hike that looked like it offered the greatest reward for the littlest effort – Cwm Idwal.

Cwm (not a typo – I know, the lack of vowels freaks me out, too) means valley in Welsh. Sandwiched between the Glyderau and Carneddau mountain ranges, Cwm Idwal is an impressive valley in northern Snowdonia with the crystal clear waters of Llyn Idwal at its base and dramatic views of the surrounding area from the top. At only three miles from bottom to top and back again, and over mostly gentle terrain, we figured hiking Cwm Idwal would be relatively easy, fog or not, and we were mostly right.

The beginning of the trail, as we made our way to Llyn Idwal from the carpark near Llyn Ogwen, was mostly over stone steps forming a path that stays almost perfectly even, making the lake accessible to practically anyone who would like to see it. As we walked this path, the side of the cliffs forming the valley rose before us, but how high they actually went was impossible to tell thanks to the fog that, just as I expected, was still stubbornly hanging around.

When we reached the northern end of Llyn Idwal, I had to stand back a moment just to take it all in. From this vantage point, the cwm is its most impressive, I believe. With the lake stretching out before us and the fog-covered cliffs framing it on all three sides, it made for quite the moody scene. And then there was the water itself. Not only could I clearly see down to the base of the lake in front of me, but I could see rock formations under the water clear on the other side of the lake, too. I’m pretty sure we could have launched a penny across the water and still been able to find it later without too much difficulty. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

After taking a few pictures of the lake (and wondering for only the 1,000th time why I haven’t yet bought a wide-angle lens), we turned to the cliffs in front of us for the actual hiking part of our hike. From here, reaching our destination became only marginally more difficult, and the pay-off was easily worth it.

Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

We took the route to the top of Cwm Idwal that begins on the eastern side of the lake. The path was fairly precise, and with only one minor deviation that had us crossing through a stream and soaking ourselves pretty thoroughly in the process, we made it nearly to the top of Cwm Idwal with ease. Once we reached the bottom of the Devil’s Kitchen, we decided not to continue climbing any higher. We were hiking in the clouds at this point and visibility of the surrounding area wasn’t going to be any clearer from up top than it was where we already were. (The Devil’s Kitchen is so named due to its physical resemblance to a chimney and the way it can look like smoke is coming out when clouds form above it just right, like the devil is cooking – clever!)

Despite the fog blocking our view of pretty much everything outside the valley, I was still blown away by the sight before us. The scenery reminded me so much of Scotland, where we’d been just a few weeks before, and it felt really good to be back outside again. (Fresh air and open, uncrowded spaces are something of a novelty to us now – ha!) I’m not sure if it was weather keeping people away or simply the time of year, but after we left Llyn Idwal, we were pretty much the only people on the path (except for a few climbers on the Idwal Slabs – so scary!). We sat up here alone, underneath the cover of some rocks, for a good while just enjoying the view, until the misty rain we’d been dealing with all day began to turn into a really heavy one.

Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Apparently, even though living in the UK has taught us never to let the weather get us down, we still have yet to learn the second most important rule about living in the UK – never leave home without your umbrella! The parts of us that weren’t drenched from our little stream mishap earlier certainly were by the time we made it back to the base of Cwm Idwal again.

We took a different route down that took us to the western side of the lake this time, and I’m not sure if we strayed off this path or what, but we had a lot more difficulty getting down than we did going up. The path was far less defined and there was a lot of scrambling over rocks – not an easy task when your jeans are sticking to your legs like they’ve been super-glued on! When we reached the bottom of the valley, the fog was even lower to the ground than it had been when we were in the same spot earlier. We could hardly see across the lake anymore, so we felt really lucky we’d started the hike when we did.

The only casualties of the day were a few wet clothes and two cameras that needed a serious drying out afterwards – a small price to pay for getting to see such a stunning piece of the Welsh landscape. If you’re interested in the specific route we followed at Cwm Idwal, you can find that here. There are also extensions to this walk that take in some other pretty stunning landscapes in the area, so if you’ve got more than a couple hours to hike, that might be something worth doing. For this particular route of Cwm Idwal, allow at least 2.5 hours from start to finish. Note: There is a paid parking lot at the beginning of the route, but if you drive a little further past that one, you’ll find a place where you can park along the road for no charge, making this outing completely free!

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Hiking Cwm Idwal In Snowdonia National Park, Wales

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  • Eppie Shepherd
    May 16, 2016 at 12:35 PM

    That fog is just stunning, you’ve captured it beautifully. My boyfriend’s family go to a nearby town every year and I would love to hike around Snowdonia. A wonderful read.

    • Sarah Shumate
      May 16, 2016 at 6:14 PM

      Thank you for the compliments! Snowdonia is absolutely gorgeous. Very hard to take a bad picture there. :) Next time time the bf’s family heads up there, you should tag along!

  • Dannielle @ Chicadeedee
    May 15, 2016 at 1:53 PM

    I can’t wait until I can explore more of Wales, it’s absolutely stunning. You got some amazing photos as well. I moved to the wrong country because I HATE the rain, but I’ve learned to dress properly and embrace it, and always keep a poncho in the car.

  • rorybore
    May 1, 2016 at 10:38 PM

    The same could be said about Canadian weather – if you wanted for it to warm up, you’d only get 2 months outside per year. So out you go no matter. The fog sure makes for gorgeous photos though. You’ve inspired me to find some new hiking trails around my little corner of the world. It’s not very likely to look like this, but its that we get out that matters. And I need to see something New.

    • Sarah Shumate
      May 2, 2016 at 11:35 AM

      Ha! I bet! Everyone would be hermits 10 months out of the year if they tried to avoid the cold in Canada! I suppose you get used to it. I haven’t yet adapted to feeling comfortable outside in the cold, but I’ve definitely adjusted to the rain!

  • Mandy Southgate
    May 1, 2016 at 9:22 PM

    Oh, I’m so proud of you! When we visited Snowdonia, we interpreted the many gloomy days as book, sock and tea days! I love your photos.

    • Sarah Shumate
      May 2, 2016 at 11:33 AM

      Well, I certainly do my fair share of that in London. But if I’ve got the option to go outside and climb a hill, I’m going to do it, regardless of the weather. :)

  • April @ aprileveryday
    April 29, 2016 at 8:31 PM

    I really need to get over my dislike of any kind of weather other than pure sunshine haha! I will plan a day out, wake up and find that it’s cloudy with a really dark cloud looming over and that’s the end of that adventure! Your photos are stunning, and I actually really like how the cloudy mist created such a moody look! Maybe I should get out more in the bad weather haha!

    • Sarah Shumate
      May 1, 2016 at 10:27 AM

      I’m with you. I love sunny days so much more than rainy ones, but there’s beauty in days like this, too. Especially if you’re surrounded by beautiful scenery. Rainy days in the city definitely don’t have the same appeal for me. :)

  • Jenn
    April 28, 2016 at 8:52 PM

    Gorgeous! And I think the gloomy weather really fits the area!

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 29, 2016 at 1:23 PM

      Totally does! Of course I love a blue sky day as much as the next person, but seeing the fog resting on top of the hills is pretty incredible, too!

  • Rosie | eatreadglam
    April 28, 2016 at 9:17 AM

    Beautiful photos, and you’re absolutely right – we don’t let the weather stop us doing much in Britain. After all, we love to talk about the weather so the thought of getting to talk about how we battled on through rain excites us.

    My Mum and I climbed Snowdonia last October, and we had beautiful sunshine 3/4 of the way up, and then the rest of the day ended up looking very much like your photos. I think it jut made it look more beautiful and mystical.

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 29, 2016 at 1:20 PM

      We spend an unusual amount of time discussing the weather in the southern United States, too, so that was a custom I was plenty used to when I moved here. :)

      Thanks so much for the compliment on my photos! I’m so happy you were able to climb Snowdonia, and a little jealous, too. Ha! I bet it was incredible to reach the peak and be surrounded by the clouds!

  • Amy | Waves + Roots
    April 27, 2016 at 2:42 PM

    Just beautiful, Sarah ☺️ I’m so glad you’ve decided to continue your blog and share all these amazing photos. You are one very talented photographer (and writer!) and I truly enjoy seeing your travels through your eyes.
    (P.S. And if you ever get the urge to share a few of your photography/editing tips, please DO! A girl could use some help over here, lol ?)

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 29, 2016 at 1:22 PM

      That is such a fab compliment, Amy. Thank you! Ugh…I don’t know any photography/editing tips. I feel like half the time it’s just luck and the other half I had to spend an hour trying to get just one shot to turn out right, so I’m prob not the person to be asking for tips. ;) One of these days I’m going to book myself into some classes so I can figure out what the heck I’m doing.

      • Amy | Waves + Roots
        April 29, 2016 at 2:03 PM

        Ha! We’re in the same boat, then ;) I took a few classes several years ago, but I think I’ve learned the most just by trial and error… Lots and lots of error. And YouTube.

  • Cynthia
    April 27, 2016 at 5:42 PM

    Looks like a complete dream! I am looking forward to the day I can visit (and hike!) Wales :))