Rules for wild camping in the Lake District
To my mind the best way to see the fells is by wild camping in them. The first advantage is that you virtually get them to yourself. Secondly you have the time to explore, something that few fellwalkers take time to do. And finally wild camping makes it much easier to take dawn and dusk photographs of the Lake District as all you have to do is fall out of your tent to see a great view. Well, that’s the theory although it doesn’t always work out that way!
So where to camp?
Before I list out wild camping spots I have used, a quick word about the legalities of wild camping in England. According to the letter of the law you should get the landowners permission before wild camping in the Lake District. However most people don’t as it is tolerated providing a few basic rules are followed. These are laid out on the LDNPA’s wild camping webpage and they are well worth a quick read.
I think the most important rule of wild camping is this: ‘leave the campsite as you would want to find it’. Before leaving in the morning always make sure that the only visible sign that you were ever there is the flattened bit of grass on which your tent was pitched. Abide by that rule and all wild campers will be happy campers.
One final point: as I carry all my photography kit into the fells I need to keep it dry while experiencing the Lakeland weather. For this reason I use a small tent, not a bivvy bag which does limit my options somewhat but not by much. A lot of the photos resulting from these camping trips can be seen in my Lake District photo collection which I like to think justifies the extra effort.
Anyway this article is about places to camp so let’s crack on with it.
Lake District wild camping locations
It would be nigh on impossible to rank the camping spots in order of preference as there are many other factors that contribute to how enjoyable a night in the fells is, e.g. the weather, the route taken to get there and my general state of mind! So to keep it simple I’ll stick to listing them in alphabetical order. To make navigation easier following is a list of links to each location in the article:
- • Angle Tarn (Langdale)
- • Angle Tarn (Patterdale)
- • Blencathra
- • Boredale Hause
- • Catbells
- • Codale Tarn
- • Dale Head
- • Easedale Tarn
- • Esk Hause
- • Esk Pike
- • Fleetwith Pike
- • Great End
- • Great Knott
- • Haystacks (Innominate Tarn)
- • High Street
- • Lingmoor Fell
- • Maiden Moor
- • Sergeant Man
- • Sprinkling Tarn
- • Stickle Tarn
- • Small Water Tarn
- • Styhead Tarn
Angle Tarn (Langdale)
There is more than one Angle Tarn in the Lakes. This Angle Tarn is the one overlooked by Bow Fell summit’s northern face at the head of Great Langdale. It is a well known and very popular wild camping spot. As a result there are often campers here, especially during the summer.
There are a few places by the tarn where a tent can be pitched so, unless its very busy, there should be room for another. However I have never camped on the tarn’s shores, the reason being the number of cascades of water tumbling off Bow Fell’s crags into the tarn. I know the constant sound of running water would result in a few calls of nature during the night and I’d not get a good night’s sleep (it’s an age thing!). Instead I camp away from the tarn, for example along the track leading behind Rossett Pike, where it is nice and quiet (wind permitting) and I can sleep right through.
Pitch near Angle Tarn under a cloud covered Esk Pike
Angle Tarn (Patterdale)
Another Angle Tarn: this one is the tarn overlooked by Angletarn Pikes above Patterdale. Alfred Wainright was a big fan saying that ‘in scenic values it ranks amongst the best of Lakeland Tarns.’ High praise indeed and well deserved.
The high plateau between the twin peaks of Angletarn Pikes and Brock Crags offers many places on which to pitch a tent. In summer you’ll rarely find the shores of the tarn free of tents but wander away from the tarn and there are plenty of options.
The above photo was taken from Brock Crags in winter, my off season for wild camping. However it does show how large the area between Angletarn Pikes (on the far side of Angle Tarn) and Brock Crags is. Plenty of space on which to camp. These include pitches beside the tarn, on Angletarn Pikes, on the western side of Buck Crags, on Cat Crag and near Brock Crags, all overlooking the tarn.
In my humble opinion the best pitches are by Angle Tarn itself though.
To enjoy a night’s wild camping near any fell summit requires a certain amount of good luck, primarily that the weather holds. For the mostpart the forecast I’ve read before a night out is roughly right and I have fallen lucky. This was definitely the case when I wild camped on Blencathra.
The southern slopes of Blencathra are steep and obviously no place to pitch a tent, especially if you have a habit of rolling over in your sleep!
To the north though the slope’s gradient is more gentle and there are many choices of where to pitch.
And then there is the summit itself where the ground is very hard meaning its not the most comfortable night’s sleep. However the dawn views more than make up for this!
Just before dawn on Blencathra
Boredale Hause is the high pass between Patterdale and Boredale, the low point in the ridge between Place Fell and Angletarn Pikes. This isn’t really a place I ever had in mind to camp as I’ve just seen it as a means to get somewhere else as many paths cross here.
However in 2013 a group of friends thought it would be a good place to get some dark skies and watch the ‘spectacular’ Lyrid meteor shower. Sadly thanks to cloud cover the meteor shower was just that – a shower. On that particular night the short climb from Boredale Hause to the summit of Place Fell to watch dawn more than made up for that though!
Anyway, as a place to camp it was fine. The large grassy area of the hause offers plenty of room on which to put a tent. And as a bonus its only a short climb from Patterdale village.
Catbells is a fell I have often climbed to watch dawn as its summit is relatively close to civilisation and easy to get to. As with any dawn trip it involves getting up damn early though!
In an effort to give myself a bit of a lie-in I did camp there once, just to the south of the summit on the grassy plateau of Mart Bield.
It wasn’t a bad place to camp. On the downside it is a popular dawn vantage point so you run the risk of getting woken up early. I camped there in June and was getting up before dawn so that wasn’t an issue though.
The above photo was taken before 5am and hardly surprisingly there was no one else in sight.
Codale Tarn is a seldom visited tarn at the head of Easedale. Its rarely visited as its off the main path and a bit of a hike from anywhere.
On the night I ended up camping there I had actually planned to camp near Sergeant Man. However on the climb up, as I walked past the tents already pitched at Easedale Tarn, I saw some nasty looking clouds ahead over the Langdale Fells. Also the wind was picking up – this was no night to camp on the fell tops!
A quick look at my map and the plan soon changed: Codale Tarn was to be my target for the night.
There is plenty of ground east of the tarn that will take a tent. And there’s no need to worry about anyone else being there. Very few ever visit Codale Tarn, even though it is only five minutes off the main path.
All in all not a bad place to camp, great if solitude is what you’re after.
Codale Tarn from the main Easedale path
Dale Head at the head of the Newlands Valley is a very exposed peak, something that becomes very obvious when actually camping there. For that reason a prerequisite of camping here is that there is little or no wind in my opinion.
I found two places to camp both very close to the trig point on the summit. The first is virtually next to the summit itself where there is a patch of flat grass. There is also a patch of thicker grass a few yards to the west (towards Hindscarth). I chose the latter of these options when I spent a night here.
My tent with the summit of Dale Head in the background
This is a very popular spot for wild camping, not very surprising really as its only an easy two mile walk from Grasmere with only one short climb to reach it. The walk can easily be done in less than an hour.
The obvious place to pitch a tent is on the grassy area next to the large boulder on the tarn shore. You might have to turn up early to reserve this spot though, especially at weekends in summer. If that pitch is taken there are other places to camp near the tarn but they’re not as good.
The only real drawback I’ve found to Easedale Tarn is the lack of any great long distance views. Due to its situation the sun sinks below the surrounding crags well before sunset and the Great Rigg ridge prevents a clear view of sunrise.
Even so, its one to tick off the list and a sheltered, safe option.
Tent pitched near the big boulder on Easedale Tarn’s shore
I once camped on Esk Hause as the weather closed in on my way up to my planned destination on the Scafell ridge. Whereas Esk Hause is very exposed, its much less exposed than on the very top of England!
On the evening in question I did consider heading back down to Sprinkling Tarn but in the end I didn’t. My tent copes very well in wind so I wasn’t too worried.
I ended up sleeping near the foot of Esk Pike’s crags and it ended up being reasonably comfy if a bit hard. No one else was there but even if there were others it wouldn’t have been an issue. Esk Hause is a broad mountain pass with plenty of space.
Sadly the weather didn’t play ball and a dawn climb to the summit of Esk Pike was rewarded with views of nothing but cloud. In fact it was only when I was part way down Grains Gill that I could see anything at all.
Despite this I want to camp up there again. With clear skies, camping at Esk Hause means you’re close to a number of great vantage points. All that is needed is some good weather!.
For now the above photo will have to suffice although this was taken on a later camping trip up Esk Pike. The photo shows space on either side of the path that a tent can be pitched on.
Esk Pike is a big, rocky fell with a very convenient patch of rock-free grass under the northern side of its summit crag. The patch in question is quite mossy too so its probably best after a dry spell.
My tent very conveniently close to the summit crag of Esk Pike
I didn’t spend much time on the Ore Gap side of Esk Pike but a brief reccy didn’t reveal anywhere free of rocks so I suspect pitching a tent on that side is impossible.
Sunset views in summer are limited from here due to the nearby taller Scafell ridge but dawn looks more promising. I wouldn’t know for sure though as the fells were covered in cloud at dawn on my camping trip on Esk Pike.
On my way to camp at Innominate Tarn one evening I climbed Fleetwith Pike first. At the summit I noticed there was room for one small tent at the top.
After mulling over my options I decided to change plans and pitched my tent right next to the trig point.
That evening I sat outside my tent wondering if I had made the right choice. While watching a gorgeous sunset at the other end of the Buttermere Valley I realised I had.
As a footnote the following morning I wandered over to Innominate Tarn to watch dawn and found three or four tents there. Haystacks is a great location (see below) and understandably popular but Fleetwith Pike was much the better option on that night.
The night I spent wild camping on Great End was unplanned to say the least. I was actually heading further along the Scafell ridge towards Scafell Pike summit when I thought I’d take a detour to Great End. It was only when there that I noticed a small grassy area on the summit that was just big enough for a single tent. That was me sorted for the night. And what a night!
From the experience I can say that Great End is a fantastic place to camp when the skies are clear and the wind is non-existent. Had the wind picked up I suspect I’d have beaten a hasty retreat down to Esk Hause during the night. Fortunately I didn’t have to.
The views for both sunset and sunrise are superb from this vantage point: no great surprise as its one of the highest peaks in The Lakes.
Great Knott is on the ridge overlooking Oxendale between Pike of Blisco and Crinkle Crags in the Langdale Fells.
On the evening I pitched my tent there I was intending to camp higher up but strong winds scotched that plan. Having retreated back downhill at dusk I found an area next to the grassy trod leading to the summit of Great Knott that proved to be a good alternative.
My tent pitched next to the path leading to Great Knott’s summit crag (with silhouetted sheep)
After a comfortable night’s sleep it was only a short walk from my tent to the summit to watch dawn. And it turns out that the dawn view of Crinkle Crags and Bow Fell from Great Knott is superb.
Haystacks (Innominate Tarn)
What to say of Haystacks? Suffice it to say that it is the place I have wild camped more than any other. However there’s probably a lot of people can say that too as it is very popular!
I have been lucky enough to have the entire place to myself in the past but that is rare. During summer weekends it can get pretty crowded so don’t expect to be alone and don’t turn up just before sunset as you may struggle to get a decent pitch.
Tents on the shore of Innominate Tarn at dawn in summer
There are numerous places amongst the crags on the summit plateau where a tent can be pitched, most within spitting distance of Innominate Tarn. The spongy ground around the tarn can get very wet after rain plus there can be plenty of midges if the wind is low. However there are other pitches further away should either of those be the case.
My best advice is to steer clear during summer weekends though. Try camping there midweek outside the summer months and you may be lucky enough to have the place to yourself as I did on a stormy night on Haystacks.
The High Street ridge
In short High Street ridge has plenty of space for plenty of tents. From The Knott in the north down to Thornthwaite Beacon at the ridge’s southern end, the wild camper is spoilt for choice on where to pitch a tent.
As a result I have camped on High Street a number of times but never in the same spot twice.
The ridge’s high point is marked by a trig point on the Mardale side of the main path. There is a small patch of flat ground very close to the it which makes a great camping location. The following photograph was the best dawn photo I took after that night out!
Wild camp on High Street
On another occasion I camped at the southern end of the ridge, close to Thornthwaite Crag which overlooks the head of the Troutbeck valley. I was a bit luckier with the weather this time and took this photo looking towards Ill Bell overlooking the Kentmere Valley.
And then there was the time I camped further north on Rampsgill Head overlooking Martindale. That was a wonderful dawn!
The summit of the high street ridge from Rampsgill Head
I’m sure I’ll camp on High Street again but probably in another new spot.
Lingmoor Fell is just about the best viewpoint for the Langdale Pikes in my humble opinion, especially in August when the heather is in flower. Plus it has room for a couple of very small tents under the summit crag.
My camping experiences on Lingmoor Fell have been very contrasting. One night has to go down as the wettest night’s camping I have ever experienced. I found it hard to sleep due to the noise of the water thundering down Stickle Ghyll on the other side of Great Langdale. And that was over 1.5 miles away! Fortunately my tent did its job and I managed to stay dry. I think I got some sleep too but not much.
A more recent camping trip saw me pitch my tent very late one summer’s evening near to the summit. Waking up to this view more than made up for any previous soakings.
I guess this is why I love wild camping so much. If the weather was predictable and I only ever went camping when the forecast was good I would take these experiences for granted. It a sort of ‘pleasure and the pain’ thing – you can’t have one without the other. Anyway, I digress. Next!
Maiden Moor is Catbell’s loftier neighbour on the Newlands Horseshoe ridge. Being a bit further away from civilisation it has less passing traffic than Catbells which is a plus.
Whereas there is only a small area right next to the rocky summit on which to pitch a tent its unlikely anyone else will be camping here.
It is easy to get to too, especially from Little Town in the Newlands Valley.
It is possible to pitch a tent on the flat area of grass between the summit crag of Sergeant Man and an unnamed tarn. The area is very exposed tough so its best to pick a still night if any sleep is wanted. I was lucky enough to pick such a night in June 2018 and had a great wild camp on Sergeant Man.
The flat area of grass under the summit crag of Sergeant Man
Small Water Tarn
Small Water under Harter Fell at the head of Mardale is a popular spot to camp, even though it is on the edge of the National Park away from the busier valleys.
If climbing from Mardale Head, there is an area of grass on the left side of the tarn that has its own little personal ‘beach’. There is also a larger area to the right as well, amongst the rough ground north of the tarn.
There have been occasions when I’ve intended to camp here but found it full, normally at weekends in summer. On such occasions I carry on up Nan Bield Pass and camp on High Street. Its always good to have a backup plan.
Sprinkling Tarn on Seathwaite Fell below Great End crag is a very well known and popular place to wild camp in the Lake District. Its rare you’ll have the place to yourself, the most popular pitches being close to the tarn’s shore. However there are plenty of nearby nooks and crannies so you can always find some peace and quiet. And its a gorgeous tarn with plenty of crags to explore.
Tents pitched around the shore of Sprinkling Tarn
Sprinkling Tarn above Langdale is one of the most popular wild camping spots in the Lakes. This is not really surprising given that its in one of the most popular areas for walking and its less than an hour’s walk from the valley. As a result of this you’ll rarely have the place to yourself, especially during the summer.
I managed to avoid the crowds when I last camped there by picking a night when a storm was travelling through the area. The trade-off was that I barely got a wink of sleep!
Wild camping at Stickle Tarn
The pitch in the photo is very close to the path leading round the tarn to the foot of Jake’s Rake. Numerous alternatives are available, notably near where Stickle Tarn feeds Stickle Ghyll.
Like nearby Sprinkling Tarn, Styhead Tarn is a popular wild camping spot. The tarn might have less room for camping and occupy a less dramatic situation but I’ve had some good times here. It’s popular for a reason.
There is room for a tent or two at the northern end of the tarn, just off the main path leading down into Borrowdale. The following photo was taken from this end of the tarn.
Tents at Styhead Tarn
However there is more space is at the southern, far end nearest to Wasdale. Some partly submerged stepping stones lead through a marshy area to a couple of grassy areas that are perfect for wild camping. If you look closely some tents can be seen on this area.
The weather isn’t always as good up here as I know all to well after an interesting night camping at Styhead Tarn!
Other places to wild camp in the Lakes
This list is by no means complete, it is a list based on my personal experiences. As time goes on I’ll add new locations to keep it up to date.
Should you, the reader, have any recommendations for other Lake District wild camping locations then please leave a comment below or send me an email.
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