30 November 2020
Arguably the most famous waterfall in the Lake District
Arguably the most famous waterfall in the Lake District, Aira Force has everything you need for a perfect day out in the Lakes. ‘Aira’ allegedly comes from the Old Norse words eyrr for ‘gravel bank’ and á, meaning ‘river’. Fors is also a Norse word, commonly meaning ‘waterfall’. The area was landscaped in the late 1700’s as part of the Howard family estate and was used as a pleasure garden, planted with over half a million native and ornamental trees. The arboretum, at the base of the falls, was planted in 1846 with over 200 specimen conifers from all over the world. It’s now one of the best places in the Lake District to see red squirrels along with Dodd Wood in Keswick and Alan Bank in Grasmere.
The most popular way to see the waterfall is the 2.1km circular loop taking around an hour (with lots of photo stops!). Along the trail you’ll spot a ‘wish tree’, a tree trunk in which coins have been embedded for good luck, or to make a wish.
The waterfall trail is suitable for all skill levels, but with an elevation gain of 139m the steps can be a bit steep in places and tricky to navigate when wet. There are good handrails in the steep parts and the paths are well maintained. If opting for one of the longer hikes head to High Force or Gowbarrow Fell for great views or the surrounding area. The Aira Force and Gowbarrow trail is a moderate hike at 7.2km taking around 2 hours.
The National Trust is operating a one-way system at Aira Force since the COVID-19 outbreak meaning you must do the loop. You can opt to do the lower bridge and skip the higher, but I’d recommend doing both to get the best views. You can start to see the falls around half an hour into the walk, 0.5 miles from the car park. There are toilets and a café available to use at the car park. There is also a picnic area with benches and tables if bringing your own snacks. The café is open every day from 10am-5pm serving take away drinks, sandwiches, snacks, and ice cream. Toilets are open from 10am-5pm daily.
Use postcode CA11 0JS for Sat Nav directions. The main car park can get busy, especially at peak times. It’s helpful to know that there are two other car parks that you can use to visit Aira Force; High Cascades and Park Brow car parks, but please note these are cash only. You can also park at Glencoyne car park and take the trail walking to Aira Force. Here you can access the beach and watersport activities.
Aira Force is owned by the National Trust and is free for all members, you just need to validate your parking at the machine. Otherwise Aira Force car park is £5 for 2 hours or £7 for 4 hours. Glencoyne, Park Brow and High Cascades car parks are £4.50 for 2 hours, £6.50 for 4 hours or £7.50 all day. We’d highly recommend joining the National Trust as a member. That way you can save on lots of attractions throughout the Lake District and the rest of the UK, whilst supporting conservation and nature. Everyone needs nature and the calm it brings, so let’s protect it for future generations.
The waterfall itself stands at a height of 150 meters above sea level. One kilometre before entering the lake the beck makes the 20-metre fall known as Aira Force. That’s 65 feet of formidable torrent framed by two beautiful Victorian era bridges. It doesn’t get much more spectacular than that. Standing at the lower bridge you can feel the mist of the waterfall refresh your face. During autumn and winter the heavy rains only improve the spectacle ramping up Aira Force to full force!
Aira Force is without doubt one of the best waterfall walks in the Lake District. If driving from the South Lakes it can be combined with one of the best drives in the Lake District, Kirkstone Pass, as well as nearby attractions like Ullswater, Helvellyn and Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick. Take good shoes, a waterproof and a flask of tea and you can’t go wrong.
Other than the waterfall itself there are lots of walks and hikes around Ullswater, Gowbarrow Fell and the surrounding areas. If you cross the main road in front of the car park there’s a short path leading to Ullswater.
Here there’s a small beach and working pier with boats connecting to Glenridding and Pooley Bridge, see the timetables of the Ullswater Steamers. Cruises take around 20 minutes to Glenridding at £12 per adult, £8 for children.
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