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Difficulty

Hard

Duration

5h 30min

Distance

13.2km

Elevation

1107m

Watkin Path: An Old Route Up Old Rocks

A popular but demanding hike to the top of Snowdon. The Watkin Path starts at the lowest elevation of the six main Snowdon routes meaning you’ve got the most climbing to do. As a reward for your efforts, you get one of the most picturesque of all the climbs.

The Watkin Path also has the enduring honour of being the oldest designated “footpath” in Britain. First opened in person by Prime Minister Willam Gladstone in 1892. Look out for the rock bearing his name on the early stage of the climb.

It starts gently with a stroll through beautiful woodland which means when the real climb kicks in, it kicks hard like an old slate mine mule. Get ready, the Watkin Path has a mean finish.

Planning Your Own Walk – Snowdon Watkin Path Itinerary

Today was a good day. I’m finally completing the 6th main route up to Snowdon.

This now means in less than six months I’ve stood atop Snowdon 7 times, I must be an official Snowdon expert by now, right?

Not bad considering six months ago I had never even seen the big Welsh hill with my own eyes.

The other six summits I’d completed during a month of hardcore leg-burning training for an almost triumphant Three Peaks challenge. The Watkin Path was the only one I hadn’t attempted and this omission has bothered me since. Like a jigsaw with a piece missing.

So when my little brother hit me up saying he wanted a break from his squawking kids and would like some fresh air I pitched the idea of a hike up Snowdon and he hopped on board.

Where to Park: Nant Gwynant Car Park

The start point is easy to find if you’re using the AllTrails app. It’s easy whatever you’re using, even old-fashioned paper maps, as the hike kicks off from the Nant Gwynant pay and display car park on the A498 a little south of the village of the same name.

This spot is also known as the Pont Bethania car park as it sits next to the pretty stone Pont Bethina bridge.

The small car park is cosy enough, which was fine as at 9 am on a random Tuesday in October it was empty. But I can imagine it will fill up very quickly in the peak climbing days of Summer. So maybe plan to arrive super early or make use of the brilliant Sherpa’r Wyddfa bus service.

There’s a decent toilet block which is good to know for pre or post-hike deposits. But unlike the Pen Y Pass or the Llanberis Path car parks, there are no cafes. So load up on Nik Naks or Tesco Meal Deals before you arrive.

Mike and his brother on their Watkin Path hiking tourBeard brothers walking Britain’s oldest designated footpath.

Route Description: My Snowdon Watkin Path Experience 

Blue Skies and Woody Starts

We took the obligatory selfie by the Llwybr Watkin Path sign and headed off up the stone steps into the woods to start our adventure.

It was one of those crispy sharp blue sky October days. Perfect hiking weather.

Or at least it was at ground level. I know Snowdon well enough by now to know while the car park is chilled out there might be a full-on hardcore weather rave at the peak.

But no worries, we were prepared for all eventualities. So we were going to enjoy the clear skies for as long as they lasted.

And the start of the path is very easy to enjoy indeed. You get going through a flat wooded area. Add to this the early morning sun casting beautiful shadow patterns and you’re in hiking heaven.

Mike's little bro walking the Watkins PathLook at Little Bro go, I taught him how to walk like that.

The map shows a National Trust campsite at a hill farm called Hafod y Llan close to here. If you’re into a bit of tent action this could be a great option to spend the night before taking on the climb.

Personally, now I’m of an age where there’s a little grey creeping into my beard. I prefer a roof over my head.

Waterfalls on the Agon Illan river

Waterfalls: The Agon Illan River

After a little up and down gully, the gradient increases a touch as you cross a series of mini waterfalls.

Don’t worry the waterfalls are going to get much splashier and more impressive quite soon when you leave the wooded area and the path starts to follow the Agon Ilan River.

For now, just enjoy the babbling brook experience.

Another few hundred metres you’ll reach a bend in the path and should catch sight of Cwm Llan waterfall to your right. A succession of falls and pools spread over ¼ mile. I told you things would get splashier. Pretty right?

The Cwm Llan poolsDown the valley.

The Cwm Llan pools are quite popular in the summer months but today it was just us.

A wee slate bridge going across the Afon Llan RiverA wee slate bridge going across the Afon Llan River.

Empty Walls: Ruined Buildings to Explore

Shortly after the path left the wooded area, it began to hug closer to the river and the scenery of Snowdon’s southern slopes started to get much more impressive and expansive.

We left the official Watkin Path for a few moments to hop across the river on some giant stepping stones to explore some fun-looking ruins. This may have been the ruins of the old copper mine crushing mill I’d read about but I’m not a ruin expert so apologies if I’ve completely made this bit up.

Mike's bro jumping across the riverMan of action my little bro. Look at him leap, agile like the mighty salmon.

The ruin of the old Crushing MillPotentially the ruin of the old Crushing Mill.

Shortly after this you will see a line of slate made into a fence and come past the ruin of a large old house, this is Plas Cwm Llan. This was once the sizable home of the manager of South Snowdon Slate Quarry.

The quarry itself you will come to shortly as you skirt the Craig Ddu. But first, you will come across a little bit of British hiking history.

A beautiful nature on the Watkins Path

Gladstone Rock

Shortly after Plas Cwm Lln, you will come to the boulder with a noticeable plaque. To be honest it’s almost impossible to miss.

It was here that the Prime Minister William Gladstone addressed 2,000 people in 1892. Aged 83 at the time you gotta give him a bit of credit for getting to the top of the rock let alone walking up this high. Prime Ministers were tougher back then.

The day after the speech the PM even took off in an attempt to reach the summit before the mist drove him back. What a chap. I’m sure Rishi Sunak would’ve caught a private helicopter.

The speech was arranged by the National Park Authority and the Ramblers’ Association. It seemed to focus on justice for Wales and thanked the Welsh people for their strong support of the Liberal Party. More importantly, it officially marked the Watkin Path as Britain’s first “footpath.”

Who is Watkin? Why did he get a Path Named after him?

Sir Edward Watkin was an industrialist, railway pioneer, big-time member of Gladstone’s Liberal Party and a man of grand plans, including a failed attempt to dig his own Channel Tunnel and build his own alternative to the Eiffel Tower in London (also failed). 

He also importantly bought half the south side of Snowdon in 1889.

The South Yr Wyddfa Slate Quarry sat on his land and had a well-trodden path leading to it that already existed, it was Watkin who proposed extending this route to the summit and opening it to the public. Which is what Gladstone did in that speech in 1982.

Lucky for us this grand plan worked out.

Gladstone’s rock

The path will swing left and start to curve around the slopes of Craig Ddu, a few hundred metres after Gladstone’s rock you will come to the remains of the housing barrack belonging to the Hafod y Llan slate mine.

At this point, life couldn’t have been better. The sky was blue and streaked with cirrus clouds. Perfect hiking weather. The chats flowed nicely. There are not many nicer ways to spend a day than catching up with your bro out in nature.

The hike was quiet today. We came across a few other hikers but for the most part, it was just us and the occasional sheep.

The walls of the old quarry barracksThe walls of the old quarry barracks with Snowdon looking delicious behind.

Bwlch Ciliau and Beyond

The path swings hard right and there is a very steep little section here which marks about halfway point into your hike. Give yourself a little pat on the back but don’t get carried away. The Watkin Path has gone easy on you so far.

The next 1km is ok and there are fine views of Snowdon’s South Ridge above you, but as you get closer to Bwlch Cillau the gradient ratchets up and once you reach the top of the pass expect to get your hands in on the action.

Yep, you’ve got a bit of a scramble fest on your hands.

Little bro doing his best mountain goat impression on a rocky sectionLittle bro doing his best mountain sheep impression on a rocky section.

A mountain sheepA mountain sheep doing its best impression of my little bro on a rocky section.

Snowdonia looks delightfulSnowdonia looks delightful in the good weather.

Mike and his brother beside rock Watkin Path signRockstars.

Bwlch y Saethau to the Summit

When you see the second large rock Watkin Path sign, know that the most difficult part of the climb is upon you. Expect to be using your hands from this point up.

It’s nothing to worry about. It’s nowhere near the sketchiest hike I’ve done but if you’re not familiar with scrambling it could take you a little bit by surprise and it’s probably why the Snowdon Park Authority classify Watkin Path as “hard/strenuous” and not for first timers.

My little bro, a first-timer, was feeling the hill at this point and kept referring to it as a “vertical” path. He’s prone to a bit of exaggeration that lad but with a few rests he managed it with no real bother. 

Now if the idea of scrambling puts you off but you still fancy topping Snowdon then Llanberis Path is worth checking out. That’s why Snowdon is such a great hill, there is a route up for anyone.

Standing stone where the Watkin Path joins the Rhyd Ddu PathThe Watkin Path joins the Rhyd Ddu Path at this standing stone for the final ascent.

Final Summit Push: Wind Problems

With the summit almost in sight, the mountain had a surprise for us. On the rocky path along the ridge, no longer sheltered by the mountain we got instantly smashed by some insane wind.

It was two steps forward and one step back for a while as we trudged up the last few hundred metres to the top. It was tricky but not scary. There are no hairy sections like the narrow path of Bwlch Main on the Rhyd Ddu path where you worry you may get blown off. It was just a trudge.

As we passed the big standing stone signpost pointing along the South Ridge marking the Rhyd Ddu Path I knew was on familiar ground.

We were only 100 metres from the summit and got excited about doing something I hadn’t been able to do on any of my precious six summits of Snowdon, visit the cafe.

The Mythical Hafod Eryri Cafe

All my other trips up Snowdon had taken place before June when the Hafod Eryri cafe had yet to reopen after a long refurbishment.

Today was the day I was finally gonna get to enjoy a coffee and toastie at 3,500 feet. Or so I thought!

The Mountain Gods had other ideas. Due to the “dangerously high winds” the cafe wasn’t letting any new customers in and was closing early!

Now, I’m not one to hold a grudge but if the winds were in fact “dangerously high” then you’d hope the cafe staff would’ve let the hikers in not keep them out! But hey, I’m not bitter or anything.

One good thing about the wind was there was no queue for the viewpoint selfie. So we took a super quick snap being careful not to get blown off the top.

We then huddled in the lee of a rock and gobbled our Tesco meal deals.

Mike and his bro after reaching one more summit of Snowdon

Wiping the scotch egg crumbs from our beads we said goodbye to the summit, gave the cafe the middle finger, and set off back down the way we came. 

The Way Back Down

I had been thinking of mixing things up a little and heading back down by the South Ridge but with the wind still brutalising us I wasn’t going anywhere near that exposed ridge so we opted to descend directly by the way we came.

The steep final section between the summit and Bwlch y Saethau was equally tricky going down as it was coming up. So please go steady. Don’t get sloppy just because you are on the downward leg.

After Bwlch Ciliau we said goodbye to the stunning views down over Llyn Llydaw, the lake of King Arthur fame, and we also thankfully said goodbye to the wind.

Protected by the mountain again and with the steep sections in our rearview mirrors it was a gentle cruise back down past the various ruins, Gladstone rock and the waterfalls to the Pont Bethania car park.

Final Thoughts: Watkin Path or Hard Pass?

We reached the car park a respectable 5 hrs and 30 mins after we had set off.

Now we weren’t rushing but we also weren’t dillydallying too much. I’d read 6 hours was a good estimate for the Watkin Path and had the conditions at the summit been a bit more favourable I’d say 6 would’ve been spot on. 

To finish off the day we went for Pizza at Hangin’ Pizzeria in Betws-y-coed on the way home and it was awesome. I highly recommend it. I finally got the guilt-free melted cheese that the cafe being closed at the peak had deprived me of. Good times.

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