A Complete Guide to the Snowdon Horseshoe Circular Hike
A Complete Guide to the Snowdon Horseshoe Circular Hike

A Complete Guide to the Snowdon Horseshoe Circular Hike

In my opinion, Snowdonia is Wales’ crown jewels and there’s no better way to experience it than by hiking Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa)—the country’s highest peak. There are a number of routes you can take to climb the mountain, but by far the most adventurous, challenging and all out beautiful option is the Snowdon horseshoe hike.

What makes the Snowdon horseshoe such an epic hike is that the circular trail takes you up four peaks— Crib Goch, Garnedd Ugain (Crib y Ddysgl), Snowdon and Y Lliwedd —giving you insane views of Snowdonia National Park from many different spots. Not only that, but you gain around 1,050 m of elevation as you tackle a range of terrain including technical grade 1 scrambling, knife-sharp aretes and rocky trails.

In this guide, you’ll find out everything you need to know about the Snowdon horseshoe hike. However, if you’re in a rush, I’ve summarised all the key information in the FAQs section at the end.

Alan standing on a rock overlooking Llyn Llydaw at the Snowdon horseshoe.

Must-know Snowdon horseshoe information

I’ll start things off with the safety information that you need to know. Heed this advice and, if after reading it, you think that the Snowdon horseshoe trail would be a bit too challenging for you, then I recommend an easier yet still fun route, such as the Pyg Trail.

So, what safety info do you need to know?

First, the Snowdon horseshoe route is very technical and so is not for everyone. It requires grade 1 scrambling (using your hands and feet) and there are aretes with sheer drops either side. This is especially the case along the Crib Goch ridge. I’ll explain these technical aspects of the hike in more detail lower down.

A cairn on the Snowdon horseshoe trail.

Secondly, this route isn’t a quick up and down like the Miner’s Trail. The fact that you summit four separate peaks means that there is a lot of steep uphill and downhill walking which takes it out of you.

The third and final point to mention is that you definitely want to plan your hike for a good-weather day and during the summer when the days are longer. The last place you want to be caught in a down-poor or thick fog is while navigating Crib Goch or Garnedd Ugain as this could end in disaster…  

But with all that said, as long as you time the weather well, have a good level of fitness, are strong enough to scramble, have a good sense of balance and don’t mind heights, then you should be fine to take on the Snowdon horseshoe.

The Snowdon horseshoe route

The Snowdon horseshoe circular route starts and finishes at the Pen y Pass car park on the opposite side of the road from the Youth Hostel Association Pen y Pass. I was hiking in and around Snowdonia with my friend Kester for a few days and we stayed at this hostel. It was the perfect accommodation option for climbing Snowdon.

  • Distance: 12 km
  • Duration: 6-9 hours
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 m
  • Highest point: 1,080 m (Snowdon)
  • Difficulty: hard

Starting at the car park, there are two trails. The Miner’s Track bears left, while the Pyg Track heads right and uphill. Now you have to decide in which direction you want to do the horseshoe.

Personally, I recommend bearing right and starting with the Pyg Track and finishing the day by returning to the car park via the Miner’s Track. This way, the first peak that you’ll ascend will be Crib Goch, which also happens to be the most technical. Taking on Crib Goch first is the best idea as you’ll still have all your energy and plenty of time to navigate the narrow ridge. It is possible to tackle the grade 1 scrambling on tired legs if you do choose to do the hike in the opposite direction, but I don’t recommend it.

Now I’ll break the hike down into its four peaks and explain each section in detail.

Peak 1: Crib Goch (923 m)

The total distance from the Pen y Pass car park to the summit of Crib Goch is 2.5 km.

From the car park, walk uphill and past the signpost for the Pyg Track and you’ll see Crib Goch’s razor-sharp triangular peak come into view.

Crib Goch as seen from the start on the Pyg Track of the Snowdon horseshoe hike.

For the next thirty or so minutes, you’ll climb stone steps as you head up Bwlch Y Moch. This section lasts for roughly half an hour and due to the size of the steps, does get tiring. However, Bwlch Y Moch serves up some sweet views as from here you not only see Crib Goch, but by looking right, you can also see all the way down the valley to Llyn Peris lake.

A green valley with shadow on one side of a mountain. A lake is at the end of the valley.

Once you get to the top of the steps, the trail turns to a dirt track. Shortly after and you’ll come to the turn-off right to head up to Crib Goch. Take this, otherwise you’ll continue along the Pyg Track all the way to Snowdon’s summit.

So, take the right turn up to Crib Goch, climb over the style, and after a minute or so you’ll come to a rocky mound with another stone sign for Crib Goch. You’ll need to climb over this rocky mound, which is a sign of things to come.

Now you’ll need to continue on this track. It’s well-worn and will take you all the way to the beginning of the scramble section, winding back and forth on itself. This section also gets pretty steep and can be loose underfoot in areas.

The ‘bad step’

After a couple of hundred metres, you’ll come to a wall, which is where the scramble begins. This wall is known as the ‘bad step’. In all honesty, it isn’t that bad, it’s just that you have to find your own route to climb it. At first, I couldn’t see a clear way up and for a moment was wondering how I was going to continue. But then, Kester spotted a route and so I followed him.

A view from just above the Crib Goch 'bad step' looking up to the summit of the mountain.

Now you get into the thick of the scramble as you clamber up the east ridge of Crib Goch. The rocky trail has been carved by the elements making the surface almost look like sharp bricks all piled on top of each other. This can make progress slow but it helps with finding a footing. You’ll continue scrambling up the East Ridge until you reach the summit of Crib Goch.

The arete

Things will flatten out before you come to the summit. Now the steepness is swapped for another physical challenge as the East ridge becomes a knife-edged arete. This is where you’ll really need to use your balance and take things easy.

One wrong foot and you could fall either side. From my perspective, a fall to the left looked like it could be survivable if the gods were on your side, but highly unlikely. A fall to the right, however, would be fatal as it’s sheer drop. If you get up there and decide you don’t want to walk along the knife edge then you can stick to the right-hand side of the arete, which steps you down a couple of feet from the knife edge and provides a little protection from the wind. The catch is that this brings you closer to the sheer drop.

A view of the Crib Goch arete in the foreground and Garnedd Ugain and Snowdon in the background.

Continue along the arete and you’ll reach the summit of the first peak of the Snowdon horseshoe. This is an insane feeling because the adrenaline will be pumping, especially if, like it was for me, Crib Goch is your first scrambling experience.

Peak 2: Garnedd Ugain (1,065 m)

The next section of the Snowdon horseshoe is the traverse from Crib Goch to Garnedd Ugain (also known as Crib y Ddysgl). The section is 1.6 km.

You start by continuing along the arete leaving the first summit of the day behind. This part of the hike is made up of two features, the arete, which, by now you should be comfortable with and the three pinnacles.

The pinnacles

‘What are those?’ you’re probably asking. The pinnacles are rocky formations that look a little like pyramids. They are tall, narrow and look formidable. The three come one after the other, each separated by a small section of arete.

The first pinnacle on the Snowdon horseshoe trail.

At first glance, there is no obvious way through and they may seem impassable. However, take a second to look at where there are good holds and this will help you decide the best way through. You can avoid clambering the pinnacles by walking around their base. But I felt safer going up and over them steadily, as this meant I didn’t have to traverse near to the left-hand side drop. Take it easy on the pinnacles; move carefully and always spot for a hold before making your next move.

Bwlch Goch

Once you’ve made your way around or up and over the pinnacles, you’ll leave behind the gnarly arete as you join a flat dirt track at Bwlch Goch col. We stopped here for a breather and a snack.

Leaving Bwlch Goch behind, bear right so as not to re-join the Pyg track (which bears left), but to start on the scramble up to the summit of Garnedd Ugain. Now that you’ve got the experience from Crib Goch under your belt, this scramble should feel much easier.

Unlike the razor-sharp arete summit of Crib Goch, Garnedd Ugain is flatter and friendlier. You get truly panoramic views from here. You can see Snowdon ahead, Y Lliwedd on the opposite side of the horseshoe and the beautiful lakes below in the middle.

Alan at the summit of Garnedd Ugain. Y Lliwedd is in the background on the far side of the Snowdon horseshoe.

Peak 3: Snowdon (1,085)

Even though the tallest mountain in Wales is the next peak to summit, the toughest aspects of the hike are now behind you. This section is mostly flat dirt track and then well-maintained steps and covers roughly 900 m.

Say goodbye to the summit of Garnedd Ugain and head towards Snowdon. As you walk down the slope, the views of Llanberis and the Snowdon train track will come into view. Yes, you read that right, there is a working tourism steam train track from Llanberis at the bottom of the valley to just below the summit of Snowdon. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.

Snowdon as seen from the summit of Garnedd Ugain.

The train track and the café that has subsequently been built in the station atop Snowdon are, in my opinion, a bit of a travesty. They take away from the adventurous feel of Snowdon and, during busier periods, turn it into a mega tourist attraction. But what can you do…

Head down the remainder of the slope from Garnedd Ugain and you’ll join the well-maintained steps up to Snowdon’s summit.

The summit itself is a small rocky mount with steps built up to it. When we did this hike, there were a fair few people at the summit, all queuing to get selfies…So we quickly summitted, but then headed to a spot just below away from the crowds to get some shots over the Llyn Llydaw (the iconic lake at the foot of Snowdon) and onto Moel Siabod in the distance.

Alan at the Summit of Snowdon overlooking Llyn Llydaw lake. Moel Siabod is in the background.

Now is probably a good time to mention that you should avoid hiking Snowdon during busier periods and especially on the weekend, unless you’re ok with there being hordes of people.

Peak 4: Y Lliwedd (898 m)

The final peak of the Snowdon horseshoe is Y Lliwedd. Its summit lies 2.2 km from Snowdon’s.

This section begins by leaving Snowdon’s summit by heading down the steps alongside the café on the Rhyd Ddu path. A few minutes descending from the café and you’ll be able to turn left onto the Watkins Path. Here things get gnarly again. This is because the descent from Snowdon down the Watkins Path is steep, loose scree. You’ll want to tread carefully and keep an eye for stones and rocks that may slide from under you.

The Watkins Path to Y Lliwedd as seen from the summit of Snowdon.

Stick with the Watkins Path until you get to the Bwlch y Saethau saddle. Things flatten out here and you’ll notice that the trail forks. The Watkins Path bears right and heads down into the valley.

However, keep straight on the trail that journeys to Y Lliwedd. Shortly after the trail will rise over a small ridge allowing you to see Y Llewedd in all its glory.

Alan stood in the foreground with Y Lliwedd in the background.

Continue along this section of relatively flat and friendly rocky trail until you reach the next scramble section. This is the final push of the Snowdon horseshoe hike and it’ll take you up to the final summit. I climbed along the left-hand side very close to a sheer drop. This gave me amazing views, but I was also comfortable doing it. If you want to feel a little safer, then I recommend taking the easier path to the right.

The scramble up to Y Lliwedd isn’t as tough as Crib Goch, but by now the day’s exercise will surely be catching up to you. So, once you get to the summit (known as West Peak), stop for a breather, to rehydrate and to take in the views from this side of the horseshoe

Kester sitting on a rock. Llyn Lliwedd is in the mid ground and Y Lliwedd in the background.

Final section: return to Pen y Pass car park

With the four peaks of the Snowdon horseshoe summited, it’s time to make your way back to the Pen y Pas car park. It’s roughly 4.5 km from the summit of Y Lliwedd.

You’ll journey from West Peak over Lliwedd Bach—technically the second and smaller peak on this side of the horseshoe. It’s a scramble from West Peak to Lliwedd Bach, so take care.  As you drop down from Lliwedd Bach, the trail bears left. The descent is relatively steep, but becomes very steep as you come closer to Llyn Llydaw. I was scrambling in the final parts of the descent.

a panoramic view of the Snowdon, Garnedd Ugain and Y Lliwedd.

With the steep descent done and dusted, you’ll join the Miner’s Path by bearing right. From here, it’s a 2 km walk along the well-kept Miner’s Path to Pen y Pas car park.

Where to park for the Snowdon horseshoe hike

There are two main car parking options for this hike. The first and most convenient is to book a space at the Pen y Pas car park. Although we didn’t need to use this car park, I looked into the rate and it was £40 per day.

That’s quite a steep price to pay for car parking, so the cheaper option is to head roughly 5.5 km to Nant Peris. Just before you enter the town, you’ll find the Nant Peris park and ride car park. This is an affordable pay and display car park that cost us £5 per day.

There is a Sherpa shuttle bus service that runs between here and the Pen y Pas car park every 15 minutes. When we were in Snowdonia, a return shuttle bus ticket was £2.

Public transport for the Snowdon horseshoe hike

If you’re planning on getting to Pen y Pass by public transport, then the Sherpa buses go beyond Nant Peris. Coming from the north (Caernarfon area), you’ll want to take the S1 service and from the south west (Porthmadog area) the S4 service. Coming from the east (Betws y Coed area) you’ll need the S1 service, just in the opposite direction to before.

Snowdon horseshoe FAQs

How many peaks are in the Snowdon Horseshoe?

There are four peaks in the Snowdon horseshoe. These are:

  • Crib Goch (923 m)
  • Garnedd Ugain, also known as Crib y Ddysgl (1,065 m)
  • Snowdon (1,085 m)
  • Y Lliwedd (889 m)

How long does it take to walk the Snowdon Horseshoe?

It takes between 6-9 hours to hike the Snowdon horseshoe. The exact time it takes will depend on your fitness and comfort traversing technical terrain.

Is the Snowdon Horseshoe difficult?

Yes, the Snowdon horseshoe is a difficult hike. This is because it includes grade 1 scrambling, very narrow aretes and steep, tiring ascents/descents.

What grade scramble is Snowdon Horseshoe?

The Snowdon horseshoe has sections of grade 1 scrambling. The most difficult is the Crib Goch East Ridge followed by the scramble to the West Peak of Y Lliwedd from Snowdon.

Can you avoid the pinnacles on Crib Goch?

You can avoid climbing the pinnacles on Crib Goch by traversing along their base. However, it may not necessarily be safer to do so.

Where do you park for Snowdon Horseshoe?

You can park at the Pen y Pas car park (which must be pre booked for £40/day). Or, you can park at the Nant Peris park and ride pay and display car park and take the Sherpa shuttle bus to Pen y Pass. The latter is the cheaper option costing £5/day for pay and display.

Is there public transport for the Snowdon horseshoe hike?

The Sherpa bus company runs services throughout Snowdonia National Park that can get you to the start point of the Snowdon horseshoe trail at Pen y Pass car park.

Where should I stay to do the Snowdon horseshoe hike?

The YHA Pen y Pass is just opposite the start point for the hike and so is a great accommodation option. It’s also very affordable.

More Snowdonia and travel guides on A World Over

Feel ready for the Snowdon horseshoe hike following this guide? Then let me know in the comments. I’d love to know about your experience of the hike once you’ve done it too, so don’t be shy to come back and leave another comment!

For more Snowdonia inspiration, check out the following articles. Otherwise, head to the A World Over blog where you’ll find all of my adventure travel content. 

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