Guide to the Best Pen y Fan Walking Routes (Brecon Beacons)
Guide to the Best Pen y Fan Walking Routes (Brecon Beacons)

Guide to the Best Pen y Fan Walking Routes (Brecon Beacons)

Are you planning to climb Pen y Fan? Then make sure to read this guide on the best Pen y Fan walking routes first.

There are a number of paths you can choose from to tackle the crown jewel of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

You might not be aware of these and, as each route offers something unique in terms of terrain, features, duration and difficulty, it’s worth clueing yourself in to them. 

In this guide, I’m going to quickly break down what I think are the best Pen y Fan walks. Read on for a quick overview of each trail and where you can park your vehicle.

For detailed information on the routes in this overview, make sure to check out the guides I’ve written for the individual hikes. I’ve linked to them from this guide.

The best Pen y Fan walking routes

All of the trails I’ve included in this roundup are considered main routes to the summit of Pen y Fan (886 m). The path of each is well-worn so you shouldn’t have much trouble staying on track. To make things even easier, you’ll find an individual trail map for all of the routes mentioned.

It pays to have a physical map in the Brecon Beacons too. Although not exactly a ‘remote’ hiking destination, the weather here can change at the click of your fingers causing phone signal to disappear.

Pen y Fan Horseshoe

  • Distance: 15 km
  • Duration: 4 h 30 – 6 h
  • Summits: Corn Du (872 m), Pen y Fan (886 m), Cribyn (795 m), Fan y Big (717 m) 
  • Difficulty: hard
  • Elevation gain: 785 m
  • Parking: Neuadd car park

This is my favourite route on the list and what I think is the best Pen y Fan walk overall.

The circular route starts and finishes at the Neuadd car park. It takes in the beautiful Neuadd Valley (you cross the Lower Neuadd Reservoir) and Craig y Fan Ddu ridge before reaching the peak of Pen y Fan.

What makes this walk epic is that, along with Pen y Fan, you’ll summit the other tallest peaks in the Central Beacons too. These are Corn Du, Cribyn and Fan y Big.

Alan stood on a rock overlooking the Pen y Fan horseshoe valley. Two mountains are in the background.

At 15 km, the distance alone means this hike is a challenge. However, adding to the difficulty are the final, steep sections leading up to each summit. These are real leg burners and require a bit of fitness.

For me, the toughest of these sections has to be the ascent to Cribyn. It’s a long and steep incline that feels like punishment after summiting Pen y Fan.

It’s worth it though as the summit of Cribyn—and that of each of the other Central Brecon Beacons—rewards you with panoramic views.   

A green mountainous valley. There is a blue lake and clouds.

If you want to see as much of the Brecon Beacons and take on as many of its challenges in one swoop, then I recommend the Pen y Fan Horseshoe.

Here’s my complete guide to the Pen y Fan Horseshoe hike for more information.

Llyn Cwm Llwch Horseshoe

  • Distance: 11 km
  • Duration: 3 h 30 – 5 h
  • Summits: Pen y Fan (886 m), Corn Du (872 m)
  • Difficulty: medium  
  • Elevation gain: 675 m
  • Parking: Cwm Gwdi car park

The second circular route in this overview of the best Pen y Fan walking routes is the Llyn Cwm Llwch Horseshoe.

What I love about this hike is that, unlike any of the other routes in this guide, you get breathtaking views of Pen y Fan’s north face.

This face of the mountain is curved like a huge wave and gives you the best perspective of the scale of Pen y Fan compared to the surrounding area.

Pen y Fan and Corn Du, two of the mountains making up the Brecon Beacons horseshoe.
Pen y Fan (left) and Corn Du (right)

The walk starts and ends at Cwm Gwdi car park. It’s a pay and display car park and you can pay via an app.

Shortly after leaving the car park, you join Cefn Cwm Llwch ridge. On a calm and clear day, the walk along the top of the ridge isn’t too challenging and swirling clouds add an atmospheric touch to the adventure.

The ridge takes you all the way to Pen y Fan, with a steep climb in the final few metres before the summit. Here you’ll need to scramble.

After making it to the highest point of the route, you return via the summit of Corn Du followed by a descent to the small and scenic Llyn Cwm Llwch lake (the hike’s namesake).

A lake shrouded in clouds. There are large rocks in the foreground.

If you’re looking for unique views of Pen y Fan and a physical challenge that won’t completely drain your tank, then I recommend the Llyn Cwm Llwch Horseshoe.

You can read my complete guide to the Llyn Cwm Llwch Horseshoe here.

Storey Arms route

  • Distance: 7 km
  • Duration: 3 h – 4 h 30
  • Summits: Corn Du (872 m), Pen y Fan (886 m)
  • Difficulty: medium  
  • Elevation gain: 561 m
  • Parking: Pont ar Daf car park

This is the shortest of what I think are the best Pen y Fan walking routes. Although it’s an easier and swift way to the summit of Pen y Fan, this walk doesn’t attract crowds like the Pont ar Daf ‘highway’ route.

The start and end point for this Pen y Fan walk is the Pont ar Daf car park. This is a National Trust pay and display car park which currently charges a flat fee of £7.50 for all vehicles.

From the car park you need to head to the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre a little further up the A470 road. You’ll see that the trail is signposted from Storey Arms.

At first you will head uphill along a steep gradient passing through a woodland. The path then becomes flatter and less challenging as you descend to Blaen Taf Fawr (stream). Use the stepping stones at the stream to help you cross without getting your feet wet.

The next section of this Pen y Fan trek is a steady ascent to Craig Cwm Llwch ridge. At the ridge the path becomes steeper as you climb to the summit of Corn Du.

As you approach the summit of Corn Du, Pen y Fan comes into view in the background creating some amazing views. From the summit of Corn Du, it’s a short but steep walk to Pen y Fan.

You can decide how to return to Pont ar Daf car park. You can either go back the way you came, or make things a little easier on yourself and head down the main ‘highway’ route.

If you want a shorter escapade up Pen y Fan with varied terrain and a decent amount of adventure, then I recommend the Storey Arms route.

Blaen-y-Glyn Waterfall route

  • Distance: 13 km
  • Duration: 6 h
  • Difficulty: hard
  • Elevation gain: 550 m
  • Summits: Pen y Fan (886 m), Cribyn (795 m), Fan y Big (717 m) 
  • Parking: Blaen y Glyn Uchaf or Blaen y Glyn Isaf

This route up Pen y Fan has everything that an outdoor adventurer loves. There are waterfalls, challenging steeps, calm flats to take in views, and, of course, summits. It’s one of my favourite hikes in the Brecon Beacons.

The route is an adaptation of the Blaen-y-Glyn to Fan y Big hike. Instead of turning back at Fan y Big, you simply continue on to Cribyn, followed by Pen y Fan, before turning back.

You can park at either of the Blaen y Glyn car parks. I recommend trying to find a spot in the Blaen y Glyn Uchaf (not Isaf) car park as this is where the trail begins and ends.

Early in the hike you get to explore 2 big waterfalls, including Blaen-y-Glyn falls. Visit after a wet period and these will be powerful torrents.

Later you head to Bwlch y Ddwyallt passing the Wellington Bomber Memorial. This marks the spot where an Allied plane crashed during WW2. Sadly, the Canadian crew aboard were killed.

As you come around the rise to Bwlch y Ddwyallt you get what I think are the most fantastic views of the day: the clustered peaks of the Central Brecon Beacons.

On a clear day, from the summit of Bwlch y Ddwyallt, you can also see the Bristol Channel shimmering in the distance.

From Bwlch y Ddwyallt it’s a breezy descent to Fan y Big, then a steady climb to Cribyn and a steep, final push to Pen y Fan.

The return leg is via the tranquil Gwaun Cerrig Llwydion plateau. If you’re lucky here you’ll spot wild horses meandering the plain.

A final, steep descent of Craig y Fan Ddu drops you back down to Blaen y Glyn Uchaf car park.

If you want a Pen y Fan walking route with a variety of scenery and terrain, along with a solid challenge, choose this one.

Here’s my complete guide on the Blaen-y-Glyn route to Fan y Big and Pen y Fan.

What is the hardest route to Pen y Fan?

The hardest trail to the summit of Pen y Fan has to be the Pen y Fan Horseshoe hike. The many steep sections, including the climb to Craig y Fan Ddu ridge and the summits of the major Central Beacons, along with an overall 15 km of trail make this a tough day of walking.

A man stands at the edge of a mountain overlooking a valley. There are more mountains behind.

Pen y Fan easy route

  • Distance: 6 km
  • Duration: 2 h 30
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Elevation gain: 486 m
  • Summits: Corn Du (872 m), Pen y Fan (886 m)
  • Parking: Pont ar Daf car park

If you want to quickly summit Pen y Fan and tick the highest mountain in South Wales off your list, then you can do the Pont ar Daf, or ‘highway’ route.

This is the easiest of the Pen y Fan walking routes. Essentially, it’s a maintained gravel path that fast tracks you from the Pont ar Daf car park right up to Corn Du. It’s then just a few minutes walk along the top to Pen y fan. From the car park to the summit of Pen y Fan takes less than 1 h and the ascent is easy.

Do I recommend this route? No. It’s called the highway for a reason as it’s usually jam packed with people and their dogs. Every time I’ve walked it there have been more and more bags of dog poop lying about too.

If you are going to do this route, then I recommend arriving early to avoid the majority of the crowds and ensure that you get a parking space in the Pont ar Daf car park. Although a large car park, it fills up quickly.

The best time to climb Pen y Fan

The best time to tackle one of the Pen y Fan walking routes is early in the morning, either during the summer or on a crisp, frosty winter’s day.

The summer sun brings out the golds, yellows and greens of the landscape while winter frost adds a magical touch to the national park. An early morning trek should help you avoid the masses of people that often swamp Pen y Fan.

A cluster of mountain summits shrouded in cloud. Pen y Fan is among them.

I’d avoid climbing Pen y Fan when the weather is bad. Once the clouds roll in visibility can drop to 0. The wind can also be pretty harsh up there.

For a small mountain, it surprises me how poor the weather can be at the summit of Pen y Fan. Keep an eye on the forecast leading up to the day you plan on hiking.

What to wear up Pen y Fan

This depends on the time of year you visit and the route you pick.

If you’re hiking Pen y Fan during the winter, then bring layers because it gets cold. During the summer you won’t need as many layers and on hot days you can walk in shorts and t-shirt. Although, I still recommend having a warm layer in your bag just in case.

If you’re doing one of the shorter Pen y Fan walking routes, then running trainers should be fine. However, for the longer circular treks I’d lace up a pair of walking boots for the extra support.

What to bring for Pen y Fan

I’d bring food and plenty of water to climb Pen y Fan, especially if you’re doing one of the longer routes. The circular hikes have a lot of steep ascents and descents which sap your energy. For the Pont ar Daf ‘highway’ route you can get away with a single bottle of water as it’s short and gentle.

Craig Fan Ddu ridge. Pen y Fn and Corn Du are in the distance.

Public transport to Pen y Fan

There are 2 bus routes between Cardiff and Brecon. These are the T4 and T14 TrawsCymru buses. The journey to Pen y Fan from Cardiff takes around 1 h 30 and you’ll need to get off at Storey Arms.

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This has been my take on the best Pen y Fan walking routes. I hope my guide has helped you to decide on which path to take up the tallest mountain in Southern Britain.

Check out this page for more Brecon Beacons guides, this page for all my hiking guides and here for all my Wales destination recommendations.  

Related: Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn y Fan Fawr Circular Walk Brecon Beacons

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