Pen y Fan Horseshoe (Brecon Beacons) Complete Hiking Guide 
Pen y Fan Horseshoe (Brecon Beacons) Complete Hiking Guide 

Pen y Fan Horseshoe (Brecon Beacons) Complete Hiking Guide 

The Pen y Fan horseshoe (also known as the Brecon Beacons horseshoe) is without a doubt the best mountain walk in the Brecon Beacons National Park (Bannau Brycheiniog in Welsh).

The 15-km circular walk takes you to the summit of Pen y Fan, Corn Du, Cribyn and Fan y Big and serves up exceptional panoramic views. On a clear day, along with the incredible sights of the rugged horseshoe, you’re treated to views as far as the Black Mountains on the fringes of the national park.

A tough hike with plenty of steep inclines, the Brecon Beacons horseshoe sees you gain 785 m of elevation as you take on the 5 h 30 m hike. Despite the challenge, the route is doable by anyone who considers themselves generally fit. 

Read on for a complete guide to the Pen y Fan horseshoe hike so that you can take on this beast yourself. 

In this guide

The Pen y Fan Horseshoe trail route

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

The horseshoe route starts and finishes at the Neuadd car park. You’ll cover a variety of terrain including tarmac road, stone steps, rocky trail and more gentle dirt track. What makes the hike a good challenge isn’t so much the overall distance or the number of peaks, but the quick succession between the summits.

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

The short distances between Corn Du, Pen Y Fan and Cribyn mean that if you don’t have a short rest at the top of each, by the time you summit Cribyn, you’ll be in need of a good break. You could take on the hike in either a clockwise or anticlockwise direction. In my opinion there didn’t look to be an easiest way. You may also find this hike referred to as the Brecon Beacons horseshoe ridge walk.  

Summit 1: Corn Du (872 m)

Leave the starting point—Neuadd car park—at the opposite end to which you drove in. Join the tarmac road and head left. Continue along this road, sticking left when you come to the junction.

A tarmac road. The are mountains in the background.

Stay on this road all the way until you reach the fence and metal gate at the end. Go through the gate and stick to the path as it bends left. The trail here is well worn and it takes you over the Lower Neuadd Reservoir via a bridge. 

After crossing the reservoir, you’ll start the ascent to Craig y Fan Ddu. This is the ridge that leads to Corn Du. The ascent to the ridge is a steep climb and is hard work. The underfoot is rocky path including stoney steps, which makes it easier, but the gradient is tough.

Get ready for your legs to be burning by the time you reach the top. At the top, look left and you’ll see the first trig point of the day. We were doing the Fen Y Fan horseshoe at sunrise and just managed to catch the sun coming up from atop of the ridge. It was clear weather, meaning great conditions for the sunrise. 

From the top of Graig y Fan Ddu, you need to follow the trail all the way to Corn Du. The first peak of the day is clearly visible up ahead sitting alongside the highest mountain in South Wales (Pen y Fan). The rest of the hike trail is an obvious path from here on.

So many people have walked these trails that they’re clearly marked, making it really difficult to get lost on a good weather day. However, on a day with bad weather conditions,  you could easily get lost doing this hike.

Continue along Craig y Fan Ddu ridge and enjoy the epic scenery. You start to understand why the Brecon Beacons National Park is one of the most beautiful places in Wales. You’ll also see the clear horseshoe shape of the landscape giving the hike its name. 

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

The trail will lead you right up to the summit of Corn Du. There is a brief moment before the summit where you’ll have to scramble some rocks, but this is easily done. Then you can soak in the views from the first summit of the day.

This is a good time to take a proper breather after the ascent to Craig y Fan Ddu and then walking the long ridge. Drop down to the edge just below the summit and look right. You’ll get some epic sights of the landscape curving to the left. 

The ridge line of Pen y Fan.

Summit 2: Pen y fan (886 m)

From Corn Du it’s a short walk and a gentle incline to the highest point in South Wales, the top of Pen y Fan. There’s not too much to say here, except that the trail is easy underfoot and that by now you probably will have crossed paths with a few people.

Being the highest mountain in South Wales and also incredibly accessible means that Pen Y Fan is really popular. There is also an easy Pen Y Fan walk that takes less than an hour and starts from a car park at the foot of the mountain. So, if you want to avoid the crowds from this trail, I recommend starting your hike early in the morning. 

A mountain valley shrouded in shadow.
A mountain valley shrouded in shadow.

Regardless of the crowds, The summit of Pen Y Fan is another amazing viewpoint over Bannau Brycheiniog including the surrounding peaks of Corn Du, Cribyn and Fan y Big. You also have spectacular views of the rugged landscape over Cwm Sere valley. 

A mountain ridge line leading down to fields shrouded in fog. This is in  the Brecon Beacons National Park.

The next section of the circular walk is a short distance to Cribyn beginning with a steep descent via Craig Cwm Sere. You’ll head down from the summit of Pen Y Fan to a flat section before you begin the climb up Cribyn.

Summit 3: Cribyn (795 m)

It is a steep climb to the summit of Cribyn, which is by far the toughest section of the entire hike. We were hiking on a hot day at the end of summer and were drenched in sweat as we reached the top. After two tame summits, the climb to the top of Cribyn comes as a bit of a shock to the system. However, taking it in sections will make it a little easier.

Look back and you’ll see the steep descent you just made from Pen Y Fan. The descent is probably as steep as the climb to Cribyn’s summit, hence why I previously said that the Brecon Beacons horseshoe is just as challenging walked in either direction. 

Cribyn mountain. A trail leading up to summit can be seen.

Continue uphill and the gradient will flatten out as you approach the summit. You’ll see a cairn marking the peak. Cribyn is a unique viewpoint within the Brecon Beacons National Park. Unlike the other high points of Corn Du and Fan y big, its summit allows you to take in the great views of both Cwm Sere valley and Pen Y Fan itself. Look right and you’ll also see Fan Y big.

The hardest section of the Pen y Fan horseshoe is now behind you. I recommend giving yourself a good breather at the top of Cribyn and a good moment to enjoy the views before continuing on to the final ascent of the day. Just as you did before, you’ll descend to a flat point, this time between Cribyn and Fan y Big, before making the final uphill push. 

Summit 4: Fan y Big (717 m)

The final summit of the day once again requires a good bit of stamina and an ability to keep pushing with burning muscles. Similar to the ascent of Cribyn, Fan Y Big will have you panting once you reach the top.

Fan y Big mountain. One side of the mountain is in shadow and the other in sunlight.

However, it’s a great way to bring the summits of this epic horseshoe hike to an end. Fan Y Big is an excellent viewpoint to see how the arc-shaped landscape is created by the major peaks of the Brecon Beacons.

You’ll need to descend the way you came up to re-join the trail. Once back down at the saddle between Fan Y Big and Cribyn, head left. Follow the gravel trail, eventually crossing a couple of small streams by the Upper Neuadd reservoir.

Continue on the trail and you will be brought to a tarmac road. This is the tarmac road you joined after leaving the car park earlier at the start of the hike.

Re-join the tarmac road, head left and continue to the car park to complete the Pen Y Fan horseshoe. 

​Car parking for the Pen y Fan horseshoe

The car park that marks the start and end point of the hike is the Neuadd car park. Google Maps doesn’t mark the car park, so I have below.

To get here, you’ll need to drive along the eastern side of the Pontsticill reservoir until you come to Dol-Y-Gaer. At Dol-Y-Gaer the road will fork and you’ll need to head left. You’ll be leaving the main road behind to join a single lane. Keep to this lane and after a few minutes you’ll come to a gravel car park on your left-hand side. This is the Neuadd car park. 

The car park is fairly large with space for roughly 60 vehicles. However, during peak times it will fill up. When we arrived at 6 am there were already a few cars. When we returned early in the afternoon the car park was full. This is another reason why I recommend starting the Pen Y Fan horseshoe early in the morning. 

Pen Y Fan horseshoe FAQS

Is there public transport to do the Pen Y Fan horseshoe?

Unfortunately the Pen Y Fan horseshoe is only feasible with a private vehicle. There aren’t any bus services that can get you to within a reasonable walking distance of the Neuadd car park. 

Craig Fan Ddu ridge line. Bright sunshine lights the scene with a yellowish glow.
Looking down Craig Fan Ddu the way we came.

Is the Pen y Fan horseshoe clockwise or anticlockwise?

The Pen y fan horseshoe can be walked in either a clockwise or anticlockwise direction and is equally as challenging in either direction. It should take the same amount of time whichever way you choose to do the hike. 

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The Pen Y fan horseshoe is one of the most incredible walks in Wales. In my opinion, it should be atop any outdoor adventure junky’s list of things to do in the country. Let me know in the comments if you found this guide helpful. And feel free to let me know about your experiences of doing this incredible hike.

If you’re looking for more Brecon Beacons hiking inspiration, then I also highly recommend the Blaen-y-Glyn and Fan Y Big circular walk. For all my Wales adventure travel guides, head to the wales landing page.

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