Exploring the Peaks on Two Wheels: Incredible Family Bike Rides in the Peak District

With its mix of converted rail lines and an extensive network of bridleways that date back centuries, there is no shortage of excellent family bike rides in the Peak District National Park.

Whether you are looking for a cycle route for someone who still has their stabilisers on or for something a bit more challenging, the Peak District is the perfect place to explore the great outdoors on two wheels.

In this article, we will run through our family’s favourite places for bike rides and share our tips to make the most of the day. We couldn’t decide on a definite order of preference for the routes, so we’ve arranged them from the easiest to the most challenging.

Grab your helmets, pack some snacks, and get ready for unforgettable family bike rides!

Freind and Family Bike Rides in the Peak District are an amazing way to spend a day!
Like ‘Hell’s Angels’ but with more pink.

Top Tips for Amazing Family Bike Rides in the Peak District

  1. Safety First – It sounds unbelievable, but the number of children we see flying along on bikes without proper safety precautions is worrying. Before you set out, ensure you are all wearing a properly fitted helmet and know the basic cycling safety precautions, like using hand signals, using the bell to alert other people of their presence, and being aware of your surroundings. Also, ensure their bike is in good working order with inflated tyres and functioning brakes. Finally, we never leave home without a basic first-aid kit (alcohol-free cleansing wipes and plasters are a must for grazed knees!) and plenty of water, snacks sunscreen.
  2. Choose the Right Route – The Peak District has a huge range of routes, and if you pick a cycle trail that is too challenging for your little ones, no one will enjoy it! Opt for a route suitable for all riders’ skill levels. As a rule, we try and stick to dedicated cycling paths to avoid traffic, although we will cycle some quiet lanes. If you can find a route with a cafe or other point of interest along the way, then all the better!
  3. Take it Easy – Aim for a relaxed pace for exploration and enjoyment rather than rushing to complete the ride. This can be tricky if you are riding with mixed abilities, but try and stick to the pace of the slowest member of the group. Often, when we cycle with friends and their kids, the adults can split, so some stick with the faster group and some with the slower.

Our Favourite Peak District National Park Cycle Routes

No matter if you are coming from Manchester, Sheffield, or Ashbourne, great options are nearby in the Peak District:

Sett Valley Trail

Difficulty: Very Easy

Also perfect for a walk, the Sett Valley Trail is a beautifully converted railway on the Stockport side of the Peak District. It runs from the picturesque village of Hayfield to the small town of New Mills, which has a fascinating industrial heritage worth exploring.

The trail is a family favourite, and our girls took their first tentative pedals along here, so it holds many fond memories for us!

It is a relatively short ride of approximately 3 miles (4km) each way.  It offers an easy and enjoyable route with only light undulations, except for one short hill near the only road crossing at about the halfway point. This route is suitable for a road bike. 

The tree-lined, former railway line offers scenic views of Kinder Scout, Lantern Pike, and an overflow reservoir. There are plenty of beautiful spots for picnics and pit stops, including a play park.  The fantastic Sett Valley Cafe is at almost exactly the halfway point. This quaint little cafe offers lovely sandwiches, salads & soups, delicious homemade cakes, and locally produced ice cream.

Getting to the trail is relatively straightforward. Starting at the New Mills end, two train stations offer easy access from Buxton, Manchester and Sheffield. Alternatively, there is a dedicated car park at the Hayfield end of the trail with toilets and a picnic area and is just a few minutes walk into the village, where you will find pubs, cafes and convenience stores.  There is also on-road parking at the road crossing if you are planning a shorter ride.

If you have extra time, you can explore Torrs Riverside Park at the New Mills end of the trail. This mix of old mills and railway lines is set in a dramatic gorge that also contains Torrs Hydro, the country’s only volunteer-run hydropower plant. It is a few steps from here to the Millenium Walkway, an impressive bridge spanning the River Goyt.

Family bike rides are the best!
The downhill bits are the best.

Monsal Trail

Difficulty: Easy

The Monsal Trail is situated along a section of the old Manchester to London railway line. This 8.5-mile section of the former Midland Railway line cuts through some of the prettiest parts of the Peak District and is hugely popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders alike.

It runs from Bakewell to Wydale (just outside Buxton) and is an excellent, flat ride with a smooth, sandy surface, making for a pleasant linear ride for all abilities.

Some might say that the stunning panoramic views of the Peak District are what really make this route; however, for our gang, it has to be the awesome railway tunnels! There are four impressive 400-meter-long tunnels and a few shorter ones. The tunnels are lit during daylight; however, it is still quite dim inside, so bike lights aren’t a bad shout if your little ones are intimidated by the dark. Our ‘choo choo’ chorussing as we passed through reached a whole new level on this ride! This excellent map clearly highlights where the tunnels are, parking, and other points of interest.

Set in the White Peak, there are numerous beautiful places for a picnic along the trail. Our favourite must be dropping off the trail at the viaduct near Monsal Head to the River Wye. There is a lovely grassy area at the bottom of Monsal Dale where you can relax by the weir and even have a paddle if the weather is nice. It is best to secure your bikes up on the trail if possible, as the path down is not suitable for them.

Blackwell Mill Cycle Hire Centre and tuck shop is a good place for a pit stop at the Wye Dale end of the trail.  They have a good range of ice creams, drinks, and picnic benches. There are other cafes along the Monsal trail, but we haven’t tried them. 

If the kids have the energy for an adventure, another great point is the Chee Dale Stepping Stones.  Again, you will need to secure your bikes up on the trail, but our girls loved hopping from one stone to the next below the vast limestone cliff.  The quickest access is between Chee Tor Tunnel 1 and Chee Tor Tunnel 2.

Georgia and Eva tackle Cheedale Stepping Stones
Well worth the detour!

There are several parking options along the length of the Monsal Trail. Depending on your intentions for your ride will determine where you park.  The most convenient car parks are Hassop Station and Millers Dale.  We have parked at Monsal Head, where there is a cracking ice cream van.  It is a short but steep route down to the trail, which we have only ever done on foot.  It wouldn’t be the best option for those with young children.

If you are looking for some local accommodation, Beech Croft Farm campsite offers an easy access point to the Monsal Trail and other local sights.  It is a family-friendly site with excellent, clean facilities.  If you are looking for a hotel, Bakewell has some fantastic choices.  Make sure you try the famous Bakewell Tart or my favourite Bakewell Pudding while you are there!

If you are looking for a day out in the high peak that is a bit easier on the feet and not so dependent on the weather then check out our guide to Unforgettable Family Days Out in the High Peak.

If you are looking for a day out in the high peak that is a bit easier on the feet and not so dependent on the weather then check out our guide:

Unforgettable Family Days Out in the High Peak.

The Manifold Valley Trail

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Clearly, the Peak District has done a great job repurposing disused railways into bike tracks! The Manifold Valley Trail is another beautiful, easy-going bike trail leading you along what was the Leek and Manifold Light Railway line.

Spanning approximately 8 miles (13km) from Waterhouses to Hulme End, the route is relatively flat and tarmacked with a couple of road crossings and is getting a bit more adventurous than the above routes! The trail also has a short section on the road, joining a single-track B-road south of Ecton for a little over 1 mile. When we biked it, this road was reasonably quiet, and traffic has never been an issue. The road section also includes the 100m long Swainsley tunnel that is the perfect opportunity for classic ‘choo choo’ chourussing as you pass through!

If you don’t fancy the road, you can turn around at Wetton Mill after a well-deserved ice cream! Wetton Mill is an old water mill with a babbling brook, toilets and a small cafe.  It offers a picturesque stop-off point for ice cream and a breather.

We park at the Waterhouses Car Park, where there is a small car park with toilet facilities.  You can also tackle the trail the other way by parking at Hulme End, and there are toilets and a tea room here.

The well-sheltered track runs alongside the Manifold River, crisscrossing it several times.  It offers stunning views of the surrounding hills, including the iconic Thors Cave.  You will not be disappointed if you have the time to clamber up to the natural cavern.  Its impressive arched entrance offers stunning views over the Manifold Valley.  Be warned, it is a steep climb, but our little adventurers were glad they made the effort.  

The view from Thors Cave near The Manifold Way
Worth the walk!

Cycle hire is available at both ends of the Manifold Way at the Hulme End visitors centre and Brown End Farm, by the road crossing in Waterhouses.

Family bike ride selfie on The Manifold Way
Taking a group selfie while riding a bike is a bit tricky!

Tissington Trail and High Peak Trail Loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Both the Tissington Trail and High Peak Trail are converted Victorian-era railway routes. Initially, they were used to send limestone from local quarries back to the Northern industrial heartland and also to move milk from the Derbyshire Dales to London. After it closed in 1967, it was converted into a traffic-free path for people to enjoy, making it ideal for bike rides with children!

We did the ride in mid-August, so naturally, it was raining.

The route is around 10 milesand is the first circular ride rather than linear route on our list. Half the route is on the High Peak Trail and half on the Tissington Trail. You can go either way around, but we have found clockwise (with the High Peak Trail first) to be the easiest. Apart from one steep climb in the middle, it all feels level or slightly downhill.

The track is mostly gravel and relatively easygoing, with just a few tricky bits where your little ones might need help. Also, parts of the High Peak Trail are narrow in places, so passing can be tight.

The High Peak Trail part of the loop is easy to ride but does have an annoying number of gates that really break up the flow. Once you join the Tissington Trail it is easy pedalling all the way back.

The one big climb is at the halfway point.

There are two road crossings to be aware of. The first over the A5012 is by far the trickiest to navigate. It is on a fast bit of road and has less than ideal visibility, so be ready to cross quickly. The second crossing over Buxton Road is a lot easier. After the second crossing there is a 500m section of quiet road to follow before you join the High Peak Trail.

There are a couple of nice places to stop on the return journey. First is Ruby Wood which is a pretty little picnic spot that you can only reach off the trail. Second is Hartington Train Station, with its beautiful preserved signal box that is well worth a peek if it is open.

We tend to start from the Parsley Hay Car Park, closest to Buxton, and there are toilets, a cafe, bike hire and a shop here. If you are coming from the Ashbourne side of the Peaks, then Friden Car Park may be more accessible for you, but there are no facilities here.

Can't beat a freinds and family bike ride in the High Peak

If you are planning to explore the Peak District and are looking for somewhere to stay, then check our accommodation guides:

Peak District Cottages: The Best Family-Friendly Accommodation in the High Peak


The Best Peak District Hotels with Children.

If you are planning to explore the Peak District and are looking for somewhere to stay, then check our accommodation guides: Peak District Cottages: The Best Family-Friendly Accommodation in the High Peak and The Best Peak District Hotels with Children.

Derwent Reservoir

Difficulty: Moderate/Challenging

Nestled in the heart of the Peak District, a cluster of reservoirs really needs to be visited to be appreciated. The stunning circular route around Derwent and Howden Reservoirs is just over 10 miles. It is probably the toughest of our recommendations, and mountain bikes with gears are recommended, but it is absolutely worth the effort and is one of our family’s favourite cycling trails!

When our girls were younger, we used to pedal as far as their little legs would take them, have a snack and head back the same way.  However, now they are a bit fitter; we have tackled the whole thing in one.  They loved the achievement as well as the beautiful views along the way. 

An ariel drone shot of Howden Resevoir  looking down towards Derwent Resevoir on a sunny day.
One of the most beautiful parts of the UK.

Not only do you get up close to Derwent and Howden Dams, but at the apex of the ride, you go over the beautiful packhorse bridge over the River Derwent.

There is, of course, a huge amount of history surrounding these dams.  It was the training ground for the Dambusters as they practised their techniques for the famous bouncing bomb raids, so take this opportunity for a history lesson.  The museum hidden within the tower of Derwent Resevoiur sadly shut down several years ago, but there is plenty of information online. 

The most convenient parking place is at Upper Derwent Visitors Centre, which has a good sized car park (£6 for the day), toilets and a takeaway cafe.  It is a very popular area, and the car park does fill up quickly in the summer months, so be sure to get there early.  It is also the perfect spot to stop for a well-deserved ice cream on the way back.

There is alternative parking along the road up to the visitor’s centre.  Some of this is free, but this does obviously add more mileage to the ride and, again, fills up quickly.

Having ridden the route both ways, clockwise is definitely easier. Going this way starts with a short, steep climb, but after that, the gently rolling tarmacked road has a mixture of easy climbs and some good fun downhill stretches all the way to the top of Howden Reservoir. Happily, when you reach the apex, it is downhill just about all the way home!

If you go around anti-clockwise, the road quickly turns to gravel, and it is a long, gentle but relentless climb for a couple of miles up to the top of Howden Reservoir.

If you go around clockwise, the road is tarmacked until pretty much the top of Howden Reservoir (where there is a tree planted by King George VI). It is then a combination of wide path and gravel road all the way back down.

The perfect place to stop for a paddle is at the Slippery Stones, right at the apex of the ride, where there is a gorgeous old packhorse bridge built in the 17th Century. It was built originally further down the river at the former Derwent village, but as a scheduled ancient monument, it was moved further up the reservoir brick by brick when the reservoir was built.

One final point: the apex at the top of Howden’s reservoir near Slippery Stones is not the halfway point but rather is about two-thirds the way around if you are going clockwise.

Due to the summer drought in 2022, we were fortunate enough to get down and explore the remains of the once-impressive Derwent Hall and the surrounding village.  It is not too unusual to see some parts of the village that remain in the height of the summer; however, on only a handful of occasions has the level of Ladybower Reservoir dropped enough to see all of the remains of the village.  In 2022, the reservoir was unprecedently empty and we even managed to (with obvious precautions) get down and explore the footings of the hall.

Not often do you get to ride your bike in a reservoir!

We hope you have found our list of favourite family bike rides in the high peak helpful; if you think there are any routes we have missed, then please leave us a comment below!

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About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

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