Pen y Fan walk: four hikes to the summit
About Pen Y Fan
Located in the Brecon Beacons, and a short distance from the Four Waterfalls walk, Pen y Fan is the highest mountain in South Wales and southern England. The summit is 878m (2880 ft) high and is accessible via four routes up the mountain. With inclines as high as 16% (rising 160m over a distance of 1km), this is an arduous climb. At 4 miles, the shortest route to the peak is classed as a short hike.
This guide is part of our growing list of hiking and walking routes in Wales.
- Route 1: Storey Arms outdoor centre to the Pen y Fan summit
- Route 2: The Beacons Circuit
- Route 3: Cwm Llwch from Cwm Gwdi walk
- Route 4: The Horseshoe Ridge walk
4 Pen y Fan routes
There are four hiking routes to the top of Pen y Fan. We’ve listed each route below, including start points to allow you tailor the walk to your needs.
Note: there are no signposts on any of the trails leading up Pen y Fan as your direction of travel is obvious.
Route 1: Storey Arms outdoor centre to the Pen y Fan summit
Of the four walking routes to the top, this is the most well-known and obvious. Car parking is available opposite the building.
Go through the stile to the left of the Storey Arms outdoor centre and start to climb. Then keep climbing.
Various websites on teh web will tell you this is an easy route. Whilst it requires no navigation skills, the so-called ‘motorway’ is step and in many places the trail surface is loose. Be prepared for a hard walk.
At the summit, you’ll see the metal panel that indicates the highest point.
Distance: 6 km/4 miles
Round trip time: 1 1/2 hours
Difficulty: the terrain is loose in places. Also, there are several steep sections that will leave you breathing hard.
This walk can be attempted by small children. Be prepared to carry them if they find climbing hills difficult.
Route 2: The Beacons Circuit
Without a doubt, this is the toughest route to the top of Pen y Fan. The circuit takes hikers to four of the most arduous to climb peaks in the Brecon Beacons and is not for the faint of heart.
The route circles Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Taf Fechan. I know each of these peaks well having spent much time on the Beacons and have to say this is a route you’ll remember well after you’ve completed it. Paved in places, with plenty of rocks to scramble over, the Beacons Circuit has something for everone.
But it’s not just the stunning views across South Wales to see on this circuit. There’s wildlife galore and a rugged landscape peppered with many colours of wildflowers.
Weather in the Brecon Beacons can change in an instant! Depending on the conditions, this hiking route can be muddy, wet and icy so pack the right outdoor gear.
Another consideration you need to bear in mind is food. The Beacons Circuit takes a full day to complete so make sure you have plenty to eat.
Distance: 18.5 km/11.5 miles
Round trip time: 7 1/2 – 8 hours
Difficulty: Steep in places, this route can be difficult in cold and we conditions.
Route 3: Cwm Llwch from Cwm Gwdi walk
At a little over 13 km km/7.5 miles, this is the second shortest route to the top of Pen y Fan. Starting at Cwm Gwdi car park, which is north of the Fan, this hike follows the track to Cefn Cwm Llwch ridgeline. This track, which dates back to ancient times, has been an access road to military ranges at Alt Ddu and to the many now disused quarries.
It’s well worth pausing to admire the views. To the east you’ll see the Nant Sere river and in the west is Llyn Cwm Llwch.
For the most part, this hike is less demanding as the trail is well-beaten. But you still need to climb Pen y Fan about halfway through the walk.
Distance: 13 km/8 miles
Round trip time: 5 hours
Difficulty: A more relaxed route, the tracks can be slippery in wet, cold conditions.
Route 4: The Horseshoe Ridge walk
At 10 miles, the Horseshoe Ridge walk is the second longest route up Pen Y Fan. It’s also the toughest on your heart and lungs! The first leg takes you from Taf Fechan forest straight up Corn Du.
Starting at the Horseshoe Circuit car park, the first section of the hike makes up a little under half of the route. It also offers breathtaking views across the Brecon Beacons. To the east of the trail are dramatic drops into a huge valley in which sits the Neuadd resevoirs. In the east are the long declines of Nant Ddu and Cefn Crew.
Off the back of Corn Du, as you follow the route towards Cribyn, is a very steep pitched path, also known as Jacob’s Ladder. Precarious in places, I find this section of the hike one of the most exciting.
The Horseshoe Ridge walk is arduous! Steep climbs, and descents, mixed with rough-cut tracks make this a hike to test your fitness and endurance.
Distance: 16 km/10 miles
Round trip time: 6 hours
Difficulty: Very steep in places, and with difficult to traverse tracks and terrain, this route is the most difficult for hikers.
Recommended gear for walking Pen y Fan
The weather can change fast in the Brecon Beacons. Pack at least lightweight waterproofs, wear a sturdy pair of walking boots, or shoes and don’t forget a hat.
Other hiking gear is down to common sense. At a minimum, take a map and compass, plus a GPS device.
Must haves for your hike:
- Sufficient water. Unless you want to fill up from the lakes and streams (if you do, the water will need to be purified).
- Plenty of food, especially on the longer routes. There are no snackbars along the way.
- Mobile phone for selfies along the route, and at the summit.
Pen Y Fan walk car parks
Is Pen y Fan a hard walk?
No matter which route you take, the Pen y Fan walk is difficult. You don’t need to be an athlete to summit the peak, but moderate fitness is important as you will be ascending through steep climbs.
How long is the Pen Y Fan hike
The four most recognised routes to the top of Pen y Fan vary in distance and time required. For the walks listed on this page, the following times are a good guideline:
- Storey Arms outdoor centre to the Pen y Fan summit: 1 1/2 – 2 hours
- The Beacons Circuit: 7 1/2 – 8 hours
- Cwm Llwch from Cwm Gwdi walk : 5 hours
- The Horseshoe Ridge walk: 6 hours