A Lake District Autumn – top leaf display locations

Lake District Autumn colours - Tarn Hows

Wondering where are the best places to see Autumn leaves in the Lake District? As locals living in this beautiful English national park, we’ve spent years going on Lake District Autumn explorations, and discovering all the top spots for seeing the trees slowly turn from vibrant green to spectacular yellows, browns, russets and reds.

Updated October 2022

The best places to visit for a colourful Lake District Autumn

Lots of people think that the Lake District in Autumn shows the national park off at its finest, and we’re inclined to agree. The tourist crowds who visit the Lake District in the summer have dispersed, the weather is often a lot calmer with crisp mornings and sunny afternoons, and the light just dances in the forests, bringing the changing leaf colours and ground foliage to life. Then, as the weeks go slowly by, there’s the soft crunch of leaves under your feet as the promise of sparkly white snow lingers just around the corner.

Lake District Autumn - looking down on Ullswater
The Autumnal view of Ullswater from the A5091

Nowhere in the country will you find scenery quite like the mountains, lakes, and valleys of the Lake District. Autumn colour just gives it that extra edge, with the contrasts of light and shade making for super photos. In the United States they call it ‘leaf peeping’ which is kinda cool – making seasonal landscape changes the focus of your trip.

So, if you’re looking for Lake District Autumn colours, we have you covered. We’ve scoured fells and tarns in the search for those sweet spots, the ones that photographer’s love and the locations that frequently appear on calendars and chocolate boxes.

Lake District Autumn colours on the Lowther Estate
Autumn colours on the Lowther Estate

Here are some of the best places to see the Autumn colours in the Lake District – just don’t forget your camera!

Lake District Autumn viewpoints for fab photos

1. Tarn Hows

The 2-mile trail around Tarn Hows is really accessible, and makes a great Autumn day out in the Lake District for families and leaf peepers. The terrain is easy to negotiate, and the views of the Langdale Pikes make it one of the prettiest places in the Lake District to see the colours in Autumn. You’ll be exploring forested tracks surrounded by golds and ambers as you make your way towards the tarn.

Once owned by author Beatrix Botter, Tarn Hows is one of the most popular locations in the national park for anyone wanting a gentle stroll in the heart of nature.

Lake District Autumn leaf colours - Tarn Hows
Tarn Hows is one of the most famous places for seeing the Autumn colours in the Lake District

Tarn Hows in Autumn is spectacular, but the landscape here wasn’t always like this. Back in the 19th century, the tarn was artificially created by damming up a nearby beck, to form a picturesque vista for visiting Victorians. Now managed by the National Trust, Tarn Hows continues to give pleasure to modern-day adventure seekers.

Insider tips

  • Try to avoid the weekends as it can get quite busy at peak times.
  • Come early to enjoy the best light for Lake District Autumn photos, and walk anti-clockwise so you can capture views like the one above. You will need to leave the main circular path and scramble up the nearby hill to the right of the tarn for this shot!
  • You can easily walk around the tarn in less than 2 hours, but why not explore some of the other paths and stay longer.
  • Parking is in the National Trust car park just up the road from the tarn. You can pay by cash, or via the Pay By Phone app. It’s pricey at £5.00 for 2 hours, £6.50 for 2 to 4 hours, and £7.50 for all day. Members are free.
  • There are toilets in the car park.

2. Ullswater

No Lake District Autumn is complete without a visit to Ullswater. And we’re not just biased because this is our back yard stomping ground. You’ll find some of the best Autumn Lake District views here, on the wooded slopes that overlook the most beautiful body of water in the Lake District (in our humble opinion!). The ideal time to visit is first thing in the morning, when you might have a layer of mist slowly rising from the water, making everything very atmospheric.

Autumn on the shores of Ullswater

If you’re looking for fun Autumn activities in the Lake District, Ullswater ticks all the boxes. You can go out sailing or canoeing and admire the russet hillsides that sweep majestically down to the water. Or hop on the Ullswater Steamer between Pooley Bridge, Howtown, and Glenridding for a leisurely sail from one end of the lake to the other. There are regular buses that can take you back to where you left your car, or just buy a round-trip ticket.

Meanwhile, hikers love rambling through the ever-changing woodlands along the southern shores of Ullswater between Howtown and Patterdale. Intrepid souls can bag peaks like Helvellyn and enjoy the views of Ullswater from high above.

Insider tips

  • There are several laybys around the northern shore of Ullswater, although they do fill up fast especially on weekends, so arrive early if you can. There’s a car park with toilets in Glenridding.
  • Stock up on picnic supplies at Sharman’s in Glenridding, or enjoy a cosy pub lunch with a roaring fire at the White Lion in Patterdale after your walk.
  • Some of the most magical Lake District autumn colours can be seen on the drive down the A5091 from the A66, through Dockray and down to the Aira Force Waterfall.
  • Some of the best campsites in the Lake District can be found on the shores of Ullswater, so pack your tent, and sleep in the heart of nature, with the Autumn leaves right on the doorstep.
  • For an easy hike with height to enjoy the glory of the Lake District in Autumn at Ullswater, head up Hallin Fell, which is just up from Howtown.

3. Buttermere

Up in the northwest of the park, Buttermere is stunning at any time of year, and often tops the list of where to see the best Autumn Lake District views. It has one of the most beautiful circular walks in the entire region, which is mainly on the level so is great for pretty much everyone. It’s one of those places where you can enjoy fantastic rewards for minimal effort, and catch Buttermere on a still day and you’ll see incredible reflections of the trees and mountains in the water.

The colourful shores of Buttermere

Stretch your legs by walking through the woods on the northern shore, which during Autumn are a riot of colour. Then follow the pathway around the lake and back to the village for views of the surrounding mountains from all angles. The trees here are splendid during Autumn, but for us, it’s the hillsides and the bracken in its different stages of decay that really brings the various shades and textures to life. Without a doubt, Buttermere is one of the best places to see Autumn colours in the Lake District.

Insider tips

  • The best way to make the most of your visit is to do the circular walk around Buttermere, beginning in the village and heading anti-clockwise along the trail.
  • For free parking, arrive early and find a space on the roadside at the bottom of the pass.
  • There are toilets (paid) in the main village carpark, and plenty of cafés and tea shops.
  • The high fells around Buttermere are a great place for wild camping in the Lake District, if you fancy a bit of an adventure.

4. Great Langdale

The Great Langdale Valley has been the favourite haunt of hikers and climbers for decades, with its dramatic mountainous surroundings and wide green valley. There are lots of beautiful walks where you’ll enjoy some of the most dazzling Autumn colours in the Lake District. For woods and trees, meander along the valley, or head up towards Elterwater for a gentle stroll alongside the lake. Or for something more energetic, hike up some of the famous Langdale Pikes and see the Autumn splendour from up above.

Autumn in Great Langdale

Hardy explorers can camp in Great Langdale, and wake up surrounded by the ethereal mists that often cloak the valley at dawn. It’s a beautiful time of year to visit this part of the park, and some of the most vivid Autumn colours in the Lake District can be enjoyed here.

Insider tips

  • There’s just one road into the valley – the B5343 – and the best place to park is the New Dungeon Ghyll Car Park. You can pay using the Ring Go app if you don’t have cash. There are toilet facilities nearby.
  • If it’s your first time in Langdale, we recommend the walk up to Stickle Tarn which has super views and is a great place for a picnic.
  • For refreshments after your adventures, try Sticklebarn or the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel.

5. Ashness Bridge

Just a short distance uphill from Derwentwater, and not far from Keswick, Ashness Bridge is one of those iconic sights where Lake District Autumn colours just add a little extra fairy dust. This ancient packhorse bridge is one of the most photographed spots in the national park, and you can even see Derwentwater through the trees outside of high summer. It’s a great place for a picnic, and you can scramble up the rocky riverbanks for the optimum views looking back down the river.

Ashness Bridge is even more stunning in Autumn

Ashness Bridge does get busy during summer, but on a Lake District Autumn morning or evening, the chances are you’ll have it more or less to yourself. Just give the sun time to rise so you can see the Autumn colours in the best light.

Insider tips

  • Head a little further up the road and you’ll come across Surprise View, which offers superb panoramas out over Derwentwater to Catbells and beyond.
  • There are a few free car parking areas along the road a little further up from Ashness Bridge. Alternatively, there’s a car park just off the B5289 on the road leading up to the bridge.
  • Make a day of it and head up Walla Crag or continue along the valley to the beautiful Watendlath Tarn.

6. Thirlmere

After the valley was flooded in the 1890s to create a water source for the city of Manchester, an afforestation scheme was established with a view to purifying the run-off water that filtered down into the reservoir. The slopes were carpeted in plantations of lofty larch and spruce trees, making the area look like it belonged in the Canadian or North American wilderness, rather than here in the Lake District. It was green all year round.

However, pockets of native deciduous trees have since been planted, making Thirlmere a great place to come for that pop of golden colour in between the greens.

Autumn colours around Thirlmere reservoir

The best time to visit the Lake District in Autumn is towards the end of October, when the trees have had a chance to get into the swing of changing colour. Nowhere is this more apparent than here on the shores of Thirlmere. The beauty of this neck of the woods is that you don’t have to go far to appreciate the Lake District Autumn colours.

Insider tips

  • Turn off the A591 and drive along the single track road that skirts the western side of the lake for the best views.
  • There are a few car parks dotted along the lake, predominantly at either end of the lake. Early birds might bag a spot in one of the small laybys.
  • Lunch at the nearby King’s Head is always a bit of a treat, with log fires to keep you cosy if it’s chilly.

7. The Lowther Estate

The Lowther Estate is a bit of an insider secret, and somewhere visited mainly by locals rather than tourists. Which is why it’s often one of the quietest, yet most beautiful, areas in the Lakes. If you’re searching for some easily accessible Autumn colours in the Lake District, the Lowther Estate doesn’t disappoint.

The beginning of Autumn on the River Lowther

You could visit Lowther Castle, stroll around the extensive grounds, and enjoy tea and cake in the café afterwards. But locals prefer to just wander around the wider countryside, without paying to go inside the castle itself. You can see the Gothic castle ruins from the deer park, and actually we think this is the best view! There’s a wonderful circular walk that takes in the river, woodlands, and some glorious avenues of oak trees, all of which come together to display some fabulous Lake District Autumn colours.

Insider tips

  • There’s an extensive network of woodland hiking and biking trails, and you can find maps at Lowther Castle, and on information boards dotted about the park.
  • You’ll find a few parking spots along the estate road that runs from the A6 through to Askham village, but there’s also a pay and display car park which is reasonably priced.
  • In early Autumn (it closes over winter), you can enjoy lunches in the lovely café at Askham Hall (it’s located in the old stables so has bags of rustic charm).
  • This is a great one for families, as the circular stroll around the deer park is buggy friendly.
  • Pop into St. Michael’s Church (the Lowther family church) for more views down into the valley.

Now you know where to see Lake District Autumn colours

If you’re still wondering where to see the top displays of Autumn leaves in the Lake District, then check out places like Coniston, Grizedale, and Whinlatter for some spectacular colour shows. We find that the best Lake District places to see Autumn colours are often spots that are super popular during summer, but come October, they’re a lot less crowded and most enjoyable even on a weekend.

The Lake District in Autumn is a really special place, made even better if you know where to go to find those vast swathes of colour. Generally, the end of October and beginning of November are when the leaf displays are at their height, and often there’s a window of just a few weeks to catch them at their prime.

Have you been to the Lake District in Autumn? Where were your favourite places to see the leaf colours?

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