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Pen Y Fan Walk: Best Circular Route That Avoids The Crowds

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The image shows Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons.

Pen Y Fan (pronounced Pen-er-Van) is located in the Brecon Beacons in south Wales.

It stands at 886 meters tall, making it the highest peak in the area and contrary to what many people seem to think, it’s not a mountain!

Understandably, this walk is popular among keen hikers like me – and I would hazard a guess that you’re probably going to like this one.

Fan Y Big, Cribyn, and Corn Du all sit beside Pen Y Fan in a uniform line, so you’ll quickly discover many of the Pen Y Fan walks combine multiple, if not all, four peaks in the Brecon Beacons.

The image shows people walking from Pen Y Fan to Corn Du along a ridge. The path is made up of cobbles and the image shows the sheer drop of Corn Du mountain in the Brecon Beacons.
A view across the mountains from the pathway that descends Corn Du. You can see mountains in the distance, as well as a lake below.

In this guide, we’ll start with some of the need-to-know basics that I recommend you read over first to avoid any mishaps.

We’ll then jump into the best Pen Y Fan circular walk that remarkably seemed to avoid most of the crowds, whilst still being pretty epic.

As always, you’ll find some alternative routes, just in case you decide this one isn’t the best for you, as well as some recommended hotels and FAQ’s.

Right, without further ado, let’s dive into one of the best walks in the Brecon Beacons.

How to get there

The image shows cars on the road to Pen Y fan.

By car

The easiest way to get around the Brecon Beacons National Park, and therefore to the start of any walk, is by car.

This is because the Brecon Beacons are, simplistically put, a bunch of mountains connected by some main roads (but mostly country roads), with a few towns scattered around for residents and tourists to live/stay.

So, if you don’t have your own car then I highly recommend renting one.

You can do this with Rentalcars.com – my go-to platform that combines all of the best deals on the market, ensuring you get the best bang for your buck.

By public transport

If you can’t drive or really don’t want to take/hire a car, then hiking Pen Y Fan is still possible – you just need to hop on a bus, or book a taxi.

The best way to figure out which option to take is via the Rome2Rio platform since they’ll tell you the best way to get from A to B based on time and cost.

Best time to hike

The image shows Pen Y Fan at sunrise.

The best time for a hiking trip to the Brecon Beacons is between May and October.

However, this part of the world has some temperamental weather.

If you want to increase your chances of blue skies and sunshine, then June, July, or August are probably your best bet.

But, if you prefer to hike in cooler temperatures, opt for May or October – just pack some extra waterproofs to be safe!

Here’s a full breakdown of what you can expect by season:

Spring (March to May)

You’ll see some milder temperatures at this time of year, with plenty of daylight hours to make use of! The landscape is really pretty, with lots of flowers coming into bloom. However, you’ll need to be prepared for the odd shower of rain here and there.

Summer (June to August)

Hiking here in summer is usually the best bet if you’re looking for good weather, however sometimes it can be quite hot, so make sure you take plenty of water! You’ll also want to make sure you book in advance as this is one of the most popular times of year to visit!

Autumn (September to November)

Autumn is such a gorgeous time of year to visit the Brecon Beacons because the leaves are changing to orange, red and brown which is utterly picturesque! The temperatures usually aren’t too bad either, although there may be a few sprinkles of rain!

Winter (December to February)

During the winter, you’ll almost certainly see some snow and whilst in can be a pretty sight, it can be dangerous to climb Pen Y Fan at this time. Only experienced hikers should consider venturing up at this time of year!

Travel tip: I always use an app called AccuWeather to check the forecast as we love its live radar feature which shows what’s coming up in the next 2 hours – which, in my experience, is very accurate!

Pen Y Fan and Corn Du Circular walk

The image shows the view from the top of Pen Y Fan.

I’ve chosen to give an in-depth guide on Pen Y Fan and Corn Du Circular as I genuinely think that this is one of the best Pen Y Fan walks out there.

It avoids the crowds but does not compromise elsewhere – it’s peaceful, challenging in all the right places, offers stunning panoramic views, passes a wealth of wildlife, and stops by a crystal clear reservoir.

What more could you want from a hike in the Brecon Beacons!

Key Statistics

Distance: 8.5km
Elevation: 545m
Duration: 3-5 hours
Difficulty: Hard
Best for: Wild swimming, history, panoramic views

The ascent

The image shows plenty of fields and sheep grazing in the grass. There is also a person walking toward the camera from the Pen Y Fan walk.
I am in the center of the picture and looking out into the distance across the landscape. The grass is green and the sky is filled with clouds.

Pen Y Fan and Corn Du Circular walk starts from Cwm Gwdi car park, which is a decent size and takes payment by cash, card or phone.

the cost was roughly £3 for the day, which is a bargain compared to some of the other car parks in the Brecon Beacons.

As you head through the gates of Cwm Gwdi car park, the walk begins across open moorland that’s littered with sheep – the incline is minimal and the views as you look behind you are already awesome, however, the best is yet to come.

The image shows horses along the trail to Pen Y Fan.

Around 10 minutes into the walk, the route begins to steepen to a reasonable incline that definitely gets the blood moving around your legs.

It’s a great warm-up for what’s to come later down the line, or rather, up the line!

Before long, the route luckily finds some cobbled steps to give you a helping hand over the first of a series of false peaks.

Each time you make it to the top of a peak, the route flattens before ensuring the next one is even more of an uphill battle – but hey, who doesn’t like a challenge?!

The image shows the penultimate ascent on the Pen Y Fan walk. The pathway is cobbled and the sky is filled with cloud.
The image shows Tom walking up the penultimate ascent on the Pen Y Fan walk. The pathway is cobbled and the sky is filled with cloud.

Eventually, after a few false peaks – ok, maybe more than a few – you’ll be delighted to find a long ridge that heads toward the base of Pen Y Fan.

The panoramic views from this ridge are nothing short of incredible, and the surrounding mountainscape will make you feel like you’re on top of the world.

Although, in reality, you’re only halfway up at this point.

As you make a bee-line along the ridge and toward the base of Pen Y Fan, the wind may be strong, but this will likely be welcome after the ascent you’ve just climbed.

The penultimate ascent to Pen Y Fan follows a wide and gravel path that, I’m not going to lie, is long and steep.

But, with a few breathers to absorb the views, it’s manageable.

The last section of the hike to Pen Y Fans summit is a scramble – again, it’s tough – but it’s short-lived and the views that are hiding behind the peak are phenomenal.

The summit

Being the highest peak in south Wales, the views from the top of Pen Y Fan go on for miles across the Brecon Beacons and beyond.

It’s truly fantastic how far the naked eye can see from this high up on a clear day.

However, regardless of when you embark on your hike, the summit will undoubtedly be busy.

As the network of hiking trails in the Brecon Beacons come together to meet at the top of Pen Y Fan, each walker queues to take a picture against the height marker to commemorate their achievement.

A side profile view of Pen Y Fan. The grass is green and the sun is shining.
Tom is sitting at the top of Pen Y Fan. He is in focus and and the mountains in the distance are out of focus.

Nevertheless, there is plenty of space to sit down and take a few moments to relax and soak up the views before heading over to Corn Du – the sister peak of Pen Y Fan.

Once you’re ready to move on, the route quickly leads you down and up again to Corn Du in the space of what must be 5 minutes, where you will find similar views to that of Pen Y Fan.

Still, it’s nice to see Pen Y Fan on a level playing field and see just how far you have hiked from a side profile – and watch other fellow hikers clamber up their last few steps, too.

The descent

The image shows people walking in the Brecon Beacons.

After completing Pen Y Fan and Corn Du, the route still requires some attention.

As the trail down to the Pen Y Fan pond – Llyn Cwm Llwch, is steep and rocky in places, some poles would certainly come in handy if you have any.

On the way down, the route passes an obelisk in memory of Tommy Jones – a young boy who lost his way in the Brecon Beacons in 1900.

The search for Tommy went on for a number of weeks with no luck, and it wasn’t until a woman living in the north of the Brecon Beacons dreamt of the exact location, that they found his body.

It’s a harrowing and tragic story, to say the least, and makes you thankful for the mountain rescue team that we have today.

A view of Llyn Cwm Llwch from a trail that descends from Pen Y Fans summit. The water is blue, the grass is green and the cobbled pathway is red. There are mountains in the distance.
An image of Tom gazing down at Llyn Cwm Llwch from the cobbled pathway that leads down from Pen Y Fan.

As you continue on, the crowds disperse, and the pathway narrows as you reach Llyn Cwm Llwch.

This is the perfect spot for a picnic, and even a wild swim, should you fancy it!

The remainder of the walk is relaxing and leads alongside a river and across undulating hills, that are, of course, scattered with more sheep!

The image shows a lake in the Brecon Beacons.

In this section of the route, I saw absolutely nobody.

It was incredibly peaceful and utterly idyllic being surrounded by nothing but mountains and wildlife.

The Pen Y Fan and Corn Du Circular walk eventually come to meet a quiet country road that is surprisingly hilly – just to keep you on your toes for the last leg of the hike!

A kilometre or so later and you will have returned to the Cwm Gwdi car park – likely with some burning legs, but with a new appreciation for how wonderful the Brecon Beacons really are.

Pen Y Fan Route Map

You’ll definitely need a map for this one.

I highly recommend downloading the below map for offline use, since the phone signal can be it and miss round here.

Route map: Pen Y Fan and Corn Du Circular

Alternative Pen Y Fan routes

The image shows a pair of hiking boots with Pen Y Fan in the background.

Now, of course, we recognise that the Pen Y Fan and Corn Du Circular may not be what everyone is looking for – and that’s fine!

Perhaps you’re after something a bit easier, or maybe a longer?

While there are no ‘easy’ routes up Pen Y Fan, there are some moderate and hard walking routes to cater to different levels of fitness and requirements.

Below we’ve picked out some alternative routes that we have either taken ourselves or have on our ‘to-hike’ list for the next time we visit the Brecon Beacons.

FAQ

The image shows Pen Y Fan at sunset.

What does Pen Y Fan mean?

Pen Y Fan is Welsh and simply translates to English as ‘the top peak’, which makes perfect sense, given the fact it’s the highest peak in south Wales.

Do you need walking boots for Pen Y Fan?

The long answer: you don’t need walking boots – you can walk in flip-flops if you really want to.

But, it will take you considerably longer and I certainly wouldn’t want to be one of those people who turn up ill-prepared to hike the highest peak in south Wales.

Plus, your feet will hurt 1000x more if you don’t wear walking boots.

The short answer: yes you need walking boots.

The image shows Pen Y Fan.

Do you have to pay to walk up to Pen Y Fan?

One of the reasons why people love hiking so much is because it’s free!

The only costs you need to consider before your Pen Y Fan walk is transport and car parking (which are minimal).

Is Pen Y Fan harder than Snowdon?

The height of Pen Y Fan is 886 meters versus Snowdon which is 1085 meters.

Both mountains offer various routes with different difficulty ratings, so this question is very subjective to your fitness and choice of route.

However, based on the elevation alone, Snowdon is harder than Pen Y Fan.

We’ve hiked Pen Y Fan and Snowdon, and both are no mean feat.

Is Pen Y Fan suitable for dogs?

Pen Y Fan is dog friendly – and in reality, your dog could probably make it to the summit and back 4 times before you reach the top.

Jokes aside, while Pen Y Fan is suitable for dogs, there is a lot of sheep along the route, so you will need to take a lead and dog poop bags.

What to pack

The image shows a boy wearing a backpack.
An image of my hiking boots at the top on Pen Y Fan. My boots are in focus, whereas the mountains in the background are blurred.

As just mentioned, Wales has particularly fickle weather.

So, whilst you may be putting your swimmers on one day, that may quickly change the next day to waterproofs.

Regardless of what time of year you’re visiting the Brecon Beacons, we would recommend that you pack for all of the elements, just in case.

  • Money/card
  • Hiking boots
  • Hiking socks
  • Quality compression socks
  • Zip-off trousers
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Lightweight and breathable t-shirt
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Camera
  • Swimmers
  • Suncream
  • Backpack
  • Water-bottle
  • Snacks
  • First aid kit

Where to stay in the Brecon Beacons

The image shows houses in the Brecon Beacons.

Deciding where to stay in the Brecon Beacons isn’t too difficult as there isn’t a lot of choice.

The below towns all offer something slightly different, yet act as the perfect hub for a trip to south Wales.

Crickhowell

The image is a birds-eye view of Crickhowell. The river Usk is in the center of the image, with a bridge spanning across.

Crickhowell is a picturesque town in the southeast of the Brecon Beacons.

It’s home to a small high street filled with boutique shops, independent cafes, and a handful of fantastic pubs to dine in.

In addition, there is a great spiders web of walking routes from the centre, making it the perfect hub for any trip to the Brecon Beacons.

Crickhowell is where I chose to base myself for this trip to south Wales and I honestly could not have asked for a better location to explore the Brecon Beacons.

Some great places to eat are:

  • The Bear Hotel (for a nice lunch or evening meal)
  • Vamos (for breakfast or something light – they also do great home-made cakes)
  • Latte-da coffee and kitchen (for a light lunch or cake stop)

Some great places to stay are:

Crickhowell to Pen Y Fan: 40 minutes

Llangorse

The beautiful village of Llangorse is even smaller than Crickhowell.

Its main attraction is Llangorse Lake – the second largest lake in south Wales and provides a wealth of opportunity when it comes to watersports.

While there are a few shops and restaurants dotted around the village, Llangorse is best suited to those who enjoy remote locations among little more than nature.

Where to stay:

Llangorse to Pen Y Fan: 30 minutes

Brecon

Brecon is in the northern part of the Brecon Beacons National Park and would have been my second choice of place to say.

It’s slightly bigger and a bit more lively than Crickhowell, with plenty of great pubs to visit.

Brecon also hosts events such as Brecon Jazz Festival – a popular event among tourists and locals.

If you’re looking for somewhere slightly more upbeat, then Brecon is probably a better choice than Crickhowell and Llangorse.

Where to stay:

Brecon to Pen Y Fan: 25 minutes

Final thoughts on this Pen Y Fan hike

The image shows Pen Y Fan at sunset.

Regardless of which Pen Y Fan walk you choose, I can guarantee that you’ll be in absolute awe of how spectacular the Brecon Beacons are.

Just remember to check the weather ahead of your walk, wear sensible clothing and footwear, and of course, take a phone or camera to capture the memories!

Explore the Brecon Beacons further

The image shows a waterfall in the Brecon Beacons.
The image shows a waterfall in the Brecon Beacons.

If you enjoyed this guide on one of the best Pen Y Fan walks and now you’re looking to explore the Brecon Beacons further, then I’d recommend also checking out the Four Waterfalls Walk and Sugar Loaf Mountain whilst you’re in the area!

Stay Wild Travels.