Get the kids out of the house and into the great outdoors with marvellous family walks…
A treat for you as much as the kids, Leeds’ family-friendly walks pack in all manner of excitement. From adventure playgrounds to art, you’ll find a host of hidden treasures alongside the flora and fauna. It’s all waiting to be explored, right here on your doorstep, so whether you’re after a weekend walk or simply a way to burn off some of the kids’ energy, you’re in luck.
1. Chevin Forest Park
Collect your free map and wildlife spotting guide from Otley Library or The White House Cafe, then set off on one of two walking trails. Local artist Shane Green is your guide, leading you through the mixed terrain of Chevin Forest Park – so follow his carved timber sculptures, which are quirky renderings of the area’s human and geological history. There are eight of them on the 2km Heritage Trail from Lower Shawfield car park.
If you’ve got older kids, the more challenging 4km Geology Trail starts at East Chevin Quarry car park and the trail is marked by ornate rock carvings. Here, the kids can clamber over Chevin Forest Park’s 315 million year old rocky crags, before you all picnic together in their paved seating area. Why not pick up a classic 99 from the ice cream van at the Surprise View, to enjoy with panoramic views of Otley and beyond?
Lower Shawfield car park (opposite the Cheerful Chilli), East Chevin Road, Otley, West Yorkshire, LS21 3DD. East Chevin Quarry Car Park, East Chevin Road, Otley West Yorkshire, LS21 3DE. Surprise View Car Park, Otley, West Yorkshire, LS21 3DD.
2. Rodley Nature Reserve
A stroll past a lagoon, reedbeds and dragon fly ponds, through Rodley Nature Reserve’s woodlands and grasslands, will surely delight your budding zoologists. It’s just four miles from Leeds city centre on the banks of the River Aire.
Call into the visitor centre to borrow binoculars or pick up a quiz trail guide and challenge the little ones to spot the birds and beasts pictured. There are colouring sheets to take home from the Education Room too. You can go pond dipping with nets and trays or hunt out all manner of mini beasts along the route, which includes plenty of pram-accessible paths.
Rodely Nature Reserve, Moss Bridge Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS13 1HP.
3. Yorkshire Sculpture Park
An open air art gallery makes for one of the most inspiring family walks around. Yorkshire Sculpture Park has 500 acres of parkland for you to explore, but if you want a set route, try the Yorkshire Explorers Hidden Myths Trail. It promises 90 minutes of fun, as you walk from the Upper Lake at Cascade Bridge to the Greek Temple Summer House and Dam Head Bridge, encountering a host of sculptures along the way.
Collect your map from the visitor centre, it comes complete with facts and brain-teasing questions to keep the youngsters entertained. You can take a picnic and pitch up on the grass or refuel at the restaurant or cafe – whichever you choose, you’ll be well looked after, with unlimited tap water on offer, baby changing facilities and pocket money souvenirs.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF4 4LG.
4. Bolton Abbey
Over 80 miles of footpaths on the edge of the River Nidd await your family at Bolton Abbey. The walks through Strid Wood are colour-coded for ease. The longest is roughly two miles, and they tend to start at either Strid Car Park or Cavendish Pavilion. Keep to the Blue, Green or Cumberland Trails when you have a pushchair in tow.
Grab your free I Spy card from the Cavendish shop to maximise your chances of spotting feathered-friends and all manner of critters. It’s a game of bingo that David Attenborough would approve of, with 11 images, on ten different cards, to spot along the way. There’s also the Welly Walk Adventure Trail, with its tree climbing, slides, bridges and beams, for older kids – and a beach-like river bank perfect for sand castles.
Bolton Abbey, Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 6AL.
5. Yeadon Tarn
Yeadon Tarn is great for family days out. You can complete a circuit or two around its shores, on pram-friendly footpaths with the kids. You’ll likely spot a few small yachts zipping around with the wind in their sails, while negotiating the effortlessly flat route – if it’s warm, why not have a paddle close to the water’s edge yourself?
On Sundays during the summer months, your walk will be soundtracked by live, funky brass tunes – just add ice cream, a playground and a BMX park for a day out to remember. Don’t forget to bring a little something for the ducks, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to feed them as you wander round Yeadon Tarn.
Yeadon Tarn, 3-5 Cemetery Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS19 7UR.
6. Adel Dam
Opposite Golden Acre Park, which so often overshadows it, Adel Dam has been open to the public since it became a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve almost fifty years ago. Set out on the fern-lined path, winding in an impressive loop through the wet and dry woodlands, where you could spot badgers, roe deer, foxes and kingfishers.
To maximise your chances of eyeing wildlife, you’ll need to be patient in the pond-side Marsh Hide, which overlooks feeding stations for peckish chaffinches, great spotted woodpeckers and birds of prey like sparrowhawks. But be warned, this marshy section isn’t as well suited to pushchairs as the rest of the route. This is a fabulous opportunity to get back to nature, but remember, civilisation (including the cafe and toilets) await just next door at Golden Acre Park.
Off Arthington Road, Bramhope, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS16 8BG.
7. Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve
Just two miles from Leeds City Centre, on the site of the former Kirkstall Power Station, is a somewhat unexpected green oasis with 180 plant species and wildlife like kingfishers and foxes. This is a real ‘immerse yourself in nature’ kind of walk, offering a refreshing escape from the city centre.
From meadows of bluebells and ox-eye daisy to wild orchards with fruiting shrubs and woodlands of oak, birch and willow, there’s loads to see on this delightful 2.5 acre reserve. Bring a net or a jar to go dipping in the ponds, where butterflies and dragonflies flutter on the breeze – and if you’re really lucky, you might even spot otters playing by the Old Ford.
Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve, 110 Commercial Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS5 3AB.
8. Meanwood Valley Trail
How does a 7-mile family hike along the Meanwood Valley Trail sound? It’ll take you from the statue of former Leeds Mayor Henry Rowland Marsden on Woodhouse Moor to Golden Acre Park, but you don’t have to do the whole thing at once. It’s conveniently split into three sections, with two 2-mile linear routes, and a longer 3-mile stretch. Each has something different to offer, so you can cover anything from woodland tracks to lowland heath and pond littered meadows.
Together, you can learn a thing or two about local history thanks to their printable guide. But family fun on Meanwood Valley Trail can be as simple as looking for endangered white-clawed crayfish, playing Poohsticks in Meanwood Beck or building a den in the woods. Keep an eye out for common lizards near the Seven Arches Aqueduct too.
Woodhouse Moor Car Park, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, LS6 1BJ or Golden Acre Park, Off Arthington Road, Bramhope, Leeds, LS16 8BQ.
9. Roundhay Park
Roundhay Park is undoubtedly one of the best family-friendly walks Leeds has to offer. Blessed with over 700 acres of pristine rolling parkland, lakes, woodland and formal canal gardens, it attracts walkers from far and wide. And you’d expect nothing less from one of Europe’s largest municipal parks.
The area’s two adventure playgrounds and the vast variety of kite-flying, ball-kicking spaces will get the kids excited, while the cafes, scenery and ample car parking will keep you grown-ups satisfied. From the Secret Gorge Walk, with its fairy-tale castle, to the Lake View Walk passing parkland, the dam and Barrans Fountain – be sure to try one of Roundhay Park’s five official walking routes, which range from 1km to 3km.
Roundhay Park, Mansion Lane, Princes Avenue, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS8 2HH.
10. Temple Newsam
As well as visiting the house, which is ripe for exploring, you can take a 6-mile circular route around Temple Newsam Estate’s 1,500 acre grounds, which were landscaped by non-other than Capability Brown. The bridle paths and woodland tracks are easy on the eye and relatively soft underfoot.
Take the kids down to the brightly coloured Rhododendron Walk, then around three very different lakes — one in parkland, one surrounded by primula, hostas, and ligularia foliage, and the last in the impressive grass and bamboo garden. After your walk, you can enjoy tea, cakes and light refreshments at their tearoom, or take advantage of the toilets and baby changing facilities. There’s also a farm here, if you fancy giving the kids a real treat.
Temple Newsam, Temple Newsam Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS15 0AE.
11. Oakwell Hall Country Park
Oakwell Hall Country Park is a marvellous mix of old woodland and farmland. Lead your family on its 2-mile circular route, from the car park and through coppice Nova Woods until you stumble upon the bubbling Nova Beck. This is mini-beast country, where family games of hide-and-seek can be played and small dens can be built.
From here, pass down through six lovingly restored formal gardens – think red rose beds and heritage Lady Sudeley apple trees, with a level-footed, buggy-friendly path. The wildlife garden is sure to please the kids, while the cafe will give you a welcomed break. Finally, pass the Fiddlehead and Fernblades sculpture as you do a loop of Colliery Field, before stopping at the enclosed play area, with climbing frames, slides, swings and a roundabout.
Oakwell Hall Country Park, Nutter Lane, Birstall, West Yorkshire, WF17 9LG.
12. St. Ives Estate
A country park with woodlands, open moor, a wildflower meadow and a lake, St. Ives Estate has a lot to offer – luckily, they’ve created a series of guided walks to help you hunt out all its hidden treasures. The pushchair-friendly pathways will lead you to lost pools, bird viewing areas and all manner of wildlife, as well as a dog-friendly cafe and tearoom.
There’s one route that really stands out for families – The Enchanted Wood walk. You’ll find pixies, goblins and fairies carved into trees along the way, as well as partially submerged statues of leaping fish and carved dragons. The 90-minute route up to the (Druid’s) Alter Rock promises views across Aire Valley, but it’s the adventure playground that will get the kids excited.
St. Ives Estate, Bingley, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD16 1AT.
13. The Lines Way
This is Mother Nature’s playground, a handy, 4-mile stroll, perfect for spending quality time with the family. Some fifty years ago, The Lines Way was a working Garforth-Castleford railway, but it closed in 1969 and now it’s a nature trail that leads to wildlife sites like Letchmire Pastures, Town Hills Nature Reserve and Hollinghurst Woods.
Beloved by walkers, cyclists, and horse-riders alike, the rails have been removed, creating an easy walk for people of all abilities. The kids can steam through the old arches, like the trains once did, burning off all that excess energy, ready for an early night.
The Lines Way, 1 Blands Crescent, Allerton Bywater, Castleford WF10 2AF.
14. Golden Acre Park
Once a privately run amusement park, complete with a miniature mono-rail, boating lake and dance hall, Golden Acre Park is now a popular park. Guided by maps and signs, you can complete the mostly flat route within an hour – including a tour of ornamental gardens, like the Heather or Bog Garden, each chock full of manicured flora lined with benches. Don’t forget the wildflower meadow either.
The ducks here are perhaps the best fed in Leeds, what with the bird feeding shelter, duck hut and wildfowl lake to entertain the masses. But if you’d rather feed the kids, you’ll find plenty of picnic spots, as well as the Bakery Coffee House, restaurant and cafe, with indoor and outdoor seating. There are three busses an hour to Golden Acre Park, between Adel and Bramhope, so it’s really easy to get here.
Golden Acre Park, Off Arthington Road, Bramhope, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS16 8BQ.
15. Farnley Hall Park
What was once a deer park, is now 39 acres of landscaped public land, perfect for stretching your legs in. Four miles west of Leeds city centre, the open grassland, formal gardens and woodland of Farnley Hall Park make for a lovely nature retreat. With a fish pond framed by beech and sycamore trees, it’s another of Leeds’ beautiful places just waiting to be explored on foot.
There are coots and moorhen to keep a beady eye out for through the foliage, as well as common frogs and toads. Meanwhile, the kids can tire themselves out good and proper in the kiddies’ play area. Farnley Hall Park has been a popular nature spot for 12 years, but you may wonder why you never paid it a visit before now.
Farnley Hall, Hall Lane, Farnley, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS12 5HA.Feature image copyright Tim Green licensed for commercial use under creative commons.