A trip to England’s breathtakingly beautiful southwestern tip wouldn’t be complete without a relaxing ramble or two to explore the gorgeous scenery and soak up some of those world famous views.
Luckily, the county of Cornwall is riddled with fantastic walking trails and coastal paths, meaning you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. Whether you’re a serious long-distance hiker, are looking for a great dog walk, or are more into a good old pub walk yourself, there are myriad routes to suit every preference.
From the 630-mile-long South West Coast Path – which stretches all the way from Somerset, along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall and finishing up in Dorset – to a host of shorter strolls which take in picturesque beaches, dramatic cliffs, gently rolling river valleys and twee villages, you won’t be disappointed with what the beautiful county of Cornwall has to offer.
The best short walks in Cornwall
Time: Two hours
Distance: Three miles
Starting at the National Trust carpark in Frogmore, this is a great option if you’re looking for a shorter circular walk in Cornwall which takes in the beautiful bays of Lantic, dotted with little romantic coves, as well as Lantivet, with its magnificent white sandy beach.
The walk passes through a rich and diverse local scenery, giving visitors the chance to explore the smuggling and fishing heritage underpinning the local landscape and culture.
The trek is dog-friendly and the route gives your pooch the chance for some quality beach (and swim) time. It’s best to bear in mind, however, that there are a couple of stiles on the route which dogs may need help getting over.
Top tip: if you choose to take the path down to explore Lantic Beach (which is well worth doing) it’s best to bear in mind that the trek back up from the beach could be difficult for children or anyone with impaired fitness.
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The Lizard Coastal Walk
Time: Two and a half hours
Distance: Four and a half miles
After taking some time to admire the stunning views at Lizard Point, follow the winding coastal path along the cliffs to Kynance Cove, marvelling at the splendid seascapes, glittering waves and pretty wildflowers as you go.
With its strikingly beautiful emerald waters and colourful stones emerging from the sea like tiny islands, Kynance Cove is truly a very special spot. If you’re planning a picnic en route we’d probably suggest having it here, if you can wait that long that is!
Top tip: although this walk is suitable for dogs, it’s good to note that Kynance Cove does have seasonal dog restrictions
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Zennor Head Walk
Time: One hour
Distance: One and a half miles
This easy-going stroll rewards walkers with stunning 360° views of the Zennor Headland and the surrounding coast.
Journey through farms, fields and peaceful pockets of woodland until you reach the craggy clifftops of Zennor Headland. While you’re admiring the views from the headland, make sure to keep an eye out for the colony of grey seals who live on The Carracks (a rocky outcrop half a mile out to sea).
Top tip: don’t miss the chance to stop off at the Moomaid of Zennor Ice Cream Parlour when you’re done with walking – it’s situated on the coastal road between Zennor and St Ives and serves outrageously good ice cream made fresh at their local dairy farm
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The best long walks in Cornwall
St Ive’s Harbour to St Michael’s Mount
Time: Six hours
Distance: 16.6 miles
If you’re looking for a longer walk in the West Penwith area then this is a great option.
Starting at the famous St Ive’s harbour, the route takes you along Porthminster Beach before picking up St Michael’s Way – an ancient pilgrimage trail which is the only footpath in Britain to be part of an official European Cultural Route. This path is actually part of the legendary Camino de Santiago in Spain – an immense network of trails across Europe leading to St James’ Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
Once you’ve found St Michael’s Way, you stay on it all the way to St Michael’s Mount, crossing inland from the north to south coast. The route winds through pretty villages, wooded valleys, ancient churches and the bird-filled marshes of Marazion as you go – allowing you to explore the local terrain as well as two of the main sights of the county.
Top tip: from St Michael’s Mount you take a local bus back to the beginning of the walk, so make sure you have an up-to-date timetable before setting out
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Engine House Trail
Time: 10+ hours
Distance: 24 miles
Starting in Hayle and finishing in Truro, the Engine House Trail is a fantastic option for keen hikers wishing to explore both the natural beauty and sites of historical interest which South Cornwall has to offer.
The route weaves its way past the pretty golden sands of Hayle, before trekking along the base of the ancient monument Carn Brea – a fascinating Neolithic settlement, whose stones have been linked to ancient human sacrifice. Your final destination is the vibrant cathedral city of Truro, where you can enjoy a well-earned cup of tea or pint.
The Engine House Trail is littered with a network of hundreds of obsolete engine houses, connected together by long-forgotten paths and disused tramways – offering a unique, and perhaps slightly eery, glimpse into the area’s tin mining heritage.
Top tip: if completing the full 24 miles on foot seems too daunting for you then there’s always the option of cycling or even horse riding along the route. A leaflet which includes more information about the trail and a map of the route can be found here
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Saints Way – Padstow to Fowey
Time: 11+ hours
Distance: 27 miles
Another ancient route, this path follows the journey taken by early Christian pilgrims and missionaries travelling from Wales and Ireland over to Brittany or to join the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Top tip: most walkers opt to split the Saints Way into two parts, spending the night in Bodmin before carrying on to reach Fowey
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The best coastal walks in Cornwall
Porthgwarra and Porthcurno
Time: Two hours
Distance: Two and a half miles
Whilst the Cornish coast is definitely not short on stunning walks, Porthgwarra and Porthcurno is a particularly special route, even by West Country standards.
Beginning in the sleepy fishing cove of Porthgwarra, after a moderate climb and a little scramble between hunks of granite, the route takes you out onto relatively flat clifftops where you can enjoy the cool breeze and breathtaking views.
From here on, follow the clifftop path along, past the spectacular open-air Minack Theatre and on to the paradise of Porthcurno beach. Spend some time here perched on a rock, watching the birds wheeling across the sky – if you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of a rare red kite or honey buzzard!
Top tip: the coastal path from the Minack Theatre to Porthcurno beach is very steep in some places and has no safety rails – less experienced hikers should take an alternative route at this point.
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St Agnes to Perranporth
Time: 2 hours
Distance: 3.6 miles
This is a fairly level walk, as far as clifftop rambles go, and is therefore perfect for groups with a wide range of ages and abilities.
The route passes through a variety of landscapes, as well as unique features which speak of the area’s notorious history of smuggling, as well as the vast tin mining industry which supported the local economy.
Top tip: if you’re a fan of the TV series Poldark then you definitely need to make time to visit St Agnes Head which was used as the setting for Ross Poldark’s family home, Nampara
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Mousehole to Lamorna Cove
Time: Three hours
Distance: Five miles
Difficulty: Moderate – Challenging
Starting at the pretty fishing village of Mousehole, this lovely circular route takes in the enchanting Lamorna Cove, a spot beloved of film directors, post-impressionist artists and tourists alike.
Before reaching Lamorna Cove, the trail passes through the trees of Kemyel Crease Nature Reserve – a terraced cliff containing over 100 tiny Victorian gardens called ‘quillets’. Carry on and you’ll reach the headland of Carn Du, where you can take a short detour along a small path to admire the jaw-dropping panoramic views.
Once you’ve spent some time soaking up the scenery, make your way down to the equally stunning Lamorna Cove, and take a moment to relax in the tranquillity of its small pebble beach, before heading back the way you came along the coastal path, or else cutting inland through the fields of clifftop farms and the dramatic scenery of the Lamorna granite quarries.
Top tip: Mousehole is the home of the ‘Stargazy Pie’ – a Cornish delicacy involving basked pilchards, eggs and potatoes. Don’t miss the chance to try it!
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The best winter walks in Cornwall
Bedruthan Steps Circular
Time: Two hours
Distance: Two and a half miles
Beginning at the carpark in Porthcothan, a village on the stunning coast of North Cornwall, the route first winds its way past six Bronze Age burial mounds, before passing across Park Head, where the remains of an Iron Age fort can still be seen.
Continue to walk along the clifftops above Pentire Steps Beach and you’ll soon be met by dramatic stacks of rock, known as the Bedruthan Steps, whose name, rumour has it, comes from a giant who used the stacks as a shortcut to get across the bay.
From here on you take the path back inland and end up at the National Trust carpark, shop and tearoom, where you can stop for a mug of something hot and a bite to eat. Once you’re nice and warmed up, take the regular bus service back to the start in Porthcothan.
Top tip: this walk is suitable for dogs, however, some of the gates are chained shut in winter so bear in mind that you may need to lift your dog over
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Cadgwith and Poltesco
Time: 2 hours
Distance: 2.6 miles
Although the actual distance covered in the walk is short, there’s plenty to do and see along the route and the village of Cadgwith and hamlet of Poltesco are well worth stopping off at, so make sure you wrap up warm and prepare for a full winter’s day out.
Soon after setting out you’ll reach Cadgwith Cove – a little fishing village made up of picturesque whitewashed cottages with traditional thatched roofs, where you can still see the old cellars which were once used for processing pilchards.
From here journey on to Enys Head, where there are spectacular panoramic views out towards Bass Point, Lizard Lighthouse and Kennack Sands.
Just before you arrive back in Poltesco you’ll have the chance to explore Carleon Cove with its colourful shingle – once home to a fishery before becoming a serpentine factory.
Top tip: there’s a great dog-friendly pub here called the Cadgwith Cove Inn which is well worth stopping off at for a pint and bite to eat, so make sure you factor this into your route planning
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Read more: the best dog-friendly cottages in Cornwall
Boscastle and the Valency Valley Walk
Time: Two and a half hours
Distance: Four miles
As well as promising some great sea views, this walk also explores Cornwall’s pretty wooded valleys, ancient farmland and gently winding rivers, which are often in danger of being overlooked by walkers in favour of the towering cliffs and crashing surf of the county’s coastline.
Beginning in the charming fishing village of Boscastle, you’ll quickly ascend up to the cliffs and the Coast Watch Tower. Here you’ll have a birds-eye view of the surrounding area – especially breathtaking during the winter months with the crisp sea breeze and churning sea below.
When you’ve soaked up the stunning sea views, cut back inland, past picturesque churches and bucolic farmland, following the Valency River and then crossing through the Valency Valley to return to Boscastle where you can warm up with a well-earned hot chocolate.
Top tip: it was the wild beauty of this area which inspired many of the works by the famous novelist and poet Tom Hardy, making it the perfect romantic ramble for any literature aficionado
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