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This is a guide to hiking Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in South Wales. In this article I explain all you need to know about the 3 best Pen y Fan routes.
IMPORTANT UPDATE FOR 2020 – construction at the Neuadd reservoirs makes getting to the start of the horseshoe trail a little trickier!
Pen Y Fan hike – A Great Brecon Beacons Walk
Let me start by explaining how to pronounce it! If you’re not from Wales you’d be mistaken into thinking that it’s pronounced pennyfan. But that’s one sure way to get a chuckle from the locals.
Actually, you won’t go far wrong if you try pen-er-van. Right, now we have that sorted, let’s talk about hiking Pen y Fan.
At 886m Pen y Fan literally means the top peak and there are several routes that can take you to the top. Its the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons, so whichever way you take there’s definitely a decent amount of “up”. As such there is no easy route to the top.
Some, however, are more straight forward than others. Being born and bred in nearby Merthyr Tydfil I’ve hiked this mountain more times than I can remember, so let’s get stuck into the trail options!
If you want to read more about the top things to do in Merthyr Tydfil, take a look at this post!
Pen Y Fan Routes
- Distance: 6.4 km round trip
- Elevation gain: 440m
- Pros: Easy navigation
- Cons: Busiest route
- Map: Brecon Beacons Explorer 12
This trail is the easiest Pen y Fan hike from a navigational point of view, as there is a stone footpath all the way to the top. I call it the motorway route because, as you might have guessed, it’s the most popular.
The hike starts in Pont ar Daf car park. At the southern end of the car park there is a kissing gate that takes you to a bridge that crosses the river. After crossing the bridge, a well made trail takes you up the mountain side. As you get closer to the top you will see a peak that appears to be the summit but don’t be fooled, this is actually Corn du.
To add an extra challenge to your walk you can take the footpath that leads to this peak. But if you want to stick with the main objective, take the footpath that leads slightly to the right and around Corn du. Once on this footpath you have one final push to the top of Pen y Fan.
Did you know? The cairn on the summit was a Bronze Age burial chamber. Now it’s a popular spot to get out the camera and take that “I made it” selfie!
After enjoying the 360 degree views (weather permitting) it’s time to head back down the way you came up. Once in the car park you can enjoy a well deserved ice cream.
For more photographs of the Brecon Beacons and Wales in general click here
- Distance: 7.2 km round trip
- Elevation gain: 530m
- Pros: Includes the second highest peak of Corn du
- Cons: A lot of up and down
- Map: Brecon Beacons Explorer 12
This hike starts from Storey Arms car park. From the car park cross the road and head up the path to the left of the Storey Arms (as you look at it). A man made path will take you all the way to the top. This path has a steep start then descends for a while before reascending to reach the summit of Corn du.
From the top you can see Pen y Fan ahead of you on a well made trail. Follow this trail by descending Corn du first then continuing up to Pen y Fan. To return simply follow the path back down.
Make a loop of it? You can combine these two hikes to make a slightly longer (7.6km) loop. Park in the Pont ar Daf car park and ascend the motorway route. After reaching the summit, return via Corn du, down to Storey Arms then follow the footpath alongside the road to return to the car park. Top job!
- Distance: 15.3km round trip
- Elevation gain: 1620m
- Pros: Includes the 4 table-top peaks that form the core of the Central Brecon Beacons
- Cons: Hard to navigate in poor weather
- Map: Brecon Beacons Explorer 12
This Pen y Fan hike is definitely a lot more involved and a little trickier to get to as it’s not on the main A470 road. However, the Brecon Beacons horseshoe ridge walk, as it is also known, is a great full day in the mountains.
The hike starts from the Neuadd Reservoir access road car park. From the car park follow the road north towards the reservoir. The road ends and forks into two paths.
2020 Update: Both reservoirs have now been drained so are empty of water. There is also a lot of construction fencing surrounding the lower Neuadd Reservoir, which makes the trail difficult to spot.
Take the path to the left. From here you can see the whole route in front of you as you’ll walk around this amazing glacial valley. The path ascends steeply up onto the ridge. Once on top the ridge again head north along ridge on well maintained paths to reach, first Corn Du and then Pen y Fan.
From Pen y Fan descend steeply then reascend to Cribyn, the third highest peak. From Cribyn you have the option to descend and follow the path back to the car park or you can ascend the final peak, Fan y Big. Any ideas how to pronounce this one? I’ll give you a clue – it’s not fannybig!
After completing the final peak you will see the well made path that takes you parallel to the reservoir and then along the road, back to the car park. Time for a well earned sit down (but sadly no ice cream here)
If you like big hikes like the Horseshoe Route, take a look at this post where I reveal the best hikes in the Brecon Beacons.
Did you know? In Wales we have something called an Eisteddfod, which is basically a festival for all things traditionally Welsh, like poetry and singing. When I was in primary school we were split into 3 teams to compete in things like the Eisteddfod and sports days. The 3 teams were Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Cribyn. I was in Cribyn, so that’s always been my favourite peak in the Central Beacons!
- A rain jacket – of course it’s Wales!
- Water, hat and a warm layer for the top where it’s quite exposed
- Good hiking shoes/boots – I’ve seen far too many people walking up in flip flops!
- A map of the Brecon Beacons Explorer 12 and compass (recommended for the horseshoe)
- Paths are marked on maps.me so download the map before you go
Pen y Fan accommodation
If you’re on a budget then the best place to stay after hiking the ‘fan is the YHA Brecon Beacons.
Dorm beds are available from £15.
Or for a more luxurious option try the Nant Ddu Lodge and Spa.
Rooms from £75 per night.
Alternatively take a look at the latest unique homes available on Airbnb.
Final thoughts on hiking Pen y Fan
I can’t remember how many times I’ve hiked up Pen y Fan and I always try to climb it once or twice a year. It’s a great hill.
Remember to check the weather forecast before you go as it can change quickly up there. Try to avoid the crowds on busy bank holiday weekends and most importantly, enjoy the views!
If the weather forecast is looking stormy and wet but you still want to get out, why not do a waterfall walk instead? You can discover the best Brecon Beacons waterfall walks in this post!
Do you have any questions about these hikes or any other hikes in the area? Please feel free to contact me here.
Are you interested in trying some alternative hikes in Europe this year? If so, consider the Valbona to Theth Trail in Albania. To find out why I’ve put this adventure on my list for 2020, take a look at this post!
Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through them I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. This helps cover the costs of running this blog. Thanks for your support!
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