If you were looking for a quintessential Lake District view, it would probably be that of Grassmere from the lake. From here you'll be struck by Helm Crag, the peak dominates the surrounding area that is perfectly manicured with dry stone walls, fields and the traditional buildings of Lakeland.
"Helm Crag may well be the best-known of all Lakeland Fells and possibly even the best-known hill in the country.... Indeed, the whole fell, although of small extent is unusually interesting; its very appearance is challenging; its sides are steep, rough and craggy; its top bristles; it looks irascible, like a shaggy terrier in a company of sleek foxhounds"
From a distance it looks a lot bigger than it is, possibly because from most viewpoints in Grassmere it looks like a solitary fell. But as you get closer, you realise it is a steep but easily achievable climb.
Helm Crag Height & Distance
The hike to the summit of Helm Crag is 3.3km long and around 337m in height. Whilst it isn't one of the highest or steepest climbs, you'll feel it in your legs at the end of the hike!
It took us about two hours (return) from the centre of Grassmere to complete the hike. The path is in pretty good condition throughout with only a small section of scrambling - which is fairly straightforward.
The Wainwright Route
The hike to the top of Helm Crag is one where Wainwright doesn't hide his feelings: take the route from Grassmere town. His guide only discusses this route and he sticks his colours to the mast by stating "This is one of the few hills where ascent and descent by the same route is recommended".
The route starts from the centre of Grassmere, making parking easy (fees apply). Walking towards Easedale Road, you'll soon see National Trust signs followed by signs for Helm Crag. The track takes you to the Lancrigg Hotel, through the grounds to the forest.
We'd also recommend following Wainwright's recommendation in doing this in the late afternoon, heading to the top for sunset. It is short enough to not worry about walking back in the dark and the light at this time of day is perfect.
Despite visiting during the busy August summer holidays we only encountered five other people at this time of day, and all but one were heading in the opposite direction. This really added to our enjoyment of the walk, feeling like you had escaped the crowds and entered the wilds.
We highly recommend buying Wainwright’s Guide to the Central Fells on Amazon (link below). It’s a beautifully written and illustrated guide that gives you an in-depth and intimate feel for Helm Crag and this whole area of Lakeland.
Helm Crag Ridge Walk
After the forest the path opens up and gets a lot steeper. Following a dry stone wall, the start of the trail has a long section of stone steps before the track takes a sharp turn left.
From here the path continues uphill, but is a lot shallower and zig zags until you reach this view.
It's fair to say that this is one of the best views you'll get in the Lake District, looking back on Grassmere, the lake and surrounding fells. In the golden glow of the late afternoon it is a stunning place to be.
From this point you'll soon be at the summit.
Helm Crag Scramble
Just before the summit is a small but relatively easy scramble. This isn't as bad as the one on Catbells, but it is enough to get you thinking.
The scramble section lasts for about 100 metres and shouldn't put you off the walk. It is neither steep nor difficult to navigate. The most exposed section can be avoided entirely by taking the path down to the left of it (you can't miss it).
After this you'll see the lion and the lamb, and then the Howitzer - the true summit of Helm Crag.
Then it is just a simple walk across to the Howitzer to complete the walk. We'd recommend turning west and checking out the sun setting on the Easdale Tarn. The sky turned a beautiful golden colour just over the fells and valley in front of us, making it the perfect end to the walk.
The descent is quicker than the climb and it won't be long before you're back in town. If you only have a couple of hours to spare, this is the perfect short walk in the Lake District, which still provides incredible views and a good leg stretch.
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