The Welsh 3 Peaks is a brilliant hiking challenge that takes in the highest mountains in Wales’ main mountain regions: Brecon Beacons, South Snowdonia and North Snowdonia. It’s a total walking distance of 17 miles (27.4km) and covers an accent of over 2200 meters.
With considerably less driving than the better-known National Three Peaks challenge, this is a great alternative for anyone wanting to balance out long journeys with time spent in the mountains. In comparison to the Yorkshire Three Peaks, you take on more ascent but over a shorter walking distance.
In this guide I’ll cover all you need to know should you want to take on the Welsh 3 Peaks either self-guided or as part of an organisation.
You may also want to check out:
- Guide to Wild Camping in the UK
- How to pack a hiking backpack like a pro
- Best hiking backpacks under £100
What are the Wales 3 peaks?
The challenge takes on 3 mountains:
- Snowdon, via the PYG Track
Total: 11km • 723m ascent • roughly 5 hours
- Cadir Idris, Via the Cadair Gates, Minffordd Path
Total: 10km • 957m ascent • roughly 6 hours
- Pen Y Fan: Via the Beacons Way, up the track from the Storey Arms
Total: 6km • 500m ascent • roughly 3.5 hours
How long does it take?
In total, you’ll be hiking for around 14.5 hours. Most choose to take on the challenge of climbing all three peaks in under 24hours. There’s no need to set any time limits though if you prefer covering the mountains over 2 or 3 days with a good nights sleep and a pub dinner in between them all!
The challenge can be done from North to South or South to North. However, I would strongly suggest starting in the North with Snowdon. This way you leave the easiest hike to the end – easiest both in terms of terrain, length and difficulty. By this point in the day you’ll be tired and walking some of the route in the dark so this is an important consideration.
If you prefer the other way though that’s fine – just reverse my travel and accommodation advice.
If you plan to hike it in under 24hours here’s a rough timeframe to work with:
5.30 – 10.30 = Climb Snowdon
10.30 – 12.00 = Drive from Snowdon to Cadair Idris
12.00 – 18.00 = Climb Cadair Idris
18.00 – 20.30 = Drive from Cadair Idris to Storey Arms
20.30 – 00.00 = Climb Pen Y Fan
This is just a rough guide. Fast experienced walkers may be able to complete the hikes quicker or you may experience traffic which will delay your timing. Don’t ever rush or feel time pressured, especially towards the end of the day when you get tired. This is when injuries and mistakes are most likely to happen.
Travel for the Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge
You are going to need a designated driver to help you get between the mountains. For safety reasons it is advised that the driver does not take part in the challenge itself. Alternatively, if are a small group you could contact local taxi drivers to see if they’d be willing to drive you around between the challenge.
To give you a rough idea, I sent off for some quotes and found a local driver willing to do the journey and wait for a team of 4 in between each hike for a total of £300.
For those travelling in from out of town, there are 2 main train stations in Snowdonia: Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog. Sherpa Bus service offers transport from the stations to some of the more popular hiking spots where you’ll find lots of accommodation options.
Where to stay?
If I was taking on the challenge I’d personally choose to base myself at YHA Pen-Y-Pass hostel so you are right at the start of the hike to start with Snowdon. They offer a mix of shared accommodation and also private rooms as well as a full-English fry up and drinks so you can celebrate in style.
Alternatively you check out these accommodation options in the Brecon Beacons should you want to be near the end of your hike:
- Hay-on-Wye – a historical town with nice traditional shops and cages. Suggested accommodation: The Swan at Hay (£100)
- Brecon – A bustling market town set in the heart of the Usk Valley. Suggested accommodation: Borderers Guest House (£88) or Bryndu Farm (£24)
Or these as other potential bases in Snowdonia:
- Blaenau Ffestiniog – a mining town which can be accessed by train. Suggested accommodation: Snowdonia B & B (£60)
- Llanberis – has some good attractions, including slate mine tours and a lakeside railway. Suggested accommodation: Glyn Peris Guesthouse (£75)
- Betws-y coed – busy town with lots of restaurants, hotels and camping supply shops. Can also be accessed by train. Suggested accommodation: Waterloo Hotel (£110) or The Eagles Bunkhouse (£30)
Is it safe to do this challenge self-guided?
This will depend very much on your experience! All 3 paths though are easy to follow so with the right experience this is a very doable solo challenge.
If you decided to do the challenge self-guided you should have at least one team mate who is very confident with a map and compass. You should all have some basic hiking experience behind you. Its good to have some basic first aid knowledge – this goes for all hikers really – so consider doing an Outdoor First Aid Course.
Make sure your team are fully prepared with all the right kit, that you have a fully charged phone with you and that your driver knows your plan and when to expect you.
If you prefer to do it guided you can either pay for a guide to lead you (I know a couple of good local guides so drop me an email and I’ll put you in touch) or there are lots of companies organising the challenge for charity, although of course you’ll then need to fundraise for a set amount.
How fit do I need to be to do the Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge?
This is a tough challenge you’ll be taking on so it’s important that you are prepared and fit enough before the day.
For training, start building walking into your daily routine from simply taking the stairs over lifts to plan evening and weekend hikes. Build up to 1-2 hours of brisk walking 2-3 times a week. Then try going on a longer 2-5 hour hike at the weekend. Always have a daypack on you to mimic what you’ll need to carry on the day.
Aim to start building up to this level of hiking in the 3 months before taking on the challenge.
What gear do I need to take?
It’s vital that each team mate has the correct equipment with them for the day. You must prepare for all eventualities from rain to sunshine. Each individual person should have on them:
- Comfortable rucksack
- Suitable hiking clothes (no cotton or jeans)
- Good sturdy footwear (that have been worn in before the challenge)
- Warm clothing like beanie, fleece and puffer jacket (even on a hot day the summit can be bitterly cold)
- Waterproof jacket and trousers
- Sunhat, sunglasses and sunscreen
- Basic first aid kit and blister prevention
- Headtorch & batteries
- 2 Litres of water, going up to 3 Litres on a very hot day
- Lots of high energy snacks & food
- (optional but recommended) walking poles
As a team you should make sure you are carrying:
- Maps of the area & compass
- Fully charged phone
- Survival blanket
- Spare headtorch & batteries
In the car you can leave spare clothes (you may want to change out of wet clothes in between the mountains). Plenty of water to top up your bottles. Substantial meals (like sandwiches and saties). Spare maps for your next mountain. You may also want to throw in a pillow in case you want to make the most of the journey and to have a nap!
Top tips & resources
The Maps you’ll need to cover the areas are:
- OS Snowdonia Map OL17 (which covers Snowdon)
- OS Snowdonia Map OL23 (which covers Cadir Idris)
- OS Brecon Beacons Map OL12 (which covers Pen Y Fan)
My top tips for taking on the challenge:
- Use the drive times wisely! This is your chance to rest, sort out any blisters and to restock on food and drink. Have lots of food in the car ready to eat
- To keep your energy up its important to sip water slowly throughout the day and to snack regularly, at least every hour
- Don’t burn out too soon. With the early morning enthusiasm your team may rush up Snowdon leaving you wiped by the end of the day. Take the pace slow and steady
- Weather can change rapidly on the mountains and can sometimes be too dangerous to hike. Make sure you’ve checked before starting out on your hike.
For inspiration, check out this short video made about the challenge:
I hope you’ve found this guide on tackling the Welsh Three Peaks helpful. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Or you can subscribe to my YouTube channel. I give all my advice out for free on my website. If you want to say thanks, you can buy me a coffee!
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