Blencathra in Autumn

My 7 favourite places to see autumn colours in the Lake District

After the bright and busy days of summer comes the soft coolness of autumn in the Lake District.

With the crowds easing and the days shortening, it’s one of my favourite times of the year here. Wrapping up in chunky jumpers, kicking through the autumn leaves and returning home to steaming mugs of tea when the days get shorter and shorter.

This is my third autumn since I moved here in 2019 and I’ve really loved going back through the memories of my previous two to put together this guide of my favourite places to see the best of the autumn colours in the Lake District.

When is the best time to see the autumn colours in the Lake District? 

Although autumn classically begins in September, the leaves are only just starting to shift as the days are still relatively long, and the last whispers of the summer heat can often be felt.

From October, the colours really begin to shine, with late October to early November being the most dramatic. However, these months can also be exceptionally rainy (as I write this now, it’s barely stopped raining the past 3 days!), and the windy days can take hold and end autumn in the blink of an eye. So come prepared for a variety of weather!

1. The Fells

One of the most dramatic changes in the landscape during autumn is on the fells (hills/mountains), where the lush summer greens of the bracken fade to earthy amber tones on the mid to lower fells

These photos were from my first time climbing Blencathra in late October, where I first remember being struck by how beautiful the dying back of the plants could be.

Walla Crag at Autumn
Walla Crag near Keswick and looking towards Blencathra

2. Keswick & Derwentwater

During my first year of living in the Lake District, my bedroom window overlooked Fitz Park near Keswick, and I loved watching the variety of trees change – maple, beech, horse chestnuts.

Down by the lakeshore, I loved walking along to Friars Crag and seeing the familiar arch of Cat Bells turn to brown and the little islands that dot the lakes change melt from green to gold.

Derwentwater in Autumn
Derwentwater in Autumn

3. Borrowdale

Heading south out of Keswick and along the shores of Derwentwater, you reach Borrowdale, one of the most underrated valleys in the Lakes. These were taken on a day hike from Stonethwaite up towards Dock Tarn, where the damp paths were also dotted with various wild mushrooms that thrive here.

One of the things I love about hiking in autumn and winter is bringing a flask with me, either hot chocolate or homemade soup, to warm up on the chilly days. This was early November, and I used our Halloween pumpkin and packed a little container of parmesan to sprinkle on and sat by a waterfall sheltering from the intermittent showers, fully enjoying the changeable weather.

Borrowdale in Autumn

4. Honister Pass

Driving up the Honister Pass to its 356m peak is stunning in any season or weather, but on a clear autumn day, the golds and browns really dance on this divide between the Keswick and Buttermere valleys.

5. Thirlmere

It’s easy to overlook Thirlmere as just a reservoir on the main artery road that links the south and the north Lakes. But I love the swathes of larch trees which turn stunning earth yellows and the mists that can hang low over the Helvellyn range on gloomy autumn days.

6. Rydal Water

This was one of those magic days where the weather and light suddenly align on the fells. It was late afternoon in October, just before sunset, and after a day of rain, I walked from my house in Ambleside and arrived just as the sun began to peep out and illuminate Nab Scar, which overlooks Rydal Water.

You can continue on the path which hugs the lakeshore and arrives at White Moss Woods for a lovely extended autumn walk.

7. Buttermere

I always try to head over to Buttermere before the end of October, partly because it’s the last weeks of the stunning circular bus route here that leaves from Keswick, and partly to walk in Butness Wood on the shoreline, the imposing peak of Fleetwith Pike at the head of the lake now faded to brown.

I love the variety of this lake walk, from woodland to open rocky shoreline and even a short section through a cave!

You can read more about my Buttermere lakeshore walk here

More tops places for autumn colours in the Lake District

  • Ullswater in the Eastern Lake District
  • Blea Tarn near the Langdale Valley
  • Tarn Hows a short distance from Coniston and Hawkshead
  • Langdale Valley