A tranquil haven for wildlife enthusiasts, stargazers and adventurers, there are things to do in Kielder Forest, Northumberland for all interests. From water to land based activities and day time to night time exploits, there’s enough to keep you busy for days on end.
All set in one of England’s most gorgeous and natural landscapes, Northumberland National Park. Self described as having England’s cleanest rivers, clearest air and darkest skies, you’re in for an unforgettable experience when you visit Kielder Forest Park.
Kielder Forest Northumberland
In this blog post we’ll run you through all the best things to do in Kielder Forest including free Kielder Forest walks and biking trails plus give you details on booking Kielder Forest activities.
There’s also information on Kielder Forest facilities and recommendations for awesome Kielder accommodation and camping.
Basically, all the information you need to plan an awesome trip to Kielder Forest.
History of Kielder Forest
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Kielder Water and Forest Park is that the landscape is completely man made. Prior to the 1920’s the area was mostly moorland. But following the World War One timber shortage, the area was identified for large scale tree planting.
Then during the 1970’s, with the aim of creating a secure water supply to support the booming industrial economy in Teesside, the huge dam and reservoir were constructed. Today owned by Northumbrian Water, Kielder reservoir holds 200 billion litres of water and is the largest artificial lake in England.
And the 650 km2 of woodland surrounding it makes Kielder Forest one of the biggest man-made woodlands in the whole of Europe. Now owned and managed by the Forestry Commission, it is very much a working forest and produces over half a million tonnes of timber per year.
Kielder Forest Wildlife
Owing to its size and remoteness, it’s probably no surprise that Kielder Forest is home to lots of wildlife. But more specifically, as much as 50% of England’s native red squirrel population lives here. And following an absence of around 200 years in Northumberland, there are now 6 breeding pairs of Ospreys nesting in Kielder.
Rare water voles have also made a comeback, following a successful project to restore their population. And there’s also the rare pipistrelle bat, roe deer and salmon otter knocking about.
You can find more information about what wildlife you are likely to see and when on this Kielder Forest wildlife calendar.
Kielder Forest Map
There are two main areas within Kielder Forest to explore. The south end of Kielder Water, around the dam and the north end, in the region of Kielder Village. Which, incidentally, is just three miles from the Scottish border and is one of the most isolated villages in England.
As you can see, there’s miles of trails, including walking paths, dedicated mountain bike tracks and horse riding paths that criss cross around Kielder Forest Park.
You can download a higher resolution Kielder Forest map here.
Getting Around Kielder Forest
Once in there, the best way to explore is by foot or bike. But to actually get into Kielder Forest you’ll need a vehicle. You can drop in from the North or the South and everything is really well signposted. It all just shoots away from the one main road really.
Kielder Forest Opening Times
Kielder Forest is open year round, with car parks and walking or biking trails accessible 24/7.
However many of the other Kielder Forest activities are seasonal and need to be booked in advance. The visitor centres are open 7 days a week during working hours for enquiries. Except for Kielder Castle Visitor Centre which is currently under refurbishment until 2023.
Kielder Forest Visitor Centres
Tower Knowe Visitor Centre: Here you can find an interactive exhibition about the building of Kielder reservoir and dam, the famous Wafflemeister cafe, an outdoor wear, fishing tackle and souvenir shop and boarding point for the Osprey Ferry.
Kielder Waterside: A base for lots of Kielder Forest activities including mini golf, bird watching, fishing, paddleboarding, canoeing and even a sauna and heated indoor swimming pool. The Kielder Water Birds of Prey Centre is here, as is the Forest Bar & Kitchen.
There’s also accommodation here with luxury lodges and Kielder Waterside Caravan Park.
Kielder Castle Visitor Centre: Originally built as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Northumberland, Kielder Castle isn’t really a castle at all. But yeah along with the cafe this is currently closed for refurbishment until 2023.
But the other facilities based here are open. There’s an outdoor takeaway cafe, The Bike Place for cycle hire, the Minotaur Maze and the entrance to Kielder Forest drive.
Calvert Kielder: Both day activities and longer adventure breaks are on offer here with self catering accommodation. There’s lots of Kielder water activities such as canoeing and sailing.
Plus land based activities including high ropes and a zipcoaster, axe throwing, archery and clay pigeon shooting. Find out more about their activity packages here.
Kielder Forest Facilities
Kielder Forest Car Parking
There’s large car parks at all of the above visitor centres. Plus as you’ll be able to see on the map, smaller car parking sites dotted around. The cost of parking is £2 per hour or £5 for the day and tickets are transferable between most car parks.
You can pay online in advance for some car parks here or at the ticket machines in the car parks. You can only pay by card at Kielder Castle and Tower Knowe visitor centre car parks.
Kielder Forest Toilets
There’s public toilets dotted throughout Kielder Forest park, namely near the visitor centres and main car parks.
There is wifi available at the visitor centres, but outside of that there’s limited phone signal. It makes Kielder Forest an even better place to switch off and just be surrounded by nature.
Places To Eat
Kielder Forest Accommodation
For places to stay in Kielder Forest there’s Kielder Waterside luxury lodges or self catering accommodation at Calvert Kielder. If you fancy camping, there’s Kielder Waterside Caravan Park, Kielder Village Campsite or Kielder Water & Forest Park.
It’s no longer possible to wild camp in a tent. But you can ast specific sites in self contained campervans or motorhomes. The charge is £10 per night and you can read all about it here.
Things To Do in Kielder Forest
Okay now you’ve got a feel for the layout, the facilities and kinds of things to do in Kielder Forest Park, let’s get into the nitty gritty of the detail you need to plan your epic adventure.
Kielder Forest Stargazing
Covering over 1500km2, this area of Kielder Forest is Europe’s largest Dark Sky park. Thanks to very little light pollution, on clear nights the Kielder Forest dark skies are awash with stars.
You can see bright star constellations all over, but the best place to see them is Kielder Forest Observatory. It’s possible to see the Aurora, meteor showers and the Andromeda Galaxy which is over 2.5 million light years away – all with the naked eye.
You do need to book. But if you’re in a campervan you can also stay overnight wild camping near here to experience the spectacular celestial display on your own time frame.
Kielder Birds of Prey Encounters
At the Kielder Birds of Prey Centre you can get up close with owls, eagles, hawks, falcons and vultures. In addition you may also be able to catch a sighting of the rare Osprey pairs on one of their nesting platforms from the viewing stations.
There’s lots of experiences, courses and photography classes available to choose from.
Kielder Mountain Biking
With 125km of dedicated tracks Kielder Forest mountain biking is one of the top rated things to do in Kielder Forest. There’s trails for all levels from novice to advanced mountain bikers.
The north of Kielder water and forest park is where the majority of the more demanding Kielder mountain biking routes start from. Including Deadwater Fell which is the highest mountain biking trail in England. It tops out at 580m with panoramic views over the Scottish Borders and Northumberland.
If you’re not bringing your own, you can hire bikes in Kielder national park at The Bike Place near Kielder Castle Visitor Centre or at Kielder Cycle Centre at Kielder Waterside. They even rent out electric bikes if you’re looking for a more leisurely cycling experience at Kielder.
For an easier Kielder Forest cycling route, there’s the 26 mile multi-user trail running around the edge of the water and if you start near one of the Osprey Ferry docks you can always take a short cut back.
Red Squirrel Safari
One of the last red squirrel strongholds in England, you can explore Kielder Forest with a professional nature guide and follow clues to spot this beautiful elusive creature. Red squirrel safaris start from Kielder Forest Castle Visitor Centre and you need to book in advance.
There’s also red squirrel viewing hides you can access for free at Kielder Castle and Kielder Waterside Visitor Centres.
Osprey Ferry Excursion
Taking a trip out onto Kielder reservoir on the Osprey Ferry is an excellent way to experience the water up close and in comfort. There’s refreshments and toilets onboard but you do need to book as it doesn’t sail year round.
Kielder Forest Drive
The longest forest drive in the UK, this seasonal toll road is 12 miles long and costs £3 to access. You can pay at the machine at the entrance near Kielder Castle. The Kielder Forest Drive then runs along the A68 through Kielder National Park and back in a loop.
It reaches more than 450 metres high at Blakehope Nick which is an excellent picnic spot because it has views and then some. But there’s bucketloads of scenic layby stop offs along this remote countryside route.
It is unsurfaced for the most part with a 20mph speed limit and is usually open from the 1st May through to the 2nd December. A ‘what to do in Kielder Forest’ must!
Visit Bakethin Nature Reserve
Located at the north-western end of Kielder Reservoir, Bakethin Nature Reserve is made up of open water, wetland, woodland and grassland habitats.
From the carpark there are a variety of walking trails through this wildlife haven. Popular routes head out to the bird hides overlooking Kielder water and to the historic viaduct with fantastic views over the woodland.
This area of Kielder Water and Forest Park is a great place to spot otters and a variety of rare birds. It can also be reached via the Lakeside Way multi-user track so is easily accessible by bike or on foot too.
Explore The Lakeside Way
Running all around the water edge of the Kielder reservoir is a 26 mile multi-user trail. That means you can hop on a bike, strap your walking boots on or even jump in a saddle to explore it either in full or in part.
You can find details of the Kielder Forest Lakeside Way broken down into sections here.
Kielder Forest Walks
There are currently nine Kielder walks available on the virtual tour guide ViewRanger app. Simply install the free app and search for Kielder Water & Forest Park Wild Walks. It’s best to download the route information before as you likely won’t have a data signal. It’s great because as well as showing you the way, the app also suggests wildlife to look out for on route with audio clips of Kielder wildlife experts.
For families with young kids, there’s also the Gruffalo Trail which also has a free interactive app to download and optional Gruffalo activity pack. More information here.
Kielder Art & Architecture
One of the fab free things to do in Kielder Forest is to check out the more than twenty pieces of outdoor public art and architecture on display. There’s plenty to discover, but the most popular pieces are the Belvedere futuristic shelter design, the Minotaur maze, the three large rotating Janus Chairs and the Silvas Capitalis, also known as the ‘giant forest head’.
There are three art and sculpture trails around the forest too which you can download to follow. Be sure to download them before you visit Kielder, while you have a signal.
Kielder Forest Geocaching
If you’ve not heard of geocaching before, it’s basically a global treasure hunting game where you use a GPS to hide and seek small waterproof containers.
There are a total of six geo-caches to find and It’s one of the really fun things to do in Kielder Forest for families. To get started you’ll need to sign up at Geocaching.com and download the app to your phone – it’s free.
Kielder Forest Watersports
Sailing, waterskiing, rowing, canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing, wakeboarding, there’s basically every watersport on offer at Kielder Forest. Of course most of these Kielder water activities are seasonal and you do need to book in advance. Here’s more info on that.
Kielder Forest Fishing
If fishing is your thing, there’s plenty to be had at Kielder water and forest park. You can either choose from 20 miles of shoreline along the Lakeside Way to fish from the bank, or hire a fully equipped motorboat and get out onto the water.
On top of your rod licence, you also need a specific permit and there are catch limits. Permits can be purchased from either Kielder Waterside from 6am or Tower Knowe from 10am.
You can find prices and more information about Kielder fishing here.
Okay! Whether you’re planning a Kielder Forest holiday or just a day out, there should be plenty of things to do in Kielder Forest Northumberland to keep you busy there for a while.
Let us know in the comments how you got on and what you enjoyed the most.
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Yorkshire born & bred, Sarah is a professional blogger who loves to travel. Pushing her boundaries with new adventures is her jam, so you likely won’t find her in one place for too long. Also a serious Marmite addict.