Pen Y Fan Hiking Guide

pen y fan cairn
by Anisa // 0 Comments

As I slowly made my way up Pen Y Fan, there were several times I thought about turning around and giving up.  Instead, I stopped, tried to catch my breath, and kept going.  Now I look back on the Pen Y Fan walk as one of my favorite experiences in the Brecon Beacons.

If you are wondering if you should do the Pen Y Fan hike, the answer is probably yes.  In this post, I will share more information about hiking Pen Y Fan, including the best route to take and more tips that will help you get to the summit.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  Please see disclosure for more information.

sheep with sunset from pen y fan in the background
We weren’t the only ones enjoying the sunset at the top of Pen Y Fan.

About Pen Y Fan

At 886 meters (2906 feet), Pen Y Fan is the highest point in southern Britain.  It’s fitting that the name translates roughly to the Top Spot or Mountain Peak in English. 

Right next to Pen Y Fan, you will find the second tallest peak of the central Brecon Beacons, Corn Du, which stands 873 meters (2864 feet) tall.  Together Pen Y Fan and Corn Du make up one of the most recognizable skylines in the UK.

On a clear day, you can see the Cambrian Mountains, Black Mountains, Gower, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, and Somerset from the peak.  It’s a popular area for hiking, so we knew it needed to be on our list of things to do in the Brecon Beacons.

corn du and pen y fan peaks
Corn Du (on the left) and Pen Y Fan are right next to each other.

Choosing the Route for Your Pen Y Fan Walk

It can be a bit confusing to figure out which path to choose for your Pen Y Fan Walk since there are several different options of varying distances and difficulties.  

Option 1: Horseshoe Ridge Trail

The Horseshoe Ridge Trail is 10 miles long and (according to the map) strenuous.  From Pont ar Daf, it takes you to both Pen Y Fan and Corn Du along with nearby Cribyn (785 meters, 2,575 feet).  Many say this is the “best” Pen Y Fan walk, but we weren’t sure we had the strength or time to do it.

If you want to do the Horseshoe Ridge hike, you can find more information about it here.

Option 2: Pen Y Fan Circuit

The Pen Y Fan Circuit is 5 miles long and rated as moderate difficulty.  Starting from Pont ar Daf it goes up to Pen Y Fan, then over Corn Du and takes a meandering route down to Storey Arms before returning to Pont ar Daf.  You could walk this route in either direction.

summit of pen y fan
It wasn’t easy getting to the top of Pen Y Fan, but it was definitely worth it

Option 3: Create Your Own Up and Down

Our original plan was to follow the Pen Y Fan Circuit, but in the end we decided to walk back the way we came instead of doing the circular route.  The reason we changed the plan is that we weren’t sure what the rest of the trail would be like and given the fact that we might be hiking the last bit in the dark, I felt more comfortable sticking to a trail that was familiar.  It would also make our hike 1 mile shorter.

Another variation to consider for your Pen Y Fan hike is whether or not you want to hike up to Corn Du as well.  We didn’t as I wanted to make sure I had enough energy to get to the summit of Pen Y Fan and because the route up Corn Du on the side opposite Pen Y Fan looked very steep.  The trail up Corn Du from the Pen Y Fan side didn’t look quite as rigorous and also had a handrail.

pen y fan trail
The trail we took was well-marked. We never worried about getting lost.

Hiking Up Pen Y Fan

The trail starts right from the Pont ar Daf parking lot.  As we were about to start, there was a man with a weighted backpack coming down towards us. 

Since there was a bridge that was not very wide, I decided to let him come through first.  He was appreciative and shared that he had just had a personal best of going up and down in 70 minutes. I congratulated him and thought to myself, this is not going to be so bad.

start of the pen y fan trail
When you first start the hike, you can’t even see Pen Y Fan.

Looking up at the trail it was well-marked but looked long and steep.  I couldn’t see the Pen Y Fan summit, so I was a little worried that we had started our hike too late and might miss the sunset or have to turn around before we got to the top.  We needed to get moving!

I’m not going to lie, hiking up Pen Y Fan was not easy.  I was kicking myself for all the walking we had done earlier in the day exploring Coch Castle and Caerphilly Castle.  It reminded me that I was out of shape.  At times, I found it hard to catch my breath and I wanted to give up.

I took breaks as needed but tried to keep moving forward, even if it was at a slow pace.  After what seemed like forever we reached the rim.  The views to the valley on the other side were lovely.  We could see a lake, trees, sheep, and more.

pen y fan view
Once we got to the ridge, we had spectacular views over the valley.

It was time to decide if we wanted to go up to the Corn Du peak or just walk behind it to Pen Y Fan.  The trail up to Corn Du looked even steeper than the trail I had come on.  I was tired and I worried that if I had to do that climb I wouldn’t have any effort left to get up to Pen Y Fan.  Since I couldn’t see the trail down Corn Du, I feared that it might be even more severe.

After a short discussion, we decided we only need to make it up one peak and took the easier option towards Pen Y Fan.  This part of the hike was relatively flat until the last bit where adrenaline will carry you up.

last bit up to the pen y fan peak
The last bit of the climb up to the Pen Y Fan summit wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

We actually got to the summit earlier than I expected.   If I were to go back, I would try the path up to Corn Du.  I don’t think the path was as bad as I thought.  Going down Corn Du, it even had handrails.

Up at the Summit of Pen Y Fan

Once you get to the top of Pen Y Fan, you must take your celebratory photo with the cairn.  Then walk around and take in the 360 degree views of the Brecon Beacons.  This is when you might want your jacket (and other winter gear), as it was quite windy and cold when we did this hike in June.

anisa and russell at the top of pen y fan
One of many photos we took with the cairn on top of Pen Y Fan.

Since we had some time before the sunset, we sat down on some rocks and enjoyed a casual picnic.  It wasn’t anything fancy, just sandwiches, but given the setting it was quite special.  We were sitting on the highest peak in southern Britain.

As the sun started to set, Russell got his photography gear out to capture the moment.  There were several other photographers that also had the same idea.  Still, there was plenty of space and it wasn’t crowded.

I started to get cold and also wanted to make sure we got back to the car before it got too dark, so I urged Russell to start heading down.  In hindsight, we could have stayed a bit longer, but I would have needed a hat or something to not freeze.

sunset from the top of pen y fan
We enjoyed the sunset at the top of Pen Y Fan

Hiking Down Pen Y Fan

Going down Pen Y Fan is definitely easier than going up!  We were going down the same way we came up, so I had a good idea of what the path was like. Still, it was steep so I felt like I needed to take my time to make sure I didn’t slip.  I was probably being over cautious, but better safe than sorry.

By the time we reached the car, it was starting to get dark.  The path is well-marked so it was still easy to follow.  There were still a few people on the trail. If it had been darker, I was prepared to use my phone as a flashlight.

sunset view on pen y fan hike
It was starting to get dark when we were walking down Pen Y Fan.

We were exhausted, our feet (and a few other body parts) hurt, but we both smiled.  It wasn’t easy but it was definitely worth it, the views were incredible.  We had climbed up the tallest peak in southern Britain.  It was an experience we would not soon forget.  

What to Bring on Your Pen Y Fan Hike

You will find the Pen Y Fan hike more enjoyable if you are prepared.  Here are my suggestions for what you need to have for the Pen Y Fan walk:

Hiking Shoes – While the path up Pen Y Fan is not a scramble, it is steep and there are some small loose rocks.  It will be easier to do if you have hiking shoes, but could be done in sneakers (trainers) too.  Check out hiking shoes options here.

Water – You will want to keep hydrated during your hike, so be sure to bring along plenty of water.  You could bring a refillable water bottle like this or if you think you will drink a lot of water a hydration backpack like this may be more practical.

Food/Snacks –  With all the energy you will be exerting, it’s a good idea to bring along some snacks to keep you going.  We brought some chips and sandwiches and had a picnic at the top of Pen Y Fan.

Photography Gear – We timed our visit so that we could capture the sunset from the top of Pen Y Fan.  That meant we needed our camera (Sony A6000, which may not be the newest model but works well for us), a tripod, and filters.  We also took photos on our iPhones.

Jacket, Gloves, Hat – I was surprised how chilly it was at the summit of Pen Y Fan when we did this hike in June.  Luckily I tried my jacket around my waist as I was walking up so I had it handy, but I would have liked to have a hat too.  If I would have been better prepared for the cold, I would have been able to stay on the summit longer.  Check out some popular cold weather gear options here

Sunscreen – There isn’t any shade on the Pen Y Fan trail, so you’ll want to make sure you wear sunscreen.  It’s best to use a sweatproof option (like this) and apply shortly before you begin the hike.

looking down the pen y fan trail
It’s easy to see why the Pen Y Fan hike is so popular.

How Long Does it Take to Hike Up Pen Y Fan?

It depends on the route you take and how fast you go.  We chose the route that is 2 miles up to the top and came back down the same way.  Going up took about 1:45 and down took about 1:15.  Most people were hiking faster than we were, so you can probably do it in less time too.  At the top, we relaxed and enjoyed the sunset for about an hour.

Can You Hike Pen Y Fan in Bad Weather?

Yes, people do hike Pen Y Fan in bad weather like rain, but I don’t recommend it.  Not only does it make conditions more challenging and even dangerous, but you won’t get the views that are a big part of why this hike is special.  If you do decide to go ahead when it looks like it might rain, be sure to bring along proper waterproof gear.

Can You See Any Wildlife When You Hike Pen Y Fan?

Yes.  It’s a good area for bird watching as there are a lot of red kites.  We also saw some other large birds that we couldn’t quite identify and plenty of sheep.

sheep we saw on Pen y Fan hike
We saw quite a few sheep during our Pen Y Fan walk.

Where do you park for the Pen Y Fan walk?

You can park at Pont ar Daf for free while you do the Pen Y Fan hike.  Use ‘Pont ar Daf car park’ in your GPS and it will take you there.  It’s right off the A470.

Are there Toilets on the Pen Y Fan Trail?

While there are no facilities along the trail, there are toilets available at the Pont ar Daf parking lot.

Other Hikes/Walks in the Brecon Beacons

The Brecon Beacons area is full of wonderful hikes for all ability levels.  Here are a few options for you to try:

Four Waterfalls Walk

This hike gets its name from the four waterfalls you see along the way.  I think it is a bit more challenging than Pen Y Fan because it can be quite steep in the sections going to each waterfall.  Still, the beautiful waterfalls make it worth the effort.  Read our Four Waterfalls hike guide.

Carreg Cennen Circular Walk

When you visit Carreg Cennen Castle, you should allow time to also do the 3.5 mile circular walk.  You can take in views of the castle as well as the peaceful countryside.  It’s classified as moderate difficulty as there are some steep sections.

Y Garn Goch Circular Walk

You can do a short hike to see both ancient hillforts at the Y Garn Goch site: Y Gaer Fach, the smaller fort, and Y Gaer Fawr, the larger one.  They are on separate summits on the same ridge.  The views from these hillforts are almost as impressive as the hillforts themselves.

To get to Y Garn Goch, use Garn Goch Hillfort Parking in google maps and/or look for the brown sign showing the way from Bethlehem Road. Once you park, it’s about a 15 minutes walk up to the smaller hillfort and then another 15 minutes up and down to the larger hillfort.  You can return the way you came or follow the circular route mapped out on the information board. The path is a bit steep and uneven so hiking shoes are recommended.

Sugar Loaf Mountain Circular Walk

At 595 meters (1,952 feet), the height of the summit of Sugar Loaf in the Brecon Beacons National Park may not be that impressive, but the five-mile circular walk has a lot to offer.  You go through lush green meadows and over heather-covered hills, before climbing the gentle ridge to the rocky peak.

pen y fan hike
Even though it was a challenging hike, we would do it again in a heartbeat.

Is Hiking Pen Y Fan Worth it?

Yes! The National Trust estimates that around 350,000 people climb the mountain every year.  It is a challenging walk, but the views along the way and at the top are glorious.  The green mountains and valleys along with the sheep are picture perfect.  You can also feel accomplished once you’ve reached the highest point in South Wales.  I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Have you done the Pen Y Fan hike? I would love to hear about your experience.


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hiking trail on pen y fan in wales

Expert Tips for Hiking Pen Y Fan

  • Plan on taking it easy for the rest of the day when you hike Pen Y Fan.
  • Bring a jacket and other winter gear (even in the summer) to keep you warm at the summit.
  • Time your hike so that you can watch the sunset from the top of Pen Y Fan.


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Last Updated on September 28, 2021

About the Author

Anisa is an experienced international traveler with extra pages in her passport and stamps from 41 different countries across 5 continents (and counting). She was born and raised in Texas. After a 13 year stint in NYC, she moved to England to live with her husband.