Climbing Cadair Idris is a great day hike, with some stunning views. I have to admit it’s one of the more challenging mountains I’ve climbed in the UK but I will come onto that later. The Cadair Idris walk takes you on a scenic route up the ninth highest mountain in Wales, in the south of Snowdonia National Park.
There are three main routes up to Cadair Idris summit at 893 m, the Pony Track, the Fox’s Path and the one I chose, the Minffordd Path. Apparently, the Minffordd Path is the shortest route up to the summit. But don’t get too excited, the shortest also means the steepest! If one mountain summit isn’t enough for your day hike, then the route I took also takes you up the second highest summit of Cadair Idris Mynydd Moel at 863 m.
Read for full details of my Cadair Idris walk including the circular route I took.
Planning my Cadair Idris walk
My planning began months ago for this hike. I had initially wanted to climb Cadair Idris during my National Park tour of the UK but a bad ankle and heavy rain changed my mind. I still had my friend’s Ordnance Survey OS Explorer 23 map so now it was time to climb this mountain!
After deciding on my route via the Minffordd Path, mainly because it was a shorter drive from my accommodation in mid-Wales at Hafren Forest Bunkhouse. It turned out to be a great choice for my day hike.
- Check the weather report (www.mountain-forecast.com) before you do the climb!
Starting point for the hike
The walk starts at Cadair Idris Car Park, off the A487. The closest sat nav postcode is LL36 9AJ but once you turn off the A487, you’ll see the signs for the car park.
Arriving at the car park, a few cars were already parked up, obviously more organised than me with an earlier start.
The car park has a small toilet block with information about Cadair Idris (or Cader Idris) on the outside walls. There are enough spaces for maybe 30-50 cars (sorry I didn’t count all the spaces!)
The parking was free for me on this particular day. For some reason, the car parking machine was covered in tape! The sign for Cadair Idris parking costs were £2.50 for up to 4 hours and £5 for all day (until midnight), I’d hope you would be back by that time otherwise you might be needing Mountain Rescue! Cash only, no card payments available. But maybe you’ll be lucky if the parking machine is still out of service!
Cadair Idris Walk
Cadair Idris Car park to Llyn Cau – Stage 1
Hiking distance: 2 km
Hiking time: 1 hour
A beautiful and flat start to the hike, down a track towards the tearoom (which was closed in March) then through a little gate. Ok, so the flat path lasts about 2 minutes, maybe 3 if you’re walking slow. Now, here is where the climb starts and it’s a steep climb so be prepared to get warm. The steps take you up through a forest, which is very beautiful, even though tough at the same time.
After about 1 km, the path splits. The right path takes you over a slate bridge signposted Mynydd Moel. Then left is to Llyn Cau (the lake at the foot of Cadair Idris) via the Minffordd path (on the OS map).
I headed towards Llyn Cau, the path isn’t as steep now so you can catch your breath. As you approach the lake, there’s a huge flat rock, the Minffordd Path route goes up here. I would recommend spending a few extra minutes walking down to the lake, it’s pretty and on a sunny day I bet it would make a great picnic stop. You can even go wild swimming here!
Note – The summit is the peak on your right, not the one directly in front which I admit does look higher from this angle!
- If you have a few layers on then I’d recommend taking them off before you start the upwards hike.
- Take a mini side trip to the lake Llyn Cau.
Llyn Cau along Craig Cau – Stage 2
Hiking distance: 2 km
Hiking time: 1 hour
Now you’ve enjoyed the pretty scenery, get ready for some more serious uphill. Although, on your way up there are a couple of great spots for photos so don’t rush and enjoy the views on Llyn Cau!
Once up the top of this section you now follow the path all the way along Craig Cau ridge. This section is particularly challenging, not only is it steep, but there are lots of loose rocks so be careful with your footing.
The path is undulating and takes you on a tough but scenic path, as you can look down to Llyn Cau lake. Don’t get too close to the edge though, it’s a long way down!
Now, remember that point that looked like the summit! Well, you’re about to follow the path around to the right and climb up here. It’s more loose rocks so be careful and there’s a treat at the top, a little stile for you to climb over (as if you’ve not already climbed enough!)
Craig Cau to Cadair Idris summit – Stage 3
Hiking distance: 0.5 km
Hiking time: 30 minutes
Depending on the weather, the wind can really pick up on this section. But if you think the other side will be any different then you’re likely to be wrong. As I climbed over the steps of the stile I was met with a huge gust of wind. Feeling hungry I had planned to stop here for lunch but I quickly decided that was a bad idea.
On a clear day, as you head down this section, you can look across to the path up to Cadair Idris. Be sure to keep to the path here as there’s a huge drop on your right and it’s easy to veer off the route!
As I walked down past a section of rocks, the wind seemed to drop so I opted for a lunch stop to fuel up for the final ascent. 20 minutes later, after sandwiches, a few crisps – the wind blew half of them out of my hand (hmmm maybe it wasn’t such a sheltered spot, after all, haha) and some peppermint tea from my Sigg Hot and Cold flask it was time for the last climb to the summit.
It was at this point the clouds started to creep across the sky, clinging to the top of the mountain. I opted for a few photos just below the summit. A great view as you look down you can see the path you’ve walked up from the lake. Then out of nowhere, the trig point appears, yes I’ve made it to the top!
As you start to head down on your left there’s a great shelter. It’s much better than the tiny one at the top of Ben Nevis, I reckon you could fit maybe 20+ people in there, maybe more. Although, the wind had filled quite a bit of it with snow!
Cadair Idris summit to Mynydd Moel – Stage 4
Hiking distance: 2 km
Hiking time: 30 minutes
From the summit, you have two choices, you can either go back exactly the same way as you came. Or option two is to go back via Mynydd Moel. If you have your OS Map out in front of you then you might be wondering what I’m talking about as there doesn’t appear to be a path all the way. I promise that there is an obvious path, complete with some more stiles too!
This section is a relatively easy hike, the path doesn’t lose too much elevation so within about half an hour you’re at Cadair Idris’s second summit Mynydd Moel.
I really liked the views from here and there’s a mini wind shelter at the top as well.
Mynydd Moel to Cadair Idris Car Park – Stage 5
Hiking distance: 3.5 km
Hiking time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Now finally, it’s time to start descending for real. It starts gradually at first but once you reach another step stile it quickly gets very steep. Well, I’m sure you will remember how steep it was going up. The path is full of lots of loose rocks so take your time, now is not the time to fall!
After what feels like forever going downhill, (I think it makes it worse as you can see the main road in the distance), you reach another step stile on your right. Climb over this and follow the path all the way down to the slate bridge.
Now, this is the easy bit, that crazy steep climb that probably took you double the time on the way up is now your path back to the car park.
Congratulations you’ve just climbed the ninth highest mountain in Wales 🙂
You might like to read 3 day hikes in the Brecon Beacons
Cadair Idris walk – Clothes, Gear and Tips for the Hike
What to wear for hiking Cadair Idris?
My recommendations for what to wear when hiking mountains are always the same. Whether it’s Ben Nevis in the UK or Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the key is layers. As you climb a mountain the weather changes the highest you go up, more wind and it’s definitely cooler at the top. Did you know it’s about 9 degrees difference between the top and bottom of Ben Nevis in Scotland?
Another essential item is good hiking boots. They offer support for your ankles, especially on those rocky sections. I love my Scarpa boots 🙂
You might like to read – 22 day hikes in the UK
Top tips for climbing Cadair Idris
- Be prepared for how steep this walk is, especially the downhill sections too. You might like some hiking poles to offer some extra support.
- Stop by the lake for photos, it’s slightly off the Minffordd Path but only a 10-minute detour.
- Pack extra warm layers and waterproofs (even if it’s not supposed to rain!)
- Take a map and compass, if the cloud comes in then you can’t rely on just looking for the path
- If you’re hiking solo tell someone you are doing the hike (and remember to let them know you’re back safe)
- Pack some lunch and a hot drink. Maybe try out some freeze-dried meals!
- Remember your First Aid Kit with a few essential items
You might like to read What to pack for a day hike in the UK
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