The simplest and most cost-effective way of exploring a UK national park is on foot. And there really is truth to the age-old advice that it's good to "stop and smell the roses". Exploring Britain's diverse landscapes at your own pace not only builds an appreciation of just how amazing these natural spaces are, it also helps shake off the stresses and strains of everyday life.
True, littler feet and the little people attached to them may not be up for grand treks across vast stretches of wilderness. But have no fear: we've put together a list of suggestions for fun, family friendly walks in the national parks. And see our top tips for making walking with children fun for everyone!
Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal: The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal is one of the most scenic and spectacular canals in the UK. The towpath winds its way for more than 50 km between Brecon and Cwmbran and has good views over farmland, woodland and mountains. The canal is also home to a wide range of flora and fauna.
Barton Broad Boardwalk: Just the name is fun to say – encourage your kids to try to say that three times fast. Barton Broad Boardwalk at Barton Broad is an easily accessible route that will take you on a mysterious journey of discovery into a lost world that has remained isolated for half a century. The mystery trail leads you through swampy, wildlife-filled carr woodland, with resting places and tapping edges along the way and emerges to give a surprise panoramic view over Barton, second largest of the broads.
Glenmore Phototrail: An easy jaunt from the Glenmore Forest Park Visitor Centre the Glenmore Phototrail is a great way to take in the very best of the Cairngorms' natural beauty without having to scramble up challenging mountain routes. Glenmore is a beautiful spot that holds one of the few remaining pockets of ancient Caledonian Pinewood in Scotland. In the middle of the forest is Loch Morlich with its long sandy beach. The paths and trails around the forest park are well maintained and offer good access.
Dartmoor Audio Walks: Perhaps more suited to children who are just a bit older, the leg-stretching Dartmoor Audio Walks are enhanced by MP3 files to download and take along on your own audio device. There are informative walks for Bellever, Haytor, Postbridge or Princetown. It's a great way to experience a guided walk whilst keeping things moving at your own pace.
Dunster Castle: Exmoor is one of the best places in the UK for walking, with countless trails and postcard views around every corner. But a great place for little people to play and explore is the sprawling grounds of Dunster Castle, a beautiful National Trust property in the north-east corner of Exmoor National Park. Dramatically sited on a wooded hill, the castle has existed since at least Norman times, and boasts spectacular views toward the Bristol Channel, the Quantock hills and up to the moors of Exmoor.
Guided walks for families: Lake District National Park has put together a great programme of guided walks to help young people develop a love and appreciation for the outdoors. Visit the Walking With Children page on the national park's website and scroll down to the section titled: "Free family-friendly guided walks".
For even more ideas, visit the Lake District's walking pages.
Luss Village Paths: Download a PDF leaflet featuring directions and maps for four different paths. The walks include two short, all-abilities paths that are particularly suitable for walkers, wheel-chair users and buggy-pushers, to a more strenuous 1-hour walk through the village and surrounding countryside.
Standing Hat Circular: A lovely walk, through Forestry Commission managed enclosures, the Standing Hat Circular Walk offers a great opportunity to spend a few leisurely hours in the enclosed woodlands. Walking in the forest on a summer's day just can't be beat, but even in less-than-perfect weather it's a treat.
Simonside Family Walk: A favourite of Northumberland National Park rangers, the Simonside Family Walk follows a route within the forestry of Simonside, which is part of the larger Harwood forest area. The site is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission for both recreation and commercial forestry interests. There is a variety of tree species in the forest, mostly coniferous which means they have needles, bear cones and do not lose their leaves in winter. However, there are some deciduous trees, too.
Forge Valley Woods: Take to the boards on this easygoing 2-mile linear route through the strikingly beautiful woods of Forge Valley. The Forge Valley Woods Walk is a joy to walk at any time of year. In spring you'll find yourself overwhelmed with great swathes of pungent wild garlic and delightful wood anemone; in autumn, the woodland colours are magnificent.
Bakewell and Haddon Hall: With gentle gradients and great views near the River Wye, the Bakewell to Haddon Hall walk is an easy and pleasant 5-mile circular route.
Wales Coast Path: Taking in all 870 miles of Wales' coast the recently completed Wales Coast Path is obviously not a one-day affair. But it is easily accessed from any number of points and some of its most breathtaking sections can be found within the boundaries of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The path stays relatively level through the national park, however there are a few adventurous ascents and descents, which usually bring you to a beach.
Bridges Walks: There are three short walks, all starting from Y Stablau, the National Park Information Centre in Betws-y-Coed. You can do the Bridges Walks all as one longish walk (between 2 and 3 hours), or individually at about 1 hour each, or as a combination of two of the shorter walks, depending on how much time you have or how energetic you feel. The walks cover easy ground and are suitable for all the family.
South Downs Way: The South Downs Way is one of 15 National Trails in England and Wales and was the first bridleway National Trail in England. It is also the only National Trail to lie entirely within a National Park. Stretching from the ancient cathedral city of Winchester in the west, first capital of England, through to the white chalky cliffs of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head at Eastbourne in the east, almost all of it is blissfully off-road.
Short Walks in the Park: The Yorkshire Dales National Parks Authority has put together a fantastic collection of short walks, each with a downloadable PDF offering a route description, a map and useful information such as nearby parking and, where relevant, public transportation links which allow you to travel to the walk sustainably.