Find a ride / Wales

Elan valley


We stumbled on this 17-mile loop near Rhayader, in mid Wales, by chance, having aborted a three-day bike tour. Forget being just one of the best family-friendly routes – it’s one of the best days out cycling I’ve ever had. The scenery is spectacular, with the water cascading over the early-20th century dams (the railway that now forms the trail was built to transport materials for their construction) and the sun bathing the ancient Cambrian hills in golden light. On top of this, we had red kites wheeling overhead all day. The first half of the ride is traffic-free, fairly flat, and suitable for kids riding their own bikes. The second half is on the quiet Rhayader-Aberystwyth mountain road, and a bit of a stiff climb too, so best limited to confident cyclists pulling children in trailers. Honestly, though, our highlight was the picnic at the top!

  • AREA: Mid Wales
  • DISTANCE: 17 miles for the full loop
  • FACILITIES: Cafe, toilets and playground at Elan village
  • BIKE HIRE: In Rhayader or Elan village
  • PARKING: Free parking at the start of the trail outside Rhayader
  • GRADIENT: First half flat, second half hilly
  • WHAT BIKE: MTB, hybrid or touring bike


  1. From the car park, follow the Elan Valley trail westwards, dropping down into Elan village visitor centre for a coffee and play if you fancy.
  2. Climb back uphill to rejoin the trail, and continue towards the first dam wall.
  3. Continue on the trail as it turns northwards, following the eastern shore of the Garreg-Ddu reservoir.
  4. When you get to the top-most dam, cross the dam wall and turn right onto the minor road. Follow it uphill, crossing the stream where it flows into the dam, bracing yourself for a stiff climb after the bridge.
  5. Turn right onto the Aberystwyth mountain road. Continue climbing to the pass, then descend towards Rhayader. Turn left to rejoin the start of the trail.

  6. On the Elan valley trail, once a railway line for dam construction

    On the Elan valley trail, once a railway line for dam construction

    The gentle climb towards the first dam wall, built in the early 20th century

    The gentle climb towards the first dam wall, built in the early 20th century

    The topmost dam wall with the Cambrian hills behind

    The topmost dam wall with the Cambrian hills behind

    A stiff climb out of the valley towards the Aberystwyth-Rhayader road

    A stiff climb out of the valley towards the Aberystwyth-Rhayader road

    Our mountain picnic in the grass

    Our mountain picnic in the grass

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