Ilam Dovedale circular walk including the Stepping Stones

Please share

The Ilam Dovedale circular walk has got to be one of my favourites in the Peak District. Pretty easy to complete at just over 4 miles with loads of points of interest along the way. This one gets really busy on a sunny day in certain areas but mainly it’s pretty easy to avoid the crowds. It takes in the famous Stepping Stones at Dovedale so will score you serious brownie points if your completing the walk with kids.

views from buster hill in the Peak District

Where to start the Ilam Dovedale walk

You’ll begin the walk at Ilam Park Dovedale. A beautiful National Trust property in the Staffordshire Peak District. This is free to visit for National Trust members and one you don’t currently have to book. Non members will need to pay £3.50 for 4 hours parking. The postcode to get you to Ilam Park is DE6 2Az. You’ll have to follow some fairly windy roads but it is pretty well signposted. Follow the brown National Trust signs.

The Ilam Dovedale circular walk route

Leave Ilam Park heading away from the buildings down the large stone steps. You’ll be following a well marked path past the Church of the Holy Cross. Then leaving the Ilam Estate into the village

Ilam Village

Ilam village is so very pretty it almost feels fake. You’ll pass sweet Alpine houses set back from the road as you head down towards the River Dove. This is the only part of the route you may encounter some traffic so be very careful when crossing the roads. This is a very popular Peak District village and gets super crowded on a nice day with people trying to avoid parking charges.

bridge over river dove in ilam village

Keep going through the village, crossing over to the Ilam cross roundabout then again to walk alongside the river. Keep going a bit along the pavement then cross the road, following the signposts to Dovedale and the stepping stones.

Crossing the fields

It’s now a lovely 1 mile stomp across the fields to get to Dovedale. You’ll be heading across Bunster Hill so expect some stunning Peak District views. The terrain is pretty easy to cover and the path simple to follow. Although you will encounter some steps and the beginning of Bunster. There are plenty of footpath signs to keep you going in the right direction.

It’s likely you’ll be heading through sheep grazing the fields so just give them a respectful distance and keep dogs on a lead. And watch where you’re walking!

Make sure you join the Marvellous Midlands Walks Facebook Group where you can share your favourite routes, photos and recommendations for walks in the Midlands. It’s also a great place to ask for recommendations and find inspiration for your next hike.

Dovedale Stepping Stones

Eventually you’ll be rejoining the river at Dovedale carpark. This is again a very busy part of the walk. Keep going past the cafe, following the signs (and crowds) to the Stepping Stones. This is around a half mile flat, easy to follow path. There are some benches and bridges along the way should you need a break.

You’ll quickly come across the famous Dovedale Stepping Stones. They’ve appeared in so many Peak District adverts, you’ll probably feel like you’ve been there before. They can sometimes take a little time to cross due to people coming in both directions. Just be patient, you’ll make it eventually.

The stones are fairly large and flat so you shouldn’t have any trouble once you’re on them. Just watch your footing obviously incase they’re a bit slippy.

The grassy area around the stones will often be full of families enjoying a picnic and a paddle in the river Dove so we rarely stop here.

If you’re looking for somewhere else to paddle in the Peak District, try this Padley Gorge walk.

Thorpe Cloud

If you’re feeling even more energetic then you could throw in a quick hike up Thorpe Cloud. It won’t take too long but it is fairly steep. The views of the surrounding Peak District are definitely worth the challenge. You’ll need sturdy footwear and plenty of water. You’ll find the start of the trails at Stepping Stones, some are harder than others so just pick whichever feels right.

Following the River

Once back to the Stepping Stones keep following the river. You’ll be on the other side this time. This is where the route will get quieter again.

The terrain is a bit more challenging with sharp rises and falls. It’s here we like to stop for a paddle, let the dog in the water and enjoy a picnic. The water isn’t too deep or fast flowing but it is very, very cold pretty much year round.

Once we’d followed the river for twenty minutes or so we decided to turn round and retrace our steps back to Dovedale. You can keep going to Milldale, eventually crossing the river and looping back to Ilam. But I wanted to try the alternative route back this time.

young girl and her dad walking along a sandy path next to a river

The alternative route back

I always try to follow a circular route, I don’t know why but I’m obsessed with a loop! Once we made it back to the Dovedale carpark we followed the path off to the right up, through a stile and up a very steep incline. This was signposted “The Alternative Route”.

man, girl and dog walking across a deserted field in the peak district hills

It’s slightly longer than the route over. And a lot harder on the knees. The paths are steeper, narrow and less well trod. We absolutely loved it! It’s unlikely you’ll pass many people going this way so it felt we had this section of the Peak District all to ourselves.

The rolling green hills, limestone rock faces and lazily grazing sheep make for the stunning scenery this part of the world is famous for. Soak it all in. You’ll eventually get back down to Bunster Hill and return into Ilam village.

two sheep on a grassy green hill with a ray of sunlight

We completed our Ilam Dovedale loop following the main road into the Estate which offered some glorious views of the Ilam Hall Youth Hostel. Just imagine staying here!

The Ilam Dovedale walk with dogs

Holly, our Hungarian Vizsla loves this walk. Whilst she stays on the lead for a big chunk of it, we do tend to let her off once we get past the Stepping Stones. She can swim and chase sticks here for hours. Always clean up after you’re dog and keep this lovely walk pleasant for everyone. You’ll find dog bins at Ilam Park and the Dovedale car park.

There is a dog station with fresh water at Ilam Park.

Refreshments and Facilities

Ilam Park has plenty of clean toilets so I recommend using them before you start. There’s also a lovely cafe offering take out, perfect for a caffeine hit before you head off.

You’ll also find a toilet at the Dovedale carpark which is 20p to use. Make sure you bring some cash. There’s another small take out kiosk here where we tend to stop for an ice cream to keep us going.

takeaway kiosk at Dovedale

Route details

The route we took was around four and a half miles. You could easily extend or shorten this. If you’re after a flat or easier walk then I recommend you skip the alternative route back. Just follow the meadow route from Ilam to Dovedale and back.

Peak district green hills

This is not one I would recommend on wheels.

Dovedale stepping stones walk

If you just want to complete the Dovedale stepping stones walk, you don’t have to do the full Ilam Dovedale circular walk. Start at the Dovedale Carpark then its half a mile to the stepping stones and back. A super easy route to follow if you have little kids or a lot of stuff to carry.

Dovedale Stepping Stones Parking

Parking at Dovedale Carpark is just £3 for the whole day. Get there early as it can fill up. The postcode is DE6 2AY.

If you enjoy walks with Stepping stones then you’ll also love this Cannock Chase Stepping Stones walk.

For another one in the Peak District with the chance to get your toes wet is the Three Shires Head walk, a glorious hike to a beautiful river.

Pin for later to follow this Ilam Dovedale circular walk

ilam dovedale circular walk pin image

Leave a Comment