Step out into any of the popular car parks in North Wales and the likelihood is that whatever the weather you’ll see people heading for the summits of the major mountains. Pick any day and Snowdon will be there, with potentially thousands of people battling their way up in a gale, or slipping on the late spring snow. But there’s another way (a better way) of seeing the wonders of Snowdonia without always heading uphill. The National Park is more than just Snowdon; it reaches from Conwy, down past Porthmadog and all the way to Machynlleth. Cutting through these mountains are valleys rich in wildlife and history, and a long coastline interspersed with sandy estuaries. Here are three places to check out if you want half a day exploring in the north of the National Park:
If you’ve driven into Snowdonia from the east you’ve probably seen it, the great forest surrounding Betws-y-Coed. The area hides old lead mines dating back to the Romans, and the modern plantation makes space for native species and open heath. Nature has reclaimed the spoil tips and the old mine reservoirs are now peaceful lakes dotted around the forest, where birds of prey soar above the trees. There’s a network of paths and sign-posted routes through the area allowing you to explore easily. And there are few better places than the Alpine Café in Betws-y-Coed for a coffee afterwards.
Just a short hop from Porthmadog is the village of Morfa Bychan, nestled into a bay looking out over the Glaslyn estuary. Follow the coast path from here west and you’ll encounter flower-filled woodland and hidden sandy beaches, before reaching the awe-inspiring giant beach of Black Rock Sands. With the Irish Sea in front for a paddle and the hill of Moel y Gest rising up beyond the fields this beach makes a great destination for any time of year – whether you want to wander the sand dunes enjoying the summer sun or admire the winter winds flying off the surf.
Cutting through the mountains and separating Snowdon from the Moelwynion, Nantgwynant is a valley with dappled woodland, the lakes of Llyn Dinas and Llyn Glaslyn, and in fact the entire valley would make a good walkers’ café crawl. A good place to start would be Beddgelert, where you can quickly escape the crowds visiting Gelert’s grave by taking a walk to Llyn Dinas, over Cwm Bychan, and exploring the Pass of Aberglaslyn. There are open meadows with high peaks on all sides, and myths that Merlin and King Arthur walked in this very place.