Driving in the Peak District - the ultimate guide

Driving in the Peak District is an incredible experience, but to really make the most of it you'll need to know the best routes.

Britain’s first designated national park is characterised by rolling hills, river dales, limestone gorges and panoramic views across the plateaus. It’s also home to the delightful towns of Bakewell, Buxton, Matlock and Chapel-en-le-Frith.

It's one of the most iconic places in the UK to drive and has plenty of well-recommended routes for driving enthusiasts.

If you're unsure where to start and what the key things to see are, then our guide is here to help.

Here we look at some of the very best drives and things to do when driving in the Peak District.

Where is the Peak District?

The Peak District is widely recognised as one of the most picturesque areas of the UK. Spread mainly across northern Derbyshire, it became Britain’s first designated national park in 1951, and attracts more than 10 million visitors every year.

It’s characterised by rolling hills, river dales, limestone gorges and panoramic views across the plateaus. It’s also home to delightful towns like Bakewell, Buxton, Matlock and Chapel-en-le-Frith.

A drive here will take you through windswept valleys, soaring mountains and chocolate box villages.

Best drives in the Peak District

Peak District

Here we have compiled some of the best drives not to miss when visiting the Peak District

Snake Pass

Crossing the Pennines, the Snake Pass serves as a scenic and more direct alternative to using the motorways that connect Sheffield to Manchester.

Contrary to belief, its name doesn’t come from the fact that the winding road snakes round – it’s actually derived from the emblem of the Snake Inn, a local pub in the high hills.

The pass carries the A57 road, and runs from Glossop to the Ladybower reservoir at Ashopton. It stretches a total of 20 miles and takes about 25 minutes to complete.

It’s a really thrilling drive, with its tight bends, steep hills and breath-taking views of the countryside. But it can also be dangerous, especially in the winter months when it can get pretty treacherous at times.

As you may have noticed from traffic reports, it’s usually one of the first roads to be closed when it snows, along with the adjacent Woodhead Pass.

If you’re planning to drive this route, make sure you carry out the appropriate safety checks first and are prepared for bad weather. Once you’re on the road, be aware of hidden speed traps and keep a close eye out for stray sheep and cyclists on hidden bends.

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Cat ‘n’ Fiddle

Also named after a pub, the Cat ‘n’ Fiddle road runs through the heart of the Peaks between Buxton and Macclesfield. As well as being a favourite route for drivers, it’s also very popular with motorcyclists.

Known for its challenging twists and hairpin bends, the road steadily climbs upwards above the reservoirs below, with the wind often howling as you ascend.

It takes about 20 minutes to drive this 12-mile stretch of road. While it’s an exhilarating drive, it’s also one of the most dangerous, and is dotted with average speed cameras that were installed to tackle the high accident rate among bikers.

It’s best left to experienced drivers. Take it steady to absorb the full majesty of the landscape.

Winnats Pass

Lying to the west of the village of Castleton, Winnats Pass is a narrow hilly climb that winds through a steep gorge flanked by towering limestone pinnacles on both sides.

It leads up to the hamlet of Sparrowpit and on to Chapel-en-le-Frith, known as the capital of the Peak District. The name Winnats means ‘windy gates’ – in reference to the winds that swirl through the entrance to Hope Valley. If you’re driving here, watch out for walkers and cyclists.

The valley, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, used to be under a tropical sea, and the limestone is full of fossils of sea creatures that lived here more than 350 million years ago.

Melting glaciers caused a large underground cave to form which eventually collapsed, leaving the valley you can drive through today. Legend has it that the pass is haunted after a young couple were murdered there by miners in the 18th century.

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Buy an RAC Breakdown Assistance Kit today

Make sure you’re prepared for a breakdown and are kept safe at the roadside.

Things to do in the Peak District

The Peak District

Why not combine a scenic drive with a visit to some of the area’s top attractions and beauty spots?

Chatsworth House

Often called a jewel in England’s crown, Chatsworth is one of the finest stately homes in the country. Home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, it has more than 30 rooms to explore, including the regal state rooms and exquisite Painted Hall.

Outside, you can enjoy a stroll in the Capability Brown-designed park on the banks of the River Derwent.

It’s worth noting that tickets booked online include free parking, whereas tickets bought on the gate incur a parking charge.

Haddon Hall

This medieval manor house has had a starring role in several films and period dramas over the years, including Moll Flanders, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.

You’ll see why when you approach the hall, which is framed by trees and covered with climbing roses. You feel like you’ve slipped back in time a couple of hundred years. Highlights include the medieval kitchen and Elizabethan long gallery.

The car park is on the opposite side of the A6 to the hall, and costs £3 per car.

Bakewell

Lying on the banks of the River Wye, Bakewell is the largest town in the Peak District. Its pale stone buildings, medieval five-arched bridge and independent shops are a big draw for sightseers.

While you’re here, be sure to try the famous Bakewell tart. The story goes that it was created by accident in the 19th century by a cook whose jam tarts went awry.

Monsal Head

One of the most photographed viewpoints in Derbyshire, Monsal Head is a place to relax and just admire the stunning landscape.

Perched directly above Monsal Dale, it looks out over the winding River Wye at the foot of the steep dale. The panorama also takes in the Headstone viaduct and Hob’s House Cave.

You can explore the dale itself on foot along the Monsal Trail, which crosses the old Midland Railway line.

Monsal Head is off the B6465 between Ashford in the Water and Wardlow, and there’s a pay-and-display car park at the site.

Plan your route