Magnificent dams, charming towns, mountain biking and scenic hikes. There are so many reasons why you must visit the Elan Valley in Wales.
The Elan Valley is a picturesque river valley in mid-Wales that’s situated to the west of the town of Rhayader and covers 70 square miles of beautiful lakes, dams and countryside.
Why you need to visit the Elan Valley Wales
It’s also part of the wider Cambrian Mountains region, the last wilderness in Wales.
Cambrian Mountains is a series of mountain ranges in central Wales that lies roughly between the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia.
Places to visit in the Elan Valley Wales
This is a sparsely populated area with unspoilt landscapes, wildlife, small communities and a series of dams and reservoirs.
The environment, culture and heritage of this area are preserved and cared by the local communities, farmers and estate owners. This is primarily what makes the area so distinctive.
There are many places to visit in the Elan Valley and you should aim to spend at least a few days exploring this peaceful area.
It’s an under-the-radar part of Wales that definitely needs to be on your bucket list.
Discover the Elan River Dams
The Elan Valley Reservoirs and dams are a chain of man-made lakes that were created from damming the Elan and Claerwen rivers.
This magnificent network of dams was built over a hundred years ago to supply water to Birmingham. They remain today, attracting thousands of visitors each year.
The dams are an extremely photogenic backdrop for walkers, photographers and cyclists. There are also some fabulous picnic spots near the dams.
There are 5 main dams that you can visit in the area. These include Claerwen, Craig Goch, Pen y Garreg, Garreg Ddu and Caban Coch.
Start your Dam discovery by going to the Elan Valley Visitor Centre, located below Caban Coch Dam.
Here you can learn more about the history and the building of the dams.
Elan Valley dam open days
You can even go inside one of the dams if you visit on one of their popular Dam open days.
Venture inside the Pen y Garreg Dam and up to the central tower. You’ll enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the dam wall which makes for some incredible photos.
Go Mountain Biking in awesome surroundings
Spend a day biking through the awe-inspiring scenery of the Elan Valley. You can bring your own bike, or take a guided bike tour with Mountain Bike Wales.
Let expert bikers Phil and Polly guide you through rugged landscapes and rocky trails on two wheels.
Go on a guided tour with MTB and bike through rivers, over hills and along bridleways as you traverse some pretty epic landscapes.
Grab a GoPro and make sure to get some snaps and footage of your thrilling bike journey through some of the most isolated parts of Wales.
Bike tour Wales
We didn’t see another soul on our bike ride, this only added to the remote feel of our journey. MTB Wales offers a range of rides and tours to suit all abilities, even novice bikers.
If you are feeling adventurous, MTB even offers multi-day journeys across Wales for the more seasoned rider.
We definitely recommend the Trans Cambrian Way experience if you are looking for an adventure!
Experience Stargazing in the Elan Valley
The Elan Valley Estate achieved International Dark Sky Park status in 2015 and became the first privately-owned but publicly accessible park in the world to do so.
Several optimal stargazing sites in the Elan Valley offer the best chances of seeing the cosmos, including the Teifi Pools, Claerwen Dam and the Craig Goch car park.
Organised stargazing events are held in the Elan Valley and Dark Sky Wales also take guided tours for small groups.
Optimum Dark Sky accommodation in the Elan Valley can be found at rustic Y Beudy. This rustic Grade II* longhouse dates right back to the 16th century and is a perfect, rural stargazing spot.
If you fancy a late-night gazing at the stars, there are several stargazing sites you can visit including Claerwen car park, Craig Goch, Teifi Pools and Pont Ar Elan.
If you are a fan of astrophotography, you can photograph the cosmos in a beautiful setting with low light pollution.
Hike the Elan Valley Trail
There are several hiking trails in the Elan Valley that range in length and difficulty.
If you are attempting any long walks, make sure you have proper hiking boots and carry water with you.
One of the most popular walks in the Elan Valley is the Elan Valley Trail that follows the route from the old railway line. It’s one of the easier walks in the area as it’s a mostly flat linear trail and surfaced paths.
The Elan Valley Trail starts in Cwmdauddwr, just west of Rhayader. It finishes 8 miles further up the valley at Craig Goch Dam.
Guided walks in the Elan Valley are also available through the year if you want to walk with a local expert? Visit the Elan Valley events calendar for upcoming guided walks.
Spend a day in Rhayader
Head over to the market town of Rhayader, the first town on the River Wye. This historic town is said to be the oldest in mid-Wales and is full of history and charm.
Many visitors head to this small, crossroad town to experience a wide range of outdoor activities including hiking and mountain biking.
You really need to stay and play in the actual town itself to enjoy the boutique shops, traditional pubs and cute cafes.
Spend a day checking out riverside walks, cycle routes, boutique shops and the biking pump track, Pump Track Wales.
Make sure to call in for coffee and cake at The Lost ARC Cafe, a unique music venue and arts centre. Their cakes are ridiculously good.
Whilst I approached the track with a ‘challenge Anneka’ mentality, it was hard to escape the reality that I’m a middle-aged woman on a very small bike. I don’t think I’ll be taking up BMXing anytime soon.
Dinner at Tŷ Morgan’s
Stay in Rhayader for the evening and have a relaxed dinner at Tŷ Morgan’s Bar and Bistro.
Enjoy a tasty mean in an upmarket bistro that has a welcoming atmosphere and local beers on draft. Typical menu offerings include steaks, lamb burger, salmon and pies.
Take a scenic drive through the valley
Take a scenic drive around the dams and reservoirs and experience the best road trip views in Wales.
The road allows good views of the dams and reservoirs and connects with the mountain road to Aberystwyth.
Head to the Visitor Centre to pick up a map and the get more information on routes and car parks around the estate.
Spot Red Kites
Wild red kites are one of the wildlife highlights of the Elan Valley and can be spotted across the landscape.
They are a remarkable bird of prey with angled wings and a distinctive forked tail.
You can see local red kites being fed at Gigrin Farm every day. They dramatically swoop in to pick up pieces of meat that are thrown for them.
It really is wonderful to see these impressive birds perform breathtaking aerial stunts.
If you have a decent camera and lenses, I recommend bringing it to get some incredible wildlife shots.
Where to stay in the Elan Valley
There’s a range of Elan Valley Trust Accommodation you can choose from local hotels, camping sites, AirBnbs or self-catering cottages.
You can find a hotel to suit your budget and length of time by using online price comparison sites such as Booking.com to find the best hotel deals in the area.
Some of the best places to stay in the Elan Valley include:
Stay at Penbont House
Penbont House is located in Rhayader in the heart of the picturesque Estate. It’s a quiet stay in the Welsh countryside surrounded by nature.
This cute B&B is right by the Pen y Garreg Dam, so you can stroll down the dam to take some early morning shots.
Enjoy delicious homemade cakes and food in relaxed surroundings.
Afternoon tea is also available and consists of freshly prepared sandwiches, cakes, scones and tea or coffee.
It has been carefully refurbished and extended to provide 5 ensuite rooms, as well as a light and airy conservatory and tea rooms.
Go glamping in the Elan Valley
Enjoy a luxury, off-grid glamping experience at Stellar Safari Lodge in a beautiful, rural setting. There a huge ‘cosy cabin’ vibes here with a wood-burning cooker stove, plush furnishing and contemporary decor.
The expansive safari tent sleeps six and amenities include an ensuite shower room with hot water and flushing toilet, a fully equipped kitchen, fire pit grill pizza oven and private wood-fired hot tub.
It’s a rural escape with glorious views and also offers the chance to disconnect from everyday life as there is no wi-fi here.
What do you think of my Elan Valley Wales Guide? Would you visit this gorgeous part of Wales? Let me know in the comments below!
Wales Travel Planning
- Join a Wales Travel Planning Facebook Group
- Book an Airbnb and have £34 towards your first booking
- Search for Wales hotel deals on Booking.com
- Get recommendations from TripAdvisor