4 awesome family walks near Princetown in Dartmoor

by Jan

Looking for the best family walks near Princetown in Dartmoor?

These four awesome family hikes are perfect for children who love an outdoor adventure.  Whether it’s discovering an ancient settlement, exploring an enchanted wood, or paddling through a babbling brook, they won’t have time to get bored.  And, of course, which kid doesn’t love climbing a giant boulder or spotting a wild pony?

Our kid-friendly trails in the Dartmoor National Park walks are short, fun walks that all the family will love.

Walk 1: A walk to Merrivale Prehistoric Settlement

  • Distance:  2km (out and back)
  • Start:  Four Winds Car Park, Dartmoor (PL20 6ST)
  • Terrain:  open moorland

The first of our family walks in Dartmoor is to the prehistoric settlement of Merrivale.

We parked at the Four Winds car park off the B3357, which is just two miles from the Visitor Centre in Princetown.

This is a small, free car park next to a walled enclosure, that was formerly Foggintor School.  The school building no longer exists, but you’ll see a group of trees and (possibly) Dartmoor ponies.

Four Winds Car Park, Dartmoor, UK

Behind the car park is a tall standing stone, with the letters A and T engraved on each side.  If you follow this for about 10 minutes walking parallel with the road, you’ll come to the Merrivale prehistoric settlement.

There are no sign posts and no obvious paths, but a criss-cross of tracks in the open moorland.  The trail is flat, with no hills, but can be uneven.  It’s a scenic route with a pretty stream cutting through the moors to the site.

As you get closer, more standing stones will appear on the open landscape.

Tall stone Merrivale, Dartmoor, UK

This ancient settlement consists of several different areas, built during the Bronze Age.  The first is a double row of stones which runs east-west for about 260 metres. There is also a third single row, but this is less obvious than the others.

It is likely that the stones were ritual monuments and may belong to different eras in history, although all thousands of years old.

Merrivale Stones, Dartmoor, UK

The stones are not particularly big and as there are no fences or boundaries you can wander freely amongst them.  Moreover, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Halfway along the stone rows is a ring of stones, which is most probably a circular burial mound.

Nearer to the roadside, you’ll see the remains of some Bronze Age round houses.  We had seen a similar settlement at the base of Hound Tor earlier in the week.

Walk 2: A walk to King's Tor

  • Distance:  2km (out and back)
  • Start:  Four Winds Car Park, Dartmoor (PL20 6ST)
  • Terrain:  open moorland, rocky climb (steep in places)
Pano view from Kings Tor, Dartmoor, UK

Our next family-friendly walk near Princetown in Dartmoor is to King’s Tor and back.

The mighty King’s Tor looks down on Merrivale Settlement from above.  We could see it from the first walk to the Merrivale stones and the kids were keen to climb it.

This walk also starts from the Four Wind’s Car Park, so you could combine walks 1 and 2 on the same day.  Once again, walk up to the standing stone, but this time continue straight ahead towards King’s Tor.

Wikipedia says that a tor is a large, free-standing rock outcrop that rises abruptly from the surrounding smooth and gentle slopes of a rounded hill.  They are created by the erosion and weathering of rock.

Walking to Kings Tor, Dartmoor, UK

Once again, there’s no distinct path or signs, but you’ll easily be able to find one of the many man-made trails.  However, you don’t need directions, as the enormous granite outcrop dominates the landscape in the distance.  Just head for the Tor!

As you approach the summit, you’ll see the trackbed of the Old Princetown Railway, which curves round the tor.

View from Kings Tor, Dartmoor, UK

We stopped for lunch before clambering up between the rocks to the summit.  At the top, the vista is breath-taking.  Only a few other people were there, so we could lay back and enjoy the solitude and views.  The boys then took time to explore some caves in the cliffs.

We retraced our steps and returned to the car, where we saw some ponies harassing some other walkers.  We made a hasty escape before they came our way!

A walk from Princetown Visitor Centre to King's Tor

If you have older children, you can do a longer walk to King’s Tor by following the Dartmoor Way on the railway from Princetown Visitor Centre.  This walk is about 10 km and will take you past the former Sweltor Quarry on the way.

Walk 3: A walk to the ancient Wistman's Wood

  • Distance:  4km (out and back)
  • Start:  Wistman’s Wood Car Park, Dartmoor (opposite the Two Bridges Hotel)
  • Terrain:  gravel, rocky tracks and open moorland
  • Refreshments:  Two Bridges Hotel (opposite car park)
Walk to Wistmans Wood, Devon, UK

Our third family walk near Princetown was to the mystical Wistman’s Wood.  For this walk, park in the small car park opposite the Two Bridges Hotel.

From the car park, you can’t go wrong.  Just look for the signpost with an arrow pointing to Wistman’s Wood.  It really is a straightforward out-and-back route.  The trail is about 1.5 miles (2 km each way) and takes roughly an hour in total.

It’s a pretty walk, with wonderful views of the Dartmoor hills and valley.  On either side of the path, you’ll see sheep, cows and possibly ponies grazing in the gorse.

Trees of Wistmans Wood, Devon, UK

Kids will love Wistman’s Wood, as it looks like something from a fairy tale.  The oak trees are stunted, with gnarly mossy branches that twist down to the ground.  Lichen-covered granite boulders blanket the forest floor, giving it an unusual other-worldly look.

Boulders and Trees at Wistmans Wood, Devon, UK

It’s advisable not to go deep into the forest as the moss and lichen are so precious and fragile. 

Some of it has taken hundreds of years to grow and there are now over 100 types of lichen in the wood.  Some of the lichen is so rare (Horsehair lichen) that it is only found here and one other place in Britain.

Click here for more details on the walk to Wistman’s Wood.

Walk 4: A circular walk from Dartmeet

  • Distance:  5.5km (out and back)
  • Start:  Dartmeet Car Park (PL20 6SG)
  • Terrain:  gravel tracks, gentle climbs, rocky in places
  • Refreshments:  Badger’s Holt Tea Rooms or Chalet Café (at Dartmeet)
Dartmeet, Dartmoor, UK

We came across Dartmeet almost by accident.  It is a scenic spot where the tributaries of the East and West Dart rivers meet.  It’s a fantastic place for kids, as the water by the bridge is clear and shallow, which is perfect for paddling or climbing on the giant boulders and stepping stones.

Dartmeet, Climbing Stones, Dartmoor, UK

The walk from Dartmeet is the longest of our family walks near Princetown.  To start the walk head to the end of the car park.  It’s a cheap, pay and display car park, with a small café and toilets, so ideal for facilities at the start and end of the walk.

From here follow the footpath that runs up besides Badger’s Holt Tea Rooms.  The trail follows north along the footpath by the river.

Kids will love the walk, which takes you to an ancient clapper bridges,  stepping stones, and a disused quarry.  Unlike the others there is a path with way marker signs.  When you get back you can stop for an ice cream and play in the water.

You can click here for a full description of the Dartmeet walk.

Keep an eye out for wildlife, as within minutes of walking, we saw Dartmoor ponies sheltering under some trees.

Dartmoor Prison Museum, Princetown

Whilst you are in the area, you might wish to visit the Dartmoor Prison Museum.  Here you can find out about life about Dartmoor Prison, one of the world’s most notorious jails.

We were hoping to go after our walk to Wistman’s Wood but got waylaid by a Devon cream tea and ran out of time!

Getting to Princetown, Dartmoor

Princetown is in the middle of the UK’s Dartmoor National Park, in Devon, south-west England.  It is near to the villages of Yelverton and Widecombe-in-the-Moor.

You can get to Princetown by car on the A38 or A386.

The closest train stations to Princetown are in Plymouth, Totnes, Ivybridge, Exeter and Newton Abbot.  Regular trains run from London Paddington and take about 4 hours.

Have you tried any of these family walks near Princetown?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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