Walking up Pen y Fan

If you’re looking for an exhilarating hike and some spectacular views across the South Wales countryside, head to Pen y Fan. So pack your rucksack and grab your walking jacket, it's time to take a look at all you need to know to tackle this popular walk.

Hikers walking along the top ridge of Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons.

Hikers walking along the top ridge of Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons.

Where is Pen y Fan? 

Pen y Fan is located in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park. This famous Brecon Beacons mountain range is in South Wales, forming the central section of the National Park. You’ll find Pen y Fan right in the middle of the Beacons Way, a popular long-distance walking footpath and route travelling from east to west. 

Is Pen y Fan a mountain? 

Pen y Fan is indeed a mountain, and the highest of its kind in South Wales. It also has a twin mountain, the peak of Corn Du. Together, the two peaks used to be known as ‘Arthur’s Seat’. 

How high is Pen y Fan? 

The summit of Pen Y Fan rises 886 metres above sea level, with Corn Du just below it at 873 metres. In terms of height, it isn’t too far behind Wales’ highest peak - Mount Snowdon, which rises 1,085 metres above sea level. 

How long does it take to climb Pen y Fan? 

The circular walk up Pen y Fan takes around two and a half hours to complete in total. This is a moderate but reasonably strenuous walk of around four miles. 

The time it takes to reach the summit depends on your level of fitness, and the pace you want to go at. On a nice day, you might just want to take it easy and admire the views. And of course, make sure you leave yourself plenty of extra time for a picnic once you reach the summit. 

The Pen y Fan circular walk

Ready to tackle Pen y Fan? The walk starts in the Pont ar Daf car park, which along with another off-road car park is very well used. At popular times, such as in the summer months, you may also find cars parked along the edge of the main road. You can also start at the nearby Storey Arms Outdoor Centre. 

The climb takes you up what is commonly known as ‘the motorway’. This is the main walking track up to the twin peaks of Corn Du and Pen y Fan, so named because of its popularity with walkers. You can expect a lot of company on this busy route. 

The footpath takes you up past stunning open moorland towards Bwlch Duwynt (meaning ‘windy pass’). After a steady climb, you’ll reach the southern slope of Corn Du, before the saddle where Corn Du and Pen y Fan join. This is a fabulous spot to drink in the views across the Neuadd Valley and the reservoirs above Merthyr Tydfil.

Pushing on to Pen y Fan, you’ll find a fascinating cairn on the summit - a former Bronze Age burial chamber. But you’re likely to be distracted by the incredible views, where on a clear day you may be able to see the town of Brecon, Sugar Loaf mountain and perhaps even the Bristol Channel at Porthcawl. 

To come back down again, retrace your steps to the saddle between the two peaks, then bear right to reach the summit of Corn Du. Admire some final views, before taking the footpath to your right which descends down the ridge. 

Alternative routes up Pen y Fan

This circular route isn’t the only way to approach this magnificent mountain. Alternative routes include:

  • An 11-mile circuit starting at the Storey Arms - which takes in Cribyn (with a summit of 795 metres above sea level) as well as Corn Du.
  • A 7.5-mile climb from Cwm Gwdi car park north of Pen y Fan - taking a quiet, ancient track to Cefn Cwm Llwch ridge and on to Pen y Fan.
  • A demanding horseshoe ridge walk from the Taf Fechan Forest onwards to Corn Du and Pen y Fan, as well as Cribyn and Fan y Big, with a return route through the eastern Neuadd Valley. 

What to wear walking up Pen y Fan

You should prepare for walks up Pen y Fan just as thoroughly as any mountain hike, especially one you haven’t attempted before. A sound pair of hiking boots is of course a must, along with lots of layers and your best hiking equipment

The weather in the Brecon Beacons can be hazardous during high winds, storms and fog. So, pack your rucksack accordingly with lots of warm layers and waterproofs. It can also get very hot in summer, so remember your sun lotion and of course, plenty of drinking water. 

Weather in the UK can be changeable, especially when you’re 800 metres or more above sea level. Prepare for all kinds of weather, because conditions could change dramatically at very short notice.

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