A Local’s Guide To Walking Pen y Fan

Pen y Fan is a flat-topped peak in Bannau Brycheiniog (The Brecon Beacons) National Park. At 886m it is the highest peak in Southern Britain and a popular choice for hikers of the region.

This is a guide to hiking Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in South Wales. In this article I explain all you need to know about the 5 best Pen y Fan walks, including starting locations, times, difficulty and maps.

Pen y Fan in the snow

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Quick Pen y Fan Stats

Pen y Fan Walks

Let me start by explaining how to pronounce it! If you’re not from Wales you’d be mistaken into thinking that it’s pronounced penny fan. But that’s one sure way to get a chuckle from the locals.

Actually, you won’t go far wrong if you try pen-er-van. Right, now we have that sorted, let’s talk about how to hike Pen y Fan.

Pen y Fan translates to the top peak and there are several routes that can take you to the top. It’s the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons, so whichever way you take there’s definitely a good amount of “up” involved. As such there is no easy route to the top of Pen y Fan. Some, however, are more straight forward than others.

Being born and bred in nearby Merthyr Tydfil and through working as a mountain leader, I’ve hiked this mountain more times than I can remember and it’s always an enjoyable day in the hills. 

So, let’s get stuck into the trail options!

The 5 Best Pen Y Fan Routes

1. The Easiest Route Up Pen y Fan – Pont ar Daf aka The Motorway

This trail is the easiest Pen y Fan walk from a navigational point of view, as there is a stone footpath all the way to the top. I call it the motorway route because, as you might have guessed, it’s the most popular path.

The hike starts in Pont ar Daf car park which gets absolutely jam-packed on sunny weekends and bank holidays! Thankfully National Trust have extended the car park recently and toilet facilities are now available. However, this does mean there is now a fee to park here.

At the southern end of the car park there is a kissing gate that takes you to a bridge that crosses the river. After crossing the bridge, a well made stone trail takes you up the mountain side. This is the bulk of the climb and will take around 40 minutes.

As you approach the plateau of the ridge, you will see a peak that appears to be the summit but don’t be fooled, this is actually Corn Du (873m). This is the second highest peak in the Beacons.

To add an extra challenge to your Pen y Fan hike you can take the left footpath that leads to this peak. But if you want to stick with the main objective, take the footpath that leads slightly to the right and around Corn Du. Once on this footpath you have one final push to the top of Pen y Fan.

Sunrise snowy iews whilst walking Pen y Fan from Pont ar Daf
Views of the Neuadd valley from beneath Corn Du, near Pen y Fan summit. See more photos of Wales here.

Did you know? The cairn on the summit was a Bronze Age burial chamber. Now it’s a popular spot to get out the camera and take that “I made it” selfie!

After enjoying the 360 degree views from the top (weather permitting), it’s time to head back down the way you came up. Once in the car park you can enjoy a well deserved ice cream!

Enjoy These Nearby Hikes

2. The Storey Arms Route – The Military Route

This hike starts from Storey Arms car park and includes the summit of Corn Du. From the car park cross the road and head up the path to the left of the Storey Arms (as you look at it). A man made path will take you all the way to the top. This path has a steep start, then descends for a while before reascending to reach the summit of Corn Du.

From the top of Corn Du you can see Pen y Fan ahead of you, on a well made trail. Follow this trail by descending Corn Du first, then continuing up to Pen y Fan. To return simply follow the path back down.

Make a loop of it? You can combine these first two hikes to make a slightly longer (7.6km) Pen y Fan circular walk. Park in the Pont ar Daf car park and ascend via the motorway route. After reaching the summit, return via Corn Du, down to Storey Arms then follow the footpath alongside the A470 to return to the car park. Top job!

Pen y Fan walks are always great days in the Welsh countryside, however there are lots of other walking options in the Brecon Beacons. In this post I reveal my favourite Brecon Beacons walks.

Walking to Pen y Fan from Corn Du
Looking across to Pen y Fan from Corn Du

3. The Pen y Fan Horseshoe Ridge Route

This Pen y Fan hike is definitely a lot more involved and a little trickier to get to as it’s not on the main A470 road. However, the Brecon Beacons horseshoe ridge walk, as it is also known, is a great full day in the mountains.

The hike starts from Neuadd Reservoir access road car park in Talybont. From the car park follow the road north. The official road ends and forks into two paths. The path to the right leads to the pass between Cribyn (795m) and Fan y Big (719m). Take the tarmac path to the left which leads to the now empty reservoir.

Construction around this area has now been completed and there is a newly built bridge to cross over the river on the left. From here you can see the whole route in front of you as you’ll walk around this amazing glacial valley.

The path ascends steeply up onto the ridge. Once on top of the ridge, again head north (turn right) along the well maintained path to reach, first Corn Du and then Pen y Fan. Corn Du can be traversed around if desired. 

From Pen y Fan descend steeply down the track to the southeast (known as Jacobs Ladder) then reascend to Cribyn, the third highest peak of the day. From Cribyn you have the option to descend and follow the path back to the car park or you can ascend the final peak, Fan y Big.

Any ideas how to pronounce this one? I’ll give you a clue – it’s not fanny big!

After completing the final peak, head south along the summit ridge on a well made path, then branch off onto a sheep track that takes you parallel to the drained reservoir. As you near the forest turn right to descend the ridge and join the main footpath (old Roman Road). Continue along the footpath, then along the road and back to the car park.

Time for a well earned sit down (but sadly no ice cream here).

For a detailed guide to walking the Pen y Fan Horseshoe, see this post.

The Pen y Fan horseshoe during a snowy sunset.

Hire a local guide

Do you want to hike Pen y Fan but would prefer a certified mountain guide to lead you along the way? I can lead you on a hike to avoid the crowds whilst teaching you about local flora, fauna and history along the way. To learn more, please contact me here to discuss rates and availability. 

A photo of Lou France enjoying a Pen y Fan walk

4. The Cefn Cwm Llwch Route

Just south of Brecon town there are several Pen y Fan walks that lead to the summit. The first starts from the National Trust Cwm Gwdi car park on Ffwdgrech Road. Leaving the top of the car park, an obvious path climbs steeply at first, to get up on the ridge.

Once on the ridge the climbing is more gradual, until a final push at the end to pop up onto the summit. As you walk along the ridge enjoy beautiful views over Cwm Llwch on one side and Cwm Sere on the other (Cwm is Welsh for valley). This out and back trail is the shortest route to Pen y Fan from the north.

For a longer loop walk, combine this with a trail to the east that ascends the ridge to Cribyn, before continuing on to Pen y Fan. This is the classic Cribyn and Pen y Fan horseshoe route.

Cwm Gwdi is the starting location for a hike to a secret waterfall in the Sere valley. Discover how to get there in this guide

Hiking Pen y Fan from the north
The dramatic north face of Pen y Fan

5. The Cwm Llwch Route

Another route to the top of Pen y Fan from the north is the delightful Cwm Llwch Route. This trail starts from Nant Cwm Llwch campsite and car park and is a long, gradual walk through a beautiful valley. The path from the campsite is well-marked and obvious as it makes it way through the woods and out onto open land.

Be sure to visit the pretty little lake, Llyn Cwm Llwch, before you begin climbing up onto the ridge. Once on the ridge turn left and begin the ascent of Corn Du. You could skirt around Corn Du but it’s much more direct to bag this summit along the way.

Pen y Fan via the Cwm Llwch walking route
Llyn Cwm Llwch en route to Pen y Fan

If the weather is clear you will see Pen y Fan ahead of you. Make the brief descent of Corn Du before making the short climb to the summit of Pen y Fan.

This trail can be combined with other paths from the north to make longer Pen y Fan circular walks. For example, combine Cefn Cwm Llwch with Cwm Llwch to make a beautiful Pen y Fan and Corn Du horseshoe. 

Hiking Pen y Fan from the North

In this vlog, I hike to the summit of Pen y Fan along the Cwm Llwch route on a very hot summers day.

How to Get to the Starting Locations: Transport Options

Direct public transport is only available to the Storey Arms on the A470, so if you’re relying on public transport you are limited to hiking routes 1 or 2 on this list. The T4 bus runs between Cardiff and Brecon every 30 minutes. View the timetable here.

For all of the other routes you need use of a car. For the best car rental deals in the UK I recommend Rental Cars.

Hiking the “The Fan” – What do you need?

Here is a list of the basic equipment required for a walk of Pen Y Fan. Don’t forget to check the weather forecast before you leave and if you’re hiking solo, let someone know about your plans.

These are just some of the essentials, but for a complete list of things to take on a day hike, take a look at this guide!

All 5 Pen y Fan routes are available for download on your mobile phone. I have these routes marked out on the free, offline map Maps.me. They can be a top resource for your Pen y Fan hike. Purchase the route pins here.

Pen y Fan routes

For more photos and videos of my adventures, follow along on the following channels.

Where to Stay in the Brecon Beacons

The Brecon Beacons has several cute market towns and villages to use as a base for exploring the national park. There aren’t many large chain hotels but instead, you will find a selection of bed and breakfasts, pubs/Inns, glamping and camping opportunities.

As a central location, you can’t go far wrong with the town of Brecon. The beautiful Camden Lodge B&B offers exceptional service, with large, clean rooms that have delightful views over the hills. To experience the charm of a cosy, local pub try the Usk and Railway Inn at Sennybridge. This is a fabulous location for mountain bikers looking to get out in the hills.

If you’d prefer to be based near the Black Mountains in the east, opt for the Ty Croeso Boutique B&B which is an exquisitely renovated Victorian building located near the small town of Crickhowell. In the west, Cwtch Bach is a gorgeous stone bricked holiday home perfect for exploring The Black Mountain region.

For a luxury glamping experience try the Cuddfan, whose bell tent located along the banks of the river Grwyne offers a real escape back into nature. For more luxury glamping ideas take a look at this guide to glamping in the Brecon Beacons.

Looking down on Cribyn from the summit of Pen y Fan
Looking down on Cribyn from Pen y Fan

Accommodation Near to Pen y Fan


If you’re on a budget then the best place to stay after hiking ‘the fan’ is the YHA Brecon Beacons.

Dorm beds are available from £15.


For a more boutique option just south of Pen y Fan try the Nant Ddu Lodge and Spa. They also serve delicious food here which will be well deserved after after a Pen y Fan hike!

Rooms from £75 per night.

There are more accommodation options to the north in Brecon and to the south in Merthyr Tydfil.

What’s The Best Time of Year to hike Pen y Fan?

A Pen y Fan walk can be enjoyed all year around but snow and ice is possible in winter. The UK weather is never that reliable, but typically the summer months from June to September will be the warmest and driest.

In autumn and winter, cool, clear days can provide the best summit views. Autumn can be great for amazing cloud inversions. If you’re embarking on a winter hike then be sure you have suitable clothing and equipment.

Just be aware that even when its warm and sunny in the surrounding towns it can be cold and blowy on top of the hills. I’ve seen people walking up Pen y Fan in shorts and flip flops on days when there is snow on top!

Final Thoughts on Hiking Pen y Fan

I can’t remember how many times I’ve hiked up Pen y Fan but I always try to climb it once or twice a year. I’ve hiked the horseshoe in wellies (not recommended!) and I’ve hiked up for sunrise in a windchill of -15°C (also not recommended!) 

There are several routes to the summit and many more combination walks to try. It’s a great hill but remember to check the weather forecast before you go as it can change quickly up there. Try to avoid the crowds on busy bank holiday weekends and most importantly, enjoy the views!

If the weather forecast is looking stormy and wet but you still want to get out, why not do a waterfall walk instead? You can discover the best Brecon Beacons waterfall walks in this article!

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Louise is an Adventure Tour Guide & Mountain Leader from South Wales. Through working as a tour guide and snowboard instructor, she has spent the last 15 years travelling Asia, Africa and the Americas. Louise is a published photographer and is currently based in the UK.

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