A beautiful forest situated at the gateway to the North Pennines near Bishop Auckland. Hamsterly Forest is a commercial forest owned by Forestry England and is the largest forest in County Durham.
This forest is also a popular tourist destination and woodland park and is a major hotspot for mountain biking. As you drive into the forest, you descend a steep hill to the main car park and literally delve into a peaceful land of beautiful nature. The perfect spot to escape the hustle and bustle of County Durham and it’s almost on the doorstep to the town of Bishop Auckland.
There is plenty of things to do for people of all ages and all the family. From mountain bike trails of all levels to children’s activities and playgrounds. Let’s take a wider look at why you should visit Hamsterly Forest.
Why you should visit Hamsterly Forest near Bishop Auckland
Looking for days out with the family? Looking for outdoor attractions where you are guaranteed an adventure? This forest near Bishop Auckland is highly recommended for many reasons.
Hamsterly Forest is home to plenty of different walking trails suitable for people of all capabilities. A lot of the trails vary in terms of distance, terrain and difficulty. The most popular trails are:
The Bedburn Valley walk is a 2.5 miles long circular walk, and the Riverside Trail is only 1.5 miles long and is the easiest one to do. The other two are 4.5 miles with a moderate difficulty level.
The Riverside Trail is also part of the Gruffalo Trail! The Gruffalo Trail is a fun little activity for children. It features various Gruffalo wooden statues which you must find!
We recommend all trails for stunning natural scenery, wildlife spotting and mindfulness.
Image taken by Aiden Dawson
The forest is also riddled with over 33 miles worth of mountain bike and cycle trails. All the trails vary in difficulty levels as well as distance and terrain. There is a trail suited for people of all capabilities whether you’re new to bike riding or seeking an adrenaline rush down the rocky trails.
The main cycle trails are graded by colours red, blue and black- black being the most difficult and best suited for cyclists with more experience.
There is also the Descend Bike Park which is suitable for expert downhill mountain bikers. The Descend Bike Park is part of the forest located 2 miles from the main visitor centre, and people visiting this park must sign in and pay separately for a day’s session.
A lot of the harder trails include features such as slopes, ski jumps, and gap jumps a lot of these trails requires very technical mountain bike skills. Click here to learn more about the Descend Bike Park.
Zog is an interactive activity that involves downloading the “Zog” app on your phone, and then using it to scan markers located throughout the forest. You will then be given a challenge to complete. This is a fun activity for kids and all the family can have a good laugh taking part.
The activity is also a great and fun way for kids to learn about caring for the forest too.
The app can be downloaded by visiting the site to find out more- click here.
People can also grab a Zog activity trail pack from the café or information centre- this will include a kraft bag to colour in, fancy dress accessories, stickers and a leaflet with the trail map.
There are plenty of other activities and things to do for all the family and young children. There are several playgrounds dotted around the forest. Near to the visitor centre is the Viking Wild Play just on the Riverside Trail right next to the beck. Children can have loads of fun playing on the various climbing frames, the assault course and the Viking boat and fort.
There are playgrounds suitable for younger infants including the baby swings just down from the visitor centre and café.
Visitor Centre and café
Image taken by Aiden Dawson
The main visitor centre is located by the main car park. There is plenty of choice for refreshments and snacks at the café which is at the visitor centre. As you drive into the main entrance down the bank, you pass the visitor centre on the right.
At the visitor centre is a large outdoor seating area with picnic benches for up to 6 people each. There is also a small play area outside in the corner of the seating enclosure. Inside the main café they have an indoor seating area, with one separate smaller room where dogs are allowed.
The café serves up all kinds of hot drinks from their barista machine. Hot meals include everything from jacket potatoes to toasties to chips and pizza.
There is also an outdoor stall where people can also buy refreshments, they even have a pizza oven on the outdoor café area. There is also an ice cream stall selling all kinds of cold treats including ice cream sundaes and milkshakes.
Many events take place at Hamsterly Forest. They often have Park Runs which take place on a Saturday morning for people come along and do a 5-10K run with friends and family. Click here to find out more about the Park Run events.
Other events include mountain bike activities and competitions. Click here to check out their Facebook page for upcoming events.
You can also join clubs including the Hamsterly Trailblazers which have regular meetups at the forest. They do all kinds of voluntary work activities including maintaining and building new cycle trails. Click here to find out more about how to volunteer.
The Ride Hamsterly Bike Shop is located at the visitor centre. Bikes can be hired here with a huge range of bicycles and mountain bikes suitable for age 7+.
People can also arrange group bookings for schools, colleges and other social groups/clubs. Bookings can still be made for the days that the shop is closed. The shop is only open on weekends between March and September.
Ride Hamsterly also organise trips away and other events including the Hamsterly Beast which normally takes place in May each year. They also do trips away to places including North Yorkshire and Scotland.
To find out more about hiring bikes and events, click here.
People can join a membership with Forestry England and use it to get more access to the forest’s facilities. Members can also get free parking and receive newsletters with the latest news on forest updates.
Memberships can be used for all other forest parks owned by Forestry England as well as Hamsterly Forest. Click here for more information.
Hamsterly Forest is a fully accessible outdoor attraction suitable for people of all ages and all different abilities.
Wheelchair users can easily access most of the parks and the visit centre and café. The café has a ramp outside it to access the cafe’s side entrance and the information centre. There are handrails along the side of the ramp and walkway too.
Most of the forest tracks are quite bumpy with loose gravel and the narrow trails would be difficult for wheelchair and pushchair users. But there are plenty of tracks that are more suited including the Gruffalo trail along the riverside and the main tarmac road that runs from the main centre to other car parks located deeper in the forest valley. It may be tricky for wheelchair users to reach higher ground walks, but most of the lower ground walks are accessible.
There is a toilet block located a minute’s walk from the visitor centre and right in the centre of the main car park area. There are females’ and males’ toilets and a separate disabled toilet too. The toilets also have ramps as well as steps with handrails for wheelchair users to access. The toilets also have baby changing facilities too.
There is a single unisex toilet in the café too.
When there are events on in various locations in the forest, portable toilet cabins are provided on the picnic fields.
This forest park is the most child-friendly place in the area. There are so many activities that kids can enjoy including:
Viking Wild Play and many other playgrounds.
Walking trails suitable for young children.
Attractions including the Green Man statue.
Picnic areas and fields with plenty of space to play games.
The café is also child-friendly because they sell fruit juices and snacks suitable for infants. They also serve small kid-sized portions on their menu. And the café also provides highchairs for babies.
This forest is definitely dog-friendly. Because there is so much space for dog owners to give their furry ones the exercise and play that they need. All the trails are suitable for dog walking too. The café main seating area inside is does NOT allow dogs but there is a separate smaller room where dogs are allowed. The café also sells dog treats too.
There is plenty of parking around the forest, but it is important to note that non-members must pay and display. Memberships can arrive without paying at all. All the car parks are easy to access and there is plenty of spaces for days when it gets busy. There are four disabled spaces located nearer to the visitor centre.
The Grove Car Park and the Blackling Hole Car Park which are the other two located deeper in the forest valley.
The nearest bus stop is in Hamsterly village, but this is a long walk down Bedburn Lane and along the lane going into the forest. It is best to plan your own transport if visiting Hamsterly. Buses, coaches and minibuses can also be hired for schools and other groups.
We hope this listing has provided you with enough information to help you plan your visit to Hamsterly Forest. For similar listings in the area, we have recommended:
QIs the visitor centre and café open all year round?
Yes, the café and visitor centre are open throughout the year at varied times. On weekdays it's open from 10.30am-3.30pm and weekends 9am-4pm. The café may be closed during adverse weather conditions, check the Facebook page to keep up to date.
QCan you do your own barbecues on the picnic areas?
No, campfires and barbecues are NOT permitted anywhere in the forest due to risk of forest fires.
QDo I have to be a member to come to the forest?
No, it is accessible for everyone but unless you are a member you will need to pay for parking each time you visit upon arrival.
QDoes Hamsterly Forest have a Go-Ape activity?
No, but other forests owned by Forestry England do including Winlatter in Cumbria and Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire.
QCan the forest be accessed at any time of the day/night?
The forest drive gates close after 4pm from March-November and 5pm from April-October.