High Force is perhaps the most famous waterfall in the North East. The waterfall is part of the River Tees in the equally stunning Teesdale Valley. You can make the most of your day by visiting the other nearby falls of Low Force and Summerhill Force.
High and Low Force has been on my list of places to visit for the longest time. We actually attempted to visit on the same day we went to Raby Castle, which was the first adventure after lockdown and in many ways, the start of MackemLife.com.
Unfortunately, since it was just after covid restrictions had lifted, everyone in the North East had had the same idea the traffic in the area was crazy and the queue to get down was mental, so we ended up going to Hamsterley Forest. The whole experience left a sour taste in our mouth which is why it has taken over 2.5 years for us to bother going back (partly because the queue was about 2 years long!!!)
Anyway, let’s get on with the guide to visiting. But before I do, if you enjoy my posts and want to see more then drop your email into the box below to be sent my new uploads.
Let’s move on to the guide.
High Force is the main waterfall that people flock to the area for however, there is so much more to see here which people often miss. You get out of this place, what you put in. And if you’re willing to walk a few extra miles then you can have a really stunning day out.
In total, the route we did was just under 7 miles and took around 3 hours. The terrain is mostly easy going with the hardest parks being the stairs up and down to high force itself.
Parking for High and Low Force
There are a few different parking places in the area where you can safely park and have access to toilet and refreshment facilities.
I do want to stress to you all to not park on the verges in the area and only park in the designated car parks and laybys because there are so many issues every year with tourists flocking to the falls and blocking the traffic.
The best place to park is the Bowlees Visitor Centre. Parking here is on a donation basis and they either take cash in a pay-and-display manner or by card inside the shop. They suggest a donation of £2-3 per day but you can choose how much to leave. Your donations go towards helping the visitor centre and cafe. We did get coffee from here and they were delicious so it is definitely worth stopping in! Bowless parking is the closest to Low Force and is right next to Summerhill Force and Gibsons Cave.
Bowlees Visitor Centre Postcode: DL12 0XE
Just outside of Bowlees, there is a layby which is a free parking spot but it only holds a couple of cars.
Free car park Postcode: DL12 0XF
The final place you could park is at the High Force Hotel. Next to it here there is a public car park which is a pay-and-display one. It costs £3 for 3 hours, £6 for 6 hours and £12 for 24 hours. This is the closest car park to High Force itself, the ticket office to get down to the viewing spot at the water’s edge and not far from Bleabeck force, which is the fourth waterfall in the area.
High Force Hotel Car Park: DL12 0XH
Before I get into each route, I think it’s best to show you the different waterfalls and then you can decide which ones most interest you and then you can plan a route yourself.
Summerhill Force and Gibsons Cave
Summerhill Force is not the most explored area when people come to high force and, controversially, I thought it was the prettiest waterfall of the lot! Because the top level of the rock is hard limestone and the underneath is soft sandstone, the cascading water has carved a bowl-like cave into the rock.
This incredible natural phenomenon was a saviour for a 16th-century outlaw called William Gibson. He was able to hide in the cave behind the water while on the run from the constables of Barnard Castle.
This waterfall is just 600m from Bowlees car park so if you are parking there be sure to visit!
Low Force is the smaller waterfall on the River Tees here. Although it still has an 18ft drop.
If you are coming to see waterfalls then you absolutely have to include this one in your route. You will also cross the Wynch Bridge which was built in 1830. Although be careful when crossing as it is suggested that only one person crosses at a time because the bridge may be unstable!
We all know that this is the biggest waterfall in England with a drop of 70ft. It is also one of the most beautiful in Europe!
There are three viewing spots for the waterfall. The first is the paid viewing platform at the edge of the pool. Tickets for this can be bought from the High Force hotel. Tickets cost £2.50 for adults. £1 for children between 5-15yrs and under 5s go free.
This is a small area when you actually get down to the water’s edge and I’d imagine is a nightmare in the summer when it’s busy! It’s also very slippery down here so take care when you’re walking.
Or if you don’t want to pay to see it from here, you can view it from the free observation deck on the south side of the river. From here you can also walk up to the top of the waterfall and look down over the top of it.
Although I think the best location is from the paid lower part.
This is the only one we didn’t get to see on our day exploring the area. And this is because instead, we choose to go down to the paid area of High Force instead of staying on the south side and going to the free observation platform. This waterfall is a very pretty looking one and is the most forgotten about one. If we go back in the future, I will definitely make sure to add this one to the list!
The route we did is, I think, the best route which allows you to see the three main waterfalls in the area and isn’t too strenuous.
Route time: 3 hours
Route length: 7 miles
Medium-level terrain. Mostly flat but there are some hills and a few steep staircases. Hiking boots are essential as the path follows the river’s edge and is slippy, rocky and uneven. It is absolutely not wheelchair or pushchair friendly.
I think the best place to park regardless is at Bowlees Visitor Centre. Because not only is it a great little spot with plenty of picnic benches outside, it has a cute cafe and information about the site.
It is also the closest to Summerhill force which I thought was the prettiest waterfall of the lot. It is up to you whether you do this first or last, but I thought it was a nice way to end the walk. Nevertheless, you simply follow the signs to it from within the car park and it’s a short 600m walk along a very wet and muddy path.
Park at Bowless car park and head back to the main road. On the other side, you will see a farmhouse and to the right that is a gate through to the field. Get onto this path and follow it across the field to the tree line and you will emerge at Low Force.
From this side, you can the best view of the waterfall. It is also here that there is the infamous bluebell display in the spring which is a must-see!
Once you’ve admired this stunning fall, then you need to cross the Wynch Bridge which is a little wobbly so take care crossing it. Once you do so turn right.
You then follow this path for about a mile or so along the riverbank. This is one of the prettiest parts of the walk, especially in the autumn when all the leaves are changing colours. Although the terrain here is the most unstable and slippy so watch your step.
You will then get to the next bridge, Saur Hill Bridge. Here you have the option to cross it which will involve paying to go and see the waterfall. Or if you stay on the south side, you can go to the free observation platform. However, if you do so then you will either need to come back to this bridge or carry on to the next one which is 2.5 miles along the river. Although by going that way, you will head past Bleabeck Force.
If you cross, then go through the field following the river and you will come to a staircase. Once at the top you will emerge at the High Force hotel. There is a cafe, toilets and the ticket office for High Force.
Once you’ve bought your ticket, head down the bank to the falls. Keep to the left path – don’t go through the wooded area, we will come back this way because the going is easier doing it in this circle.
When you first come around the corner and catch the first glimpse of the falls take a minute here because it is so stunning.
You can then head down the stairs to the lowest point of the falls. This isn’t a very big area and it can be quite slippery so be careful!
Once you’ve admired it for a while and taken all your photos for Instagram, head back up and take the staircase on the left. This will take you through the woodland area which is a much nicer walk back to the High Force hotel.
Form the hotel, head through the car park and over the cattle grid to the overflow and you will find yourself on a mud path. Head to the gate at the top and go left through the field of sheep.
On the other side of the field, you will see a farm known as the dirt pit. This is what you are aiming for.
Head down to the farm and through it. Then all you need to do is stay on this farm tack and it will take you all the way back to Bowlees visit centre. We got some sunshine as we were walking down and the view from this slight elevation across to the other side of the Teesdale valley was absolutely breathtaking!
Overall, I am so pleased to have finally ticked High and Low force off my long list of places to go. If you haven’t been it is recommended to go in the autumn and winter when the water flow is at its strongest. Or you could always go in the May time when the bluebells are in bloom at Low Force.
I now understand all the hype about visiting High Force. Although it is a great location to walk, you can also do it while on a budget as it was a relatively cheap day out (if you exclude the petrol costs to get here!).
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