As Wales’ first National Park and the third most popular National Park in Britain, Snowdonia is something special. It stretches over 827 square miles full of unspoilt scenery with rocky mountains, clear blue lakes and thick forests. It has plants and insects you won’t find anywhere else in the world. And at the heart of it is the peak of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. Or so I’d been told at least – the first time I’d visited you could barely see a metre in front of you through thick fog and drizzle. So when the last day of our weekend trip to North Wales dawned blue and bright, it was perfect excuse for a scenic Snowdonia road trip.
Read more: A foodie road trip through South West Wales
Snowdonia driving route
When the sun shines in Snowdonia, you have to get out there among it all – however you can. Ideally we’d have had a couple of days to climb Snowdon and hike in the mountains, or even half a day for a shorter walk. But all we had was a car and a few hours. After a bit of research I came up with a road trip through some of the park’s most scenic drives.
So if you’re limited on time – or not much of a walker – you can still get a taste of Snowdonia’s beautiful scenery. The route covers 39 miles altogether and takes around 1.5 hours to drive (depending on how many photo/tea and cake stops you make along the way).
Our route started in the town of Porthmadog on the North Wales coast. This was our base for the weekend, and it’s also the hub for the West Highland and Ffestiniog railways and is close to the quirky Italian-style village of Portmeirion. From Porthmadog we followed the A498 past the village of Tremadog and on through the Aberglaslyn Pass to the town of Bedgellert.
The road carries on through the forest and along the banks of Llyn Dinas lake. This 60-acre lake is home to salmon and trout – and possibly even the throne of Britain. Legend has it that the ancient British king Vortigern hid the throne under a great stone by Llyn Dinas for safekeeping and it’s still there somewhere. If you fancy taking a look there’s a mile-long path around the lake.
We drove on around the edge of Llyn Dinas and it wasn’t long until we came to an even more beautiful lake – Llyn Gwynant. On a calm, still morning the lake was perfectly flat with the mountains, blue sky and white fluffy clouds above reflected like a mirror (well at least until a dog jumped in for a swim – if it wasn’t about 10 degrees in the water I might’ve been tempted too).
The start of autumn is a gorgeous time to visit Snowdonia with a mix of green, gold and red shades everywhere you look. The road follows the Nant Gwynant river from the lake and climbs 600 feet upwards in just two miles. At the top there’s a viewpoint where you can stop off and take a look back down to the lake (where the image at the top of this post was taken) and over towards the Cwm Dyli hydro-electric power station.
At the top of Nant Gwynant we took a diversion to the left on the A4086 to the Pen-y-Pass. This is the start of three of the main walking routes up Snowdon. The car park was packed with hikers getting ready to start the climb up – and the café was full of others who were celebrating getting back down. The road up here started life as a miners’ path in the 1830s which was used to transport copper ore from Snowdonia down to Llanberis.
It still winds the same way downhill to Llanberis. This is where catch the Snowdon Mountain Railway to the top of the mountain if you don’t fancy walking. Or where you start the Llanberis Path if you do – it’s the longest but least strenuous walk up to the summit which runs next to the railway line. There are a ton of other outdoor activities too like mountaineering, climbing and mountain biking, as well as diving in Llyn Padarn lake if you’re feeling brave.
From Llanberis we backtracked to the Pen-y-Pass and then followed the A4086 over the hills past the grey slate cottages in the village of Capel Curig. Then from Capel Curig we took a right onto the A5, heading towards Betws-y-Coed on the edge of Snowdonia. The road gets flatter here and there are more trees and less mountains.
Betws-y-Coed is another hub town, and a former coach stop on the Irish mail route from London to Holyhead. It has a pretty village green surrounded by shops, hotels and an old church. You can visit the Miners’ Bridge and walk along the riverside or out to the Pont-y-Pair and Swallow Falls waterfalls. Then replenish some calories with Welshcakes at Cwmni Cacen Gri.
The road out of Betws-y-Coed leaves Snowdonia, but if you’ve not had enough beautiful scenery by now there are a couple of different directions you can take to continue your Welsh road trip. Go north along the A470 and you’ll reach the medieval seaside town of Conwy. It has 13th-century Conwy Castle, city walls to walk around and the UK’s smallest house to squeeze into.
Or you can head south on the A5 towards Llangollen and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The aqueduct is a seriously impressive piece of engineering, which was built in 1805 to carry the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee. At 38 metres high up it’s Britain’s longest and highest aqueduct, which is just wide enough for one canal boat. You can take a boat trip across or walk along the towpath across the aqueduct for even more spectacular views.
Snowdonia road trip map
GPS/sat nav directions
If you’re navigating using a GPS/sat nav, then you can input the following postcodes to follow the route. From Porthmadog, navigate to LL55 4YD (Bedgellert) > LL55 4NT (top of Nant Gwynant) > LL55 4TU (Llanberis) > LL24 0EN (Capel Curig) > LL24 0AE (Betws-y-Coed station car park). Then you can carry on to Conwy (LL32 8HT) or Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (LL20 7TG).