Walking to the summit of Cader Idris

Cader Idris (or more correctly Cadair Idris) is justifiably the second most-popular mountain in Wales after Snowdon. It is actually a ridge, 6.5 miles long, at the southern end of the Snowdonia National Park. The summit itself is called Pen y Gadair and is 2930 ft high. There are a number of approaches to the summit.

Beautiful and challenging mountain

Cadair Idris is situated in the area between Barmouth on the coast and the town of Dolgellau and dominates the view from the Mawddach estuary. .

Climbing to the summit of Cadair Idris is fairly taxing, not because it is complicated, but because it is a relentless uphill slog. Therefore, although you do not need any mountaineering skills, but you do have to be in fairly good physical condition. The views from the top are fantastic when the weather is good, however the summit is notorious for being veiled in cloud.

The first time I ascended, many decades ago, we were trapped in mist on top. With the help of more experienced climbers, we were directed in vaguely the right direction for the descent. Rushing down to try and catch the last bus, I injured my knee (it didn’t stop me climbing Snowdon two days later, but then youth can be foolish!). After this, I considered the mountain to be my enemy. A couple of years later, I tackled Cadair Idris again: I had to. We walked up in lashing rain, but when we got to the top, the clouds parted, the sun came out and we were rewarded with magnificent views. It was a beautiful gift. This is a mountain that demands deep respect. It has become my favourite Welsh mountain.


Summit of Cader Idris with Llyn Cau in the foreground.
By Jeff Buck [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Legends of Cadair Idris

Cadair Idris is an iconic place in Wales.

Tongues of fire on Idris flaring,
news of foe-men near declaring,
to heroic deeds of daring,
call you Harlech men
(Men of Harlech, a popular Welsh patriotic song)

The giant Idris (Idris Gawr) is the mythologised warrior king of Meirionydd, Idris ap Gwyddno (c. 560-632). He was renowned as a gifted philosopher, astronomer and poet. The summit of Cadair Idris (Pen y Gadair), Cyfrwy (the Saddle) and Tyrau Mawr form a shape that was said to be his chair, hence the name of the mountain, which means Chair of Idris. Landscape features of the mountain are attributed to the actions of Idris. For example, some huge boulders at the bottom of the mountain are said to be stones Idris shook out of his shoe.

Legend says that anyone who spends the night on Cadair Idris will awake either as a poet or as a madman. The gift of poetic inspiration is said to come from Idris himself.

Cadair Idris is also reputed to be one of the favourite hunting grounds of Gwyn ap Nudd, Lord of the Welsh underworld (the Annwn). His huge white dogs with red ears (the Cŵn Annwn) were feared, because their howling foretold death to anybody who heard it.

Llyn Cau, a beautiful lake on the south side of the mountain, is said to have no bottom, and a monster is said to lurk in its depths.

Resources from Amazon.com
50 Walks in Snowdonia & North Wales: 50 Walks of 2-10 Miles

Resources from Amazon.co.uk
Cadair Idris and Llyn Tegid (OS Explorer Map)
Great Mountain Days in Snowdonia: 40 Classic Routes Exploring Snowdonia
See more ideas from Amazon UK on my Walking in Wales list

Resources from The Book Depository with free worldwide delivery
Mountain and Hill Walking in Snowdonia
 – guidebook
Waterproof, polyethylene map of Snowdonia for walkers


There are four main routes to the top of Cadair Idris, two from the north side, Foxes Path and Pony Path and two from the south, Minffordd Path and Llanfihangel y Pennant Path.

Foxes Path

This path starts from the southern shore of Llyn Gwernan (Gwernan Lake) approximately 2 miles west of Dolgellau. It is the most direct way up and is 2.5 miles long. However, it involves climbing 1000 ft up a very steep and very badly eroded scree slope. Although this path is shown on Ordnance Survey maps, current advice is that it should only be attempted by very experienced and confident climbers.

Pony Path (Ty-Nant Path)

The start is a little further westwards along the road from Foxes Path, at Ty-Nant. The path is well-marked and straightforward.  It is a bit over 3 miles to the summit and you should allow about 5-6 hours to complete the ascent and descent. This path was used in the past by traders with ponies. It is a bit less arduous than Minfordd Path described below and therefore can be considered to be the easiest “tourist route”. The path is clearly marked. The initial climb is the worst. After that, the path levels off somewhat, but there is a final scramble to the summit.

On the Pony Path, you will find a memorial to Will Ramsbotham. On 6 June, 1993, Will won the Cadair Fell race. He ran a total distance of 10.5 miles, starting from Dolgellau, running to the top of Cadair Idris and back to Dolgellau, achieving a record time of 1 hour and 25 minutes. The next day, Will returned to climb Cadair Idris again and was killed in the attempt.

Climbing Cadair Idris by the Pony Path

Minffordd Path

This route is a bit under 3 miles each way and therefore the shortest safe path. However, it does involve the greatest ascent and, like the Pony Path, will need 5-6 hours to complete the ascent and descent. It starts at a car park just after the junction of the A487 and the Dolgellau to Tywyn road. After passing through an ancient oak wood, the path rises steeply up to Cwm Cau, after which it becomes poorly visible. Past a marshy hollow, there are three large boulders, the “stones” Idris shook out of his shoe. Passing on, there are views of the lovely little Llyn Cau lake, as shown in the picture above. After a further steep climb, there is a descent into Bwlch Cau and a final very steep, slippery and eroded ascent to Pen y Gadair.

Llanfihangel y Pennant Path

This is a long trek of 5 miles each way and needs at least 7 hours to complete. The path is relatively easy at the start, but then has an a long continuous ascent leading to a steep final climb. It uses the southern continuation of the Pony Path and starts at the hamlet of Llanfihangel y Pennant. Shortly after starting, you will see a ruined cottage with commemorative stone, which is of interest to biblical Christians. This was the house of Mari Jones, the girl who walked barefoot for 25 miles over the mountains to Bala in 1800 in order to buy a bible in the Welsh language.

The path climbs slowly. Eventually yellow marker posts show where it is necessary to leave the public footpath. After passing a standing stone, the path drops a little and then once again climbs steeply until it reaches the final rocky and loose scramble to the summit.

Pen y Gadair is often wreathed in cloud. Take extra care when looking for the way back down. If you take the wrong path, you could end up on the other side of the ridge, many miles from your starting point. If you have little experience of hills and mountains, please read the post on how to keep safe.

If you are interested in walking to the top of Snowdon as well, while you are in the Snowdonia region, have a look at these posts:
Snowdon Ranger and Llanberis Paths: the two routes considered to offer the easiest ascent to the summit. If you are also walking in South Wales, an ascent of Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons is recommended.