The North York Moors is an upland area in north-eastern Yorkshire, England. It contains one of the largest expanses of heather moorland in the United Kingdom. The area was designated as a National Park in 1952, through the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Covering an area of 554 sq mi (1,430 km2), the National Park has a population of 23,380. It is administered by the North York Moors National Park Authority, whose head office is based in Helmsley.
The North York Moors was established as National Park in 1952 – a treasured landscape in the heart of North Yorkshire, protected for everyone to enjoy. We cover 1,436 square kilometres between Scarborough, Thirsk and Teesside.
Of the 1,500 ancient boundary stones and crosses here, probably the most famous is Young Ralph Cross, adopted as the National Park’s distinctive logo. We like to think that this stone cross on the spreading moorland stands for a state of mind – this wonderful landscape, it’s saying, is somewhere to come and refresh your spirits. It’s the place where magical things happen – where the stresses and strains of daily life disappear, and where relaxation, holidays and adventure begin.
Discover the places and meet the people to take you on this journey. Experience the very best of the North York Moors and forge lasting memories with family and friends. Join wildlife experts from Yorkshire Coast Nature and set sail from Staithes in search of Minke whales. Smell the myriad of sweet scents at Helmsley Walled Garden, featured in the 2020 film adaptation of The Secret Garden. Taste your way through delicacies from our moorland and coast – whether it’s kippers from Fortune’s, Whitby’s traditional smokehouse or a jar of Westfield honey from hives set amongst the heather around Fadmoor. Find your inner peace with Adventures for the Soul who teach the practice of mindfulness whilst out in nature.
The open moorland – ablaze with purple heather in summer – will give you a rare sense of space. Away from the noise of traffic, you can hear the cries of moorland birds, the trickling water in a stream and the buzz of insects in the heather. On the coast, experience the roar of the sea, the wind in your hair, the sand between your toes. The dales form a rich patchwork of earthy colours, hedgerows and drystone walls – landscapes, created generations ago, still maintained by today’s farmers. Our woodlands and ancient trees provide a sense of well-being and a link to the past. And far from the artificial lights of towns, there are truly dark skies where you can see majestic skyscapes full of stars. The North York Moors – it’s where we want you to feel at home.
Physical geography of North York Moors National Park
The North York Moors consist of a moorland plateau, dissected by a number of deep dales or valleys containing cultivated land or woodland. The largest dale is Eskdale, the valley of the River Esk which flows from west to east and empties into the North Sea at Whitby. The Cleveland Hills rise north of Eskdale. At the western end of Eskdale, the valley divides into three smaller dales, Westerdale (the upper valley of the River Esk), Baysdale and Commondale. A series of side dales drain into Eskdale from the moorland on its southern side, from west to east Danby Dale, Little Fryup Dale, Great Fryup Dale, Glaisdale and the Goathland valley. Kildale, west of Commondale and separated only by a low watershed, is drained by the River Leven, which flows west to join the River Tees.
On their south side, the moorland is incised by a series of dales which drain into tributaries of the River Derwent. The westernmost dale is Rye Dale, to the west of which rise the Hambleton Hills. Bilsdale is a side dale of Rye Dale. East of Bilsdale Bransdale, Farndale, Rosedale and Newton Dale cut into the moorland. In the south east, the landscape is marked by the narrow valleys of the upper reaches of the Derwent and its upper tributaries.
About 23 per cent of the North York Moors is under woodland cover (mostly located to the south-west and south-east), equivalent to more than 300 square kilometres of trees. It is home to the largest concentration of ancient and veteran trees in northern England.
The Derwent crosses the Vale of Pickering flowing westwards, turns southwards at Malton and flows through the eastern part of the Vale of York before emptying into the River Ouse at Barmby on the Marsh.
Climate of North York Moors National Park
As part of the United Kingdom, the North York Moors area generally has warm summers and relatively mild winters. Weather conditions vary from day to day as well as from season to season. The latitude of the area means that it is influenced by predominantly westerly winds with depressions and their associated fronts, bringing with them unsettled and windy weather, particularly in winter. Between depressions, there are often small mobile anticyclones that bring periods of fine weather. In winter, anticyclones bring cold dry weather. In summer, the anticyclones tend to bring dry settled conditions, which can lead to drought. For its latitude, this area is milder in winter and cooler in summer due to the influence of the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic Ocean. Air temperature varies on a daily and seasonal basis. The temperature is usually lower at night and January is the coldest time of the year. The two dominant influences on the climate of the North York Moors are the shelter against the worst of the moist westerly winds provided by the Pennines and the proximity of the North Sea. Late, chilly springs and warm summers are a feature of the area, but there are often spells of fine autumn weather. Onshore winds in spring and early summer bring mists or low stratus clouds (known locally as sea frets) to the coasts and moorland. Within the area, variations in climate are brought about by local differences in altitude, aspect and shelter.
Snowfall is variable from year to year, but the area gets much more snow on average than other parts of the country. Heavy falls are associated with northeasterly winds off the North Sea. Roads over the high moorland areas are notoriously prone to drifting snow due to the exposed nature of the terrain.
Many visitors to the North York Moors are engaged in outdoor pursuits, particularly walking; the National Park has a network of public rights of way almost 1,400 miles (2,300 km) in length, and most of the areas of open moorland are open access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. Popular named walks include the Cleveland Way, which circles the North York Moors, including a coastal section; and the Lyke Wake Walk, which leads directly across the heart of the National Park. The route of the White Rose Way, a long distance walk from Leeds to Scarborough also passes through.
The area also offers opportunities for cycling, mountain biking, and horse-riding, including a circular long distance bridle route created around the North York Moors which can be accessed at a number of locations. The steep escarpments that define the edges of the National Park on three sides are used by several gliding clubs.
In late 2020, the National Park was named as an International Dark Sky Reserve. This honour confirms that the area has “low levels of light pollution with good conditions for astronomy”.
The National Park has two visitor centres which have tourist information and exhibitions, as well as a contemporary gallery. These are at:
- Sutton Bank
- The Moors National Park Centre, Danby
Perfect days, starry nights
Sweeping moorland, a crinkly coast, ancient woods and timeless villages – the North York Moors is a special place, forged by nature and shaped over generations. Give yourself time to discover its secrets, from amazing wildlife to dazzling night skies.
Key activities North York Moors National Park
Coastal stroll, forest trail, moorland walk or the 109-mile Cleveland Way National Trail – it’s up to you.
Our cycle hubs, trail centres, bridleways and country lanes are perfect for two-wheel adventures of all kinds.
Reinvigorate your mind, enrich your senses and connect with nature in our wide open spaces and magical places.
The North York Moors is a special place – here’s why!
Our wildlife will surprise you – from the moorland merlin, the UK’s smallest bird of prey, to whales off the North York Moors coast.
The North York Moors has vast areas of clear, dark skies – you can often see up to 2,000 stars, including a swathe of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
There’s history and heritage in every step you take, from Gothic ruins to Victorian steam trains, Cistercian monasteries to stately homes, ironstone mines to fishing villages. The National Park also features over 800 Scheduled Monuments and 1,500 ancient boundary stones and crosses.
Our 44,000 hectares of heather moorland are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its heathland habitat and breeding birds, such as red grouse, curlew and golden plover.
There are 26 miles of Jurassic-era coastline to explore, including the famous old fishing villages of Staithes and Robin Hood’s Bay.
You could walk or cycle every day for a year and still not cover every corner of the National Park – there are 2,250 kilometres of rights of way alone, not to mention country lanes, quiet backroads, coastal tracks, forest trails and a National Trail.
Did you know?
Getting around North York Moors National Park
The delightful Esk Valley Railway (Middlesbrough to Whitby) passes through the heart of the National Park; while the North Yorkshire Moors Railway runs steam heritage services from Pickering to Whitby. Or enjoy a ride on Coastliner 840 from York – voted Britain’s most scenic bus route.
Getting to North York Moors National Park
We’re closer than you think! Rail services and long-distance buses from across the country run to surrounding towns – and London to York can take less than two hours by train. Local bus links get you to scenic spots like Pickering, Helmsley, Goathland, Robin Hood’s Bay and Thornton le Dale.