Snowdonia might start in the far north around Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon. But that’s not the end of it. The Snowdonia National Park extends eastwards and southwards, across to Bala and almost all the way down to Machynlleth. These highlands are greener and rounder than those in the rocky north - but they’re still seriously mountainous. Dolgellau’s Cader Idris and the Aran and Arenigs above Bala are lofty outposts, looking down across a landscape of traditional farmland, forest and outstandingly beautiful lakes. In the Coed y Brenin Forest Park there’s world-class mountain biking and family-friendly walking.
A small town that’s a big outdoor centre for Snowdonia, famous internationally for events like white water canoeing, swimming, cycling and triathlons. But you don’t need to be an ironman to appreciate Bala. Its outdoors scene has a broad appeal, with a good choice of gentle as well as adventurous activities. Much of the action is centred on 4½-mile-long Llyn Tegid, the largest natural lake in Wales. Nearby River Tryweryn is another major aquatic asset, providing reliable white water, even during the summer when many rivers are low. Bala is one of the few Welsh towns with ‘Walkers are Welcome’ accreditation (www.walkersarewelcome.org). Scenic paths include a walk around the lake (you can also ride along its southern shore on the narrow-gauge Bala Lake Railway). There’s inspiring cycling too, with six waymarked bike routes and the Aran and Arenig mountains above. Bala is steeped in Welsh culture and history – a plaque tells the famous story of 16-year-old Mary Jones who walked to Bala across the mountains to collect a Welsh Bible in 1800. Such links continue: the activity centre for the Urdd Welsh League of Youth is located at nearby Glan-llyn (where family groups can also stay).
Former slate village with a quaint, unconventional beauty set within the Dyfi Forest. Boasts a surprisingly rich vein of local attractions, including the Centre for Alternative Technology, King Arthur’s Labyrinth, Bards’ Quest and Corris Craft Centre, along with the narrow-gauge Corris Railway and Museum. Underground tours with Corris Mine Explorers, thrilling mountain biking in the forest, excellent fishing at Llyn Myngul, challenging walking on Cader Idris.
Village with an Alpine-style setting amongst steep, forested hillsides. Large craft centre in former woollen mill is a popular attraction. Take a trip up into the mountains to Bwlch y Groes, the highest pass in Wales. The little village is also a good walking and fishing centre.
A town that’s going places. Its go-ahead attitude is reflected in an ever-improving range of local events and festivals, outdoor activities and places to stay and eat. But Dolgellau’s natural resources remain its number-one asset. The handsome, dark-stoned market town is set beneath Cader Idris, the legendary ‘Chair of Idris’, on the approach to the beautiful Mawddach Estuary. Call into Tŷ Siamas, the innovative National Centre for Welsh Folk Music, and the Quaker Heritage Centre. The town is one of the handiest bases for exploring all of Snowdonia Mountains and Coast - but don’t miss the many local beauty spots such as the aptly named Precipice Walk and Mawddach Trail along the waterside for 9½ miles to Barmouth/Abermaw (there’s a longer, more mountainous Mawddach Way too). Cycling and horse riding also popular locally - Dolgellau is a specially chosen ‘Cycle Breaks’ centre with a fine range of road and off-road routes. The Coed y Brenin Forest Park is nearby, with mountain biking trails for all abilities plus a host of other outdoor attractions and facilities, including downloadable MP3 audio trails.