What is the National 3 Peaks Challenge?
The National 3 Peaks Challenge is a hike over the three highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales. This includes a 23-mile walk, including 3064m of ascent over the three mountains, and a 462-mile drive in between…all to be completed within 24 hours! That’s the official line, anyway. Our route totalled 22.5 miles, but it might be slightly more extended if you take alternative ways.
What are the National 3 Peak Mountains?
The three mountains of the National Three Peaks Challenges and their heights are:
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland (and the UK!) at 1345 metres. The elevation gain from the Visitor Centre car park is 1312 metres.
Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England at 978 metres. The elevation gain is 898 from the Wasdale car park.
Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales at 1085 metres. Elevation gain on Pyg Track is 735 metres from the JustPark car park and 965 metres on Llanberis Path.
For those who don’t know, elevation gain is the altitude you will climb from the start point.
You might think Scafell Pike is the easiest of the mountains to climb because it’s the shortest, but I don’t think it is. It’s tough! It’s steep and unpleasant. Ha! So be prepared – it’s not a walk in the park either.
How Hard is the National 3 Peaks Challenge?
The short answer is ‘hard’. It’s a long way to walk, the terrain is challenging in parts, and you’ll be knackered when you’re walking in the early hours after not having much sleep on the road. But don’t let that put you off! Ha! It could have been easier, but I’ll explain more about that later in the post. We completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge a few weeks ago as a trial run. The walking distances are similar, but it’s all in one go, so we thought it might be a fair judgment of how we’d feel on the National 3 Peaks.
It’s impossible to compare the two thoroughly, but it was as close as we would get. Everyone we spoke to about the National 3 Peaks Challenge said it was easier than the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, but having completed both, I doubt their judgment! It is easier in some respects, but I don’t think it’s easier on the whole. But after all, it’s just one foot in front of the other a few thousand times, no?
Not only is it a long distance to walk, but there are a lot of ascents to climb, unpredictable weather to contend with and a very late night or very early morning to deal with…or both!
And if you have to ascend, you also have to descend. And that’s the bit that hurts! My thighs and right knee were pretty sore at the very end from all the impact downhill. Maybe I’m crazy, but I would 100% rather walk up rather than down a hill. Is anyone else with me?!
The benefit to driving is that you can dry your feet out if you have baby feet, like my walking buddy, Dek. You can also take the opportunity to change clothes and maybe even get some sleep. But that’s about the limit of the benefits.
How Long Does it Take to Complete the National 3 Peaks Challenge?
We completed the National 3 Peaks Challenge in a few minutes under 22 hours. We got stuck in a bit of traffic southbound on the M6, around Manchester, where three lanes merged into one at some road works. We lost about 20-25 minutes in the traffic. But aside from that, we had a clear run for both legs, stopping quickly for the odd pee, driver change and a quick leg stretch to prevent seizing up!
It’s probably worth checking if there are any expected roadworks on your route. This could affect the time you need to set off, should the roadworks be between certain times, for example. The walk itself would be pretty easy to achieve within 24 hours if you had a good run of traffic. But despite that, the National 3 Peaks Challenge will still be a difficult walk.
How to complete the National 3 Peaks Challenge in 24 Hours
Below is the timeline for our National 3 Peaks Challenge. Timings are rounded to make life a little easier! We chose to get a decent night of sleep and walk into the next day instead of sacrificing sleep and finishing early. Even in September, we got two summits in daylight: Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike. Bearing in mind we hit some traffic, so on a good run, you’d have more flexibility with time on the hills.
0540 – start Ben Nevis
0940 – complete Ben Nevis (4 hours)
Drive to Scafell Pike
1610 – start Scafell Pike
1900 – complete Scafell Pike (2 hours 50 minutes)
Drive to Snowdon
1210 – start Snowdon
0340 – finish Snowdon (3 hours 30 minutes)
National 3 Peaks Challenge Route
We opted to start the National 3 Peaks Challenge in Scotland and end in Wales, tackling Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon. This is because Snowdon is only a couple of hours from our home, so we could get home and not worry about finding alternative accommodation for a second night.
The other option is to start in Wales and end in Scotland, but it depends on personal preference. Ben Nevis is a delightful walk, but I’m not sure I’d want to do it as the final hill. It’s the longest walk, the highest mountain, and the longest drive to or from it.
Below are the National 3 Peaks Challenge car park locations.
Parking for Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis was the starting point for our National 3 Peaks Challenge. In terms of car parks, there are a couple of choices, but the one marked on the map is the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre and was our choice for Ben Nevis parking. It’s the closest and has toilets, but you have to pay. Parking at the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre costs £6 for anything over four hours. Alternatively, you can park at the Forestry Scotland Braveheart Car Park. It’ll add about 1.2 miles to your round trip, but the parking is free.
Ben Nevis Visitor Centre postcode is PH33 6PF. Braveheart car park shares the same postcode, but you’ll notice it on the right before you arrive at Ben Nevis Visitor Centre.
Ben Nevis Route
In terms of the route up – follow the signs from the car park. If you struggle to follow them, follow the hundreds of others heading up! This route will take you up the mountain path, previously known as the ‘tourist trail’. It was rebranded because the ‘tourist trail’ made it sound like an easy walk. An easy walk it is not. Ha! You’ll probably be glad when you get back to the car park. The route is about 11 miles or so from the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre car park.
The route up is a reasonably straightforward one if you have good weather. If not, it’s pretty clear until you get near the top. As you approach the summit, the mountain plateaus, and this is where you should be aware of the steep drops to your left. A few weeks before our walk, there was news of a girl falling to her death from the top, so be careful.
Scafell Pike Parking
There are two start points for Scafell Pike. The one marked on the map is closer. It also has toilets and a cafe, with the cafe closing at around 4 pm. There’s also a shop at the National Trust campsite, should you need any supplies. The other car park is Wasdale Head, which is a couple of minutes further down the road but adds a little extra to your walk. If you’re a National Trust member, I recommend the first car park.
Wasdale Car Park – CA20 1EX
Wasdale Head Car Park shares the same postcode.
Scafell Pike Route
Scafell Pike is, quite frankly, an unpleasant walk. It’s not that long, but it’s pretty steep. It’s the smallest of the three mountains of the National 3 Peaks Challenge but the least enjoyable for me. It feels like it’s just a thrashing for 2.5 miles. You can’t go wrong getting up Scafell Pike because the track is well-beaten.
If you take Pyg Track up, you can park at the JustPark car park or Pen-y-Pass. You must pre-book your parking at JustPark. Otherwise, they won’t let you in! It’s expensive, though. The minimum price is £18 for an 8-hour parking session! Thankfully, Stacey dropped us off and drove down to Pen-y-Pass to park the van and get some kip. It’s free to park in the lay-by from 8 pm to 8 am.
The walk from Peny-y-Pass to the start of Pyg Track is over a mile, so consider how much time this will add. We finished the hike and had to walk back to the van. Honestly, walking on a good road for a bit was pleasant.
Postcode for JustPark – LL55 4NY
The location for Pen-y-Pass is marked on the map above, under the National 3 Peaks Challenge Route.
This is the bit where I tell you it could have been easier. We chose to take the Pyg Track up Snowdon. The weather forecast was good – overcast with light winds. And when we arrived, it was looking good! But about 45 minutes into our ascent, it got bad quickly. It was night, and we were armed with our head torches and super flashlights. The rain came in, followed by fog. And neither head torch nor flashlight has a sufficient impact when it’s foggy! The light illuminates the fog. Ha!
Alternatively, you can take the Llanberis Path up. It might take you slightly longer, but it’s easier, and you can probably gain some time based on the track’s simplicity on your way back down. We met another group who took about 2 hours and 25 minutes to get up the Llanberis Path, vs our 2 hours up the Pyg Track. We gained about ten minutes on the way back down because Pyd Track is relatively slow going.
The Pyg Track isn’t so straightforward in parts, especially when you can’t see. It’s a challenging path when you can’t see it, it’s slippery in parts when wet, and you can expect to be climbing up and down some of the rocks.
National 3 Peaks Challenge Logistics
The logistics are probably where the National 3 Peaks start to get expensive. If you require accommodation at both ends, it could start getting pricey. Thankfully, we don’t live far from Snowdon, so we headed home once we were off the final mountain. To keep costs low, we had one additional person with us to help share the driving in the form of Stacey. We put her up in a little room that cost £50 for the night while we crashed in Bumper on the street outside.
Less than £300 is what we spent on food, fuel and accommodation, which included a 974-mile round trip from the Midlands. The night before the challenge started, we went to Aldi to buy food for the whole thing, except for breakfast. Not being massive breakfast people, we ate a little at the start of Ben Nevis, then smashed a McDonald’s once we got off the mountain and collected Stacey, then hit the road, stopping only to swap drivers and pee!
There are organised walks through the threepeakschallenge.uk website that cost £349 per person. These organised trips don’t include food, travel, or accommodation the night before the challenge starts. They do, however, return you to Chester after the event. So if you don’t want to sort out the challenge yourself, you can spend a small fortune to complete it. If you can’t find support to help you or aren’t confident on the mountain, this might be the best option. But if you are conscious of the cost, you can likely complete the National Three Peaks Challenge yourself, with a little bit of effort to plan it.
National 3 Peaks Challenge Kit List
It would be best if you were prepared with suitable kit for your National 3 Peaks Challenge. As with our previous walks up Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell Pike, and the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, I was surprised to see people in such poor clothing choices. Clothing better suited to the trendy bar on a Friday night than on a trek up a few mountains! You might regret not having the right kit with you, so here is a list to get you started.
Towards the top of Ben Nevis, we passed a group of young lads, one wearing a pair of Nike Trainers. We managed to fly past them on the way down. Not because we were rapid but because his feet were in such pain from every stone digging into his feet through the soft soles of his trainers.
Water – you will know your own body’s needs, but you will need a litre or so for each mountain, plus you can refill and rehydrate on the drives.
Food – we opted for snacks on the mountains and left main meals until the drives. Again, you will know your own needs.
Boots – Some well-worn walking boots with ankle support should do you. The terrain is a mixture of roads, steps, stone chipping paths, wooden walkways and fairly well-beaten tracks. You need a pair of suitable boots to manage everything – trainers are probably not the best option.
- Base layer – I have a merino wool base layer which is excellent. Not only is it effective, but it also doesn’t stink! It’s worth spending the money on a merino wool top for something like this. There’s a good article HERE that compares merino wool and synthetic materials. The problem with wool is that it doesn’t dry quickly, so I took a spare synthetic base layer which was offensively smelly after Scafell Pike! Ha!
- Mid layer – some kind of microfleece should be suitable to keep the chill off, should you need to.
- Waterproof jacket
- Walking trousers – I have some really lightweight walking trousers. They dry quickly and are super comfortable and flexible if they get wet.
- Waterproof trousers – We had time to change kit between the mountains, so we opted not to take waterproof trousers, despite rain being forecast on Ben Nevis.
Torch – you will undoubtedly need some form of torch for the National 3 Peaks Challenge. We had a head torch each and small flashlights, plus spare batteries. It’s very unlikely you could complete the challenge in daylight unless you’re going to run the mountains!
Phone & charger – this goes without saying in today’s world. Phone signal is poor for most routes, so download your maps if you navigate by tech and not a map & compass, but remember – relying on a mobile phone will always carry risks, so you may want to take a map and compass.
Hat & gloves – these two go hand in hand. Even if the weather is good, it’s likely to be windy on the peaks, and if you’re stopping for food or rest, you might get cold quickly.
Anti-chafing rub – such as Bodyglide to stop your legs from chafing. No doubt this would cause a problem if you suffer a bit of chafing and don’t have any anti-chafing rub.
Compeed – for the hotspots on your feet. If you’re anything like Dek and have feet like a baby, you’ll need these. Look after your feet; otherwise, you’ll be in a world of pain by the end!
Sun cream – if the sun is shining, you will regret a few hours of being baked by the sun!
Other Kit Considerations
Map & compass – It would never be a bad idea to take a map and compass, even if you’ve got your phone with mapping on. Belt and braces, and all that! The weather may change, and you might need a map and compass, but it’s no use if you can’t read a map and don’t know how to use a compass, so find out how before you set off. We resorted to the map to plan Pyg Track when we changed routes, so it came in handy.
Spare socks – if you have sweaty feet or no waterproof boots, you might want to take spare socks to change between mountains. And you’ll have plenty of time to change on the road!
Emergency shelter & safety blanket – you might consider this a bit overkill, but emergencies happen. You’You’reter to be looking at it than looking for it, should you need it!
National 3 Peak Challenge
- What is the National 3 Peaks Challenge?
- What are the National 3 Peak Mountains?
- How Hard is the National 3 Peaks Challenge?
- How Long Does it Take to Complete the National 3 Peaks Challenge?
- How to complete the National 3 Peaks Challenge in 24 Hours
- National 3 Peaks Challenge Route
- National 3 Peaks Challenge Logistics
- National 3 Peaks Challenge Kit List
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