Haldon forest is a vast woodland of giant conifers and lowland heathland, which provides visitors with a unique and immersive outdoors experience. Just a 15 minute drive from Exeter this Forestry England Site of Special Scientific Interest has over 3,500 acres of woodland which is sustainably managed in order to produce timber whilst providing a forest rich in wildlife and easily accessible for public use. The forest contains multitude of running routes, walking and cycling trails all of varying length and difficulty and all excellently signposted alongside some astonishing viewpoints and picnic areas making this the perfect adventure spot for all ages and abilities.
POST CODE EX6 7XR
Car parking and facilities
Haldon Forest’s official forest centre car parking area opens at 7am and closes at 9pm every day, it is a large car park however, on busy days it quickly becomes difficult to find a spot. A short 2 hour stay cost £4.00 but all day is hefty £7.00, if you think you will become a regular visitor I would highly recommend purchasing a members card. At £38 a members card might seem steep at first but it pays for itself after just a few short trips, it also comes with additional benefits including a huge range of discounts on the facilities at Haldon, such as the Ridge café, bike and Segway hire and GoApe (plus you can use the card at another Forestry England site I chose Bellever Forest for my second, and you can register two vehicles, meaning more adventures yay).
Surrounding the main car parking area there is a huge range of forestry centre facilities including the Rangers office, toilets, a children’s play park, cycling skills area, cycle and tramper hire alongside GoSegway and the aforementioned Ridge café who provide locally sourced food and drinks (a personal favourite is a breakfast bap and coffee, before a morning stroll). The forest itself is absolutely magical, the smell of pine and woody earth flood the air accompanied by the gravel crunching underfoot and there is always something new to see from the sun rays seeping between the branches to huge wooden dens. There are a whole host of animals and wildlife residing in the forest from squirrels to deer alongside 5 different birds of prey and over 30 different species of butterfly. The forest is very dog friendly, just be aware of bikers passing in some areas.
Haldon has 3 official walking routes, the Butterfly trail, Discovery trail and Raptor trail alongside a range of Nordic walking routes. I will try and give you a brief description of the 3 official walking routes and my favourite parts of them. All of the trails are gravel tracks which are well signposted so perfect for a stress free leisurely stroll. If like me and you love exploring once you have tried the official signposted routes why not try creating your own walk by combining different segments together.
The discovery trail marked in green is the shortest of the routes at 2.5km, this is the walk most frequented by young families it is a well surfaced trail suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs with lots of rest points, picnic areas and children’s play spots. The trail often features interactive experience, learning points and games for children too such as information on local animals and wildlife. It is also cycling trail though, so just be aware of bikers. One of the best views this trail offers comes very soon depart the forest centre, after a short walk you emerge from the woodland to a great expanse of openness, a panoramic view across all of Exeter and to the sea at Exmouth. (I particularly enjoy this view for spotting some of Exeter famous landmarks, the Cathedral, the University physics building and obviously John Lewis).
The Raptor trail this 4.5km trail is probably my favourite of the official walks, offering a much more varied landscape with a few steep ascents and wilder forest environment. I love climbing the steep hill to the top of Belvedere Tower, it feels like it could be the tower from Rapunzel with its steep white walls and 360 panoramic views across the forest, surrounding fields and over Exeter. Once re-joining the path the route ascends sharply on a winding path up through the trees before flattening out at the road crossing. This is where you will find my favourite part of all the walks at Haldon the bird of prey viewpoint (I tend to visit this spot no matter which route I take, the small detour off the beaten track is defiantly worth it). As shown on the map there is a small road crossing required for all of the routes, after this crossing the marked paths diverge with the Discovery trail taking a left after the gate and the Raptor and Butterfly trails making a steep straight down decent. There is an additional 3rd path here which bares right through the trees, you can tell the path is less worn in but it is still well signposted. The encroaching trees soon part revealing the extraordinary view point. It is a lovely place to stop for a picnic with a few benches and seating areas overlooking the valley bellow and on across Dartmoor (I’m a sucker for a view can you tell yet). Here you are likely to see and enormous range of birds including buzzards, sparowhawks and rare goshwaks.
The butterfly trail is the longest of the official walks at 6k, named after the beautiful and rare butterflies hidden in the depths of this part of the forest. Over 30 butterfly species have been recorded in the butterfly area including one of Britain’s rarest the Pearl Bordered Fritillary. This walk shares it start with the Green Discovery trail before a waymarked sign after the road crossing takes you on a long decent through the trees. I find this path is often the quietest and most tranquil of the walks Haldon offers that is until the final ascent where giggles and screams can be heard from above as you cross underneath a zip line wire from the GoApe site. This trail has a good few climbs and descents but personally I find the actual path wider, less muddy and easier to walk than the shorter Raptor trail (maybe that’s just me tho?).
Alongside its walking trails Haldon offers a fantastic range of off road woodland trails with some beautiful views and varied terrain suitable for all levels of mountain bikers. Routes vary from beginner green trails progressing right through to expert red and black trails. The selection of routes allows progression of confidence and technical skills and the additional skills areas including technical training area and pump section in the forest centre mean you don’t have to complete all the routes to practice your sills.
Don’t worry if you forgot your bike, the forest cycle hire offer great rates with an adult half day of 4 hours costing £18.00. The staff are always wonderful and even helped me out replacing a punctured tyre on my bike whilst I carried on enjoying the trails on one of their rentals (which was actually considerably better than my own bike).
This 2.5km green trail follows the same route as the walking trail which shares its name, so allow considerations and be aware of walkers. The trail is designed for beginners and families, as with the walking route there are plenty of places to stop and rest and take in the views. The trail is a very easy and gentle ride with few gradients and a well surfaced trail.
This route is a moderate blue 3.7km trail designed for cyclists with a little bit more experience off road and perfect for those wanting to progress their skills and build confidence. The route has more varied terrain than the discovery trail, with some narrower sections which test bike handling and some small and gentle gradients but nothing too challenging.
The Kiddens dark blue trail is a moderate 6.4km route which is a real step up from the Spicers trail. It is much more of a traditional mountain biking trail with a smaller single track trail which soon descends into a lovely downhill tack which zigzags down the valley. The trail contains more technical features including more varied surfaces, multiple small obstacles including roots and rocks. I think this trail is my favourite of all the routes at Haldon purely down to the beautiful downhill section which really offers the opportunity to get some good speed and that adrenaline really pumping whilst not being to technically challenging. That being said unfortunately whatever comes down must go back up somehow, so there is a rather long reasonably steep assent back through the woodland to the forest centre which does really get the legs working.
This route is defiantly not one of the faint hearted, the 9km route is graded as difficult and only for experience and skilled riders. Having ridden it a fair few times I still find it very challenging. It is a technical and fast flowing single track with some lively descents and tight corners which really do test your technical ability. The surface is also very varied ever changing as you delve deeper into the forest before emerging at the rocky quarry. The first time I rode this trail I was lulled into a false sense of security by the opening few km’s, however as the trail hit its first decent I through the trees on a narrow single track transecting the valley I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew.
From there on in the route is lined with a good mix of natural and artificial features including boardwalks berns, large rocks, drop offs and rocky bed sections. About half way through the trail you reach a section of track that boarders the road, this narrow uphill section with encroaching trees is rather challenging but you efforts are rewarded soon after with what I would say is the best section of this course. After you have crossed the road and done another short climb there is a lovely downhill section towards the quarry, the track is made of small rocks here and like the Kiddens trail this section really allows you to get up some speed and enjoy the ride. At the end of this section is what I would say is the most challenging and technical section, where a manmade rock bed has been constructed with a steep decent and super tight turns. A real technically challenging decent with no real clear best route (I have attempted it several times and still can’t seem to get it smooth). After this there is another very long and fairly steep climb back up the quarry to the forest centre. This trail defiantly requires a good level of fitness and stamina but there are some suitable places to stop and rest where necessary.
If all that cycling and walking isn’t quite thrilling enough for you then Haldon offers many more adrenaline boosting activates with a massive GoApe site which itself has multiple courses and Go Segway who offer Segway safaris defiantly a unique way to explore the forest. There are also running routes of various lengths including a Saturday 5km park run and organised night runs, orienteering courses including a children’s Gruffalo course and horse riding trails. You can certainly spend the whole day here taking in the views, building dens and looking out for local wildlife, including birds of prey, butterflies and if you are very lucky and quite you may get some glimpses of the beautiful deer that graze in the woods. There is just so much this place has to offer, for me it’s a fabulous location with something for almost everyone And one of my favourite places to visit any time of the year.
For more information about Haldon Forest visit the Forestry England website https://www.forestryengland.uk/haldon-forest-park
Images by Ryan Kerr @_ryan_kerr, Dom Watson @domwatsonn and Rhi Dumper @wetsuits_and_hikingboots
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