Cycling in The New Forest

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Cycling is a fantastic way to explore the New Forest (Mayukh Karmakar/Unsplash)

As one of the UK’s smallest national parks, the New Forest really lends itself well to exploring on two wheels. The woodland and heath landscapes are generally fairly approachable, with little in the way of challenging climbs, and good rail links mean you can often cycle in one direction and return by train.

Cycling in the New Forest National Park is for everyone – in this article we’re focusing on easy daily-friendly trails and a few longer road rides, but there are also more challenging mountain biking routes around, and accessible options for those with mobility considerations. Read on for our pick of the best New Forest cycle trails.

Family-friendly cycling routes in the New Forest

The flat landscapes and easy-to-follow trails make the New Forest National Park a nicely approachable place to go for a bike ride, even if you're not a regular cyclist. We’ve picked out a few of the best New Forest cycling trails for families and occasional cyclists here.

Beaulieu to Buckler’s Hard

StartBeaulieu village

EndBuckler's Hard

Distance: 2 miles (3.5 kilometres)

This short riverside ride makes a nice introduction to cycling in the New Forest, and it's also a lovely way to get between two of our favourite local heritage attractions (handily saving you the effort and expense of parking into the bargain).

Starting from the village of Beaulieu, follow the Solent Way along the banks of the Beaulieu River, taking in some super views over the water en route to the historic shipbuilding village at Buckler’s Hard. Once you’re there, you can visit the museum, tour the shipwright’s workshop and cottage or just have a cup of tea and a wander before heading back to check out the attractions at Beaulieu Estate.

Local tip: After Buckler's Hard, the Solent Way runs along to Lymington, so if you'd like a longer ride you can keep going, making an eight-mile ride in total.

Bolderwood Cycle Trail

Bolderwood is particularly beautiful in the autumn (Richard Loader/Unsplash)

Start/endBolderwood car park

Distance: 7.5 miles (12 kilometres)

Easily accessed from the A35, Bolderwood is one of the most popular nature areas in the New Forest, and it's a great place for a family walk or bike ride. Parking is free at the Bolderwood car park (although donations to Forestry England are appreciated), which is also the start point for several circular trails of various lengths.

The 7.5-mile cycle trail is all very straightforward, following well-marked off-road trails and with only gentle climbing – so it's very suitable for families and less-confident cyclists. The trail takes you through some of the most impressive parts of this ancient woodland, including the magnificent Bolderwood Ornamental Drive and the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, where you can climb onto the wooden platform to see if you can spot the herd of fallow deer that live here. There are also picnic areas along the way that make nice places to stop for a snack.

Local tip: The best time to pass the deer sanctuary is around feeding time, which is usually some time between noon and 3pm from April to September.

Brockenhurst to Lyndhurst Loop

Start/end: Brockenhurst

Distance: 11 miles (17.5 kilometres)

This is one of the longer local trails, but it's one that will give you a fairly comprehensive introduction to the New Forest, taking in ancient woods, open heathland and two of the national park's biggest villages. Along the way there are lots of lovely views and also chances to spot wildlife including the famous New Forest ponies.

Most of this route is on well-made cycle trails although there are some short sections of minor roads and a couple of A-road crossings to negotiate, so it’s probably not a great choice for families with younger children. The halfway point of the route is the village of Lyndhurst, a handy place for refreshments and toilets. You can download a leaflet and GPS route for this route from the New Forest National Park website.

Local tip: Brockenhurst is a great hub for cyclists, with a railway station, lots of refreshment options, bike hire (see below for details) and places to stay.

The Old Railway Cycle Route

StartBrockenhurst

EndBurley

Distance: 9 miles (14.5 kilometres)

Linking two of the New Forest's loveliest villages, this off-road cycle trail follows the route of a railway line that was discontinued in the 1960s, and now forms part of the National Cycle Network. It’s known as ‘Castleman’s Corkscrew’ after Charles Castleman, who proposed the line, and the unusual shape it follows through the countryside.

The Old Railway Cycle Route  is well marked with numbered posts, and it’s mostly traffic free, although there is some road riding involved in the full trail – some of it on busier roads – so it's not ideal for younger cyclists. Although it's easy to follow, it's a good idea to download the GPS or information leaflet before setting off.

Local tip: Make some space in your panniers for a bit of shopping in Burley – it's got some intriguing independent shops to browse, including the excellent Burley Fudge Shop for sweet treats.

Longer and more challenging routes

There are no major hills in the New Forest, so if you want more of a challenge it's likely to be about distance rather than technical difficulties. Here we've chosen to highlight a few of the top New Forest cycle trails for full-day rides.

Lyndhurst to Burley Circular

Look out for fallow deer as you pass the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary (Amanda Kloska/Unsplash)

Start/endLyndhurst

Distance: 23 miles (37 kilometres)

Following this well-marked scenic trail is likely to take a whole day, as you’ll probably want to stop several times to take in the attractions you'll be passing along the way. These include the tame animals at Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, the simple but poignant Canadian War Memorial and the pretty village of Burley.

As well as those bigger sights, this 23-mile route crams in a lot of great scenery as it passes through woodlands, meadows and open heath areas and crosses a number of rivers and streams. There are a couple of road sections, but the vast majority of the route is on off-road paths so it should be a relatively peaceful day of riding. You’ll still need to keep your wits about you though, as you’re likely to encounter free-roaming ponies or cattle sooner or later.

Local tip: Burley is a little way beyond the halfway point of this route, and it makes a good place to stop for refreshments; the Cider Pantry at New Forest Cider is a popular pick for local produce, including a bottle of traditional cider to stash away for the end of your ride.

Northern Forest Circular

Start/endAppleslade Inclosure car park

Distance: 18 miles (29 kilometres)

Although the New Forest isn't particularly hilly, it's also not entirely flat – and this 18-mile cycle route takes you through some of the more undulating territory up in the north. That makes this a great choice for those who like a bit more variety in their cycling terrain, and it also means you’ll get some fabulous views across your surroundings from some of the higher points. 

The early stages of the ride take you close to the banks of Dockens Water, so keep your eyes open for water-loving birds and other wildlife here; towards the end of the route you'll pass Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve, a 150-hectare reserve that's well worth a diversion to see if you can spot kingfishers, terns and oystercatchers. Nearby Hockey's Farm Shop has a lovely café serving up well-earned cream teas and other treats.

Local tip: A short detour towards the end of the route takes you to the New Forest Water Park, where you can bounce across the inflatable obstacle course with an inevitable refreshing dip in the lake.

New Forest bike hire services

Bikes can be hired locally if you can’t bring your own (David Hellman/Unsplash)

If you don't have your own bikes, or can’t bring them with you, don’t worry. There are several places where you can hire bikes in the New Forest, and they're often good sources of information on route planning and local tips too. Try these companies for New Forest bike rental.

  • Cyclexperience: Handily located right next to Brockenhurst station, this is a fantastic option for those taking a day out in the New Forest by train. All sorts of bikes are available to hire here, including e-bikes, tandems, and kids’ bikes, plus trailers for kids and dogs. The website has several suggested routes from the Brockenhurst hub, and you can also pick up maps while you're there. Understandably, this is a popular place, so it's best to book online – especially in peak season.

  • New Forest Cycling: The village of Burley is another popular start point for bike rides, with free parking in the village and a good collection of circular routes to pick from (some of which are nicely highlighted on the New Forest Cycling website). There’s a good range of bikes to choose from, with discounts available for groups and multi-day bookings. Walk-ins can often be accommodated, but it's a good idea to book online in high season.

  • Avon Tyrrell Activity Centre: If you're cycling with kids, the 65 acres of land at Avon Tyrrell make a nice safe place to have a family bike ride – there are trails here for all levels, plus a Pump and Gravity track for more experienced rides. There are child and adult bikes for hire here, and you're welcome to take them out to explore more of the New Forest once you've roamed the grounds for a bit. Alongside cycling, there are lots of activities to try out here, including climbing, zipwires and archery, and it's also got a campsite.

Tips for cycling in the New Forest

Cycling in the New Forest is generally pretty easygoing, but even so a bit of preparation is important to make sure you have a safe, comfortable and enjoyable ride. Our quick checklist below should help you have the best New Forest cycling experience.

Preparing your bike

  • Make sure your bike is in good working condition – give it a quick lookover to check brakes, tyres and gears, especially if you haven't ridden it in a while.

  • Pack a tyre pump, spare tubes and a repair kit in case of mishaps along the way.

Safety considerations

  • Wear a helmet and high-visibility clothing so you'll be easily visible to drivers or other path users.

  • Pay attention to other path users and roaming animals (especially ponies), and always follow the Highway Code whether you're on the road or a trail.

Environmental issues

  • In the New Forest, it's more important than ever to stick to designated trails to protect the fragile ecosystems.

  • Always follow the Countryside Code, making sure you give wildlife a wide berth and leave no trace of your visit.

What to bring

  • A small first-aid kit for any scrapes or stings

  • Plenty of water

  • Snacks for energy on a longer ride

  • A GPS device to help you keep on track, and ideally a paper map as backup

Plan your New Forest cycling break

There are lots of fabulous cycle routes in the New Forest, so it should be easy to find or create a trail that suits your needs. For more inspiration, check out the ideas suggested by Komoot and AllTrails, or use Forestry England’s map of all the designated cycle routes to create your own itinerary. 

A day of cycling here is lovely, but there’s so much to see and do in the New Forest that it also makes a great destination for a weekend trip or longer holiday. And as it’s got one of the mildest climates of all the UK’s national parks, it’s a great location to go camping or glamping, whichever season you’re travelling in. If you like the idea of waking up to views of these gorgeous surroundings, take a look at all of Pitchup’s New Forest camping and glamping sites.