Ask someone what the Snowdonia National Park means to them and they’ll probably say mountains - most notably Mount Snowdon. North Wales’s national park is renowned as a centre for high adrenalin mountain sports, with climbing, hiking, skiing and scrambling high on the agenda of many. However, the park has plenty to offer those of us who prefer to take things a little slower.
Pleasure bikers might not know that Snowdonia has many cycle routes that don't include steep climbs or white-knuckle descents and that the majestic peaks and foothills that surround Snowdon are home to some of the most exhilarating cycle trails found anywhere in the UK.
To prove you don’t have to be a thrillseeker to enjoy Snowdonia from the saddle we’ve chosen four of the best cycle routes in the area. Suitable for all ages and abilities, sweeping trails and stunning scenery are guaranteed!
1. Mawddach Trail
Length: 10 miles
Take a Breather: At the Penmaenpool signal box, now an RSPB observatory, or at any of the picnic spots along the route.
The Mawddach Trail takes you from the entrance to Dolgellau, alongside the unspoilt Mawddach Estuary, past Penmaenpool and along to Barmouth.
It's a flat route, as it's on an old railway line, and was resurfaced only a few years ago, so the ground conditions are quite good too - no steep climbs to navigate here.
Look out for the Cadair Idris massif and the Rhinog hills along the way, the unique experience of cycling the 3/4-mile railway bridge into Barmouth, and the harbour and coastline of the resort at the end.
2. Bala to Lake Vyrnwy
Length: 17 miles (34-mile circular route to return to Bala)
Terrain: Long climbs (2000 feet total), steep in places
End: Lake Vyrnway, or return to Bala
Take a Breather: Refreshments at Lake Vyrnwy if you're riding the full circular route, or at any of the small villages along the way.
The Lake Vyrnway circular route from Bala is not for the faint-hearted, with a 2,000-foot climb to negotiate along the way, and while only a few sections of this are steep, the upward gradient will challenge your fitness and endurance.
With that in mind - and the prospect of a generally downhill return trip to Bala if you're completing the full circle - it's not a difficult route to navigate, with only a few turns.
It also takes in Lake Bala and a nearly full lap of Lake Vyrnwy and its dam, as well as views of the Aran mountains, so there's plenty to make it worth the effort.
3. Bangor to Ogwen Cottage
Length: 12 miles (24-mile circular route back to Bangor)
Terrain: Mostly flat with some short climbs
Start: Bangor to Lon Ogwen cycleway at Porth Penrhyn
End: Ogwen Bank to Ogwen Cottage
Take a Breather: The mountain pursuits centre at Ogwen Cottage is a good place for a break if you're planning to cycle the return route back to Bangor.
This circular route offers a mix of terrain, and is ideal if you want a mostly easy ride with a few challenges along the way.
It also has several options to shorten the route - start from Porth Penrhyn to get directly on to the Lon Ogwen cycleway, or cut out the final stretch from Ogwen Bank to Ogwen Cottage and back to save a few miles.
The shorter version, from Porth Penrhyn along the Lon Ogwen cycleway to Ogwen Bank, and back via Bethesda on the A5, makes a great medium-length alternative if you don't want to push your stamina so much.
4. Conwy Castle to Bodnant Gardens
Length: 7.5 miles each way
Terrain: Mostly flat with some short, steep climbs
Start: Conwy (long-stay car park)
End: Bodnant Gardens car park, or back to Conwy along same route
Take a Breather: The village of Henryd after the first third of the route, or hold on until Ty'n y Groes at about two thirds of the way - or take stops at both, if you need to!
Linking two of the area's best-loved landmarks, this road route ends at Bodnant Gardens, with a return journey along the same route, or via the busier A470 for careful riders who want a shorter second leg.
National Trust members should be able to get into Bodnant Gardens for free, and they offer a chance to do some sightseeing while taking an hour or more's break from the saddle.
The Conwy valley provides the scenery along the way, with views of Snowdonia's Carneddau hills too, bringing plenty of variety to a route whose most challenging sections are quite short.
Many visitors to Snowdonia head for the hills but, hopefully, we’ve given you four good reasons to keep your wheels firmly on the ground. There’s so much of our stunning region that can only be fully appreciated from down below, not on high, and we want you to appreciate it too. Happy trails!