Wild Camping at Hard Tarn, near Helvellyn, in the Lake District, UK

An amazing early morning sunrise view from the fells that you can only get on a wild camp! This is from Nethermost Pike looking east to Patterdale and the mist over Ullswater, with the Pennines in the far distance.

The tent on this wild camping adventure at Hard Tarn in the Lake District, with High Craggs in the background.

Wild camping in the Lakes at Hard Tarn, near Helvellyn

Wild camping provides a completely different experience on the fells to regular day-walking - and is a great chance to get away from it all and unplug from the world. It's perfect for getting some time to unwind, as other than the scenery there are no distractions. It also makes you appreciate a little more the basic things we take for granted in every day life, such as running water and electricity!

On this occasion I was looking for somewhere where I may well be able to see a brilliant sunrise, and after a bit of digging around on the web I found the perfect place - Hard Tarn! It sounded a good little remote spot - tarns do usually seem appealing for a place to stop - and from previous walking experience in these parts - I knew from the mountain range above (High Craggs / Nethermost Pike / Helvellyn) you can get a good view east - so a good place for a sunrise. So the location was set - I just needed some decent weather, relatively clear skies and a space in my diary - the time come on 10th August 2012.

The map route to Hard Tarn, Wild Camping in the Lake District
The route (highlighted yellow) from patter dale to Hard Tarn, up through Grisedale Valley then off the beaten track at Ruthwaite Lodge

The walking route to Hard Tarn:

The clue is in the name - it's not the easiest place to get too haha. I'd walked these parts a few times before - so knew the route up to Grisedale Valley from Patterdale well - and had stopped at Ruthwaite Lodge a few times for a bite to eat as you get a superb view down the valley from it's elevated position. However once you get to the lodge along the well-marked path - it's a case of going off the beaten track- making your own path and following the river and cascading waterfalls up towards Hard Tarn - and using a map, the surrounding mountains (and an iPhone GPS as fall back plan) as your guide.

The path up Grisedale Valley towards Ruthwaite Lodge. You can make out the peaks of Dollywagon Pike to the left and Nethermost Pike just off centre to the right (where we would see the sunrise from!)
The path up Grisedale Valley towards Ruthwaite Lodge. You can make out the peaks of Dollywagon Pike to the left and Nethermost Pike just off centre to the right (where we would see the sunrise from!)

Ruthwaite lodge - we will be heading up to the heights behind it.

It's a good idea to stay close to the stream to use as your guide as it eventually leads to Hard Tarn if you follow the right one. The stream also makes a good place to have a wash in the morning :-)

Hard Tarn location on the fells:

The difficult thing about Hard Tarn is going up this way - you can't actually see it until you are level with it. A few times I had doubted that we were heading in the right direction - but just kept walking in good faith that we would stumble across it if we kept heading in the right direction - using the peaks of High Craggs and Nethermost Pike as a guide and also staying close to the stream that also headed in this direction.

location of Hard Tarn using the surrounding mountain range as the guide
The location of Hard Tarn using the surrounding mountain range as a guide. Keep High Cragg to your left - Nethermost Pike to your right - and follow the stream and you will get there, eventually :-)

Getting there!

After a longer, steeper and higher than anticipated walk (it had been a while since I had walked with a big back pack on!) - Hard Tarn appeared. It proved to be a perfect little spot to pitch a tent - with a bit of flat space that wasn't boggy - and also some flat level rock face to sit on for when the grass is a little damp in the morning. It may not be the most accessible tarn in the area - but that can be considered a good thing - as then there is a good chance that you will get the space to yourself!

perfect spot for a wild camp - my tent pitched next to Hard tarn, Lake District
A perfect spot for a wild camp - my tent pitched next to Hard Tarn, Lake District

To the far left of this picture - you can see the path leading up to the range in between High Crags and Nethermost Pike - which is the route we took to get as high as possible to witness the sunset and sunrise. It's not an official path - but just about manageable, although a bit steep.

A perfect spot for a wild camp - my tent pitched next to Hard Tarn, Lake District Stunning views of the surrounding Lake District mountain range from Hard Tarn
Stunning views of the surrounding Lake District mountain range from Hard Tarn wild camp. A great place to get away from it all.

The fading light & sunset:

Here a few pics taken around the Hard Tarn area as the sunlight was fading - not a walker in sight now!

Looking down Grisedale Valley as the last drops of sunlight reach the distant peaks.

Nice warm glow on these peaks from the setting sun.

You get a really good view of St.Sunday Crag from Hard Tarn.
You get a really good view of St.Sunday Crag from Hard Tarn.

A sunset from the top of the Nethermost Pike Range - in the distance you can see the Solway Firth and Bassenthwaite lake I think.

Awesome night time views  of the stary sky & milky way!

One of the great things about Wild Camping is that at night you are removed from a lot of light pollution - and with a bit of luck - if the skies clear then the views of the night sky from a remote spot in the lakes are some the best that can be seen. On this occasion we were very fortunate - in that not only where the skies clear, but without planning it also turned out to be the night of the Perseid meteor shower - so we were very lucky indeed! I'd been in the Lake District before when there had been clear nights and I'd never seen so many stars - but this was something else. Not a cloud in the sky - no light pollution whatsoever, and a wide expansive view of the sky. You could actually see a faint mist running right through the centre of the sky - which I knew to be the Milky Way Galaxy - it was absolutely spell-binding and an amazing sight.  It was one of those sights that just took your breath away. And there is just something about seeing a night sky like this with thousands of stars in it that really make you think and get all philosophical. To top it off - every now and then a shooting star would fly through the sky due to the perseid meteor shower hitting earth's atmosphere - I later found out we happened to witness the year's most spectacular meteor shower for viewers in the northern hemisphere! With the mild night we ended up just bringing the sleeping bag & matts outside, putting some music on the speakers and just soaking it all up - knowing it's not often you get chance to see such a sight. As you can imagine this is of the great things about wild camping!

This isn’t my photo - didn’t have the camera for astrophotography - but is a good indication of the spectacular night time view. You could actually see the Milky Way galaxy across the centre of the sky in a sort of faint white mist - it was absolutely awe-some in the truest sense of the word.  

Wild camping sunrise

As people who know me will tell you - I'm not normally one to jump out of bed in the morning - but with the anticipation of seeing a glorious sunrise - it was easy to wake at 5am on this particular morning - and well worth it.

It was a bit of a 10 minute scramble to get up to Nethermost Pike - but it proved to be an excellent vantage point to see the sun rise. There was even a bit of mist in the low valley - so perfect conditions :-)

Sunrise from Nethermost pike
Sunrise from Nethermost pike

Sunrise from Nethermost pike
Sunrise from Nethermost pike

Incase you think I'm making this all up :-)

A warm glow lighting up striding edge and the Helvellyn range, sunrise, wild camp
A warm glow lighting up striding edge and the Helvellyn range

This time looking towards Dollywagon Pike

As it was around 6am by this time - these fellas were the only ones up there with us!

BACK TO CAMP & Grisedale Valley

As we were up at 5am - we were heading back to the tent quite early and were all packed up for about 6.30am!

The sun beams through 

Hard Tarn looks quite insignificant from up here!

Morning at Hard Tarn and it's time to move on from our wild camping spot.

As we headed back down to Civilisation and down Grisedale Valley - the mist seemed to be hanging around the Patterdale area - and although maybe no more than 50m high - the mist did make you feel like you where higher than you actually where. I guess for those who were actually in Patterdale - all you had to do was climb a little out of the place and you would be out of the mist. It's something I will look to do if I'm ever staying in Glenridding/Patterdale - an easy way to be above the clouds!

Well there you go - another blog post wrapped up and an absolutely brilliant experience. I'd definietly recommend a wild camping trip to others, and everyone should do it at least once! Just make sure you plan the location right, pick a time when the weather is favourable to what you want to see, you know where you are going and you take the right equipment, warm clothes for those cold nights  & enough food and water. I have the following blog posts which you might enjoy reading also (click the images to find out more):

Wild Camping tips & essential gear:  

Wild camping tips lake district gear checklist best where
View my wild camping top tips

Post by Stuart Hodgson 
'The Hiking Photographer'

Subscribe to my monthly email newsletter to stay up to date with all my outdoor adventures, including my latest photos & walking blog posts, as well as a whole host of tips & interesting stuff for outdoor enthusiasts, just click the link below to subscribe.


Not all my adventures & photos end up on this blog -
Give me a follow to see what else I've been up to! 


Buy one of my photo prints to remind you of this amazing part of the world - visit www.hikingphotographer.bigcartel.com

Visit my useful blog post on the recommended essential walking kit



  1. Brilliant write up. I love Helvellyn.

    1. Thanks Jamie - Helvellyn is one of my favourite walks too - mainly because of striding edge and the views from the top which ever direction you look. I think I'l be planning to wild camp closer to the helvellyn sumit in future too

  2. Really informative write up - it's made me want to try out a wild camping trip in the lakes too!

  3. Looks an amazing experience and inspirational place!

  4. Enjoyed that, a good read and some cracking photos. I've had my eye on Hard Tarn as a potential camping spot for some time - must get up there now that lockdown has ended.

    1. I did thanks Stuart :)
      I camped up at High Tarn last Thursday night - a very dramatic location, but I didn't have such good weather as you. Continued on over windswept Helvellyn after a very steep climb up the headwall of Ruthwaite Cove, and returned down Sticks Pass past Greenside Mine. A great mini adventure.

  5. Hi there where abouts did you park your car when doing this wildcamping trip? Cheers Josh

    1. Hi - in patterdale at the start of the walk - it’s quite a treck!

  6. Thank you Stuart for this brilliant write up! and the excellent list of things to bring. There are some that I did not think about at all so really glad I came across your post! If we park at Glenridding could you tell us how long it'll take to get to Hard Tarn, and how long it will take us the next morning to go to Helvellyn via Striding Edge and back down to Glenridding? Thank you :)

    1. Glad you found it useful Nat. So it obviously depend son how fast you walk and if your carrying quite a bit of kit it will slow you down. I'd say perhaps 2-2.5 hours to get to Hard Tarn up the Grisedale valley. Once you are up at Hard Tarn - its not much effort to continue up to Nethermost Pike. From there in the morning I would head straight to Helvellyn which may take 45mins as helvellyn is only and extra 80m in height to Nethermost Pike! Then if you want to tackle Striding Edge - do that on the way back down to Glenridding - which may take you another 2h? Be careful though as it can get quite chilly up there in the the autumn and winter - check the weather forecast fully :-)

  7. Thank you so much for this post. My son and I wanted a camping location where we were most likely to be alone in the mountains for our first wild camp together and Google led me to your blog.

    The walk up Grisedale Valley to the lodge was beautiful but the final km or so ‘off piste’ to Hard Tarn nearly did for me! 😀. The going was very soft and yielding which with a big pack was knackering BUT once pitched and the brew was on … worth every energy sapping step as I watched the sun set on St Sundays Crag. Simply, the best wild camp location I’ve enjoyed (to date). My pics and memories from this trip are priceless, thank you.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the wild camp and sounds a special trip :-) Yes it's not an easy place to get too - but then again the best spots aren't ha


Thanks for taking an interest in my blog, all comments and questions are welcome! Best, Stuart

Blog Design Created by pipdig