A guide to Dartmoor National Park


Located in South Devon between Exeter and Plymouth, Dartmoor National Park covers 368 square miles and is made up of open moorlands and deep river valleys, where visitors can enjoy exploring beautiful wildlife and get back to nature. There are castle ruins and museums, myths and legends to learn all about and even a zoo to visit, so there’s plenty on offer for the whole family should you be thinking about paying a visit to this area of stunning natural beauty. This blog post will talk you through some of the best things to do in Dartmoor National Park, so you can plan the perfect visit.

Why is Dartmoor a National Park?

Dartmoor was named a National Park back in 1951 due to its stunning diversity of ancient woodland, gushing streams, craggy granite tors, secluded villages and not forgetting its cute Dartmoor ponies. It’s an incredibly unique area and one of the last great wildernesses in the UK. Visitors to Dartmoor will be able to learn about its rich history, which includes volcanoes and earthquakes, dinosaurs and giant redwoods, plus remains of ancient settlements and much more.

How to get to Dartmoor National Park

You can visit Dartmoor National Park through a number of different ways; by road, coach, train or bus. If you’re driving, the park is either accessed via the M5, the A303, the M4 or the M3, depending on which direction you’re coming from.

If you’re looking to visit North Dartmoor, A30 dual carriageway towards Cornwall, whereas if you’re planning to head to South Dartmoor, leave the M5 and take the Devon Expressway A38 dual carriageway towards Plymouth. Once you arrive, there are ample pay and display car parks open between 10am and 6pm, more information of which can be found on the Park’s car parking information page.

What to do in Dartmoor

Visit the animals at Dartmoor Zoo

Located on the outskirts of Dartmoor National Park and just 30 minutes’ drive north east of Plymouth, you and your family will love discovering the different animals, birds, amphibians and reptiles that reside here. From jaguars and lynx through to otters, wallabies, snakes, owls and scorpions, you’re guaranteed that your child’s favourite animal can be found at this extensive zoo.

You can also partake in some pretty memorable experiences, such as being a keeper for a day, feeding the meerkats and meeting the tigers among others. Find out more about Dartmoor Zoo

Go in search of the best tors

A tor is described as a large, free-standing rock that rises unexpectedly from the smooth ground or the gentle slopes of a hill. In many cases, they are pretty spectacular to look at, and keen walkers, in particular, may want to explore some of the best tors in the area during a hike along one of the trails in the park.

If you want to incorporate a few tor discoveries into your trip to Dartmoor National Park, you can find 12 of the best tors in Devon Life.

Dartmoor Prison and museum

Although Dartmoor Prison itself is still in use (until 2023) as a men’s facility, it’s still an incredibly interesting and popular landmark in the area.

Opening in 1809 and designed to hold prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars, its huge granite walls dominate Princetown, the area in which it resides. Although of course holidaymakers are not able to visit the prison itself, you can visit the Dartmoor Prison Museum just next door, which depicts what life inside one of the world’s most famous jails was like many moons ago.

Aside from learning all about the history of the prison itself, there are artefacts and documents on display, life-size models of Napoleonic soldiers and prison uniforms to discover, plus you can learn about the first prisoners that were sent to this famous jail.

Check the opening times before you visit as Coronavirus has impacted the museum.

Camping on Dartmoor

There are ample opportunities to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy a spot of camping on Dartmoor National Park, whether you prefer to pitch your own tent or explore the glamping options as an alternative.

For the more adventurous, there are options to wild camp on Dartmoor too, however there are some area restrictions on where you can do this, so it’s important to do your research before you go. You also have to abide by a few rules, such as leaving no trace of you having stayed there, which we’re sure you’ll agree is completely fair as to not spoil this stunning natural landscape. This camping map will help you see where you can backpack and wild camp across the national park.

Don’t forget that here at Cofton we’re not too far from the National Park either, you can reach the eastern outskirts of Dartmoor in less than 30 minutes so we’d like to add ourselves to the list of accommodation options too!

Here’s a handy map of Dartmoor too so you can explore the area in more detail.

If you decide to visit this stunning area of natural beauty, we’d love to hear and see what your personal highlights were, so please feel free to tag us on Instagram @CoftonHolidays.