The New Forest National Park

How to spend a week in the New Forest National Park?

The New Forest National Park covers an area of approx. 219sq miles. The park remains one of the last remaining tracts of unenclosed pastor, heathland and forest in southern England. In 2018 the area saw 8 million visitors, most of which are day visitors to the National Park. It has no gates or barriers and anyone is free to enter at any time. There are no restrictions on human movement within the park boundaries. William the Conqueror proclaimed the area a Royal Forest. To this day since being made a National Park it remains subject to these laws and conditions. The New Forest National Park is a lowland (no mountains) park. It has some of the most scenic walks and cycle routes in the UK.

Many extremely endangered birds and mammals live in the area. This makes the New Forest National Park a site of scientific interest. It is also a site of outstanding natural beauty protected under government laws.

The view from Bucklers Hard
The view from Bucklers Hard

There are many areas of the National Park to enjoy. During my stay, I visited some of the best including Brockenhurst, Lymington, Lyndhurst and Beaulieu. There are many more areas of the New Forest National Park to visit. But here are are few of my highlights:

Map of the New Forest National Park

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First, here is a map of the New Forest National Park. I have highlighted on the map all the activities and highlights in blue. Orange are my favourites areas to hike and cycle.

Activities in the New Forest National Park

Lepe Country Park

It can get extremely busy with locals, as this is a place I would call a little hidden gem. Lepe is directly on the coast, meaning it is perfect for summer beach days with family and friends. The country park was actually part of the D-DAY landings in 1944, its here on this coast that British naval boats left carrying vital supplies of troops and equipment across the Solent of which there is a memorial on the beachfront still standing today.

Lepe Country Park is located on the south east side of the New Forest Park between Beaulieu River and Stanswood Bay and views from the park look out onto the Solent and Isle of White. Its approx. 25 minutes from Southampton driving south using the A326.

New Forest National Park - Lepe Country Park Location
Map of Location of Lepe Country Park

Once you get near the Country Park just follow the brown road signs that will lead you all the way into the entrance. There are 2 main car parks at Lepe Country Park, Beach car park and common car park. The common carpark is the larger of the two with views overlooking the Solent and the beach car park is directly on the beach but this gets extremely busy at popular times. Parking charges are in force in both car parks and it will cost you £9 to park all day.

What do to:

Once you get to Lepe it depends what you want to do, there are plenty of benches to sit and enjoy the views, there are countless walking trails to explore, the beach which extends in both directions. There is a café called “the lookout” selling everything from chips and sandwiches, tea and coffee and ice creams.

There is also a small shop on site which sell smaller beach items like sun cream, towels, bucket and spades. When I visited, I walked the entire length of the beach from Beaulieu River to Stanswood Bay. If you own a Kayak or body board this is the best place to make use of them. I was lucky and managed to grab a beautiful day as you can see below in the pictures I posted, I took a pack lunched and eat lunch on the beach. What more could you ask for? I highly recommend a trip to Lepe Country Park if you are in the area.

Collection of Pictures from Lepe Country Park in The New Forest National Park

Top Tips:

  1. If the weather is hot and sunny I would make sure you get here early so you can get a parking space. The locals told me that traffic can be queued 2 miles in the peak summer and at weekends.
  2. Dogs are welcome. If you are planning a trip with the entire family then this is the perfect place for people and animals to enjoy.
  3. The parking system may be something you are not used to. At Lepe the park has number plate recognition so when you drive up to the entrance barrier, it makes note of the car registration and time and logs you in. When you leave the park, you enter your registration into the machine and it calculates how much you owe. All the machines at Lepe take cash and cards.

Exbury Gardens

The Gardens is a 200acre woodland green. They have a large collection of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias. It is considered the finest garden of its type in the United Kingdom. Exbury holds the national collection of Nyssa (Tupelo) and Oxydendrum with other features including the Hydrangea Walk, The Rock Garden and The Sundial Garden. The Gardens also have a steam train that takes visitors around part of the gardens, which include Dragonfly Pond and The American Garden.

Main lake inside Exbury gardens in the New Forest National Park
Main lake inside Exbury gardens

The steam train is famous for taking The Queen on a short journey in 2008 when it opened to the public.

The Gardens are located within Exbury, just to the east of Beaulieu (a very popular tourist stop within the New Forest National Park). Exbury lies across from the Beaulieu River and backs onto the nature reserve that you can see from the gardens.

What do to:

The best time to visit Exbury is spring and autumn. These are when the garden plants, shurbs and trees are at their best for flowering or colour. Due to the nature of this attraction, it is only open at certain times of the year. The gardens open in late March and close at the end of October so please bare that in mind. I also wanted to note that the New Forest Tour bus stops directly outside the gardens during the summer months.

I enjoyed Exbury a lot. What I noticed the most was how peaceful the gardens are. There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy nature. The gardens are well laid out. Signposts and maps all over the gardens helping you navigate your way around. I really enjoyed the “viewpoint” area, which looks out onto Beaulieu River and the nature reserve; there are plenty of benches to enjoy if you wanted a picnic.

Overlooking the pond and little waterfall in Exbury Gardens

Brining your own food and drink into the gardens is permitted. So having a picnic is great idea. There are many beautiful areas to choose from. Dogs are also allowed into the gardens but must be kept on leads the entire time. So if you wanted a day out with the entire family it is the perfect place to enjoy. I do recommend a visit. You can make a day of it if you are not walking around so quickly, the average time to see everything is 3 to 4hrs.

Top Tips:

  1. Food and Drink are allowed into the gardens. There are eating places and toilets in parts of the gardens but like any tourist attraction, the prices a much more than you would pay elsewhere.
  2. Dogs are welcome. If you are planning a trip with the entire family then this is the perfect place for people and animals to enjoy.
  3. You will need to make sure your entrance ticket includes the steam train if you want to ride. There are two types of tickets for Exbury gardens so just bare that in mind.

Boldrewood

Boldrewood in The New Forest national Park

Bolderwood is a stunning little area in the heart of the New Forest National Park. It is a fantastic place to see the wild Fallow Deer that call the area home. There is a purpose built platform for viewing the deer across the meadow. During late spring into the summer months the deer are feed meaning you have a great chance at seeing them.

Bolderwood also offers free car parking (although a donation box is placed onsite). There are also toilets and a small information hut of the local area and wildlife that you might encounter. There is a large open meadow that families use to play sports or gather in the sunshine, there is also picnic areas with benches, tables and chairs to use.

The Famous Deer at Boldrewood feeding in the background
The Famous Deer at Boldrewood feeding in the background

Bolderwood is a stunning area of the New Forest National Park. There are 3 different walking routes around Bolderwood ranging from half a mile to 2 miles long. All the routes are well marked out and sign posted. making it easy to follow them around. I took the Radnor Trail (red) the route is great, mostly flat, gravel paths all the way around. It even crosses a river with a small waterfall. However, unless you have an all-terrain buggy or wheelchair I would take this route with caution.

I had a great time at Bolderwood and I am sure you will too. 

Top Tips:

  1. Take a packed lunch with you. There are NO eating-places nearby, but there are plenty of benches to enjoy your own lunch in the middle of the New Forest National Park.
  2. Although the car park is a good size, it can still fill up quickly in the hot summer months.
  3. If you want to see the deer be feed, make sure you check out the website for feeding times the day before you visit to ensure you get there at the correct time.

New Forest Wildlife Park

The New Forest Wildlife Park celebrates all wildlife found in the New Forest, but also found more widely across the UK. You are able to get up close to many of the animals that live throughout the UK but also some that have gone extinct in the wild.

I did not expect the park to be as big as it was, so first impressions were good. Although with that said, this is NOT a zoo. Much smaller. I also did not expect there to be as many animals including the Wolves. Wolves roamed in the wild in the highlands of Scotland until they were hunted by humans. Today the animals cannot be found in the wild in the UK. 

Map of the New Forest Wildlife Park
Map of the New Forest Wildlife Park

The park itself is a great place to see the amazing wildlife we have in the UK, from otters to harvest mouse. You are also able to join feeding times during the day, just check out the times at reception. If the times are not displayed, ask the staff.

There is plenty of free parking, disabled access and even lower entrance costs for children. I will say that, if you were bringing children or disabled guests I would highly recommend making sure the wheels are off road or all terrain as the paths can get muddy and water logged at times during rain. (plan ahead). A small café and restaurant is on site offering a selection of sandwiches, coffee, tea, juices, cakes and crisps. I had a great morning at the wildlife park.

Top Tips:

  1. If taking pushchairs and wheelchairs plan ahead as the paths can get water logged at times. During or after rainfall can make it difficult to get around.
  2. During the summer months, the New Forest buses stop right outside the Wildlife Park and there is a bike station if you wanted to cycle.
  3. Make sure you take note of the feeding times. The keepers feed the animals and give great talks on them, I really learnt so much about Otters I never knew.
The Pack of Grey Wolves inside the Park
The Pack of Grey Wolves inside the Park

Beaulieu National Motor Museum

It is arguable the most popular place in the New Forest National Park. It certainly sees the most visitors of all the other attractions.

The entrance to Beaulieu Motor Museum in the New Forest National Park
The entrance to Beaulieu Motor Museum

Beaulieu Motor Museum is now the national collection of British motoring history. The private collection is on display for the public to view and enjoy. I loved my day out at the museum and it is easy to make a day of it. The Museum is set against the picturesque village of Beaulieu. Which is located in the heart of the New Forest National Park. The Museum has a huge array of motor cars and bikes all on display which tell the fascinating story of the motor car here in the UK. Part of the collection includes a tribute to James Bond with the “No time to die” display. Some of the cars and bikes from the movie are on display. There is also a “world of top gear” which celebrates the TV show and has some of the most memorable vehicles from across all 31 series of the show. 

However, what I was surprised about, it is not all about motor cars. There is the Palace House and Beaulieu Abby. Both of which are not to be missed. Your entrance ticket will get you into both so great valve for money as well. Palace House gives you a little insight into the family that own the Beaulieu Estate, Lord and Lady Montague. You get to see family pictures and a walk around their family home. The Abby is a beautiful building. There are also gardens, a huge pond and loads of outside picnic areas to enjoy. There is even a monorail taking guests around the complex, all included in your entrance admission.

Some of the amazing things inside the motor museum  in the New Forest National Park
Some of the amazing things inside the motor museum

Top Tips:

  1. Food & drink is permitted in the complex. So if you wanted to take a packed lunch. It is no problem at all.
  2. Dogs are allowed within the complex. However they ARE NOT allowed into the Palace House, the Abby or Beaulieu Motor Museum.
  3. Keep your eyes out for the car parades. They are good fun to see and learn even more about some of the fantastic history on display at the museum.

Horse Riding

The New forest national Park is famous for its wild horses and there are many opportunities through-out the national park to participate in Horse Riding.

It does not matter if you are a seasoned rider or a complete novice. Alternatively, like me, have NEVER been on a horse before. There are many horse riding stables to choose and enjoy the New Forest National Park like never before. My particular choice of stables was Arniss Equestrian near Fordingbridge.

I had never been on a horse before and had no idea what I was doing. They took complete care of me, showed me the ropes and even let me experience a slow trot. I must shout out “Howard” my horse. He was a complete gentleman, so patient with me. The ride I choose was 1hr and we did not encounter any roads or traffic. It was all off road and through the stunning setting of New Forest National Park. I highly recommend this activity.      

Top Tips:

  1. Helmets and Boots are provided as part of the experience.
  2. Small groups go out on horseback with members of the team
  3. Enjoy the experience!

Kayaking (Beaulieu River)

Kayaking Beaulieu River in the New Forest National Park
Kayaking Beaulieu River

The Beaulieu River is a SSSI and site of outstanding natural beauty. One of the best ways to see this stunning part of the New Forest National Park is to Kayak along the river. From the river you can get to see the amazing wildlife, the stunning surroundings and enjoy (fingers crossed) the great British weather. Due to this activity being outdoors, it is only available during April to October but I highly recommend it for a great two hours spent on the water with the family.

We choose to Kayak with New Forest Activities. They were great, we booked online. I will leave the link HERE. They offered life jackets and a waterproof bag, ideal for your personal belongings. You can opt for a guided Kayak tour of the Beaulieu River. However, we opted for the general kayak hire and went at it alone. It was brilliant. A wonderful 2hrs on the water in stunning Beaulieu.

Top Tips:

  1. Book with a tour operator. Like New Forest Activities. Launching your own is strictly prohibited. You need to book in advance if bringing your own or book with an organised group. 
  2. Make sure you bring drink and protection from the sun.
  3. Enjoy the experience!

Hiking and Cycling in the New Forest National Park

There are hundreds of walking/hiking/cycling trails in the New Forest National Park. The New Forest has over 140 miles of different trails ranging from less than 1 mile to the more adventures 12 miles hiking routes. Most of the the trails can be enjoyed by cycling as well as hiking or walking. Due to there being so many, with all different levels I have picked a few of my favourite ones below which I hope you will also found as much enjoyment as I do.

Ashley Walk

Sitting along the B3078 (Roger Penny Way) is a beautiful part of the New Forest National Park with loads of different trails. The Car Park is called Ashley Walk and its great for walking. There is a main trail route but off this route are many more paths for everyone to enjoy.

This route was approx. 5.6km and took me about 1hr 15mins to complete.

Hawkhill

This is one of my favourite walking/hiking/cycle routes in the New Forest. This route has everything you need to enjoy a good few hours in the New Forest National Park. The route takes you through forest, heathland, natural ponds and has gravel paths all the way around.

The parking area can be found on the B3055. This is the main road linking Brockenhurst to Beaulieu in the heart of the New Forest National Park. The route that I took is 6.1km long and took me 1hr 30mins but there are so many other trails linking to this, you can walk further or shorter. The choice is yours. I have copied some pictures below of the route I took this time. Hopefully it helps you find the Hawkhill car park.

Pictures from the Hawkhill trail inside the New Forest National Park
Pictures from the Hawkhill trail inside the New Forest National Park

Marchwood

This is a great trail and hike to do. Set in the east of the New Forest National Park next to Dibden Purlieu. The route is just off the main A326 and the area covers many different hiking/walking trails. You could add on or take a short cut on this route on many of the paths and trails that lead you around this area. There is a pond with a bridge on the route. Open field areas, forest and heathland. Making this route a much loved area of the New Forest National Park.

Parking for this particular route is in the Marchwood Encloser. However, there is also a parking enclose nearer to the main trails if you wanted to cut off some of the distance. You would need to look out for the “Dibden Enclosure” for this parking area.

Marchwood Trail in the New Forest National Park
Marchwood Trail
Marchwood entrance in the New Forest National Park
Marchwood entrance

This route was 6.23KM and took me 1hr 30mins to complete. 

I highly recommend using the map of the New Forest National Park which I have completed for you (trails in orange) to locate these areas and find them easily.

Eating Out in the New Forest National Park

The New Forest National Park has numerous places to eat. With eating places to suit every type of wallet, it’s get for quick cheap eats or for more fine dining. It really does depend on what you want and how much you are willing to spend. I have a few suggestions below on some of my favourite places to eat in the National Park. I have suggestions for breakfast, lunch and an evening meal.

Breakfast – The Lookout – Lepe Country Park

A favourite of mine for a few reasons. The food is great for a start, tasty with a stacked menu served up for breakfast. From a full cooked English to pancakes, muffins and fruit. Secondly, if you get the weather right, you will have uninterrupted views across The Solent as you eat your breakfast. It is a great way to start the day. 

Breakfast at Lepe Country Park
Breakfast at Lepe Country Park

Lunch – Beaulieu Bakehouse – Beaulieu

A great place to stop for lunch in the heart of the New Forest National Park. Their menu is great for lunch, sandwiches, soups, salads and jacket potatoes are all on offer. It is very reasonable prices to suit all wallets and in the middle of the forest. It has outside seating for those sunny days if you prefer.

Lunch at Beaulieu Bakehouse in the New Forest National Park
Lunch at Beaulieu Bakehouse

Evening Meal – The Conservatory – Rhinefield House

Rhinefield House is a hotel deep in the heart of the New Forest National Park. One of its restaurants, The Conservatory is a brilliant place to have an evening meal. It makes a great location to sit, relax and enjoy amazing food after a long day out exploring the national park.

Dinner at The Conservatory (Lamb Shank)  in the New Forest National Park
Dinner at The Conservatory (Lamb Shank)

SUMMARY

There is no question that the New Forest National Park is a stunning place to visit. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and it is clear why. With wild horses, cattle and pigs all calling the New Forest National Park home. I loved my time in the new forest and can not wait to return. In 2021 TripAdvisor poll it was voted the top national park in Europe to visit.

The New Forest National Park has something for everyone. Camp sites, hotels and hostels. The New Forest has little towns and villages and plenty of open spaces. From historic museums to stunning forests and countryside the New Forest really does have it all. I highly recommend a weekend visit to this little jewel on the south coast. There are so many outdoor activities to enjoy, hiking, cycling, kayaking and even foraging. You can enjoy Star gazing, swimming and total relaxation if that is what you want. It is a place you have fun and share memories with the family.

I must stress that when you do plan on visiting this amazing national national park, please adhere to the New Forest Code of Conduct. This ensures the forest and all it’s animals and plants stay protected, but allows you to have loads of fun. PLEASE remember, TAKE YOUR RUBBISH HOME with you. and NO BBQ’s are allowed in the New Forest National Park.

The New Forest National Park Code of Conduct
The New Forest National Park Code of Conduct

The next time you are planning a little weekend away, or just something a little different to do. Give this stunning National Park a go. The New Forest National Park is a stunning place and I promise, you will be back.

Until next time…

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