Winter photography in Snowdonia – take great shots safely

Mountain peaks sugar coated in snow, twinkling icicles on the trees and fog lingering on frozen lakes – photography might be more challenging in the dark winter months but it’s even more rewarding.

And nowhere is more beautiful than North Wales in winter, when the soaring peaks of Snowdonia are at their most atmospheric and snow blankets the rolling Welsh landscape.

If you’ve only photographed the area in the summer months, then wrap up warm and get back here when the temperature drops. While we can’t deny that those burning sunsets and vibrant blooms make for glorious snapshots; snow, frost and ice paint the area in an entirely new light, creating completely different photo opportunities.

Winter snapshots: top tips

Safety comes first

Yes, Snowdonia and North Wales are the ultimate winter wonderlands – but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice your safety just to get THE picture.

Snowdonia’s mountains and hills are dangerous all year round, but accessing them in winter is on a completely different level. The key is planning for every eventuality – learn more here in a blog about planning a trip to the mountains in winter.

Realistically, we’d only recommend climbing mountains in the winter if you’re experienced, have the correct clothing, equipment and footwear and know exactly what you’re doing. Remember to inform someone of your route and when you expect to be back. Why not read our recent blog on safe winter walking?

Thankfully, there are plenty of easily accessible viewpoints and locations to get beautiful winter snaps which don’t require technical climbs. We’ll share our favourite viewpoints a but later but if you just can’t wait here are some of the best low level winter walks in the area – all great subjects for some wintry snaps too!

Wrap up warm

How are you going to get a winning shot if you’re freezing from head to toe? Before you embark on your sub-zero temperatures winter photography expedition, wrap up as warm and cosy as you possibly can. Our guide to layering clothes comes in handy here.

Getting that perfect shot means standing round in one spot for some time – making it easy to get chilly, fast. Multiple layers (including thermals), waterproof clothing, good quality boots and disposable hand-warmers work a treat!

Fix the white balance

A combination of pure white snow and bright sunlight is a disaster when it comes to automatic white balance. Most of the time, the camera misjudges the situation, leaving your photos with a strange, bluish tint.

If you’re a beginner, the ‘snow’, ‘winter’, ‘cloudy’ or ‘shade’ settings on your smartphone or camera should help alleviate this problem. Otherwise, have a play with your camera’s manual white balance settings until the colours are accurate – it’s all about testing.

Find the contrast

We all know how beautiful an endless vista of snow is – but for some reason, the camera sometimes disagrees. That white, powdery goodness looks stunning to the naked eye, yet somehow blends into nothingness in a photograph.

Add a little interest to your images by incorporating other elements. It could be the contrast of a bold, stark tree in the middle of an undisturbed blanket of snow or a leaf which has been silvered by the frost. Leading lines work well too, creating a path for the eye to follow and breaking up the sea of white. All you’ve got to do is look.

Our favourite spots for winter photography in Snowdonia

Come the winter months, the dramatic summits are a landscape photographer’s dream. However, the weather is harsh, winds are strong and blizzards are to be expected – so unless you’re an experienced adventurer, we’d advise against setting out on any of Snowdonia’s peaks.

Thankfully, if the roads are reasonably clear, you’ll be able to access some marvellous viewpoints straight out your car or by taking an easy walk without the need for crampons:

1. Nebo road above the Conwy Valley

Wrap up warm and jump in the car. From Llanrwst, take the B5427 towards Nebo and drive on for around 3 miles. At the top of the hill, turn around and you’ll find a lay-by on your left. From here, you’ll be able to enjoy a panoramic view of Snowdonia’s northern peaks in all their winter glory.

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2. Nantlle Valley

If you’re itching to snap a wintery Snowdon summit, the road from Penygroes to Rhyd Ddu along the Nantlle Valley offers numerous glorious viewpoints. Once in the stunning glacial valley, you’ll be able to see Snowdon directly ahead of you for most of the way. Stop, take it in and enjoy – and don’t forget to take a few snaps!

3. Cwm Idwal / Ogwen Valley

This is one of Snowdonia’s best-loved areas, renowned for its unique geological and glacial features – it’s impossible to take a bad photograph here! It’s incredibly accessible too, just a short walk from the car park at Ogwen Cottage is the stunning Cwm Idwal, a legendary (literally) ice-sculpted lake.

Although it’s a relatively easy walk, we’d advise wearing good-quality boots and approaching with caution, as it can get pretty slippy during the winter. If you’re up for a little more of a strenuous walk, head around the shores and follow the path to the far end for even more Insta-worthy shots.

4. Llyn Padarn / The Lone Tree

The silent and still scene of the Lone Tree on Llyn Padarn, Llanberis, is probably one of the most photographed spots in the area. For seasoned photographers, trying to capture the overly-photographed iconic tree in a unique way presents a fun challenge – go on, you know you want to! When you’re finished, Llyn Padarn itself has several locations to get some stunning panoramic shots.

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Snowdonia’s best winter wonderland walks

You don’t have to be an Edmund Hillary to enjoy fabulous winter walks in Snowdonia. Cut through with valleys and dotted with glacial lakes, there are plenty of opportunities for lower-level walks that don’t involve icy scrambles and snow-bound trudges. Even so, you still get to enjoy spellbinding mountain scenery, often all the more stark and beautiful in the low light of winter.

Read on to learn more about our top five Snowdonia winter rambles…

1. Lon Las Ogwen through Nant Ffrancon

Our first walk is one of two linear walks that follow the lines of old railways. The great thing about walking disused railways is that you’re guaranteed gradual gradients – though Lon Las Ogwen detours at Penrhyn Quarry with a little up-and-down. It’s worth noting, though, that if you walk from Porth Penrhyn in Bangor (the trail start/end) as far as Ogwen Cottage (11 miles), you’ll have climbed 1,000ft.

But what an 11 miles! Mostly off-road, this trail has recently been upgraded (to form part of National Cycle Route 82) and now includes a lit 280-yard tunnel between Tregarth and Bethesda. It crosses and follows rivers before joining a minor road opposite the A5 through Nant Ffrancon’s stunning alpine valley.

If 11 miles is a bit of a stretch (buses from Bangor only go as far as Bethesda and there’s no Sherpa service in winter), your best bet for scenery is to park in Tregarth and walk through the tunnel, past Penrhyn and into Nant Ffrancon. Before you reach the valley take a short detour to the picnic site at Zip World in Penrhyn Quarry to see the fabulous slate statue created by local artist Peter Barnes.

The Ogwen Trail website has plenty on information about the route, things to see and places to stop and eat along the way.

2. Lon Gwyrfai from Rhyd Ddu to Beddgelert

Lon Gwyrfai is a route between Caernarfon and Beddgelert still in development. There is already an established section from Caernarfon as far Waunfawr village near the National Park border. But the best mountain scenery is to be had from the tiny village of Rhyd Ddu, around Llyn-y-Gadair lake and through Beddgelert Forest to the village of the same name. Snowdon’s peaks rise to the east, including a clear view of the summit (assuming the weather is clear!), while the Nantlle Ridge strides proudly away to the west, with Moel Hebog to the south.

The initial section from Rhyd Ddu (starting opposite the main Pay & Display car park) as far as the lake is relatively wide and flat, suitable for prams and some wheelchairs. There are some steep sections thereafter, but the walk through the forest, over the railway line and an old bridge, is an absolute delight.

This is another linear walk, but it’s possible to use the Beddgelert-Caernarfon bus service to make it into a loop. Even more fun is to use the Welsh Highland Railway, though it’s worth noting that no trains run in January and there is a limited service through other winter months. You can check the bus timetable here and the rail timetable here.

For more detailed information about this walk, download this handy PDF guide from the Snowdonia National Park Authority.

3. Llyn Padarn Circular

This lovely walk can be done right from Royal Victoria Hotel’s front door! At just under six miles, with just one section that rises modestly into oak woods before descending to lake level again, it’s a relatively easy afternoon walk you can do in a few hours. You’ll want to take your time, though, to take in the wonderful views of Llanberis Pass and Snowdon across the lake’s placid waters.

This walk crams in natural and man-made history, with a forest walk, industrial archaeology and even an old quarry hospital. Start anywhere along the lakeshore fronting Llanberis village (there’s plenty of parking here) and follow the white marker posts, either clockwise or anti-clockwise. The latter will mean you tackle the 200m climb through the woods early, leaving the rest of the walk as a leisurely, virtually flat stroll. The Mud and Routes website describes it very well, following an anti-clockwise direction.

4. Beddgelert River Walk (Afon Glaslyn)

The Afon (River) Glaslyn begins its journey high on Snowdon’s upper slopes, from a lake bearing the same name. On its short but spectacular journey to the sea at Porthmadog it passes through Llyn Dinas lake, the village of Beddgelert, through the beautiful Aberglaslyn Gorge and across a fertile plain to the coast.

This short walk, starting and ending in the village, follows a wide, flat and surfaced path along both sides of the river, past Bedd-y-Ci (the grave of Gelert, Prince Llywelyn’s faithful hound), and shares a river crossing with the Welsh Highland Railway. At less than a mile long, it’s suitable for wheelchairs, prams or toddlers, yet still packs in plenty of Snowdonia scenery.

For the more adventurous, you can extend the walk by following the Fisherman’s Path which takes you through Aberglaslyn Gorge (with steps, rocks and boardwalks) to the tiny hamlet of Nantmor. From a small car park there, follow a path north into Cwm Bychan and along a low valley marked with disused copper mine machinery. The path then descends steeply to the shores of Llyn Dinas, so care should be taken here, especially if it’s icy underfoot. Equally, although the path from the lake back to Beddgelert is well constructed, it suffers from water-logging in winter. This is a walk for waterproof, winter (four-season) boots!

This extended walk is described by The National Trust here.

5. Aber Falls

Wales’s highest waterfalls are at their most spectacular in winter. The northerly aspect of the narrow valley that the falls tumble into also means you’re likely to encounter icy conditions, leading to amazing ‘icicle falls’ in the coldest weather (though we’ve never known the falls to freeze-over completely!). To get there, drive through the village and park in the car park, then follow the easy path up to the falls. It’s not far, and any ascents are short-lived.

Unless you’re properly equipped for winter walking we would advise against taking the higher path that leads to the top of the falls – it’s steep, and as we’ve already said, the valley is liable to ice over in the winter months. There is also a circular walk that takes a higher line back to the village, but this can be very wet in winter, with streams to cross that may be in spate, and a steep descent to the village that would be tricky in icy conditions. In many ways, the best views are enjoyed from the main path in any case.

  • We hope you get the opportunity to try at least one of these walks in Snowdonia on a lovely winter’s day. There’s nothing better! Do you have a favourite winter walk in our mountains? Share it with us and our readers.

Images courtesy: Nant Ffrancon and Llyn Padarn photos by Gaynor Roberts. Moel Hebog © Copyright Barry Hunter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Gelert’s Grave, Beddgelert, © Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Aber Falls Mark Walker from Chester, UK, via Wikimedia Commons