Photo of rooftops of Staithes village

Young James Cook worked in the village of Staithes, part of North York Moors National Park, before he took to the sea.

Photograph by Jason Friend, Alamy

Name: North York Moors National Park

Location: England

Date Established: 1952

Size: 554 square miles (1,436 square kilometers)

Did You Know?

Heather Moorland North York Moors is famed for the heather moorland, which, while rare elsewhere, covers fully one-third of the park—the largest acreage of such habitat in all of England and Wales. Most of the moors are privately owned and managed for grazing sheep or shooting grouse.

• England's Most Wooded National Park Though named and famed for moors, North York is in fact England’s most wooded national park. Forests cover 22 percent of its area and native oak, ash, birch, and rowan fill streamsides and valleys to create a canopy for shade-loving plants such as yellow archangel. Most of the park’s forests were planted during the 20th century as a timber resource.

• Dino Coast The national park's 26-mile (42-kilometer) coastline abounds with signs of ancient life. Cliffs here on the “dinosaur coast” reveal a layer cake made of rock and time—including a slice from the mud and silt of Jurassic seafloors nearly 200 million years old. Remains of “sea monsters,” such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, are preserved here. Higher up on the cliffs are Middle Jurassic sandstone layers. Once part of an ancient river delta, they hold fossilized plants and preserve footprints from the massive dinosaurs that once grazed on them.

• Historic Structures The park’s medieval abbeys, now in various states of ruin, include standouts at Rievaulx, Byland, and Mount Grace. Several castles are also found in North York Moors, including Helmsely Castle, which overlooks the market town of the same name and which has served as medieval fortress, Tudor mansion, and strategic Civil War stronghold. The 13th-century Pickering Castle was used by a number of medieval kings as a hunting lodge and sometime residence.

• Exploring Walkers, cyclists, and equestrians enjoy 1,408 miles (2,268 kilometers) of public rights of way in the park. An additional 90 square miles (233 square kilometers) of moors are open for exploration by foot.

How to Get There

Park visitors traveling by train arrive at the Middlesbrough or Whitby stations just outside of North York Moors. The scenic Esk Valley railway runs between these stations and makes numerous stops in the heart of the park. Express and local bus routes also reach the many communities scattered in and around the park. Once in North York Moors, visitors can take advantage of the Moorsbus network, which services an extensive network of visitor-friendly routes throughout the park from April to October.

When to Visit

There is no bad time to visit, but the park’s famed heather moorland is at its most colorful in summer and early autumn. Brightly colored bell heather breaks out in early July. In mid-August common heather blooms and turns wide expanses of moorland that postcard-perfect purple color.

How to Visit

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway offers a trip back in time under steam power with excursions through the park from the market town of Pickering to the seaside enclave of Whitby. The leisurely and scenic journey is an ideal way to visit picturesque villages and see the countryside in style. The adventurous may request a “hiker’s stop” at remote Newton Dale Halt to access footpaths through the heart of the park.

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