Open water swimmer with hat and towfloat copyright Chillswim

Swimming in the Lake District

Swimming in tarns, lakes and rivers is great fun, and a wonderful way to experience the Lake District landscape. However it's important to stay safe.

Which lake?

Quieter lakes best for swimming

These lakes have less boat traffic:

  • Bassenthwaite - but no diving allowed
  • Buttermere
  • Crummock Water
  • Grasmere
  • Loweswater
  • Rydal Water
  • Wast Water

Busier lakes

Anyone can swim in these lakes but there are more boats: 

  • Coniston Water
  • Derwentwater
  • Ullswater
  • Windermere  
In these busier lakes, we really recommend picking a swim route along the shoreline, so you're less likely to be in the path of boats and cruisers. Its also more important to make yourself as visible as possible. Wear a bright hat, have a tow float and have a support craft like a kayak or paddleboard, to keep safe and enjoy your swimming.

Swimming not allowed

Swimming is not allowed in Ennerdale Water, Haweswater and Thirlmere.

For more details check out Access to Lakes (PDF)

SwimSafe code

Be Seen, have support

  • Wear a bright swim cap and tow a bright float.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Swimmers may be able to see boaters but boaters may not be able to see swimmers!
  • Have a safety boat (a canoe, kayak or paddleboard work well) ideally displaying a white and blue Alpha flag Blue and white Alpha flag, warning of divers or swimmers in the water.

Take a look at the photos below. If you were steering a boat, which swimmer is easier to spot?

Showing how much easier a swimmer is to spot when next to a support boat

Be Water Wise

The deep lakes and tarns in the Lake District can be cold, even on a hot summers day. Exposure to cool water can rapidly lead to hypothermia, and the early signs like struggling to move your hands, can make swimming more difficult than normal.

  • Wear a wetsuit to keep you warmer and more buoyant.
  • Enter the water slowly to get used to it.
  • Check the depth and the water bed by walking in carefully.
  • Don't jump in, you could get shocked by the cold, and you don't know how deep it is.
  • Don't stay in too long if you are not used to cold water.
  • Pick a route along the shoreline so you can get out easily if you need to.
  • Have lots of layers, a hat, and a warm drink ready for when you get out of the water, even in summer.

Be Mindful

  • Choose one of the quieter lakes that do not allow boats.
  • Avoid mooring areas, marinas and jetties used by boats, ferry routes and boating channels.
  • Be aware boaters may be in any area of the lake at any time of day or night.
  • Only swim when weather conditions are suitable - remember they can change quickly.

Lake Rangers advice on being seen as a swimmer

Starting out?

Open water swimming sessions provide instruction and safety support. Also you meet other enthusiasts. Some local suppliers include:

  • Active Blu - from the Windermere shores of Brockhole - The Lake District Visitor Centre.
  • Chillswim - Lake District open water swim specialists.
  • MyTriClub - events in and around the National Park.
  • SleekerSwim - coaching and events.
  • Swim the Lakes - based in Ambleside, swim events, boat support and private coaching and a swim gear shop.
  • Suzanna Swims - guided outdoor and wild swimming for individuals and groups.

Useful links

Lake guides - including maps

These help everyone get the best out of their time on the water safely:

Organisations and advice

Help native wildlife

Invasive non-native species of wildlife can hitchhike on equipment, footwear, clothing and boats. You may inadvertently spread the aliens even if you just go for a paddle! Every time you leave any water such as a river, tarn or lake:

Check - Clean - Dry

Stop the spread of invasive aquatic species logo

  • Check your equipment and clothing for living organisms. Pay particular attention to damp or hard to inspect areas.
  • Clean and wash all equipment, footwear and clothes thoroughly. If you do come across any organisms, leave them at the water body where you found them or on a hard surface to die out.
  • Dry all equipment and clothing. Some species can live for many days in damp conditions.

Find out more at Biosecurity - South Cumbria Rivers Trust