Epping Forest walks provide an opportunity to view nature at its best without leaving Greater London.
Autumn is my favourite season.
It brings respite from the often stifling summer heat, with cool and pleasant evenings but the whispered promise of further balmy days. Although the birds begin to depart for warmer climates, plants and trees are transformed into multi-coloured works of art. Species by species, leaves change colour, displaying vibrant shades of red and gold and anything in between.
As well as one of the best places in London for gentle autumn walks through carpets of crunchy leaves, strewn with conkers and acorns, Epping Forest is a superb destination for day hikes at any time of year. With over 8,000 acres to explore, these ancient woodlands offer a dizzying choice of walking trails, whether you’re looking for a gentle stroll or something more vigorous.
Where is Epping Forest located?
Once home to the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin, Epping Forest is in the north-eastern corner of London, straddling the border between London and Essex. The distance between Epping Forest and central London is 13 miles.
How To Get to Epping Forest
From central London, the best way to get to Epping Forrest is to take the Overground train from Liverpool Street Station to Chingford at the southern end of the Forest. This journey will take you around 30 minutes.
Alternatively, London Underground’s Central Line serves Chigwell, Roding Valley, Buckhurst Hill, Loughton, Debden, Theydon Bois and Epping, which are also close to Epping Forest.
If you are arriving by car, there are pay-and-display car parks close to the Forest.
Local buses also serve Epping Forest. Check out this useful Epping Forest map here.
Epping Forest Walks
To make life easy, the Forest has nine waymarked trails. As all of these Epping Forest hikes are circular, you can start and end them anywhere along the trail.
Varying in distance from 1.25 miles to 6.6 miles, most of them start close to parking and train stations. Download these Epping Forest walking trail maps here.
From Chingford Station, pick the Willow Trail or the Holly Trail. Better still, combine both trails to form one great autumn hike.
Of course, you can choose to take a longer hike through Epping Forest. However, for the most part, these will not be waymarked, and as the Forest is a maze of paths it can be difficult to navigate without a good map.
The Willow Trail in Epping Forest
To my mind, the Willow Trail is one of the best Epping Forest walks, taking in the birdlife on Connaught Water, grazing cattle and a 350-year-old oak tree. As with any of the waymarked trails, you’ll just be skimming the surface of Epping Forest, but this hike is a great day out from London.
This is mostly easy walking, with just one incline up to Connaught Water from Chingford Plain. There is a range of surfaces from well-defined tracks to grassland. Expect it to be muddy after rain, and wear sturdy walking shoes or boots.
Upon exiting Chingford Station, head across Chingford Plain, passing grazing longhorn cattle.
Grazing cattle have been a feature of Epping Forest for nearly a thousand years.
Although longhorn can be easily mistaken as a bull, they are reputed to be docile creatures. However, I would not recommend getting up close, instead viewing them from a distance.
Connaught Water is one of the most popular spots in Epping Forest and is home to ducks, geese, swans and grebes.
The russet and golden-hued autumn leaves, reflected in Connaught Water are spectacular.
After exploring this ten-acre lake, head into woodland, where the trail takes you towards High Beech before looping back to Chingford Plain.
Where To Find Bluebells in Epping Forest
For me, Spring is synonymous with bluebells and Epping Forest is a great place to go bluebell hunting in London.
For your best chance of seeing carpets of bluebells on your Epping Forest walk, head to Bury Wood (Chingford), Chalet Wood (Wanstead Park) or Strawberry Hill Ponds (Loughton).
Although the timing varies year to year, bluebells usually bloom from mid-April to late May. If spring is mild they tend to flower earlier.
Epping Forest Facilities
Facilities are limited in Epping Forest.
High Beach is the most central location for refreshments and toilet facilities.
Epping Forest operates four visitor centres, which can provide maps and information to help you get the most out of your day in the Forest. They also have toilet facilities.
Eating & Drinking in Epping Forest
There is a small selection of places to eat and drink in and around Epping Forest, from tea huts and cafés to pubs and restaurants.
Epping Forest Walks: Final Thoughts
As a Londoner, taking one of the Epping Forest walks had been on my radar for some time. Having visited, I’m now wondering what took me so long.
Its natural beauty and numerous walking trails are guaranteed to reward both the first-time and repeat visitor at any time of year. However, I do urge you to visit in Autumn when its foliage is at its most spectacular.
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