With three playgrounds, sculptures, picnic tables, beautiful views, woodland walks, and even a short hike to see an iron age hill fortress, Cwmcarn Forest Drive is well worth a visit.
Just a half hour drive from Cardiff, and a 10-minute drive from Junction 28 of the M4, visitors pay £8 to take their car (more for buses) around the seven-mile drive, with seven areas to park up at and explore.
We’ve been to the adjoining Cwmcarn Visitor Centre a few times previously and had a great time (you can read more about that here) but sadly the Forest Drive was closed between 2015 and 2021 when around 150,000 disease-infected trees needed to be felled.
Now, however, it’s re-opened and we were thrilled to finally get to experience it for ourselves on a recent family day out.
Travelling one way around the hillside roadways, you can stop off at up to seven different areas, each with its own unique charm.
Some areas are more tranquil, with stunning views across the valley to appreciate, while others are aimed more at families with play facilities and sculptures.
There are three different playgrounds, all with stunning views. The largest playground is at the fourth stop and has so much to do for children of all ages, including climbing frames, slides, basket swings, zip wires and more. There are plenty of picnic tables in this spot too and, as with elsewhere on the forest drive, many of them have built-in stands for disposable barbecues.
Some of the areas have sculptures too. The first stopping point has an oak chair with the story of Culwch and Olwen from the Mabinigion carved into it, while the third stop has several woodland animals created from wire and filled with pine cones, as well as a den building area and a wooden gazebo overlooking the valley.
The final stop offers a gateway to the Twmbarlwm iron age hillfort. The uphill walk is around a mile but it is rather steep in parts. It’s worth it for the stunning views across Newport and Cwmbran and even out to the Bristol channel, as well as to see the remains of the hillfort, which is believed to have been built by the Silures, the Celtic tribe who inhabited the area before and during Roman times. If you’re planning on including the hill climb then remember to pack appropriate footwear and clothing.
It’s worth picking up a map at the entrance so you can familiarise yourself with what to expect along the way. The drive is one way so if you miss a spot you can’t go back unfortunately. There are toilets at four of the stops as well as the visitor centre, and the majority is accessible for wheelchairs and buggies (other than the Twmbarlwm climb).
The average visit lasts two hours according to the website but the picnic tables and barbecue spots as well as the different stops mean you could easily spend much longer there, especially if you combine it with a trip to Cwmcarn Visitor Centre. Here you’ll find a café, gift shop, toilets, a large pond, bug hotels, and another playground. It is also the starting point for several walks, with something to suit all levels, including a 1.2 mile circular wildlife explorer challenge walk where children can find 21 special posts dedicated to wildlife found in the area, a one mile walk around the Nantcarn Lake, a 1.2 mile bluebell walk, as well as longer walks of six and nine miles.
If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous then Cwmcarn is also home to mountain bike trails. Two are red graded ‘difficult’ trails and one ‘extreme’. In the words of the website, “they are not for the faint hearted” but they are free to ride and open all year. The website also has details of water sports available on the lake.
You could even book one of the glamping pods or lodges on the Cwmcarn Visitor Centre site and stay for a couple of days. More information on availability and prices on the website.
I’ve also posted about Cwmcarn Forest Drive on the Cardiff Mummy Says Instagram channel. Look out for my Reel and grid post.
For more ideas of local family-friendly days out, visit the Cardiff section of Cardiff Mummy Says, or check on Instagram check out my Reels, grid posts and Story highlights (Local Events and Local Days Out in particular).
Visit the Cwmcarn Forest Drive website for more information.
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