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Snowdonia National Park is full of incredible walks, but there is none so magical and shrouded in mystery and legend as the Dinas Emrys walk.
A spectacular trail that will lead you through mystical woodlands, sparkling waterfalls and eventually to King Vortigern’s castle where Merlin & dragons used to roam!
Although this walk can be challenging in parts, it is well worth the effort as you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views over Nant Gwynant, Llyn Dinas and Glaslyn Valley.
Here is a complete guide for the Dinas Emrys walk for more details on the legend of King Vortigern, Merlin and the two sleeping dragons.
What is Dinas Emrys?
Dinas Emrys is a rocky hillside that sits near the River Glaslyn and Beddgelert in the North of Wales.
It’s around 250ft tall (75 metres high) and overlooks Llyn Dinas and Nant Gwynant in Snowdonia National Park.
It’s an ancient Iron Age hill fort that has lots of history. But, many believe that the castle fortress originally built here was built by Llewelyn the Last, the last ancient Prince of Gwynedd.
Dinas Emrys is also connected to a famous legend of the Red Dragon on the Welsh flag which includes King Vortigern and Merlin the wizard from the Arthurian tales!
The Dinas Emrys legend
According to the Dinas Emrys legend, it is said that King Vortigern was fleeing Anglo-Saxon invaders in Wales and was trying to build a castle on this site in Gwynedd.
No matter what he did, he couldn’t build the fort. Even though the castle would take shape during the day, all the work would come crumbling down every night.
An advisor told Vortigern to seek the help of a boy that was born of a virgin mother. So, Vortigern sent his men out to search for this child and they eventually found Myrddin Emrys or Merlin Ambrosius.
He was going to offer Merlin’s life as a sacrifice but Merlin advised him that the reason why Vortigern couldn’t build a castle was that two dragons were sleeping beneath it in a hidden pool. One of the dragons was red and the other white.
Merlin foretold that the White Dragon represented the Saxons and the Red Dragon represented Vortigern and his British forces.
Eventually, the two dragons were awoken from their slumber in the hidden pool and began to fight. The White Dragon eventually fled and the Red Dragon was victorious.
Afterwards, Vortigern was able to build his castle and called it Dinas Emrys in honour of Merlin. He then selected the Red Dragon for his emblem as a sign of impending victory against the Anglo-Saxons. According to legend, this is why the Welsh Flag has a red dragon today!
How to visit Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia National Park
The only way that you can visit Dinas Emrys would be to walk to it in Snowdonia National Park in the North of Wales.
The castle is located at a height and so you cannot drive anywhere near it. You have to start this walk from the National Trust Craflwyn car park and the Princess of Gwynedd Centre.
It will take you around an hour from this car park to reach Dinas Emrys but the walk is extremely scenic.
It leads you through oak woodlands, a small waterfall called ‘Merlin’s Pool and eventually up the hillside to the fortress. Plus, you’ll have spectacular views of the mountains and valley all around you as you go.
Dinas Emrys parking
There is FREE parking at the National Trust Craflwyn Centre which is near the gorgeous village of Beddgelert for this walk.
Due to lots of private land around the area, this is the only place to park in order to access Dinas Emrys.
I tried to park a little closer to the fort to save some time along the main road but all the access routes are private. It’s best to park up at the Craflwyn Centre and follow the National Trust trail to the fort.
Craflwyn parking is completely FREE and there are some toilets at the small visitor centre. But the National Trust do have a donation box for the upkeep of these trails and the centre.
How long is the walk to Dinas Emrys?
The Dinas Emrys walk should take you around 2-3 hours in total (50 minutes – 1 hour one way), maybe a little quicker if you’re fast!
It took me around 50 minutes to get up to the fort from the Craflwyn Centre. I walk slow and I stopped a lot to take photos and videos. Then, it took me around the same time to head back.
Once you’re up at the fort, there’s lots to explore and some places to rest for a while taking in the spectacular views all around you. So, I would make sure that you leave enough time to enjoy it!
Dinas Emrys walk directions
So, these walking directions for Dinas Emrys start at the National Trust Craflwyn Centre in Snowdonia National Park.
The easiest way to access this centre would be to drive as it’s in a remote location along the A498 road from Beddgelert and Capel Curig.
If you’re arriving by Sherpa Bus the best stop would be Beddgelert and to head to Craflwyn from there. However, this bus will not stop directly outside this visitor centre.
1. Set out from the Craflwyn & Princess of Gywnedd Centre
Once you arrive at the National Trust Craflwyn car park, I would highlight recommend visiting the small Princess of Gwynedd Centre before you set out on this walk.
It’s completely FREE to visit and has a small exhibition that tells you the history of the area and all about the Dinas Emrys legend. You’ll get to read about Vortigern and Merlin and the Red and White Dragon who fought here.
There are free toilets to use and I would recommend you do so before you set out on this walk up to the fort. There are none along the way or at the castle itself.
Although there is not a café, there are picnic benches should you wish to eat lunch or have a drink before you set out on the Dinas Emrys walk!
You can access the Craflwyn Car Park near Beddgelert using the postcode Gwynedd, LL55 4NG.
2. Walk up into the oak woodlands following the ‘Prince of Gwynedd’ arrows
Once you’re ready to leave, head to the back of the Craflwyn car park and you’ll see a sign that clearly marks out the walking trails you can find here.
There is a Craflwyn Circular and directions for Dinas Emrys Fort. I actually took a photo of this map on my phone for guidance as there is a limited signal once you’re on the trail itself.
Afterward, head beyond the sign and up the winding trail into the forest. You’ll find marker posts with the ‘Prince of Gwynedd’ arrow on there. It’s a red circle with a yellow arrow. You’ll be following these arrows pretty much the whole way.
When the path forks, take a right and you’ll come across a wooden dragon bench in honour of the legend!
You’ll eventually reach a small cascade next to some steps leading upwards on the right. Walk up these steps and head through the kissing gate at the very top.
3. Walk down towards ‘Merlin’s Pool’ waterfall
Once you’re through the gate, you’ll be heading straight through a clearing in the woodland. Keep following the ‘Prince of Gwynedd’ arrow as you head down the hill.
You’ll then be heading into another small oak woodland. Keep heading down by the stone wall until you see a small footbridge you can cross and head through a gate. Near this gate there will be some cascades nearby!
Once you’re through the gate, you’ll follow another beaten track through some trees and then eventually head down some steps. This is when you’ll see the spectacular waterfall called ‘Merlin’s Pool’.
You’ll probably hear it before you see it as the water crashes down into a gorgeous clear pool beneath. The small pool is a vibrant turquoise colour and it’s mesmerising to watch. If it wasn’t winter, this would be an amazing place to dip your toes!
4. Walk over the stone footbridge and up the hill
Once you’re done taking photos of the waterfall, you can head over to the next stone/slate footbridge.
You’ll then follow the footpath beside a small stream until you see some rocky steps and a path leading upwards and around a hillside.
You’ll eventually see a ‘Hafod y Llan’ sign. Do not follow this sign to the left. Head straight on following the ‘Princes of Gwynedd’ arrow.
Walk beyond the sign and keep heading straight up the hillside. You’ll be following a trodden footpath with a stone wall to your right.
Eventually, you’ll find a stile in the form of a wooden step ladder that straddles the wall.
5. Climb the wooden ladder over the wall and circle through the woodland
Once you’ve found the wooden step ladder, you’ll need to climb over it. But, be mindful as you go – especially if it’s raining or wet!
Once you’re over, head straight into the next woodland. You’ll be climbing up and down some steps until you reach a crossroad.
Head straight forward at this crossroads and then you’ll walk through another gate. Once you’re through, circle around to your right to make your way up to the fort.
6. Scramble to the top of Dinas Emrys Fort
The last hurdle up to Dinas Emrys Fort will be the hardest part. You’ll be following a zig-zag pathway up to the castle.
But, there are a lot of rocks that you’ll need to manoeuvre over and it’s a little bit of a scramble to reach the top!
Just take your time and watch your step here as the left-hand side is a steep drop down the hillside.
7. You’ve made to Dinas Emrys
Once you’ve scrambled over the rocks, you’ll have made it to Dinas Emrys and it will be SO worth the effort!
As soon as you’ve reached the summit, you can see the spectacular views of Nant Gwynant and Llyn Dinas and the mountains of Glaslyn Valley all around you.
You can take a rest a while up here on the numerous rocks that are dotted around the clearing. Or, you can start exploring the remains of the once-legendary castle.
Things to do in Dinas Emrys
Once you have reached the summit, there are lots of things to do at the fortress. The obvious is exploring the remains of the Dinas Emrys Fort.
In the Princess of Gwynedd Centre, you would have seen some artwork of what it used to look like with its mighty towers and endless defence walls. But, today, what remains of the fort is little more than boulders and ruins.
You’ll see the old foundations marked out by stone walls and that’s pretty much all that you can see of the castle!
If you head beyond this first ruin and down the hillside, you’ll also find a small pool. This is what people believe is the hidden pool associated with the legend of the two dragons!
There are often lots of mountain goats that can be seen here and I caught a few grazing on my visit!
Once you’ve explored the fort, there are lots of rocks dotted around the area where you can sit and take in the panoramic views. You can see Llyn Dinas, Nant Gwynant, the peaks of Snowdonia over the River Glaslyn.
It’s easy to see why Vortigern and the Princes of Gwynedd wanted to build a fortress here – it allows you to see for miles and it is an advantageous vantage point for encroaching enemies.
Explore as you like, just make sure to avoid waking up any dragons in the process!
Heading back to the Craflwyn Centre
Once you’ve finished exploring Dinas Emrys, there really isn’t anywhere to go from the summit. The hillside is extremely steep and there is no walking trail to lead you down.
The best bet is to head back the way you came and through the woodland towards the stile ladder on the wall.
From here, you can then head onwards through the hills or head straight back to the Craflwyn Centre. It should take you another hour to get back to your car!
There are many walks you can take to extend your visit like the Craflwyn Circular. Click here for more details.
Is the Dinas Emrys walk difficult?
Dinas Emrys is officially labelled a moderate trail and so I would prepare for uneven ground, steep trails and a bit of a scramble at the very end.
I found that the walk was relatively easy save for that last scramble which was a bit challenging.
I’m glad I picked a sunny day as trying to climb the hills in the rain would have been really slippy. Also, many of the paths would be extremely boggy through the woodlands.
I would make sure you have a reasonable level of fitness and come prepared with good shoes and appropriate clothing to complete the walk.
Dinas Emrys walk packing list
- A good pair of shoes – I’m not kidding when the walk is uneven and there is a scramble! I would make sure to have a good pair of ankle supporting boots for the walk. If it has been raining, waterproof shoes would be even better.
- Appropriate clothing – Wales is notorious for rain and it can be cold in the valleys. I would make sure to have an extra layer of clothing for you on this walk.
- Water and snacks – there is no shop at the Craflwyn Centre to buy water, lunch or snacks. So, I would bring some supplies with you. There are local shops in Beddgelert nearby. Just remember to take rubbish home as there are no bins on the walk.
- Camera – the views on this trail are spectacular, so I would make sure to have your camera or phone at the ready!