As an open water swimmer, there’s something appealing about camping on the banks of Lake Bala. Famous for the Big Welsh Swim, a dog friendly miniature train and a great a variety of water sports, Lake Bala has it all. But was it a good place for a family holiday with children and a dog in tow? We spent a week at Glanllyn Caravan and Camping Park on Lake Bala to find out.
Glanllyn dog friendly campsite, Lake Bala
Every summer, we have a couple of weeks away in our camper van. This year, I insisted we go somewhere that I could swim. Glanllyn campsite is located three miles outside the town of Bala, right beside the lake.
The campsite itself is relatively large with ample toilet and shower facilities. There’s a small shop selling grocery essentials, along with a few toys. Helpfully, they also sell neoprene shoes, ideal for exploring the lake. Peace and quiet is valued on the campsite and they insist that everyone is quiet after 11pm. Of course, Glanllyn is dog friendly. Dogs have to be kept on a lead on the site, with the exception of a small dog walking area by the main entrance. For children, there’s a little play park that my girls enjoyed.
The main attraction of the campsite though, is that it’s right by the lake. There’s nothing quite like waking up in the morning to see clouds over the mountains beside a peaceful lake. Better still, it only took us 30 seconds to walk from our tent to the lake carrying our SUP. I spent a brilliant afternoon swimming alongside the girls while they took it in turns to paddle on the SUP. Towards the end of their paddle, they both braved the chilly water to join me for a swim.
Cycling to Bala
When we’re camping, we often try to leave the van where it is and use our bikes instead. This is sometimes difficult because we don’t like the girls cycling on busy roads. However, Glanllyn Caravan and Camping park is ideally located for cycling the three miles into Bala.
A cycle path starts at the campsite, extending all the way into the town of Bala along the main road. Cyclists share the path with pedestrians and it’s nice and wide for the majority of the route. I ran with the dog alongside the girls cycling and there was plenty of space for all of us. If you’re heading for Bala Lake Railway rather than the town, you can bypass the town by following the lakeside path instead of the road when you reach Loch Cafe.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to cycle all the way around Lake Bala without going onto the main road. There’s a small section with no lakeside or roadside cycle path. In the evenings, that section of road is a bit of a racetrack for idiots in souped up cars, so I would strongly advise against trying to cycle all the way around the lake with children.
Dog friendly Bala Lake Railway
From just outside Bala town, visitors can board a narrow gauge railway to travel 4 1/2 miles alongside the lake. Trains run around four times a day during the summer, with two stations to stop at. If you stay on until the final stop, there’s a small cafe and shop to have a look around before boarding the train back.
Fares for the railway are £11.50 for an adult return and £3.50 for a child return. Single tickets are cheaper and concessions are available, plus combined adult and child or family tickets that save some money. Children under three travel free. Bala Lake Railway is dog friendly, with dogs able to travel for £1 return. Full fare details are available here.
This isn’t a full day out, but it’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon. As the carriages are under cover, it’s a good option for a rainy day.
Coed y Brenin Forest Park
Just over half an hour drive from Bala and Glanllyn campsite, Coed y Brenin Forest park is a beautiful place with a variety of running and mountain bike trails. Dogs are welcome both on the trails and in the visitor centre and cafe.
Three play areas are available for children, in addition to a children’s mountain bike skills area and family cycling trails. We completely bypassed the play areas because the girls were so keen to ride their bikes. The children’s mountain bike skills area is very basic, but it’s a good starting point to build confidence. After a few laps around it, we headed onto the main skills tracks. A family one was ideal for Lia, while Libby tried her hand at the slightly more challenging course. With the exception of a slow-motion topple down a hill into a bramble bush, she got on quite well.
Trails for both cycling and running are well-signposted, and the area is well known for distance running events that take place in the forest. Information is available in the visitors centre, as well as a basic food menu. Dogs are allowed inside the cafe and ample outdoor seating areas are also available. This is a brilliant way to spend the day and had we been staying for a little longer, we’d have gone back for more.
Dog friendly places to eat out in Bala
There are plenty of dog friendly eateries in and around Bala. We tried Plas-Yn-Dre pub, which is dog friendly in the bar, restaurant and outside. They served fairly decent pub food with a children’s menu available. I noticed that the cafe next door was also dog friendly, as was the Loch Cafe at the Watersports centre just outside the town.
Things to do on a rainy day in Bala
We had a couple of days of bad weather during our holiday in Bala, so we looked around for things to do on a rainy day. Penllyn Leisure Centre has a standard swimming pool, along with a water slide. My husband took the children there on a rainy day, while I stayed with the dog. Staff take a particularly sensible approach to the water slide. It has a height limit, but if children can prove they can swim 5 metres, they’re allowed on the slide even if they’re not quite tall enough. My girls were delighted about this because they were both too small, so it was great to hear that the lifeguards used their discretion having seen them swim several lengths.
Bala Lake Railway is another option for bad weather, as is Mary Jones World museum. We headed for the museum on our last day, but having played in the park and had lunch in the cafe, we’d run out of time and didn’t go in. The park was lovely, the girls spent quite some time playing there on a swing and play frame. As for the cafe, it was incredibly basic. I tried to order a jacket potato but was told this would take a long time because they were frozen. After that, we all stuck with a sandwich. These consisted of two pieces of sliced white bread with your choice of filling, served with a very basic side salad.
The museum itself is inside the church. Dogs are not allowed in the museum, but there is a small undercover area outside the cafe where you can sit with the dog to wait for anyone looking around the museum.
A dog friendly family holiday at Lake Bala: The verdict
Our short break in Lake Bala was everything we hoped it would be. Watersports in the lake, mountain biking and spending time outdoors made it an ideal destination. When we booked the campsite, they only had Monday to Friday available for the dates we needed, so we ended up carrying on to another part of the country to continue our holiday. Had we booked sooner, we would have happily stayed for longer and checked out some other attractions in the local area, including King Arthur’s Labyrinth. It’s definitely somewhere we’d go back to on future camper van trips.