Family days out can be expensive. Entry fees, food, drinks, parking and paid activities all add up. Then there’s the added hassle of finding somewhere that allows dogs. Cannock Chase Forest in Staffordshire is not only family and dog friendly, but it’s also free. In fact, if you bring a picnic like we did then the only thing you need to pay for is parking. There are paid activities available, but it’s entirely possible to have a great day out without them.
Mountain biking in Cannock Chase Forest
Cannock Chase Forest is a brilliant place for mountain biking, much like the Forest of Dean. Whether you’re a serious mountain biker, cycling with young children or just out for some exercise, you’ll find the ideal route. We took the beautiful 2.5 mile Fairoak Trail, a flat route around some lakes and pools. The tracks were well maintained, hard paths that were gravelly in places and can be uneven. Hills were gentle enough for the children to ride up and down although they don’t have gears. Both girls coped really well with both the distance and the terrain.
After a short break to play in the park, we headed off again on the 1.5km Ladyhill Trail. This takes in the dog activity trail and has a small play area en route, which is guarded by the Gruffalo. I think this is aimed more at younger children. My two were more interested in testing their cycling skills on a short route along a ridge next to the play area. They enjoyed bombing down the short, steep hills and balancing along a narrow path.
There’s a longer family and leisure cycle route called the Sherbrook trail. You can choose either 7.5 or 12.5 miles and the terrain and gradients may be a little more difficult. Serious mountain bikers can take the 6.7 mile ‘follow the dog’ single track trail, or the 14.2 mile monkey trail, which is also single track. Both are both physically and technically demanding. Cannock Chase Forest Stile Cop bike park boasts a dozen downhill trails of varying lengths and skill levels. Each run lasts around a minute.
You can bring your own bikes to Cannock Chase Forest, or alternatively hire one from the cycle centre. They hire out a variety of sizes including children’s bikes but they are quite pricey and require a hefty deposit. They also sell bikes and accessories and offer servicing and repairs.
Running and walking in Cannock Chase Forest
Helpfully, Cannock Chase have several running routes of particular distances marked out. Choose between 3, 5, 7.5 or 10km measured runs, or follow one of the above family cycle routes, all of which are multi-use. Running events take place here too, as well as at other Forestry Commission sites across the UK.
I decided to run instead of bringing my bike when we visited. I’m training for the London Marathon so I needed the extra miles. The tracks are ideal for running and they weren’t too busy, despite the fact that the car park was packed. Because there are so many activities going on, the area absorbs the number of visitors well.
The Forestry Commission know that children often get a bit bored when they’re out for a family walk. That’s why they’ve got a couple of children’s activity trails to keep them occupied. The first is the Gruffalo orienteering trail. This is a family map reading challenge to find 12 Gruffalo markers hidden in the deep, dark wood. An orienteering leaflet, map and certificate are available from the cafe and Go-Ape.
Zog shows children around the other activity trail, where they complete challenges to collect stars and learn like Zog did at dragon school. Activity packs are available from the cafe, priced at £3. They contain a special lens to make hidden pictures come to life, an activity booklet and a mask.
Children’s play areas
There are informal play areas around Cannock Chase forest and a large play park for 4 to 13 year olds right next to the car park. Considering how many people were there, the park didn’t seem too busy at all. The girls were happy playing on all the equipment. The slide was out of action but there were plenty of swings, a see-saw, a den and lots of things to climb.
Dog Friendly Cannock Chase Forest
Cannock Chase Forest is a very dog friendly day out. Dogs are welcome everywhere except for the food service area of the Birches Valley cafe and in the children’s playground by the car park. Outside the cafe, there’s a dog bowl at every table. Around the back of the building is a tap to fill them up from.
My favourite thing about visiting Cannock Chase Forest with a dog is the dog activity trail. If you follow the Ladyhill Trail out of the car park, you come to a field on your right and you’ll see the dog activity trail. If you want to fully participate, you’ll need to bring a ball or frisbee to play fetch. We didn’t have one, but still participated in sit and stay, weaving, balancing along a log, going over little jumps and of course, a photo at the end to show what a good girl she is.
Food and drink
The Birches Valley cafe is right next to the car park and is accessible for wheelchairs. There are toilets next to the cafe in a separate building. The cafe serves a relatively basic menu and has plenty of tables both indoors and out. We didn’t eat lunch there because we’d taken a picnic, but we did have a coffee and some cakes. I had a vegan flapjack which was particularly delicious.
If you don’t want to buy food, there are picnic benches near the cafe and plenty of other benches around the different trails. Pringle Slade is a large open field with the dog activity trail at the top end. It is recommended for picnics and ball games and you’re also allowed to take a barbecue. They do ask that barbecues are raised off the ground and that you have water to extinguish it and take away embers. Gas barbecues are not allowed.
Go Ape at Cannock Chase Forest offers a variety of fun activities. Tree Top Adventure and Tree Top Junior are high ropes courses. The junior one is suitable for the whole family, as long as little ones are over a metre tall. Anyone over 7 stone can also take part in a Segway trail at Go Ape. After a training session to learn how to do it, you head off for an hour-long adventure in the forest with a guide.
What else do you need to know about Cannock Chase Forest?
- How to get to Cannock Chase Forest: The easiest way to get there is to drive. However, the closest train stations are Rugeley Trent Valley and Rugeley Town, both of which are around 2 miles away.
- Where to park at Cannock Chase Forest: The car park is at Birches Valley. The postcode for the SatNav is WS15 2UQ.
- Parking prices at Cannock Chase Forest: Parking at Birches Valley is £6 per day. If you don’t need that long, you can pay £2 for an hour or £4 for 2 hours.
- What animals live in Cannock Chase Forest? The forest is home to a plethora of wildlife, including both red deer and muntjac deer. You may also spot badgers, rabbits, weasels, stoats, mice, voles, grey squirrels and foxes. Reptiles include adders, lizards, frogs and toads. Occasionally grass snakes and slow worms are spotted too. Look out for a variety of birds including the shy kingfisher, nightjars, redwings, owls and geese. Butterflies, dragonflies and grasshoppers are also around if you look closely.
- Where to find more information about Cannock Chase Forest: For further information about the forest and even more available activities, head to the Forestry Commission website. If you are looking for more places to visit in the West Midlands, please see my posts about family days out, dog friendly days out and rainy days out.