Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
749.00 m (2,457.35 ft)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
18.00 km (11.18 mi)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

This hike treks along a minor chunk of the greater 1,104-kilometer Southwest Coast Path, England’s longest national long-distance footpath. Specifically, however, it runs through a region known as the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of great geological importance. The fossils found along this coastal region have provided a look at the Earth’s lifeforms across 185 million years, providing a rare record of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods. For more information on these fossils, check out some of the informational signs posted along the hike or stop at the Lulworth Cove visitor center at either the beginning or end of your hike.

Essentially, you’ll be making two loops connected like a figure eight beginning right in the center point of Lulworth Cove. If you’re short on time, you can shorten this hike to only one (in which case definitely head west to see Durdle Door). However, the double-loop hike makes for a very nice, full-day challenge that takes you to some of the most spectacular scenery in the area.

Loop 1: Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door

Park at the Lulworth Cove Visitor Center, which can be very busy during peak summer and holiday seasons. From there, take the broad paved path headed up Hambury Tout to the west of the car park. This hill can feel pretty steep as your first section of trail, but at the top you’ll be rewarded with your first view of the spectacular white chalk cliffs of the Dorset Coast along with Durdle Door just below. You can easily detour down to the beach for an up-close view of the petrified forest remains that comprise the rock archway.

Durdle Door, so named from Old English “thirl” meaning “bore," was formed 140 million years ago in a collision and subsequent folding between the African and European tectonic plates. Soft and hard rocks were folded together, and the sea washed the softer rock away, forming the arch. The Alps are another (albeit much grander) result of this very collision.

Continue on along the path to Scratchy Bottom—where the classic 1967 film “Far From the Madding Crowd” shot its opening scene—and immediately climb up the steep side of Swyre Head only to drop right back down onto an incredibly cool feature called Hat’s Head. This large protruding cliff sticks out tantalizingly far from the rest of the coastline, and you can walk out onto it. Underneath Bat’s Head, there is another, much smaller arch carved out of the base of the cliff.

The trail dips into Middle Bottom and rises again in the steepest ascent of the trail. And yes, the elevation profile of the trail is as much of a roller coaster as it sounds. The ascent will take you to the old coast guard cottages on White Nothe, signified by another huge white chalk face (or nose, as it is so named) rising from the ocean. You can take an optional detour down Smuggler’s Path, an incredibly steep series of switchbacks that cuts down the bluffs to the ocean. Down the shore beyond White Nothe, notice the change in the rock type, shifting from white chalk to Kimmeridge clays, complete with their band of oil shale that, in rare instances, actually sparks and smolders due to friction during landslides.

From the top of White Nothe, retrace your path 0.5 kilometer back to a fork you passed earlier at Daggers Gate. Take the left path to loop back to Lulworth Cove via an inland ridgeway path that gives wonderful views of the Isle of Portland. Travel east across the lush, grassy ridge for 3 kilometers, relishing in the flat terrain after so much up and down from early on in the hike.

After about 2 kilometers of the 3-kilometer ridge, take a right fork following the path signed “Newlands Farm." This will take you into a field, in which you should keep left and pass through the far corner gate. Keep following the path to the farm until you reach a large junction, at which you will turn right and descend gradually back into Lulworth Cove.

Loop 2: Lulworth Cove to Bindon Hill

This one climbs a bit less in elevation, so it’s a good route to do second. Return to the visitor center to reset your bearings and follow the center path at a three-pronged fork just south of the visitor center. This is also the Southwest Coast Path and will take you past a great spot to view Stair Hole, another geologically unique formation where you can actually see the folded layers of rock created in the Lulworth Crumple, exposed like someone freshly took a knife to the cliff.

Keep following the Southwest Coast Path through the southern edge of Lulworth, right across the cove’s beach, and onward up the stone steps on the other side, following the right (closest to the shore, not Lulworth) fork at the top. Steadily climb for another 0.5 kilometer before reaching another split, this one a T-junction at which you will go left, away from the coast, until you reach a gate leading you to military-owned land. Don’t worry, it’s permissible to enter this territory.

This land, a strategic high ground, has a long history of military defense that dates back into prehistoric times. Archeologists have discovered artifacts and soldier graves there from across the ages, including burial mounds dated to the Bronze Age (about 1900 B.C.), Celtic age (400 B.C.), and Roman Empire (first century AD). Some still believe Roman soldiers haunt the lands. In more modern military history, the site was used as a defense against Napoleonic threat and later as a World War I tank corps training ground.

About 200 meters after the gate, the path forks; go right, following the ridge of Bindon Hill, which will be marked with yellow posts. Follow this ridge for just over 1 kilometer, gaining only a slight bit of elevation, with great views of the distant Lulworth Castle, a restored 17th century hunting lodge.

Just as the trail begins the drop downward, it will fork again. Take the right path that will curve around toward the ocean in the direction of Lulworth. You’ll manage a rather steep descent before the trail basically levels out again until just before Lulworth Cove. Along this stretch, you’ll get some great views of Mupe Bay and the rocky ledges of the Mupe Rocks. Farther on, as you continue close to the edge of the bluffs, you’ll pass through Bindon Hill and the Fossil Forest. Here, you can either take the left path down to the small beach or go right to return back to Lulworth.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Spring
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

General Day Use Fee

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Geologically interesting. Beautiful vistas. Ocean views. Challenging but not too strenuous.

Cons

Can be crowded. Windy conditions. Steep drop-off beside trail.

Highest point

600.39 ft (183.00 m)

Features

Family friendly
Flushing toilets
Native artifacts
Big vistas
Geologically significant
Historically significant
Potable water
Bird watching

Typically multi-day

No

Suitable for

Biking

Permit required

No

Location

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