Map of South Wales
Credit: Sarah Dalton

Five of the best hikes in South Wales to help you battle the January blues

Getting outdoors has been shown to improve mental health and happiness

JANUARY can feel like the gloomiest month of the year. The days are short and dark, the nights are cold – all of which can have a knock-on effect on mental health.

The result? The ‘January Blues’. 

Current advice from NHS Wales for tackling the blues is to keep active and get outside, and this is exactly what people across South Wales have been doing. 

Zoe Evans, admin of the Facebook Group ‘Wander in Wales’, started walking to turn her life around. Ms Evans lost 8.5 stone since she started walking and has seen the effects of the fresh air on her mental health. “What walking does for you in general is amazing,” she said.

Here’s the five best hikes in South Wales to help you get outside and tackle the January blues.

Henrhyd Falls and Nant Lech river valley – Coelbren, Neath 

Postcode: SA10 9PH | Difficulty: moderate 

Known for being the highest waterfall in South Wales, Henrhyd Falls stands at 90ft tall. The location was also made famous after it featured in the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises.

This hike is a 5.6km trail, taking an average of 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete (depending on how long you stop at the viewpoint).  

The trail is also dog friendly and an achievable scenic route for the beginner hiker, but it does include some steep climbs and descents, steps, slippery surfaces and uneven paths. This makes the trail unsuitable to parents with pushchairs and wheelchair users. 

Rubie Barker, 22, is a student living in Cathays who visited Henrhyd Falls in the summer of 2021 with her housemates. “The trees provided a good shelter as we walked behind the waterfall and carried on through the gorge,” she told The Cardiffian

“We stopped by the river to skim stones, eat lunch and admire the other mini waterfalls en route. Days like this are so good for your mental health when you’re a student dealing with exam stress.” 

The trail, which also passes a disused watermill, begins at the Coelbren National Trust car park.


Sgwd Gwladys (Lady Falls) – Pontneddfechan, Neath 

Postcode: SA11 5NR | Difficulty: easy 

If Henrhyd Falls sounds too far out of your comfort zone, Sgwd Gwladys also in Neath may provide an easier alternative. The walk, which follows the river, is generally flat and well sign-posted, taking an average of only half an hour. 

“I parked in a lay-by by at the Angel Pub,” said Julie Jones, 47, from Merthyr Tydfil. 

“You come to a bridge and turn left and it takes you to a viewing platform of the waterfall, or you can go across the bridge and follow the sign posts down to the waterfall.” 

Ms Jones, who returned to Sgwd Gwladys during January 2023 hoping to see it in the frost, pointed out that sensible footwear is advised as it can get muddy. The walk provides a great, simple first hike for people wanting to get outdoors and visit a waterfall. 

“In the better weather, if you’re feeling brave, you can even cross the stepping stones over the river and walk behind the waterfall!” she added. 

Afan Forest – Port Talbot 

Postcode: SA13 3HG | Difficulty: easy-hard 

Situated in a former coal mining valley, Afan Forest Park has become known for its iconic mountain biking and walking trails. The forest park, which was created in the 1970s, has three walking trails leaving from the visitor center car park which range in difficulty and all include signposting along the way. 

Old Parish Road Walk, the easiest of the three, follows an ancient railway line for 2km and takes approximately 45 minutes.

Gyfylchi Ridgetop trail, the most difficult, is an 11.2 km hike along a ridgetop that crosses the River Afan and passes two sets of ruins. The hike is not suitable for young children but offers panoramic views of the valley. 

Chris Rees, 48, from Maesteg, is a regular visitor to the forest which sits right on his doorstep. “There’s loads of walks for all abilities, and if you’re very lucky you may catch sight of some of the deer loose in the forest,” he told The Cardiffian. 

“There’s some good picnic spots and a lovely river to have a dip in during the warmer months, so I’d say it’s definitely family friendly and great for a nice Sunday walk in Wales.” 

The visitor centre also offers parking, toilets and refreshments. 

Pontsticill Reservoir – Merthyr Tydfil 

Postcode: CF48 2UR | Difficulty: easy 

Pontsticill Reservoir, which has been in use since 1927, holds 3,400 million gallons of water. Although it may look like a regular lake, the reservoir has a bell-mouth spillway on the south-eastern side. This creates the impressive illusion of the water swirling down into a vortex, and there are only three of these in the UK. 

For 42-year-old Matthew Thomas from Penydarren, the reservoir has been his escape from challenging events of the last few years. 

“Pontsticill village and surrounding area has become like a second home to me since the first Covid-19 lockdown. It has breathtaking views of the Brecon Beacons, river side walks and plenty of wooded areas to explore,” he said. 

The village also has two dog-friendly pubs which you can visit after a tiring walk for a hot meal and a pint. 

“The reservoir is ideal for families, dog walkers, cyclists and aspiring photographers like myself. I feel very lucky to have this stunning area on my doorstep,” added Mr Thomas.


Four Falls Hike – Ystradfellte 

Postcode: CF44 9JE | Difficulty: moderate 

The Four Falls trail, hidden away on the southern slopes of the Fforest Fawr massif, is worth a mention for anyone looking for a full day hike with dramatic views. Situated just west of Merthyr Tydfil in ‘Waterfall County’, the trail starts at Cwn Porth car park and takes you to – you guessed it – four waterfalls. 

These are: Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr and Sgwd-yr-Eira. The final waterfall invites visitors to walk behind it, and reach out and touch it.

Oliver Welch, a bar manager from Frome, Somerset, visited Wales last year to see some of South Wales’ waterfalls and was not disappointed. 

“The waterfalls themselves are a sight to behold, like most natural wonders the pictures can’t do it justice. If you have a spare day and fancy a nice (but hilly) walk with breathtaking scenery then this is definitely the trail for you,” he told The Cardiffian

The hike is not wheelchair accessible and is rated moderate due to the hills leading down to each waterfall, which can be tiring to climb back up.  

The route is dotted with signs and maps along the way, and porta-loo toilets can be found near the car park. 

“I definitely think walking is great for your mental health,” added Mr Welch.

 For Cardiff locals without access to a car who want to get walking, why not try out the Taff Trail from Cardiff to Pontypridd, Roath Park Circular Walk or Bute Park River Trail.