From Countryside Strolls to Coastal Walks: The Best Trails in Essex

AD Essex might not have high peaks or mountains, but it makes up for it with beautiful walks through woodland and coastal paths. Whether you fancy an easy stroll with your family or a more challenging day long hike this post shares some of the best trails to walk in Essex.

A mother and daughter going for a walk on a forest path in Essex
There are lots of beautiful trails to explore in Essex

What To Wear & Take With You When Walking In Essex

  • Water: while most parks and trails have a cafe en route they can have limited opening hours so take something to drink.
  • Snacks: always essential if you are out with children, it’s worth taking something to eat so you can enjoy a break when you find a view you want to admire for a while.
  • Waterproof jacket: British weather is variable so it’s a good idea to have a waterproof jacket. It’s also useful as an extra layer when walking through shaded woodland areas or to protect from a coastal breeze.
  • Womens walking boots: even in dry weather some routes can have muddy patches thanks in part to areas of London Clay. Having light, comfortable waterproof walking boots or shoes with good grip will mean your feet are comfortable whatever the terrain.
  • A map. If you are going on a longer route it is always worth taking a physical map. Phone reception varies and you can’t always rely on maps on your phone to pinpoint your location.

Great Walking Trails In Essex

Ancient Woodland Walk Through Epping Forest

While the largest part of Epping Forest is found to the west of Loughton and Theydon Bois it actually starts further south in Wanstead. You can easily walk through the buffer land up through Chingford to the edge of Epping (and take the Central Line back again).

If you prefer a shorter, circular route then head to High Beach. When the Visitor Centre next to the Kings Oak pub is open you can buy maps and find out more about wildlife in the area.

The recently released app by Epping Forest Heritage Trust is another great way to find walking routes through the forest. It is free to download and has the benefit that while following a route the GPS signal will show you where you are on the map, even without reception. Walks range from a 1/2 mile (the High Beach Easy Access path which is suitable for pushchairs) to the 12 1/2 mile Northern Loop going from Chingford to Theydon Bois and back in a circular route.

Coastal Walk From Walton to Clacton

If you love a sea view then consider a walk along the coast from Walton to Clacton. This is a great option if travelling by train from Colchester as you can get the train to one location and back from the other. If you are driving you might want to cut the walk shorter and plan an earlier turning point as it’s about 10 miles each way. It is an easy walking route mostly along the promenade and sea walls with regular opportunities for ice cream, coffee and toilet breaks.

The route takes in the very different personalities of the seaside towns of Walton-on-the-Naze, Frinton, Holland-On-Sea and Clacton. It’s easy to follow as you just keep the sea on one side of you. If driving I recommend parking at The Naze car park where the Visitor Centre is open between 10am and 5pm with toilets and a cafe. Head down the cliff steps and turn right towards Walton Pier and the beach huts.

If travelling by train the Walton On Naze station is very close to the beach, but you’ll start further along the route and need to head away from Walton Pier towards Frinton.

A view of beach huts and sea towards Walton On The Naze
See the different personalities of Essex's seaside towns on a coastal walk

Walk Out To Sea At Southend Pier

If you are looking for a shorter walk and like the idea of walking on water you can take a stroll down the world’s longest pleasure pier at Southend On Sea. The pier measures 1.33 miles so it’s a nice family walk to the end and back. Entry to the pier costs £2 per person and you’ll probably need to pay for parking too. It is also easy walking distance from the nearest station (Southend Central).

You can pay extra to get a narrow gauge train one or both ways, but that defeats the point of going for a walk. At the end of the pier you may be rewarded with the sight of seals basking in the sun or if you are very lucky you might spot whales or dolphins. There are a few places to get a drink or bite to eat at the end of the Pier with more options at Adventure Island where the pier starts or in the nearby High Street.

Beautiful Views At Hadleigh Country Park

Situated on the Thames Estuary and near Southend this park offers a variety of walking routes through woodlands, meadows, and marshland. The park also includes the (free to access) ruins of Hadleigh Castle and the 2012 Olympic mountain bike course, making it a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts. If you are driving park in the Chapel Lane car park, alternatively if travelling by train you can access the park at the far corner near Benfleet Station.

There are 3 way marked trails through the park, the longest of which takes less than 2 hours. If you want more of a challenge start from the car park on the Blue route until you reach the marsh then turn left towards the castle and follow a steep farm track to the remains. After exploring the castle return to the Blue route and follow it until it meets the Black route which will take you towards Benfleet before turning back on a different path towards the Bike Park and parking. This is a walk where having a map might be useful to keep you on the right track.

There are few facilities on this walk although near the car park you can find Hadleigh Hub run by the Salvation Army which is open 9.30 to 4.30 in Summer months.

A view of grassland towards water
View across the Thames Estuary from Hadleigh Castle

Follow The Former Railway Along The Flitch Way

The Flitch Way is a 15-mile long trail following the old railway line between Braintree and Bishops Stortford. It is popular with cyclists, but an enjoyable walking route too and very easy to follow with the exception of in Great Dunmow where there is a break in the trail.

The trail is well surfaced making it suitable for pushchairs and walking in all weathers. There are plenty of access points along the way so it is a good option whether traveling by rail, bus or car. Parking options include at Braintree Station and Great Notley Country Park, although if you have National Trust membership you might want to look at parking at Hatfield Forest where you can park for free.

Look For Wildlife From The Thames Estuary Path

The Thames Estuary Path follows the banks of the River Thames from Tilbury to Leigh On Sea in a 29 mile walk. It is divided into 5 sections which align with train stations making it easy to choose the length of walk to suit your preference. Sadly the funding received in 2014 appears to have run out and the Council has not maintained the website so full maps and information aren’t easily available. You can see the sections of route here, but otherwise I recommend a paper map and looking for the way markers.

The path is relatively flat, making it suitable for walkers of all levels. Many of the sections go near Country Parks and their Visitors Centres so you can take minor detours if you require facilities.

Children walking on a path next to the Thames Estuary
The Thames Estuary Path can be explored in sections to make it more accessible

A Walk In The Park

If you prefer to explore without a trail then there are plenty of parks in Essex which offer great options for walking. Many have playgrounds to keep children happy, visitors centres, cafes and toilets too.

Great options include: 
  • Thorndon Country Park - known for the Gruffalo Trail, but there is a lot more to explore across this large park in Brentwood. You can even walk through to King Georges Playing Fields where there is more to see.
  • Hylands Park - with an excellent castle themed playground, Go Ape, formal gardens and plenty of woodland. It’s especially worth visiting Hylands Park on the monthly Open House Sundays where you can enjoy a range of great food stalls outside Hylands House. Check their social media before visiting as there can be temporary closures for events.
  • Weald Country Park - you can feed deer and ducks, look for carved Stickman characters (from the Julia Donaldson book) and enjoy the playgrounds as well as go for a walk.
  • Great Notley Park - there is plenty to explore in this country park, but the appeal to children is the play trail spread out along a 1.2km path. It means even the most reluctant children will be motivated to go on a walk.
  • Thames Chase - choose from a few short trails including a mindfulness trail and ones with activities for children before enjoying a coffee in the Visitors Centre.

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