The A57 Snake Pass in the Peak District

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PAGE UPDATED: 17.06.2022

If you’re heading to the Peak District there are a number of things you simply must do. Taking a drive along Snake Pass is one of them.

The A57 between Manchester and Sheffield is a road full of twists and turns with wonderful scenery either side.

But be warned! The Snake Pass can be treacherous in the wintertime and is often closed due to snow or landslides.

Let’s find out what it’s like to drive along one of Britain’s most scenic (but dangerous) roads…

the A57 Snake Pass is often closed due to snow drifts and landslides
Image: Peter McDermott

Wild camping in Castleton

We start this road trip at Castleton, an excellent base from which to explore the Peak District.

On our arrival in the area, our old motorhome had struggled up the 20% incline of Winnat’s Pass, her wheels spinning on the wet tarmac in first gear. Trying to change up into second gear was a no-no; she just couldn’t pull at all.

The thing is that the Peak District has many roads like this that can and will take you by surprise. Indeed, on another occasion we had to reverse 200 yards all the way down a hill when our van ran out of puff!

We now know to keep an eye on those road signs; anything over a 20% incline means we’ll have to find an alternative route.

We wild camped just outside the main village and enjoyed hiking along the ‘Shivering Mountain’ of Mam Tor and a guided tour down into the ‘Blue John’ caves.

RELATED CONTENT: How to wild camp in a motorhome and stay out of trouble

Shepherd's cottage near Castleton, Peak District, UK
The beautiful scenery near Castleton in the Peak District

Snake Pass – is it suitable for motorhomes?

The next morning we set off through Hope Valley toward Snake Pass…feeling a little nervous…

Hobo Gav had asked a work colleague about Snake Pass but she’d only travelled the route in her car. It can be a very different experience in a motorhome.

Specifically, we wanted to know…

  • How long is Snake Pass? (How long would we have to be driving on this sometimes treacherous road?)
  • How steep is Snake Pass? (Will our van make it up the hilly sections?)
  • Where does Snake Pass start and finish? (We wanted to traverse the whole route)
  • Is it best to travel east or west along Snake Pass? (Where are the best views?)

So, where exactly is Snake Pass and what do you need to know about it?

Snake Pass: history and details

Snake Pass – the A57 – runs from Sheffield to Manchester and was built in 1821. It is just over 26 miles long and reaches a height of almost 1700 feet above sea level.

As the name suggests, it is a winding road with several twists and turns, ups and downs, and adverse cambers, making it notoriously dangerous in bad weather. Indeed, Snake Pass is often closed in the winter time and sometimes is impassable because of snow drifts and/or landslides.

On our most recent visit (springtime 2022) the road was closed and we had to take a long detour. See this video that shows why Snake Pass was closed for 5 weeks!

If you’re lucky enough to find the road open you’ll get fantastic views as you pass over the high, desolate moorland of the Pennines.

Barring landslides, Snake Pass is in generally good condition (and is wide enough all the way along for two vehicles, so there’s no need to pull over into passing places). The steepest gradient is only 10.2% with an average of 5.2%.

Armed with this info we felt confident our van would make it okay!

map of Snake Pass - the A57 in the Peak District
The route we took: After leaving Castleton we headed north and joined the A57 Snake Pass to Glossop (Click map to see larger image)

What is it like to drive along Snake Pass?

So how was the driving on Snake Pass?

We thought it would be a challenge but as it turned out it was a breeze – even for our old van.

Sure, there are some gradients to climb and the road gets twisty in places but by and large, if you drive sensibly, you’ll be okay. From East to West you’re pretty much descending most of the way and you’ll have your foot on the brake pedal for long stretches, especially if you’re driving a motorhome.

We found that the biggest challenge was in trying to keep our eyes on the road! The scenery demands your attention.

On our first drive along the pass in late August the hills were strewn with purple heather and we reckon this is possibly the best time of year to go.

A close second is autumn time when you get the gorgeous colours of the trees as the road winds its way through the wooded areas of Hope Valley before reaching the higher moorland peaks.

Snake Pass on the way to Glossop
Dashcam shot: The A57 Snake Pass – flanked by hills of heather in late summer

What is there to see along Snake Pass?

Apart from the stunning scenery, we wondered what else there is to see along Snake Pass…

There are several places you can pull over and take a break, one of which is the Ladybower Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley. This was opened by King George VI just months after the end of WWII.

There used to be a famous pub along the route – the Snake Pass Inn – which sadly closed in 2019. However, it’s now been converted into holiday accommodation.

A little way off the road there are some great hiking paths, leading to Fairbrook Waterfall.

And if you want a serious climb, there is always Kinder Scout, the highest peak in the area at over 2000 feet.

view from the top of Kinder Scout, the highest mountain in the Peak District
Image: Chris Ford

Snake Pass: our verdict

We loved driving the Snake Pass! It doesn’t take long to cover the 26 miles so it makes sense to take your time and make a day of it.

Stop and take in your surroundings because, before you know it, you’re free-wheeling downhill all the way to Glossop. Manchester looms on the horizon like another world.

The thing is that when you reach the outskirts of Glossop you’ll want to turn around and go back the other way. It’s like being a kid again and wanting another go on the roller-coaster.

Snake Pass is like that. One ride is never enough.

Next time, we’ll certainly plan to visit more of the area and take in the scenery at the reservoir or even make an attempt at Kinder Scout! And who knows, maybe the pub will have re-opened!

Have you driven the Snake Pass? What did you think of it? Let us know your story in the comments section below or by sending us an email.

You can find out more about the history of Snake Pass here.

Where did we go after Glossop? Read the ‘second leg’ of this road trip and the journey across the Horseshoe Pass in Wales.

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