If you’re heading to the Peak District, a drive along Snake Pass is something you simply have to do. It’s a road full of twists and turns with wonderful scenery either side.
But be warned! The Snake Pass – the A57 between Manchester and Sheffield – can be treacherous 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 (and dangerous) roads…
The starting point of the road trip: Castleton
We start this road trip in the village of Castleton, an excellent base from which to explore the Peak District.
You could stay at the large Caravan and Motorhome Club campsite but we decided to wild camp just outside the village.
RELATED CONTENT: How to wild camp in a motorhome without getting into trouble
Castleton has much to offer; there is a fantastic hike with stunning views along the ‘Shivering Mountain’ of Mam Tor.
And a guided tour into the depths of the Blue John Caves at Treak Cliff Cavern held us spellbound. (Just wait until they turn the lights out! Then you’ll know what pitch black is really like!)
A word of warning if you drive an older motorhome like ours round these parts…
The Peak District has many hilly roads that can and will take you by surprise. Our old VW Cree struggled up the 20% incline of Winnat’s Pass, her wheels spinning in first gear on the wet tarmac. (She couldn’t pull at all in second).
Indeed, on another road trip in this area we had to reverse 200 yards all the way down a hill when our van ran out of puff! We now keep an eye out for road signs and avoid anything indicating a 20% incline. (It’s no fun having to reverse down a hill or around blind bends).
Is Snake Pass suitable for motorhomes?
So, after a day of hiking and exploring caves in Castleton, we set off the next morning toward the Snake Pass, feeling a little apprehensive…
Hobo Gav had asked a work colleague about this route but she’d only driven along it in her car. It was sure to be different in a motorhome, especially an old motorhome!
Specifically, we wanted to know…
- How long is Snake Pass? (How long would we have to be 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?
The A57 from Sheffield to Manchester
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. (The map above shows our starting point for this road trip in the village of Castleton).
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, the road is often closed in wintertime because of snow drifts and/or landslides.
On our most recent visit (springtime 2022) the road was closed due to a landslide 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, the A57 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!
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 later in autumn 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.
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.
Driving over Snake Pass: our verdict
We loved driving over 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 and check out the places we’ve mentioned in this article. 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, 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 via 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.