Disclosure: Some links may be affiliate links. If you buy an item via links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
Dartmoor National Park, located in Devon, covers more than 368 square miles and is a wildlife hotspot with excellent biodiversity thanks to the variety of habitats here. These include woods, wetlands, heathlands, moorlands, and more.
Not only are there lots of animals and several species of birds, including raptors, but Dartmoor is also home to a rich variety of flora, including several rare moss and lichen species and many wildflowers. Visiting in spring gives you a great chance to see these in full bloom.
For bird lovers, Dartmoor provides an excellent chance to spot migratory birds who’ll stop here to rest during their journey south.
But perhaps one of the main reasons that wildlife lovers flock here is for the Dartmoor ponies which are left to freely roam the national park, although they are managed by humans.
The Dartmoor landscape is truly iconic, and parts of it sit at more than 2,000 feet above sea level. The granite tors are one of the main attractions and are very popular with climbers. Also, check out the 13 rivers, including the Teign, Avon, and Dart, where you can spot many wildlife species.
This isn’t the only reason to pay a visit to Dartmoor as the area has a rich and varied history, dating back to the Neolithic and bronze ages. In fact, this area has more Bronze Age remains than any other location in the UK. Check out the more than 5,000 hut circles at Grimspound to take a trip back through prehistory.
You’ll also find many standing stones and stone circles. The Upper Erme stone row runs for 10,827 feet and is the longest stone row on the planet.
There is evidence of humans living here as far back as the Bronze Age, but more recently, we see medieval examples of farms and other buildings which are of particular interest to history lovers. What’s more, there are plenty of local myths and legends, including an apparent visit from the Devil himself.
Over the course of time, Dartmoor has played an important role in the lives of many people, including William the Conqueror who used the area as a royal hunting ground back in the 11th century. What’s more, around 90% of the land here is now used for farming, and local residents, of which there are around 34,000, are permitted to graze their cattle within the park.
Types of Wildlife to See
One of the most famous types of wildlife in Dartmoor are its ponies, which are semi-wild and can be seen roaming around the area. Since commoners are allowed to graze their livestock in the park, you may also see various cattle dotted around.
Dartmoor is home to lots of mammals both nocturnal and diurnal. This includes almost all of the bat species found in the UK, of which there are 16. Spot otters along the riverbanks, which are one of the Dartmoor Little Five which also includes the ash black slug, the marsh fritillary butterfly, the cuckoo, and the blue ground beetle.
Perhaps one of the most iconic mammals are the red and roe deer that call the park home. These amazing animals are best spotted in the morning and the evening. Introduced species of deer like the Chinese water deer and the sika can also be found here.
Insects and butterflies are in abundance in Dartmoor, and the dragonflies around the wetlands are of particular note. In these areas you’ll also spot a variety of amphibian life, including smooth newts and frogs. The park is also home to several reptiles, including adders, the UK’s only venomous snake.
There are thought to be around 50 species of moss in Dartmoor as well as 120 species of lichen, which you’ll see on the 160 tors. Some of these are incredibly rare, and other rare plant species include the highland saxifrage and the bogbean.
Bird lovers will be in for a treat at Dartmoor as the area is home to a plethora of species of raptor, including meerlins, kestrels, and buzzards. You’ll also spot (and hear) beautiful skylarks as well as the iconic dipper, which is a small bird known for its unique movements of head bobbing.
Best Time to Visit
Spring is an ideal time to visit Dartmoor if you want to see the many species of wildflowers in bloom, such as bluebells, eyebrights, and the butterfly orchid. These flowers also attract a lot of insect pollinators.
With grazing animals such as sheep, ponies, and cows starting to give birth, spring is a wonderful time to observe the young.
Migratory birds are now starting to return, making March to May a fantastic time to visit for bird watchers.
Between June and July, Dartmoor is filled with the songs of breeding birds such as various species of warbler. The area is also home to many butterfly species, including the marsh fritillary, which is so rare that it’s now only found in the western parts of Britain.
Moving into late summer, between August and September, the aquatic insect life like damselflies and dragonflies become extremely active.
During the evenings, any of the 16 UK bat species may be spotted including the elusive barbastelle bat.
During the fall, various species of fungi spring up all over Dartmoor, including the common puffball and the pink waxcap. This is also a good time to spot birds getting ready to migrate.
At this time of year, deer rutting season is upon us, with males performing impressive courtship displays. This is one of the most exciting wildlife experiences in the national park.
There’s something spectacular about the starkness of the tors in winter, making this an ideal time to visit for those who wish to take in the landscape.
Stay a little later when the sun goes down, and the clear skies offer ample opportunities to stargaze.
While there aren’t as many birds here during winter, some do remain including redwings and fieldfares.
Other Times to Visit
Dartmoor is an ideal wildlife spot at any time of the day, but visiting first thing in the morning or at dusk provides a greater opportunity to spot wildlife at its most active.
There are lots of visitor centers around the park which provide you with an excellent opportunity to learn more about the local wildlife and when is best to see it.
What to Explore?
- Walking & cycling: Dartmoor is home to more than 450 miles of walking and cycling trails, so this is one of the best ways to explore. There are local guided tours on offer if you’re keen to learn more about the area.
- History: With many historical sites, Dartmoor is a great way to learn about the past. Check out Hound Tor and the many stone circles dotted around the national park.
- Woodlands & forests: With a plethora of wildlife found in wooded areas, Dartmoor is an excellent chance to explore these habitats. The Bellever Forest is perfect for spotting the ponies as well as many bird species. Meavy woods is excellent if you’re looking to take a wildlife walk. Wistman’s wood is one of the most popular areas, and you might even spot the raree whortleberry bush.
- Bird watching: With hundreds of avian species, Dartmoor is ideal for bird lovers. The Meldon Reservoir is home to many wading birds and waterfowl and becomes particularly active during migration season. Hemsworthy Gate at Widecombe in the Moor, offers the chance to see treecreepers and golden plovers.
- Rivers & gorges: Home to 13 rivers and many gorges, Dartmoor boasts a unique landscape. The Lydford Gorge is a birdwatcher’s paradise, especially for spotting dippers. The Teign gorge is just as impressive and perfect for spotting bats, butterflies, and birds.
- The tors: The tors are one of the main attractions at Dartmoor and some of the most impressive are the Pew Tor and the South Hessary Tor, both of which are great for climbing. Pew Tor is also home to many bird species.
- Nature reserves: The Black-a-Tor nature reserve spans over an ancient oak woodland, the highest in the country at 1,247 feet above sea level, which is perfect for flora enthusiasts, especially those looking to spot rare lichens. Again, there are lots of bird species here.
- Deer spotting: Fallow and red deer are common here, and Bellever Forest and Fingle Wood offer some of the best chances to spot them.
- Check out the view: If you want to get a breathtaking view of Dartmoor, then head to Haytor, sometimes called Hey Tor, one of the most famous spots in Dartmoor. The location is considered a natural beauty spot and sits at 1,499 feet above sea level. Becky Falls Ancient Woodland Park offers one of the most stunning sites on Dartmoor; a 66 feet cascading waterfall; great for a photo opportunity!
- Wildlife tours: For a more in-depth experience, check out one of the many wildlife tours. The fungi forays in the fall are always fun, or head to the Dartmoor Zoological Park which is great if you want to learn more about the conservation of the area.
How to Get There?
- The closest train station to Dartmoor is either Plymouth or Exeter St Davids with services from London taking around 3-4 hours.
- From these train stations, you can take a bus to the national park, including the Haytor Hoppa. Of course, you should check bus routes and services before traveling.
- Dartmoor is easily accessible by car and is within close proximity to the M5 motorway.
- There are many car parks around Dartmoor National Park, and you can pay conveniently using the RingGo app.
Cycling & Walking
- There are lots of walking and cycling trails around Dartmoor, covering more than 450 miles, so this offers one of the best ways to explore.
- If you don’t own a cycle, you can hire one from many places, including Dartmoor Bike Hire which also offers electric cycles.
Where to Stay
There is a good range of hotels, from luxurious to affordable in Dartmoor as well as many other accommodation options like B&Bs, campsites, cottages, and much more. But to make the most of your stay, I would recommend the following gateway towns: