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Family-friendly things to do at Hatfield Forest

Two adults and a child sitting in a field with yellow flowers at Hatfield Forest, Essex
Enjoying the sun at Hatfield Forest, Essex | © National Trust Images/Britainonview/Rod Edwards

There's plenty for families to do at Hatfield Forest in Essex. Let off steam running around the wide-open spaces or exploring the trails between the wooded areas, on foot or by bike. When it's time for a break, tuck into tasty snacks from the lakeside café.

Planning your family visit

  • Toilets with baby-changing facilities are available next to the lakeside café
  • The café has a range of hot and cold snacks, children’s lunch boxes and hot and cold drinks.
  • Picnic benches in the lakeside area, with some undercover seating in the Fishermen's Shelter, next to the Shell House, for when it rains
  • the main car park is in the lakeside area but if you fancy a bit of exercise first, before refreshment at the cafe, try parking in the entrance car park - its takes about 20 min to walk to the lake, along the boardwalk and then across the damn at the end of the lake.
  • in summer, there is also a grass car park at Elgins, half way into the lake area, where you can park and then have a shorter stroll to the lakeside area, across the barrage at the end of the lake.

Solstice in the Forest

21 June

Celebrate the start of Summer in the heart of Hatfield Forest. Join us for a magical evening of music, food and dancing with your closest family and friends at in the Forest. For one night only, immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the lakeside while the enchanting sounds of folk music provide the soundtrack to the sunset on the longest day of the year.

Get closer to nature and take part in wellness activities or take the hand of a loved one and test your barn dancing skills. Suitable for all the family, Hatfield Forest is the place to be this summer solstice.

Family friendly outdoor theatre

The Adventures of Doctor Dolittle

5 July

Helped by his wise old parrot, Doctor Dolittle makes an extraordinary discovery: that he can talk to animals. A funny, exciting family musical performed outdoors by the incomparable Illyria.

The Adventures of Dr Dolittle

The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck

7 August

Prevented from hatching her eggs at the farm, foolish Jemima goes in search of a nesting place in the forest and soon she meets a charming ‘gentleman’ who offers her the perfect nesting place in his wood-shed. But why is his wood-shed full of feathers and why is he asking her to collect the herbs for roast duck? Back at the farm, the Collie-dog, Kep, puts two and two together, but will he be in time to rescue Jemima from her fate?

The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck

A child in a pink skirt reaches for a stick at Hatfield Forest, Essex
Den building at Hatfield Forest, Essex | © National Trust Images/Trevor Ray Hart

Family-friendly things to do outdoors

Hatfield Forest is a National Nature Reserve of over 1000 acres, so there's plenty of space for you to run and play in our great natural playground.

Enjoy the walking trails

Hatfield Forest has large expanse of wide open spaces for you to explore on foot, as well as grassy paths or 'rides' between the coppices.

You can follow walking trails through the Forest or, if you're feeling adventurous, make up your own route. Don't forget to take a map and compass to avoid getting lost.

Explore the forest by bike

Bring your own bicycles and discover the far corners of the forest. Most of the forest is a safe, car-free area. The more adventurous can include a stretch of the Flitch Way, a disused railway line on the northern boundary of the forest.


There are at least 14 geocaches hidden across the forest, so open your Geocaching app and see how many you can locate. Please note, however, that these are removed between November and March, to help protect the forest trails when the ground conditions are very wet and muddy.

Travel through time

There are lots of places for little ones to learn about history at Hatfield Forest.

The landscaped lakeside area harks back to the styles introduced in the 18th century by the celebrated landscape designer Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and includes the Shell House.

Further afield, you'll find several sites of historic interest including the earthworks at Portingbury Hills, the site of the Doodle Oak, the pillow mounds from the medieval rabbit warren, hidden under the horse chestnut trees, south of Warren Cottage, and nearby, the medieval half-timbered Forest Lodge, in the central area of the main plain.

Look out for the remains of huts from the Second World War, when ammunition was stored under the trees in Elgins Coppice, visible on both sides of the entrance road as you go through Elgins Coppice.

Family follow the walking trail at Hatfield Forest, Essex
Family following a walking trail at Hatfield Forest | © National Trust Images/John Millar

'50 things to do before you're 11¾'

You can complete most one of the '50 things' at Hatfield Forest, so why not see how many you can tick off? Here are some recommendations:

  • No. 1 Get to know a tree: There's no shortage of trees in the forest. Some are very old and special, so please follow the tree climbing code, which you'll find in the Discovery Room

  • No. 12 Have fun with sticks: Lay a trail with sticks and get a friend to follow it. Where will you take them?

  • No. 31 Make friends with a bug: Roll over a log and see if there are any bugs living underneath. Make sure you roll the log back to keep the bugs home intact

  • No. 44 Watch a bird: Head over to the bird hide (by the side of the lake opposite the café) and see if you can spot some feathered residents

  • No. 45 Find your way with a map: Can you find your way around the forest - there are lots of green tracks and many look the same

  • No. 48 Keep a nature diary: What have you seen in the forest today? Keep a nature diary, so you look back later and recall a good day out.

Person walking a dog in a field at Hatfield Forest, Essex

Discover more at Hatfield Forest

Find out when Hatfield Forest is open, how to get here, things to see and do and more.

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Outdoor activities at Hatfield Forest 

Discover a range of outdoor activities at Hatfield Forest in Essex. From short to long walks, running routes, horse riding and fishing, there's something for everyone.

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Things to see and do at Hatfield Forest 

Visit a royal medieval hunting ground with mighty ancient oaks, fallow deer and wildlife aplenty. Enjoy a walk followed by a treat from the Forest Café in the beautiful surroundings of the Georgian lake and Shell House.

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Eating and Shopping at Hatfield Forest 

The café at Hatfield Forest has views across the lake. You can also buy venison and firewood from the Estate Office when in season.

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History of Hatfield Forest 

Find out about some of Hatfield Forest's rich and varied history, including how the original royal hunting forest was created and then, later, how Lancelot 'Capability' Brown left his mark.

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‘50 things to do before you're 11¾’ 

Fancy running free in the fresh air, learning new skills and trying new things? Grab your gear and start your adventure.

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