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Family-friendly things to do at Hatfield Forest

A small child walking through woodland at Hatfield Forest wearing a summer dress and carrying a large stick.
A child exploring Hatfield Forest | © National Trust Images/Trevor Ray Hart

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.

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.

Children on a wooden jetty feeding ducklings on the lake at Hatfield Forest, Essex.
Feeding the ducks at Hatfield Forest | © National Trust Images/David Levenson


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, and the medieval half-timbered Forest Lodge.

Look out for the remains of huts from the Second World War, when ammunition was stored under the trees in 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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