Aber Falls (Rhaeadr Fawr)

Abergwyngregyn / Snowdonia National Park, Wales, UK (Great Britain)

About Aber Falls (Rhaeadr Fawr)


Hiking Distance: 3.5 miles round trip (to both falls)
Suggested Time: 90 minutes (to both falls)

Date first visited: 2014-09-01
Date last visited: 2014-09-01

Waterfall Latitude: 53.21066
Waterfall Longitude: -3.99551

Aber Falls (Rhaeadr Fawr in Welsh) for some reason took me by surprise with its size and its settings when I finally had a chance to visit it in person.

Based on my pre-trip research, I had mistakenly thought I was pursuing some modestly-sized waterfall that happened to be worth visiting as a convenience.

Aber_Falls_089_09012014 - Aber Falls
Aber Falls

Since I was staying in Conwy and the falls was near Abergwyngregyn, I only had to drive a short distance west to do this hike.

In any case, perhaps the photos in the literature left me with the impression that the falls was smaller than it turned out to be.

Even the literature at the time (I visited in early September 2014) claimed that the Afon Goch (Red River?) was said to drop about 120ft (37m).

However, in reality, it Aber Falls was way taller than that, which you can see in the photo above.

Aber_Falls_063_09012014 - At the base of Aber Falls or Rhaeadr Fawr
At the base of Aber Falls or Rhaeadr Fawr

So not only were my preconceptions off base, but the impressive mountains and cliffs surrounding the Aber Falls accentuated with neighbouring trees really made this place a surprisingly pleasant experience.

Needless to say, this moral of this story is that you always need to experience things physically and in person because you never really get the whole picture just by what you preconceive beforehand.

A Bonus Waterfall

In addition to the Aber Falls itself, there was also another companion waterfall that I encountered on the hike.

This other waterfall was called Rhaeadr Fach (pronounced “HRHYE-uh-dur VAHKH”) in Welsh.

It actually seemed taller than Aber Falls, but it had much thinner flow.

Aber_Falls_032_09012014 - Distant view of the impressive Rhaeadr Fach
Distant view of the impressive Rhaeadr Fach

In order to reach this waterfall, I had to extend the hike beyond Aber Falls, which I’ll get into in the hike description below.

The Hike to Aber Falls and Rhaeadr Fach

The overall hike I took to get to the foot of both Aber Falls and Rhaeadr Fach was roughly 3.5 miles total.

It was a little over 1.25 miles to get from the nearest car park (see directions below) to Aber Falls.

Then, it was an additional 0.5 miles to get from Aber Falls to Rhaeadr Fach.

I ended up spending roughly 2 hours for the entire hike, but I really didn’t have much choice to linger longer because I had gotten a late start.

Aber_Falls_010_09012014 - On the trail to Aber Falls from the upper car park
On the trail to Aber Falls from the upper car park

Thus, the authorities would close the gate leading to the upper car park by 7pm, which didn’t leave me much time to avoid getting locked in!

That said, I could have walked up from the much more accessible lower car park, which didn’t have the threat of being locked in if I happened to be out later than expected.

However, that car park would have forced me to hike an additional 0.5 miles round trip (which in hindsight might not have made that much difference anyways).

Detailed Trail Description – From the Upper Car Park to Aber Falls

From the upper car park, I followed a well-signed path that took me across a creek, then ascended into some sheep pastures after veering right at the first junction past the bridge.

Aber_Falls_017_09012014 - The Aber Falls Trail passing through grass grazed by lots of sheep
The Aber Falls Trail passing through grass grazed by lots of sheep

At the next junction, I rejoined the main trail, which was where the trail from the lower car park would have come from.

From there, I was on a very wide path that looked like local farm vehicles could drive it.

Plus, there happened to be many sheep around as apparently I had shown up at a time when sheep herders were rounding them up.

A short distance past what turned out to be a visitor centre and exhibit, I then encountered another signposted junction.

Aber_Falls_018_09012014 - The trail junction just after the visitor centre and exhibit, where the left path was the 'rough' path while the wider path on the right remained on the main trail to Aber Falls
The trail junction just after the visitor centre and exhibit, where the left path was the ‘rough’ path while the wider path on the right remained on the main trail to Aber Falls

The left branch was very narrow and led steeply uphill into a forest, which was labeled as the “rough” path.

I decided to stay on the right branch, which remained on the wide open but still ascending road through more sheep pastures.

A few minutes past the last of the sheep fences that I would encounter on this stretch, I started to notice a very tall but thin waterfall way in the distance towards my right.

This waterfall turned out to be Rhaeadr Fach.

Aber_Falls_051_09012014 - Approaching Aber Falls, which can now be seen in the distance
Approaching Aber Falls, which can now be seen in the distance

Continuing on a few minutes more, I would then start to see Aber Falls in the distance towering above the trees before me.

The terrain remained a mix of sheep pastures along with woods.

After passing by what appeared to be a yard with some horses, I’d ultimately get to the base of Aber Falls after about an hour since I had gotten started on the hike.

I noticed that the closer to the falls I had gotten, the smaller Aber Falls started to appear.

Aber_Falls_053_09012014 - Rest bench with a nice view of Aber Falls and its attractive surrounding mountains
Rest bench with a nice view of Aber Falls and its attractive surrounding mountains

This was because its uppermost tiers started to be hidden by cliffs, and the lower parts of the drop started to be covered by the trees before me.

Continuing past the next junction (where the right branch crossed a bridge over Afon Goch), I then made it past the trees and right up to the base of the falls.

From this vantage point, I got photos very similar to what was already in the literature (i.e. how the falls might have appeared smaller than they really were).

Based on these observations, I started to wonder whether the 120ft drop only counted this main tier as it seemed to be discounting the rest of the falls.

Aber_Falls_099_09012014 - Looking up at the main drop of Aber Falls from its base on the other side of its stream
Looking up at the main drop of Aber Falls from its base on the other side of its stream

In any case, after having my fill of this side of the river, I then went to the other side via a path that I didn’t take earlier.

From there, I got another look at the impressive Aber Falls from its base.

Detailed Trail Description – Extending the Hike to Rhaeadr Fach

Then, when I had my fill of Aber Falls, I continued past a gate onto what seemed to be a much narrower, rockier, muddier, and more overgrown trail.

Given how dramatically different the trail conditions were, it was pretty clear to me that this section of the track was managed by someone different.

Aber_Falls_103_09012014 - The trail to Rhaeadr Fach was a bit narrower and less developed than the main trail to Aber Falls
The trail to Rhaeadr Fach was a bit narrower and less developed than the main trail to Aber Falls

Still, roughly less than 10 minutes later, I was finally at the footbridge crossing the smaller stream at the base of Rhaeadr Fach.

Just like with Rhaeadr Fawr, Rhaeadr Fach looked a bit smaller than when I saw it earlier in the hike while in the sheep pastures.

But it was still impressive as I could see birds circling the cliffs surrounding the top of the falls.

This attested to how high up those birds were flying, which also suggested that Rhaeadr Fach was indeed a tall cascade.

Looking downhill from where I was standing, I could see the expanse of woodland scenery covering much of the Aber Valley around me.

Aber_Falls_121_09012014 - Rhaeadr Fach fronted by a footbridge and backed by a mountain with birds circling the cliffs
Rhaeadr Fach fronted by a footbridge and backed by a mountain with birds circling the cliffs

Way in the distance, I could catch glimpses of the faint Irish Sea between the mountains.

So once I had my fill of Rhaeadr Fach, this was my turnaround point so I would head back the way I came.

The return hike only took me about 40 minutes as it was a mostly downhill walk.

And for the record, I did make it back to the car park in time (there was actually another car parked there later than me) so I wouldn’t be locked in and stranded here.

Welsh Nomenclature

Perhaps I should have anticipated the magnitude the Aber Falls once I figured out the meaning behind its Welsh name.

Aber_Falls_136_09012014 - Context of Aber Falls with some people at its base for a sense of scale
Context of Aber Falls with some people at its base for a sense of scale

In Welsh, this waterfall is called Rhaeadr Fawr, which would be pronounced “HRHYE-uh-dur VAHW-ur”.

We knew the word rhaeadr meant “waterfall”.

However, according to my Welsh dictionary, the word fawr meant “not much”, which didn’t seem to make sense.

Then, when I looked further on in the dictionary, I saw that the word mawr meant “big”.

So this could have been a case of a mutation where the Welsh language was prone to having changes in the initial letter of some words depending on a myriad of factors including context.

Aber_Falls_123_09012014 - Contextual look back at the cascading Rhaeadr Fach
Contextual look back at the cascading Rhaeadr Fach

Thus, given the mutation, I believe the Welsh name of Aber Falls would translate to mean “big waterfall”.

And if this translation is correct, it would explain why I shouldn’t have been so surprised in the first place!

In addition, regarding the bonus waterfall Rhaeadr Fach, I could see that fach could very well be a mutation of the word bach meaning “small”.

Thus, Rhaeadr Fach could very well mean the small waterfall even though it really wasn’t a slouch in its own right.

Authorities

Aber Falls resides in Snowdonia National Park in Abergwyngregyn between Conwy and Caernarfon in Gwynedd County, Wales. It is administered by the Snowdonia National Park Authority. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Aber_Falls_004_09012014 - This was the road bridge between the lower car park and the upper car park for the Aber Falls
Aber_Falls_009_09012014 - This was the smaller Upper Car Park for Aber Falls, which saved me perhaps a quarter-mile of hiking in each direction
Aber_Falls_024_09012014 - Looking back the other way from the main trail to Aber Falls towards the Irish Sea
Aber_Falls_027_09012014 - Continuing on the main trail to Aber Falls where there were lots of sheep apparently being herded this late in the afternoon
Aber_Falls_157_09012014 - This was the visitor centre and exhibit area seen next to the trail.  Just further up ahead, there was also a small weather gauge
Aber_Falls_028_09012014 - My hike to Aber Falls just so happened to be right in the middle of a sheep herding roundup so within seconds, I was literally surrounded by sheep
Aber_Falls_030_09012014 - Shortly after the sheep herding, I started to notice Rhaeadr Fach from the main trail to Aber Falls
Aber_Falls_038_09012014 - Looking ahead towards Aber Falls, which also started to come into view this far into the hike
Aber_Falls_040_09012014 - Contextual view of Rhaeadr Fach as seen from the main Aber Falls Trail
Aber_Falls_039_09012014 - Aber Falls or Rhaeadr Fawr seen in context in the distance from the main trail, which appeared impressively tall from this vantage point
Aber_Falls_046_09012014 - Further along the Aber Falls Trail, it seemed like I had passed the sheep grazing areas as I started to notice horses now
Aber_Falls_049_09012014 - Context of the trail leading closer to the Aber Falls
Aber_Falls_056_09012014 - Approaching some fencing which probably was there to protect the area around the Aber Falls from grazing by the livestock
Aber_Falls_059_09012014 - Closer look at the gate fronting the area around the base of Aber Falls
Aber_Falls_060_09012014 - Looking back at the trail that I took to get to the base of Aber Falls
Aber_Falls_072_09012014 - Looking at Aber Falls from up close at its base
Aber_Falls_077_09012014 - Checking out the base of Aber Falls and some smaller cascades further downstream of it
Aber_Falls_079_09012014 - Next, I had to cross this bridge to get to the other side of Aber Falls as well as continue hiking towards the base of Rhaeadr Fach
Aber_Falls_138_09012014 - Another look back at the other side of Aber Falls
Aber_Falls_093_09012014 - Gate marking the end of the Aber Falls area and entering the North Wales Path, which ultimately led to the Rhaeadr Fach on a trail that was much less developed
Aber_Falls_105_09012014 - Looking back at Aber Falls as I approached the Rhaeadr Fach
Aber_Falls_106_09012014 - Looking back towards Aber Valley as I was heading closer to Rhaeadr Fach
Aber_Falls_107_09012014 - The further I went on the North Wales Path, the more Rhaeadr Fach started revealing itself
Aber_Falls_109_09012014 - Finally approaching the base of Rhaeadr Fach
Aber_Falls_112_09012014 - Looking up at the Rhaeadr Fach from near the footbridge in front of it
Aber_Falls_115_09012014 - Broad look at the context of Rhaeadr Fach and some of the interesting cliffs further up its mountain
Aber_Falls_118_09012014 - Context of the Rhaeadr Fach fronted by a footbridge
Aber_Falls_126_09012014 - Taking a closer look at the birds circling above the cliffs next to the top of Rhaeadr Fach
Aber_Falls_129_09012014 - Another look down the Aber Velly from Rhaeadr Fach
Aber_Falls_132_09012014 - After having my fill of Rhaeadr Fach, I got this look at Aber Falls as I was headed back to the car park
Aber_Falls_141_09012014 - Last look back at Aber Falls as I continued heading back to the upper car park
Aber_Falls_142_09012014 - Now that the sun was out during my return hike from Aber Falls, the surrounding mountains seemed to better show off their color
Aber_Falls_145_09012014 - Noticing this horse in the pastures as I was returning from Aber Falls
Aber_Falls_147_09012014 - Approaching some kind of weather vane as well as the visitor centre by the Aber Falls Trail
Aber_Falls_161_09012014 - Returning on the Aber Falls Trail towards the upper car park
Aber_Falls_163_09012014 - Last look back at the trailhead from the upper car park for Aber Falls before returning to the car

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We stayed at Conwy so we’ll describe our driving route from there to Aber Falls.

Leaving Conwy, I went through the town center towards its north end, then I continued going northwest on Bangor Road (A547).

Aber_Falls_003_09012014 - The lower car park for Aber Falls, which was managed by the National Park Authority (Snowdonia National Park)
The lower car park for Aber Falls, which was managed by the National Park Authority (Snowdonia National Park)

After a little over a mile, I got onto the A55 motorway and followed it for roughly 8 miles west to the signposted exit for Abergwyngregyn.

Once I was off the motorway, I continued to go straight at a four-way intersection then onto a narrow road that would take me about 0.7 miles to the Lower Car Park.

This car park was owned by the National Park Authority with a pay and display charge of 2 pounds for the day.

Technically, I could have started from here, and the overall hike would only be roughly 0.5 miles longer round trip than what I ended up doing.

Aber_Falls_164_09012014 - The upper car park for Aber Falls
The upper car park for Aber Falls

However, I decided to keep going past the bridge, then turned right at the next junction to continue the last 0.2 miles to the Upper Car Park.

This car park was owned by the Forestry Commission, but there was the same pay and display car park charge of 2 pounds as well.

This car park had picnic tables and a toilet.

Overall, this entire drive took me about 15 minutes.

Aber_Falls_008_09012014 - The pay and display machine at the upper car park for Aber Falls
The pay and display machine at the upper car park for Aber Falls

For some more context, Conwy was 27 miles (about 45 minutes drive) northeast of Caernarfon, 55 miles (over an hour drive) west of Liverpool, 83 miles (2.5 hours drive) north of Aberystwyth, 192 miles (4 hours drive) north of Cardiff, and 259 miles (4.5 hours drive) northwest of London.

Distant views of both Rhaeadr-fach and Rhaeadr Aber (Aber Falls) from along the trail shortly after I had encountered a large sheep herding operation


Sweep of Aber Falls and the surrounding countryside from near its base


Bottom up sweep of Rhaeadr-fach starting with the downstream view of the trail and countryside then looking up the cliffs towards the top of the companion falls to Aber Falls

Tagged with: abergwyngregyn, snowdonia, snowdon, national park, conwy, gwynedd, rhaeadr fawr, wales, uk, united kingdom, waterfall, rhaeadr fach, goch



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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Aber Falls (North Wales UK) October 14, 2012 5:55 pm by Ruth Williams - It is approximately a 3mile round walk to Aber Falls (Rhaeadr Fawr in Welsh). The path which leads up to the head of the Aber Valley is well maintained and not difficult. On the way there are panels and a small exhibition explaining the ecology and history of the valley which has been inhabited since… ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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