9 of the Best Circular Walks in Essex (with free downloadable maps)

The county of Essex, in the south of England, United Kingdom is large and varied. Spanning 1,417 sq miles, it shares its borders with a number of counties such as Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Greater London and Suffolk. It’s characterized by country parks, ancient woodlands, roman ruins, pretty villages, quiet country lanes, nice footpaths, rural countryside views and 350 miles of coastline (some spanning the Thames Estuary) making Essex extremely varied.

However, Essex seems to be overlooked all too often in terms of what is on offer in the United Kingdom. Whilst it may not boast towering mountains, it also has a lot to offer in terms of walks, beautiful countryside, picturesque villagesand nature based activities. A short journey from London, Essex also presents a great option if you’re looking for a way to get out of the city on a weekend.

Whether you are familiar with the area or not, we’ve put together a whole range of walks in Essex for all interests – from country parks, riverside walking and easily-accessible paths to wilder coastal views, there should be something to keep everyone happy here!

view of salt marsh on the Essex Coast with reeds in the foreground

Walks in Essex overview: map locations and starting points

Things to be aware of when planning your walk

It’s worth noting that many of the walks in Essex that we’ve outlined below can become very muddy after heavy rainfall and particularly in Winter. Riverside walking can be particularly affected with this, especially if water levels have risen from heavy rains. So, it’s worth keeping an eye on what the weather has been doing recently and take good waterproof hiking shoes or hiking boots – our guide to best hiking boots covers 20 to give you inspiration. You may also want to consider hiking poles depending on your walking style – our guide to the best trekking poles goes into more detail of what to look for to help you find a set right for you.

In summer, you can usually get away with much more lightweight walking shoes or trainers, especially in some of the country parks or along some of the quiet lanes but there can still be areas that are muddy in patches (but nothing that you can’t usually walk around). On hot summer days, many of the routes below can actually get extremely hot with little shade, so always try to avoid the hottest sun, take sun cream and plenty of water to avoid dehydration – on a hot day, a good amount to take would be between 1-2 litres per person, depending on the length of the walk.

Epping Forest woodland

Onto the walks: 9 of the Best Circular Walks in Essex

A note about our hiking and walking maps: We use Outdooractive mapping software to provide real time maps of the walks we recommend. You can download the route or print by clicking on the maps below, or open direct onto Outdooractive by clicking at the bottom of the pop up window. You can also search for the route name as written below to find the route on the Outdooractive map itself. If you don’t already use Outdooractive, they have various plans based on your needs, however they offer a free plan which allows you to create and save offline maps. We always recommend downloading a map for offline use, as due to locations, you cannot always guarantee reception and coverage.

#1 Dedham Vale and Stour Valley Path walk

Distance: 7.6km
Elevation: 52m ascent, 52m descent
Starts from: Dedham
Approximate Postcode: CO7 6DH

With some of the most picturesque views of all the walks in Essex we’ve outlined here, this circular trail really is a great route. After a drive down chocolate box country lanes, you’ll be starting from the village of Dedham itself, with numerous paid for car parks. The village itself is lovely, and feels like quintessential Essex life. This walk takes you on a gorgeous Essex countryside meander past Flatford Mill andDedham Vale. Shortly after leaving the village of Dedham along quiet lanes, you’re into open countryside with rolling fields and open views before walking through open farmlands, ancient woodlands and past pretty houses and cottages along quiet country lanes. As you arrive near the Essex Way and Dedham Health, you start to take in the River Stour as it meanders back to the village. Due to its profile, this walk has relatively flat footpaths in terms of elevation but the actual paths can be uneven and muddy at times, especially after heavy rain. This is an especially lovely walk for towards the end of the day, and particularly when blackberries are in season (you’ll find a lot along the way). This circular stroll can also be extended as the Essex Way runs close to the trail. We’d say for the sense of variety, this is one of the best walks in Essex and Dedham Vale is beyond picturesque.

For those interested in watersports, there is also an area just down onto the River Stour from the parking where you can hire canoes and paddleboards as well as lessons being offered. There is also a fantastic fresh water wild swimming spot just before you cross the bridge back to the car park – a large swimming pool style area in the River Stour near Flatford Mill is deep enough to swim with a gravel bank working like a beach for entry into the water. Be mindful to stay as far away from the weir as possible and avoid after heavy rain when there is likely to be strong currents and possibly even flooding.

There’s also plenty of places to eat and drink in the nearby villages once you’ve finished and if you’re going to be in the area for any amount of time, we’d recommend checking out Dedham Vale Vineyard. Dedham Vale Vineyard has a whopping 40 acres of vines, beautiful woodlands and rolling farmland on the edges of Dedham Vale itself. Check out the Dedham Vale Vineyard website here.

#2 Hanningfield Reservoir walk

Distance: 4.3km
Elevation: 25m ascent, 25m descent
Starts from: Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Reserve
Approximate Postcode: CM11 1WT

From nearby Chelmsford and Billericay this walk starts from the Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Reserve car park which is managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust. At the time of publishing, parking is free. On site, there is a café, shop, picnic areas and the Essex Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre which is well worth a look at. The area has the feel of a country park – it’s a lovely place to spend some time. The walk itself takes you along the shore of the reservoir, where you may get to spot an abundance of wildlife with a wide variety of animals and birds. You’ll also have the potential to visit a hide along the way as you walk through wonderful mixed woodland. Due to its length and relatively flat footpaths, this could be one of the best walks in Essex if you’re wanting to be that bit gentler, if you’re with children or your mobility is at the forefront.

If you fancy a longer distance trail, there is the option to walk around the entire reservoir which has really nice views, turning the walk into 18.9km, with 136 of ascent and 119m of descent along good paths and quiet country lanes. The longerwalk even takes in some of St Peter’s Way, a 45 mile walking route taking in the Essex countryside all the way to Chipping Ongar. We’ve included an option for the longer walk below the shorter version.

Looking for other United Kingdom hiking and travel ideas? We’ve got you covered, click on our guides below to discover more:

#3 Wivenhoe and the River Colne walk

Distance: 6.3km
Elevation: 30m ascent, 30m descent
Starts from:Wivenhoe Train Station
Approximate Postcode: CO7 9DJ

Interestingly, the River Colne and the Colne Valley was famous for its woolen and cotton cloth production in the past and was actually regarded as some of the finest produced anywhere. This walk starts from Wivenhoe Train Station in the town centre, which takes roughly 1 hour 10 minutes from London Liverpool Street Station making this an ideal weekend walk to get out of the city to spend some time by the River Colne. There is also ample parking at the station too. This peaceful strollpacks in a lot, nice views, serene quiet time and the River Colne is clearly the heart of the story; you’ll get to take in plant life, sailing boats, the heart of Essex life as well as interesting woodland and stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The River Colne itself is beautiful and has an abundance of wildlife in spring through to summer. If you’re looking for a shorter distance trail and enjoy riverside walking, this may well be the one for you.

cows in a field with clover all around in Dedham Essex

#4 Hadleigh Castle and Two Tree Island walk taking in the Thames Estuary

Distance: 16.1km
Elevation: 87m ascent, 90m descent
Starts from: Benfleet Train Station
Approximate Postcode: SS7 1NF

This fantastic route is just a stones throw away from London on the train, with trains running frequently from Fenchurch street making this a great weekend walk in nature away from the city. There is also paid for parking at Benfleet train station too. A pleasant stroll,which is particularly nice in the morning or early evening when the trails are less busy. Just across from neighbouring Canvey Island, this walk takes you to the ruins of historic Hadleigh Castle with beautiful views of the rolling countryside and Benfleet Downs. After a visit to Hadleigh Castle, you’ll then meander towards Two Tree Island with great views across the Thames Estuary along the England Coast Path. This is a really varied walk and in our opinion one of the best walks in Essex due to its nice views and accessibility via public transport too. As an alternate option to make the walk shorter, and if you’d just like to take in Hadleigh Castle and Two Tree Island, it’s also possible to start from Leigh-on-Sea station, which also has regular train service from Fenchurch Street in London and ample parking too. If you would like to make the walk even shorter, you can also park at one of the two car parks at Two Tree Island Nature Reserve itself, run by Essex Wildlife Trust where there is parking for 30 cars, postcode SS9 2GB.

Swimming from Dedham Vale on the River Stour Essex

#5 Potton Island, Rochford and Lower Raypits Nature Reserve walk

Distance: 10.2km
Elevation: 42m ascent, 47m descent
Starts from: Canewdon near Rochford and Ashingdon
Approximate Postcode: SS4 3PG

A relatively short drive from the market town of Rochford, this walk starts from Lambourne Hall Road and takes you along low lying public footpaths with minimal but beautiful landscapes. This walk is best enjoyed on a clear, sunny day to make the most of the Lower Raypits Nature Reserve half way into the walk where you’ll get to experience a remote area with an abundance of wildlife. Along the Essex seawall out to the North Sea, you’re likely to spot wildfowl and waders roosting in large amounts over the winter. This area is also a fantastic opportunity to see saltmarsh in action – an absolute climate superhero and important to our natural flood defense system along the Essex Coast line. In late spring and summer, you can expect to see things like sea lavender and various other salt marsh plants. The walk also boasts pretty flat footpaths which make this a great accessible trail. This area can feel quite desolate, but it also has a wonderful charm to it with nice views of the surrounding area – one of the walks in Essex we’d really recommend trying!

#6 Ambresbury Banks from Theydon Bois walk

Distance: 14.5km (but can be made into a shorter variant of around 10km)
Elevation: 108m ascent, 108m descent
Starts from: Ivy Chimneys
Approximate Postcode: CM16 7EU

Certainly a longer distance trail of all the walks in Essex we’ve recommended. This is a great route that can easily be reached from Epping Station or Theydon Bois Underground Station on foot (adding a small amount of distance to the overall trail) making this incredibly accessible as a day walk from London. If you do decide to drive, there is a paid for car park at Theydon Bois Station and there is also on street parking in the local area around the trail – though we’d advise it best to park in the station car park. Very soon into the walk, you won’t feel like you just left a train station – as you’re into Epping Forest very quickly.. This is one of our favourite walks in Essex as it really does feel like it has it all – ancient woodlands and earth works (Ambresbury Banks), rolling hillside and there’s even a deer sanctuary with fabulous views along the way. In fact, some of the most ancient forest in the area can be found around here. If you want to make the walk shorter, you can cut inland on the route just near the country park like Copped Hall Estate, taking the walk down to about 10km along intersecting public footpaths and quiet lanes. This Epping Forest walk is particularly pretty in the evening as the lower light starts to settle into the trees and on the open hills you’ll get to see. If you’re looking for other walks in Epping Forest, this walk is part of our Epping Forest trails guide.

If you’re also looking for longer walks that can completed over a series of weekends or days for example, you could also look at The Essex Way. The Essex Way is a longer distance walking trail consisting of 81 miles starting from Epping and finishes at the port of Harwich passing through Constable country. For more information about this and other long distance trails in the area, check out the LDWA website.

Woodland walk in Essex

#7 Essex Bumbles Walk From Bumbles Green

Distance: 10.3km
Elevation: 115m ascent, 121m descent
Starts from: Bumbles Green near the town of Waltham Abbey
Approximate Postcode: EN9 2SD

A relatively short drive from Waltham Abbey town centre, this walk starts from a small parking area called Bumbles Green, but don’t let the ‘small’ bit fool you – there is ample space to park for this route. A beautifully varied walk through farmlands, along pretty public footpaths, rolling hills, mixed woodlands and even to an obelisk for a higher viewpoint and stunning views over the area. This walk is relatively exposed, so on a hot day, it’s advised to take sun cream and something shady to wear. Once you leave Bumbles Green, you’ll find this walk incredibly peaceful and not so often tread, so you’re likely to get a sense of peace and quiet here. It may not be mostly flat footpaths along this walk like some of the walks we’ve outlined, but the footpaths are certainly well trodden here! There are also some lovely areas to sit and take in the scenery on this walk, so it would be a lovely one to bring a picnic and relax. Due to it’s location, this walk forms part of our guide to the best walks in Epping Forest, so if you’re in the area, be sure to check it out for more inspiration. If you’re also looking for some ideas of other adventure based activities to do in the nearby area, we’d recommend checking out Lee Valley Park. Lee Valley Park has a lot going on in terms of adventure activities from white water sports, ice skating, a number of watersports, cycling as well as a number of walking routes itself through Lee Valley Park – it’s well worth checking out their website for further details (check out the Lee Valley Park website here).

#8 Naze Tower and Nature Reservewalk

Distance: 6.4km
Elevation: 25m ascent, 25m descent
Starts from: The Naze Nature Discovery Centre
Approximate Postcode: CO14 8LE

This walk starts from Naze car park, where you’ll find ample parking. A short distance from here is the Essex Wildlife Trust’s visitor centre and café. Naze tower sits just past you at this point – an interesting structure sitting 86ft in height, its worth visiting and climbing the steps to the viewing platform in summer. Aside from Naze Tower, this walk is a reminder of just how delicate the natural places we have around us are – it’s very far from the feel of some of the more manicured country parks. There is also the chance to spot seals, if you’re lucky – it’s worth speaking to the visitor centre to see if there are any restrictions in place. Overall, this is a fantastic walk around one of the best beaches near Colchester with mostly flat footpaths that will have you trying to search for fossils on the beach and looking at wonderful views from the cliff top. Be warned though – on windy days, due to its exposed nature, this area can become incredibly windy but walks in Essex don’t get much better than this.

trees in winter with low winter light in Essex

#9 Mersea Island and Cudmore Grove Country Park Walk

Distance: 12.4km
Elevation: 36m ascent, 36m descent
Starts from: East Road car park, East Mersea
Approximate Postcode: CO5 8UW

One of the iconic walks in Essex on Mersea Island this trail starts from a free car park on East Road in East Mersea near Cudmore Grove Country Park. East Mersea is a whole lot different to West Mersea with its offerings of cafes and lively restaurants. East Mersea offers something a lot quieter and arguably wilder, from salt marshes spanning across the landscape to rolling and gentle farmland carving out the landscape. It’s very doable to walk around the whole island in a day, but there is also a shorter option to walk around the east from the country park for a much quieter experience.