Wales has three of the most beautiful National Parks in the UK and all within a few hours drive of each other. Cheap car rentals from Bristol, Cardiff and Manchester airports allow visitors to visit each of the parks and take full advantage of their activities in the great Welsh outdoors.
The Brecon Beacons in South Wales is reached by the A470 from the north and south and the A40 from east and west. This beautiful range consists of sandstone peaks, sparkling lakes, rushing rivers, and fern filled gorges. Outdoor pursuits of every kind can be undertaken, from walking, cycling and horse riding across the hills, to caving and climbing on the peaks and gorges and of course sailing, canoeing, boating, fishing and swimming in the waters of the park.
For walkers, The Beacons Way, winding for 96 miles, affords some of the most fabulous views of the park but the Visitors Centre has a range of organised walks and routes to follow.
Equine enthusiasts will find five dedicated pony trekking and horse riding centres across the park. All provide experiences from 20-minute taster rides to daylong hacks through the mountains, and cater to all ages and levels of experience.
Water lovers are spoiled by the many choices in the Brecon Beacons, from the sailing club at Lake Llangorse to the canoeing clubs on the Usk, Wye and Monmouthshire Canal. The Wye and Usk Foundation have a fishing passport to try different river locations for coarse fishing, while some reservoirs and mountain rivers are plentiful with salmon and brown trout for game enthusiasts. Wherever you fish, be sure to get a rod license from any post office or online.
Tear yourself away from the activities of the Beacons and head west on the A40 for just under 70 miles and follow the B4313 north to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park which covers some 240 square miles of stunning coastal landscape. In addition to the walking, cycling, horse riding and boating to be experienced in all the parks, here you can add diving and surfing to the mix. There are boat dives and shore dives to be enjoyed as well as the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve, one of only 3 in the UK.
Enjoy the beaches, rock-pools and cliff top walks and swimming in the sea, but take care to swim at life-guarded beaches only as advised by the RNLI.
For the biggest Park experience of them all head north up the west cost on the A487 to the most famous park and home to the tallest mountain in England and Wales.
Snowdonia covers 823 square miles of mountains, lakes and rivers. Mount Snowdon is 3,560 feet tall and over 300,000 visitors a year climb to the summit either by foot or by the Snowdon Mountain Railway. A visitor centre sits at the summit, recently rebuilt to withstand the harsh conditions of the winter. Snowdon is the most mountainous of all the parks and walks and cycling are more strenuous and the canoeing more exhilarating.
There is also a wealth of castles and fascinating history to accompany the routes you take through this, the oldest of the parks, completing your tour of the great Welsh countryside.
Linda Endersby is a freelance writer and bookseller who, following 19 years in IT for a large airline, loves to write about the places she and her friends have visited.