For orientation purposes, head first for Grassington, 16km (10 miles) north of Skipton and 40km (25 miles) west of Ripon. Constructed around a cobbled marketplace, this stone-built village is ideal for exploring Upper Wharfedale, one of the most scenic parts of the dales. In fact, the Dales Way footpath passes right through the heart of the village.
Drop in to the National Park Centre, Colvend, Hebden Road (tel. 01756/751600; www.yorkshiredales.org.uk), which is open April through October daily from 10am to 5pm. From November to March, hours are Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 10am to 4pm. Maps, bus schedules through the dales, and a choice of guidebooks are available here to help you navigate your way. If you'd like a more in-depth look than what you can do on your own, you can arrange for a qualified guide who knows the most beautiful places and can point out the most interesting geological and botanical features of the wilderness.
Sixteen kilometers (10 miles) west of Grassington (reached along the B6265), Malham is a great place to set out on a hike in summer. Branching out from here, you can set out to explore some of the most remarkable limestone formations in Britain. First, it's best to stop in for maps and information at the National Park Centre (tel. 01969/652380), which is open from Easter to October daily from 10am to 5pm; off-season, it is open only Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm. Amazingly, this village of 200 or so souls receives a half-million visitors annually. May or September is the time to come; the hordes descend from June to August.
The scenery in this area has been extolled by no less an authority than Wordsworth, and it has been painted by Turner. You can explore a trio of scenic destinations -- Malham Cove, Malham Tarn, and Gordale Scar -- on a circular walk of 13km (8 miles) that takes most hikers 5 hours. If your time (and your stamina) is more limited, you can take a circular walk from the heart of the village to Malham Cove and Gordale Scar in about 2 hours. At least try to walk 1.5km (1 mile) north of the village to Malham Cove, a large natural rock amphitheater. Gordale Scar is a deep natural chasm between overhanging limestone cliffs, and Malham Tarn is a lake in a desolate location.
Kettlewell lies 13km (8 miles) northwest of Malham and 9.5km (6 miles) north of Grassington. This is the main village in the Upper Wharfedale and is a good base for hiking through the local hills and valleys, which look straight out of Wuthering Heights. Narrow pack bridges and riverside walks characterize the region, and signs point to the Dales Way hiking path.
After Kettlewell, you can drive for 6.5km (4 miles) on B6160 to the hamlet of Buckden, the last village in the Upper Wharfedale. Once here, follow the sign to Kidstone Pass, still staying on B6160. At Aysgarth, the river plummets over a series of waterfalls, one of the dramatic scenic highlights of the Yorkshire Dales.
Hawes -- About 105km (65 miles) northwest of York, on the A684, Hawes is the natural center of Yorkshire Dales National Park and a good place to stay. On the Pennine Way, it's England's highest market town and the capital of Wensleydale, which is famous for its cheese. Trains from York take you to Garsdale, which is 8km (5 miles) from Hawes. From Garsdale, bus connections will take you into Hawes.
While you're there, you may want to check out the Dales Countryside Museum, Station Yard (tel. 01969/666210; www.yorkshiredales.org.uk), which traces folk life in the Dales, a story of 10,000 years of human history. The museum is open April to October daily from 10am to 5pm. Winter hours vary; you'll have to check locally. Admission is £3 for adults, £2 for students and seniors, and free for ages 11 and younger.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.