Lightwater Valley, Ripon, North Yorkshire review
In a nutshell
A family-focused theme park with more than 40 different attractions. It caters for toddlers through to teens, offering gentle rides and animals encounters as well as plenty to keep the adrenaline fiends happy
What we tested
- Fun for kids
5.0A star rating of 5.0 out of 5.
- Fun for parents
4.0A star rating of 4.0 out of 5.
- Worth the money
4.0A star rating of 4.0 out of 5.
4.5A star rating of 4.5 out of 5.
- Family friendliness
5.0A star rating of 5.0 out of 5.
- Attractions for all ages, ticket prices based on height, friendly staff, plenty of picnic areas, accessible grounds, plentiful baby changing, free parking
- Almost exclusively outdoors, food outlets mostly junk food, difficult to reach on public transport
COVID-19 safety update
Some facilities and attractions may be closed or restricted this year, due to COVID-19 – and there may be extra safety rules, pre-booking requirements or one-way systems in place. Please check Lightwater Valley's website before travelling or booking.
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When we visited:
On a sunny Sunday in the summer school holidays
What’s Lightwater Valley like since Covid-19?
- Tickets must be booked online
- In line with Government guidelines, all rides and attractions including the indoor soft play areas have now reopened as well as the indoor dining areas
- Lightwater Valley has reviewed all of their rides and attractions and now offer a family day out tailored for the under 12’s. This does mean that several of the larger thrill rides have been removed or are not operating, including The Ultimate, Raptor Attack, Wild River Rapids and Black Pearl
- The Show Barn entertainment will be temporarily paused and The Ultimate will not operate in 2021
- Lightwater Valley encourages customers to continue to wear face masks however this is not mandatory
- If you or anyone in your household has a temperature, or is showing any other signs of Coronavirus, please stay at home. If you have already booked your tickets, Lightwater Valley will be happy to re-schedule your visit for a future date
- Guests are encouraged to continue keeping 2 metres apart where possible when queuing and exploring the park
- Hand Sanitiser stations are available throughout the park and in catering and retail outlets
- Staff will continue to maintain higher levels of cleaning and sanitising
What age is Lightwater Valley best for:
Best for: Children aged 4-14 year olds
Still good fun for/manageable for: Toddlers aged 2-3 years
For more family-friendly theme parks, take a look at our roundup of the best UK theme parks.
How much does it cost?
- Online prices: Adult ticket (14 years +) £16.50, child ticket (4-13 years) £16.50, 3 years and under free
- Summer of fun prices: Adult ticket £18.50, child ticket £18.50
Are there discounts or cheap tickets available for Lightwater Valley?
Yes – at the time of publication, Picniq was offering up to 40% off. It’s also possible to trade in Tesco Clubcard vouchers for credit towards the cost, but not for concession tickets.
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Is it good value?
For a family of 4, with 2 children aged 4 and 7, you’d be looking at about £70-80 for entry. It’s a treat but not an eye-wateringly priced one and you get plenty for your money. Rather unusually, pricing is based on height rather than age (although under 3s go free), which means the cost is proportionate to the number of rides you can enjoy. A very fair system, especially if your kids are smaller than their peers!
Any extra charges once I’m there?
The only extra charges are £3 for the Jurassic World golf and the shoot-to-win games.
There are 4 gift shops with a fairly standard selection of toys and trinkets. Two are located quite near the exit but are pretty easy to avoid.
How long will we spend at Lightwater Valley?
It’s a full day out so try to get there for opening time and make the most of it. If you live fairly locally, consider paying extra for season tickets as there is plenty to do for all ages and you won’t do on everything in one visit.
What does Lightwater Valley offer for families?
Lightwater Valley bills itself as “the ultimate family adventure” and has been offering thrills to families in Yorkshire for the last 30 years. While most theme parks tend to offer a cursory nod to the younger members of the family, Lightwater has 40 attractions that cover all the age groups.
My husband had been on school trips and had fond memories of riding on The Ultimate but this was my first time and we did worry our toddler would be bored. However, he had a blast.
What shouldn’t be missed?
Highlights for us were:
- The Lightwater Express train that runs around the park lake
- Eagles Creek Farm tractor ride with real animals
- Our toddler loved the pristine soft play
- There are also mini diggers, outdoor playgrounds, a carousel and the Birds of Prey Centre to keep his age group happy
- For older kids and adults, there’s a huge choice of exciting and terrifying rides, like The Ultimate, Raptor Attack (which was renovated from the park’s first ever ride, Rat Rollercoaster), Eagle’s Claw, Apollo and Black Pearl
- There are plenty of smaller rides in between too, plus Swan Boats, Skate Karts and Jurassic Adventure Golf (for an extra £3.50 per person)
How easy was the overall day?
Aside from the range of things to do, one of the reason it’s so great for family trips is the accessibility of the site, the abundance of baby changing and loos, and the frequency of food and drink outlets (although there are probably a few too many Polar Krush adverts for my liking).
Also, it is cleverly laid out, with each area having a mix of rides so that everyone can be occupied but stay close together.
It’s mostly outdoors though, so one for dry weather rather than a rainy day (unless you are brave types!).
What to bring:
- Make sure you have sun cream and raincoats as the most of the park is outdoors
- There is a fair bit of walking so a pushchair is advisable – there are plenty of buggy parks and the train ride has a carriage for buggies
- Cash – most places take debit cards apart from the games stalls and Jo’s Café, and while there are cash machines, there is a £1.85 charge. So bring a bit of money with you
- There are 2 water rides so a change of clothes (or a waterproof poncho!) is sensible too
- Don’t worry about having to cart everything around all day though – you are allowed to go in and out to your car
What are the queues like at Lightwater Valley?
We visited on a sunny Sunday in the school holidays and were pleasantly surprised by the lack of queues. We walked straight in at 10.30am and the only two queues we encountered were for The Ultimate (around 5-10 minutes) and to get lunch in Eats & Treats (an agonisingly hot 20 minutes).
However, friends with three children aged 8, 4 and 12 weeks visited a couple of weeks before us on a Saturday and reported a 50-minute wait to get through the entrance gate at 10.30am. They said there were short queues for most rides and a 20-minute wait for The Ultimate.
I suspect it is luck of the draw but my feeling is that you won’t get excessive queues like the huge theme parks, and you won’t be queuing for the toddler and pre-schooler rides.
What is the Q Buster, and is it worth it?
- VIP tickets are available for £35 (£32 in advance) and include two Q Buster passes, each one allowing you to access priority entry to a ride of your choice
- The park sells Q Buster tickets at certain busy times of year, subject to availability, but you can’t purchase them in advance
- Aside from The Ultimate, most rides are unlikely to have long waits so it’s probably not worth spending the extra £10 for that reason alone, although you do get a photo and a meal deal
Animal encounters – are they worth it?
Yes! We loved the Birds of Prey Centre, which houses a wide collection of owls, eagles and hawks, plus other animals such as lizards, rabbits, marmoset monkeys and the super cute new prairie marmots (a type of squirrel). We caught the daily birds display at 3pm and my son was absolutely enraptured by the owls, despite being massively overdue a nap. The handler was extremely knowledgeable as he spoke to the crowd and it was a nice contrast to the excitement of the rides.
The park offers Hawk Walks or Owl Experiences for anyone wanting to get really close up. These cost an extra £25 per person and need to be booked in advance.
The other element for animal lovers is Eagle Creek Farm, a short ride where you sit in a tractor on a rail and travel around a farm with real goats, chicken and so forth. You don’t get especially close to them but it was charming and we went around twice in a row!
What you need to know before you go to Lightwater Valley:
- Check it’s open! The park is seasonal and often not open on weekdays
- Book your tickets ahead of time to save cash – and make sure you measure your kids to ensure you pay the right price
- You can filter the rides by height on the website, so you can see which ones will be suitable. It saves you having to figure it out from the map or as you walk around on the day
- I’d definitely do a bit of research on the attractions ahead of time. There are more than 40 and it can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know the layout, and means you can target your favourites first
- There are lots of seasonal special events too so it is wise to look into those so you can time a trip to coincide or avoid them!
- Be aware the Treetopnets is next door but it’s a separate attraction to Lightwater Valley
- Arrive before the gates open to avoid the initial rush (we didn’t experience this but friends have) or wait until a little later
- The Lightwater Express is just delightful and a good way to get from one end of the park to another but be aware there could be a 15-20 minute wait and there is no sign to tell you what time it will arrive
- Wild Water Rapids will get you wet so bring a change of clothes just in case. Splash Falls is less so, you can probably survive with a waterproof coat or poncho
Was it pushchair friendly?
There is a fair bit of walking so a buggy is recommended and there are spots to park them. We used a BabyZen Yoyo which folds up into cabin bag size and has a shoulder strap, so we could take it onto some rides very easily, but the Lightwater Express train has a carriage to store buggies, while the tractors at Eagle’s Creek Farm have a storage shelf on the back.
What are the food and drink facilities like at Lightwater Valley?
These are plentiful, with a couple of large restaurants such as Eat ‘n’ Treats and Hungry Harbour, plus cafes like The Coffee House and Jo’s Café, and smaller spots serving just coffee or ice cream or sweets. They are nicely spread around the park, meaning you don’t have to walk for miles to get lunch, with plenty of seating and quite a few highchairs.
However, I felt the quality was fairly average and the menus dominated by fast food like burgers, pizzas and chips.
My son loves veg and none of the kids’ options came with anything that wasn’t beige, apart from a lunch box with sandwiches and snacks on sale at Hungry Harbour. Even the jacket potato was with cheese and beans.
The prices aren’t too inflated (sandwiches from £2.95) and most outlets have meal deals for adults (£6.95) and kids (£4.95).
Rather unfortunately, we found ourselves buying food at Eats ‘n’ Treats which has a glass roof and was like a greenhouse as we queued for 20 minutes to get two very poor chicken burgers and some veggie bites and chips for my son (which he promptly rejected).
In hindsight, we should have walked to the opposite end and gone to Jo’s Café, which has a more extensive menu (albeit all-day breakfast and fish fingers) and is hidden away by the soft play and visitor information desk, so was super quiet whenever we passed it. Be aware that it only takes cash.
The soft play also has a café selling hot and cold drinks, plus snacks and hot dogs if you need a sit down or an escape from rainy weather.
What about ice creams?
There’s a Carte Dor stand near the carousel. If you have kids with food allergies or intolerances, it sells Swedish Glace, which is made with soy and free from dairy, gluten and lactose, so they don’t have to miss out.
Can you take a picnic?
Yes, and there are plenty of picnic benches around the park. We’d recommend bringing your own picnic and just buying drinks and snacks – there are lots of spots to sit and enjoy a picnic, although nowhere indoors.
What are the toilets like?
There are 4 toilet facilities spaced around the park, each with an accessible toilet and baby change, plus 1 inside the Jurassic World golf area.
There’s also an additional baby change room near the soft play and playground, close to the entrance and exit. They were all basic and a bit tired looking but perfectly fine.
Pushchair/wheelchair access and special needs:
- There are accessible paths throughout the park, with ramps and step-free access into all of the cafes
- Each toilet block has an accessible toilet too
- Disabled ticket prices include entry for a carer in the cost (£24 on the day, £20 in advance) Assistance dogs are welcome
- Download the disabled visitors’ guide from the website, explaining in depth about the rides and what is involved
Any quiet spaces for children who don’t like crowds?
We found the park pretty spaced out with lots of quiet spaces and quiet rides that would be good for children who are overwhelmed. The staff are also incredibly helpful and friendly
Opening dates and times:
Lightwater Valley’s opening times are seasonal. The park usually opens around the Easter holidays and closes after October half-term. As well as the weekends, it is open on weekdays during the peak summer months and school holidays only.
Lightwater Valley opens at 10am but closing times may vary so be sure to check the website in advance.
How to get to Lightwater Valley:
Lightwater Valley is in the North Yorkshire village of village of North Stainley
- Drive if you can
- Lightwater Valley is just outside of Ripon and 8 miles from junction 50 of the A1 (M)
- The theme park postcode will get you there fine – HG4 3HT
- It’s possible but complicated to reach by public transport – the nearest train station is Thirsk, 16 miles away
- From there you need to get two buses, neither of which run on Sundays or Bank Holidays
Do you have to pay for parking?
Parking is free and right next to the entrance, with plenty of overspill fields.
Worth a long car journey?
It’s not a ‘must-see’ but it’s a fantastic option for anyone within an hour’s drive or who is visiting the area already.
Which hotels or holiday accommodation are near Lightwater Valley?
There are plenty of family-friendly cottages and hotels in North Yorkshire, including:
- For special occasions, stay at luxury castle hotel Swinton Park, 20 minutes from the theme park – there’s even a spa to relax in after your day out
- The Black Swan Inn is also popular with families, with scenic views of the Dales
- For a home-away-from-home feel, look for deals on HomeAway.co.uk and Sykes Cottages
- Find family-friendly hotel deals near Lightwater Valley on Booking.com
Nearby attractions for a longer day out:
You’ll find a range of family-friendly attractions in the area, starting with Ripon Treetop Nets Yorkshire, right next door to Lightwater Valley. There’s also Thorp Perrow Arboretum, 15 minutes in the car, with a vast collection of shrubs and trees and the chance to meet meerkats, wallabies, pygmy goats and Shetland sheep. Flamingo Land is just over an hour's drive away.
We were pleasantly surprised by Lightwater Valley. Visiting with a 2 year old, we were worried about keeping him occupied but there was a great mix of options for his age group and no tantrum-inducing long waits. And it will only get better as a day-out destination as he gets bigger and can do more things.
What we were especially impressed with was the range of activities for all children, making it a great option for families or groups with toddlers through to teens. There’s even a couple of rides to keep thrill-seeking parents happy too.
I felt it was good value and while I wouldn’t travel a very long way to visit, our 1-hour drive was worth it.
Visit the Lightwater Valley website
See more reviews of Lightwater Valley on TripAdvisor
Intro to you:
I’m a mum-of-1 and visited Lightwater Valley on a sunny Sunday in the summer holidays with my husband and 2-year-old son
Alex is the former deputy editor of Prima Baby, and mum to 2 boys.