I have spent many a day wandering the gorgeous little town of Porthmadog, walking its picturesque harbour and making the most of all the great eateries and outlets to see and explore. But as you explore the town it cannot be denied that there is an ever-present shadow being cast overhead, like a giant watching every move you make - this is Moel y Gest, something that could easily be missed by folks who never take the moment to look around and enjoy the natural skyline around Porthmadog, but something that you should take the time to enjoy if you find yourself anywhere nearby. It may not be for everyone, the route to the summit is a decent challenge, has sequences of scrambles and can be well overgrown on parts, but those who even make it clear of the trees will be rewarded with spectacular views that will be well worth your time. From the lookout point over Porthmadog, over the estuary towards Harlech, across to Morfa Bychan with Black Rock Sands stretching out in front all the way up to Criccieth in the distance and the Llŷn Peninsula beyond - this may only be a hill but the uninterrupted sightlines in all directions make this better than some mountains for its awe-inspiring sights. So let us get you hiking your way to some of the best views for miles around...
Arriving at Moel y Gest by car requires you to find appropriate parking before you set off, the simplest option is to park at the main car park in the town but this will, naturally, extend the walk somewhat. You could try to find some roadside parking somewhere closer to the start of the walk, but remember that a lot of parking in the area along the road is private or business owned and may impose parking restrictions - for simplicities sake, the walk above assumes you park at the main Porthmadog parking and maps a loop through the town but you can adjust based on where you choose to start from. The main car park in town is pay and display, you will want to give yourself a good amount of time if you want to explore, especially if you plan to make your way all the way to the summit and back the last thing you want to be doing is worrying about time all the way round. If you opt to visit by public transport then you can catch a train which drops you only a short walk from the start of the walk, as well as bus stops that can drop you even closer - I'm sure you can easily plan a quick and convenient route that will get you onto the Moel y Gest pathways. The hill has multiple approaches, but for the sake of adventurers passing through I will assume you are starting from the town itself, alternative routes are available including the one we took on our return leg, but there is also another path that ascends closer to the summit of Moel y Gest that originates on the Morfa Bychan side, consider consulting the map above, or an OS map, to find the most convenient route for you before you embark.
Our walk from Porthmadog to the start of our Moel y Gest covers around 0.7 miles, but this is almost entirely flat and gives you a great opportunity to grab any supplies from the fantastic town before you head in. For a North Wales town, Porthmadog is well stocked with some great shops and places to eat, so you can either plan to fill your pack with all of the essentials now or consider stopping on the return leg for a victory reward in the form of a nice bite to eat. Most folks who have visited the town before will be more than familiar with the main road from the harbourfront to the island on the high street, from which we turn left onto the small bypass road that cuts along the retail areas at the edge of the town - you will need to keep walking until you see the petrol station (see the street view below, the petrol station is visible on the right further up the road and the walk can be seen breaking away from the pavement), at which point our walk will cut up the hillside on our left and it is here where we will begin the ascent proper.
Of the two most convenient approach paths on this side of Moel y Gest, the second of which I will discuss on the way down, this is probably the more challenging but also the one that starts closest to Porthmadog town centre. The paths snake their way up the hillside, over rough stone and roots with the undergrowth spilling into the paths for our late-summer visit. We accidentally turned up the difficulty one further, by following a wash created by rainwater instead of following the main path - we could have turned back, but it turned into a great little challenge that cut a nice corner for us. This is a beautiful section of the walk, dense woodlands mean you almost immediately forget that you just left a major A-road and you feel almost entirely lost in the natural wonder of this area - there aren't any views as of yet, but this is a great part of the walk not to be snubbed as something you just get through. Occasionally you may see routes snake off but they tend to be either dead-ends or rejoin again after a little while, for example, the wash I mentioned previously only linked the lower path to the upper path and early in the walk there is a signpost for a marked walk at a junction, you will want to follow this sign as the other way goes nowhere; no matter which routes you select you will almost certainly end up where you need to be, so don't worry about exploring or feeling like you are lost (and of course, you can always use the map above with OS maps or a GPS to be absolutely sure).
Before long you will arrive at a little bit of a clearing, if you were to continue straight then the path begins to descend through a gate, but the path to the summit of Moel y Guest is off to your right and up the rocky path. You could have a peaceful walk just by doing a little loop of the lower woodlands, but I recommend you continue onwards if you are able, at least far enough to see the first viewpoint. That being said, the ascent from here on out can be pretty challenging - for the most part, the route will be rough steps made from the natural stone of the hillside mixed in with muddy sections and a few open grassy areas but there are short sections that may require scrambling, or at the very least careful consideration to pick your route in order to get up comfortably. The scrambling sections are nothing massive, just short sections where you may have to hoist yourself up a rugged section of rocks, and before you know it you will arrive at the first viewpoint. This tiny clearing where the trees finally gave way grants you spectacular views out over Porthmadog, a wonderful opportunity to snap some photos. If you feel like you have seen enough and don't fancy rambling onward then this is a fine time to turn around, otherwise, keep trekking upward to see what you can find next.
By now, you should have a good idea of what to expect on Moel y Gest, what appears to be the crest of the hill will be ever-present in front of you and for a good long while it seems to keep going and going and going... But eventually, the hilltop will break away and you will find yourself on a bit of plateau; out to your left are some great views over Porthmadog and Harlech and in front of you is a wonderful lookout point over Black Rock sands and towards Criccieth and we will naturally explore each of them in turn. You can probably start with the viewpoint directly in front of you first, as this is by far the easiest to reach and the path is the least overgrown. Take a minute to recharge, enjoy the glorious panorama in front of you and when you are ready we will head to the next viewpoint - we aren't going far and this one probably has the best sightlines due to the uninterrupted panorama you are able to capture, but the approach is very overgrown and easy to get turned around on. We certainly did, following a completely different path on our way out to our way back, but it didn't cause us any harm and I would really recommend you check this one out too if you have come this far. Fight your way through the low-lying heathers and ferns until you make your way to some rocks you can comfortably set up on, snag some great photos and then return back to near the previous viewpoint to continue onwards (or of course, retrace your footsteps back if you have had enough).
Now the rest of the walk at Moel y Gest will take you along the top of the hillside and to the furthest reaches from your current location; if you wish to make it to the highest point of the walk then you will have to make it out to the furthest point you can see in the picture above. The direction you need to go should be fairly obvious, from the viewpoints you should have been able to see the rest of the hill extending out to your right, you may want to ascend up to the top of the section you are currently on and then ascend back down or snake your way around, following whichever path is clearest, to begin the final stretch of this walk. Keep your eyes peeled for the route, as when we visited in late summer this was very overgrown in parts but it shouldn't be too difficult to follow as there aren't many alternative options - almost immediately after descending from the first highpoint we cut across a wall and dropped down before beginning to climb back up.
If you do decide to continue on then be warned, the stretches of this route between the dense vegetation can be proper scrambles in parts; the toughest section of this that springs to mind is a good 10-foot drop that you will need to pick your route down carefully and scramble back up if you decide to retrace your footsteps as we did. About halfway to the summit, there is another section you can climb up to your left to get even more views, otherwise, just keep marching onwards until you reach the farthest end of Moel y Gest to hit the final highpoint. I would say this stretch is deceptively slow going, especially when it is as overgrown as it was on our visit, so make sure you have plenty of time to make it there and back again. From the peak, you can wind your way down the hillside and follow an alternative path down the slopes which eventually links up with the road not far out of Morfa Bychan, right around here, but we opted to double back along the route we came for two reasons - firstly, the views were amazing and we wanted to enjoy them one last time, and secondly, we needed to get back to Porthmadog, not only to make sure we didn't run out of parking but the alternative route would have seen us following nothing but a road for the majority of the walk.
Retracing your footsteps back from the summit of Moel y Gest shouldn't be too difficult, just take your time on the aforementioned scrambles, picking your route carefully
and following the path to get back to our original viewpoints. It is
great to watch the views ebb and flow as you move back along the hillside and before you know it you will be returning down the hillside to find your way back to the town of Porthmadog. As you descend you can return all the way back down the route you took on the way up, but as mentioned previously there is an alternative route on this side of the hill, if you turn right at the junction with the gate you can take a little extended loop that descends through dense undergrowth pretty steadily before opening up as it reaches Tyddyn Llwyn Holiday Park. Continue through the park and join up with Borth Road, take a left and from here you are just a short trek back to the town where you will emerge about halfway up the high street and just a stone's throw from the main car park you originated from.
That just about sums up Moel y Gest, a hill overlooking the town of Porthmadog that often gets overlooked as a little adventure destination but one that I will certainly be revisiting in the future. In fact, any time I have some time to kill and find myself in Porthmadog, especially if the sun is shining, you can almost guarantee I will be heading towards Moel y Gest. It offers some of the most spectacular views in the area, something you are likely to remember forever, and can easily be reached from many local settlements so you can use the map above as a reference for where you are likely to start form. The hike up and down Moel y Gest, especially if you take the time to explore and absorb those glorious panoramas, will take up a good chunk of the day but if you are hungry for more then there is plenty of great things to see nearby, including the castles of Criccieth and Harlech that you could see in the distance from the summit, or just explore around the wonderful town of Porthmadog - with its stunning harbour and the estuary of the Afon Glaslyn you are likely to find a full day's adventure all around this great town.