Nidderdale is located on the eastern flanks of the Yorkshire Pennines stretching from the high moorland of Great Whernside south and east towards the edge of the Vale of York.
The area is crossed by deep pastoral, often wooded dales of the Washburn, Laver, Burn and the long majestic dale of the Nidd itself. Reservoirs add a further dimension to the beauty of the dale. Rich, rolling and wooded pastoral scenery, with stone settlements like Lofthouse and Kirkby Malzeard, contrast with bleak heather moorland which is broken by craggy gritstone outcrops, including the curious shapes of Brimham Rocks. To the east, in the wooded pasture lands of the Skell Valley, stands the internationally renowned and much visited Studley Royal, with the picturesque ruins of Fountains Abbey.
The landscape is dominated by its millstone grit geology giving it a typically dark, sometimes sombre appearance which is reflected in the stone of buildings and walls, in the heather moorland and in the characteristic grasslands that occur on this type of formation. Glaciation and the differential resistance to weathering of the sand, shale and gritstones produces some of the most dramatic features such as cut off crags on valley sides and wide U-shaped valleys. This is in contrast with the pastoral landscapes of the dales and upland fringes running down to the dale.
Hamlets and villages built in local stone contribute greatly to the character of the area.