The section from the river's source to around Addingham is known as Upper Wharfedale and lies in North Yorkshire and in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The first 15 miles or so is known as Langstrothdale, including the settlements of Beckermonds, Yockenthwaite and Hubberholme, famous for its church, the resting place of the writer J. B. Priestley. As it turns southwards, the Wharfe then runs through a green and lush valley, characterised by limestoneoutcrops, such as Kilnsey Crag, and woodland, generally quite unusual in the Dales.
Below Addingham, the dale broadens and turns to the east. This section is shared between North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire and includes the towns of Ilkley, Otley and Wetherby. The northern side of Lower Wharfedale, opposite Ilkley, Burley-in-Wharfedale and Otley, is in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.