There are some good public transport links to many parts of the Dales Way, and with careful planning much of the route can be tackle with the use of public transport (See John Disney's article "WALK THE DALES WAY BY TRAIN AND BUS " here). Some of the bus links are limited services and some do not run every day.
Getting to the start at Ilkley is easy with regular train services direct from Leeds and Bradford (timetables available from Network Rail here, or by using the National Rail Journey Planner here ) and Metro bus timetables and Journey Planner.
For bus links in the Yorkshire Dales area, the Dalesbus services are very useful. The Settle-Carlisle railway can be used to link to Ribblehead (near Gearstones) and Dent station (Cowgill, in upper Dentdale).
There are bus links between Sedbergh and Kendal, and both bus and train links from Kendal to Staveley and Windermere (see below).
Getting to Ilkey
Leeds / Bradford to Ilkey: See Northern Rail Route 39.
From Leeds City Centre Bus station: see Metro buses service X84.
See the Dalesbus timetables here. Useful Services include:
72/72R, 72B & X43 - Skipton - Grassington - Hebden/Buckden.
74A & 874 - Ilkley - Grassington - Buckden.
S1 Dent Station - Cowgill - Dent - Sedbergh - Kendal.
S1, S3, S4, W1, Dent – Sedbergh
502, W1, W2, S5 (Kirkby Stephen) - Sedbergh - Kendal
Cumbria bus services
See the Cumbria bus timetables here. The most useful include:
Kendal & South East Cumbria:
45 Kendal - Burneside.
555 Lancaster - Kendal - Windermere - Ambleside - Grasmere - Keswick (passes through Staveley and Bowness).
Penrith & Eden:
106 / 506 / 561 / 570 Penrith - Shap - Tebay - Kendal (goes through Grayrigg).
Train services between Kendal - Burneside - Staveley - Windermere
See Northern Rail Route 38.
Getting back from Windermere
See Northern Rail Route 38 – with connections at Oxenholme for London, Manchester & Lancaster (Connect at Lancaster for Skipton, Shipley & Leeds)
If you are using the services of a baggage courier or holiday package operator, they may also offer personal return transport from Windermere to Ilkey.