The hill is the site of one of the most important prehistoric monuments in the region—a massive hillfort built in the Iron Age, around 400 BC. It was the approximate location of the attack of the Scots in a major victory Battle of Old Byland they defeated the forces of King Edward II and John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond.
Because it faces the prevailing westerly winds, Sutton Bank has been used for ridge soaring since the early 1930s for the sport of gliding. The Yorkshire Gliding Club is based at the top of the hill.
Also at the top of the hill is the Sutton Bank National Park Centre, where a high-tech Lime & Ice exhibition tells the story of how the iconic landscape and view came to be through the dramatic action of ice age glaciers. There is also an official tourist information centre, a tea room and a gift shop. Outside, there is a car park, from where pushchair and wheelchair friendly paths leading to a viewing platform, which offers views of Roulston Scar, Hood Hill, Lake Gormire and beyond. There are many legends about Lake Gormire, one of which is that there is a submerged village beneath its waters.
There are lots of other walking trails close by, including southwards to the popular White Horse of Kilburn. The 110-mile (177 km) long Cleveland Way National Trail crosses over Sutton Bank. It includes a spur to the White Horse of Kilburn.
The North York Moors National Park Authority has developed new cycle trails, which use a mixture of natural and man made trails similar to those found in a purpose built trail centre. Using the same style of trail marking, the mountain biking trails available are:
- 'Cliff' - 3 mile green mostly level, circular off-road cycle trail for families that in part follows the famous cliff edge. The trail opened at the end of 2013
- 'Fort' - 9 mile blue trail with 361m ascent/descent (70% stone, 30% natural surface) runs out past the site of the Iron Age fort at Boltby Scar. A shorter loop of 6 miles avoids the ascent/descent and is suitable for families. The Fort route also includes part of the Cliff Trail along the cliff edge.
- 'Paradise' - 17-mile 'red' trail, making use of existing bridleways that have been upgraded but are shared with walkers and horse riders.
There is also a purpose-built bike skills area and a new cycle centre, Sutton Bank Bikes, offers cycle hire, training and skills courses, a bike wash, repair and servicing and a fully stocked cycle shop.
Sutton Bank is an official Dark Sky Discovery Site, one of two in the North York Moors.