Last Updated on December 21, 2023
Ireland is a paradise for hiking; a hill walker’s very own Eden.
From trudging to the top of the highest mountain, Carrauntoohil, to visiting the Sunday mass atop Croagh Patrick. Sure, there’s no Everest, but where else can you enjoy a cool pint of Guinness after a tough days’ climb?
If you’re looking to experience Ireland’s most magnificent climbs, here are some of the best it have to offer.
- Coumshingaun Lough Loop–County Waterford
- Glendalough–County Wicklow
- Croagh Patrick–County Mayo
- Cuilcagh Mountain Boardwalk–County Fermanagh
- Hellfire Club–County Dublin
- Cave Hill–Belfast, County Antrim
- The Great Sugarloaf–County Wicklow
- Carrauntoohil–County Kerry
- The Twelve Bens–County Galway
- Gap of Dunloe–County Kerry
Coumshingaun Lough Loop–County Waterford
The Coumshingaun Lough Loop is a four-hour walking route. Lough is Irish for lake, and as the name suggests, this trail will lead you directly up to and around the Coumshingaun Lake. The views from the top are spectacular and make for an unparalleled experience.
Believe it or not, in the past, the lake was used for cold water training by competitive endurance swimmers. Today, however, you’ll more likely find hikers cooling down.
The loop is one of the most popular trails in the South East, located in the Comeragh Mountains in Waterford. Waterford is known as the Viking Triangle and is also worth a visit if you are interested in history and culture. If you are looking to get to Coumshingaun from Dublin, it is roughly a 2.5-hour drive.
Parking is free and easily accessible from the road, but on a nice day tends to fill up quickly; it’s best to arrive early to beat the crowds.
Following the trail for about five to ten minutes you’ll walk through a forest, then through a gate and across a stream. From here there’s an option to go left or right; both are great routes.
There are great rock-climbing opportunities, and if you know where, there’s even ice climbing in winter for the really advanced climber!
It’s worth noting that at the top of the loop it becomes mostly bog, so having waterproof footwear is recommended.
A much closer trail to Dublin is Glendalough, a glacial valley in the Wicklow Mountains renowned for being one of Ireland’s most beautiful places to visit. Glendalough originates from the Irish Gleann Dá Loch, which translates to “valley of two lakes”. For years visitors have been drawn here by its stunning views and spectacular history.
There are nine marked trails in Glendalough, taking hikers from half an hour to four hours to complete. There are three Spinc trails (Red, Blue, and White) all starting from the steps of the Poulanass Waterfall. Some trails start directly from the Poulanass Waterfall; the shortest route is the Poulanass and St. Kevin’s Cell (Bronze Route), this trail is only half a mile long and guides you through the woodlands to the Upper Lake. There’s also the Lower Lake Boardwalk trail, the green trail. This starts on the Green Road.
For those who are up for a challenge, there’s the Spinc and the Wicklow Way (Red Route). This trail is seven miles long, climbs 1500 feet, and takes roughly four hours and 15 minutes to complete.
Another advantage of this hike is the abundance of history and culture in Glendalough. Monuments and lakes in Glendalough are open year-round. Monastic sites, like the churches and round tower, are free. However, there is a small charge of about $4.75 for the parking lot at the Upper Lake and the visitor center.
Croagh Patrick–County Mayo
Croagh Patrick is one of the most famous mountains in Ireland. The name originates from the Irish Cruach Phádraig which means ‘the hill of Patrick’ in honor of Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick. Croagh Patrick local nickname is ‘the Reek’ meaning ‘stack’. This comes from the tradition of stacking turf and hay, resembling the silhouette of the mountain.
At the mountain’s base is Log na nDeamhan, or the Serpents Hollow. Legend has it this is where St. Patrick banished snakes from Ireland.
The Croagh Patrick hiking trail is considered to be a moderate, bordering on tough, hike of 4.3 miles. This is one of Ireland’s most popular hikes; over 1 million people have summited. On the last Sunday in July, roughly 25,000 people climb Croagh Patrick for ‘Reek Sunday’. Mass is held at a tiny church built by locals in 1905.
The trail is filled with loose stones so hiking boots are recommended. While the trail is tough the views of Clew Bay make it worthwhile.
Cuilcagh Mountain Boardwalk–County Fermanagh
Cuilcagh is a mountain on the border of County Fermanagh and County Cavan. Over the past few years, this walking route has become increasingly famous through social media.
Nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven, the route follows the blanket bog in Northern Ireland. It crosses over tracks, a boardwalk, and the renowned staircase. The boardwalk was originally built to protect the landscape.
The Cuilcagh Way stretches about 20 miles, but it is broken into shorter sections for walkers and hikers. The trails have magnificent scenery no matter which route you follow. The stairway is at the very end of the Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail, so be prepared for a difficult climb before you experience the breath-taking views.
There are two options for parking. The parking lot at Cuilcagh Boardwalk is privately owned and has a fee. Half a mile past the entrance, there is a parking lot at Killykeegan Nature Reserve where parking is free.
Hellfire Club–County Dublin
Hellfire Club is in the Dublin Mountains on Montpelier Hill. This is a popular day out for those visiting Dublin; there are a range of short forest walks that provide views of Dublin city.
What makes this destination unique are the old folklore and ghost stories associated with it! Legend has it the Hellfire house has seen many unnerving events and even some brief manifestations of the Devil.
The most common story is that he arrived to play a game of cards with the men of the building only to burn the entire place down to the ground. Not only are there references to the devil, but the house was reportedly built upon ancient tombs adding to the foreboding and eerie atmosphere. For obvious reasons, this walk is most popular around Halloween.
Cave Hill–Belfast, County Antrim
Alternatively, if you find yourself visiting Northern Ireland, Cave Hill in Belfast is a great day out. The Cave Hill Country Park has spectacular views of Belfast city. This is also the perfect day out for families as the park contains an adventure-filled playground for little ones. There are also archaeological sites, gardens, and orienteering routes too.
The name Cave Hill stems from the five caves found beside the cliffs. In addition to the gorgeous scenery, this walking trail comes highly recommended to visitors of all ages and fitness levels as it is not as physically demanding as some of the other hikes listed. All the same, this hike takes roughly three to four hours to complete.
The Great Sugarloaf–County Wicklow
The Great Sugar Loaf Mountain is impossible to miss as it completely takes over the horizon on the drive from Dublin to Wicklow. This mountain stands out from the others mainly due to its defined pointy shape. Believe it or not, but this is how the mountain earned its name. The mountain rises from the ground just like a pile of sugar, particularly when covered in snow during the winter months.
There are two routes to take, one for casual walkers and the other for more advanced hikers. The short walk starts from the parking lot and is clearly marked to the beginning of the path. The longer route takes roughly two and a half hours. This walk starts in Kilmacanoge village.
Carrauntoohil is the tallest mountain in Ireland at 3400 feet. It is set in the Macgillycuddy Reeks range in Kerry. The Macgillycuddy Reeks are Ireland’s tallest mountain range with 27 individual peaks to summit. This is certainly one of Ireland’s toughest climbs, but entirely worth it with the views from the top.
Carrauntoohil is a more advanced hike, requiring some experience and physical fitness. There is a great selection of routes to choose from as the range covers 38-square-miles; different peaks suit different abilities. If you’re up for the challenge, Carrauntoohil offers three main routes up the mountain.
The first route is the Devil’s Ladder. This is the most popular of trails as it’s the quickest route at 7.5 miles, taking four to six hours. This is quite a tough trail to follow due to its steepness and loose rocks.
The second route is Brother O’Shea’s Gully. While slightly longer at eight miles, this route is becoming increasingly popular as it’s a safe alternative to the Devil’s Ladder. Starting on the same trail, you diverge at some steppingstones on the river. Once again, it’s recommended to take extra caution due to the abruptness of the mountain’s gradient and the scattering of loose chippings.
The last possible route is the Caher route. This trail is roughly 8 miles long. Thought to be one of Ireland’s most stunning ridge walks but quite challenging. For this reason, this route is recommended only for those with experience and a strong fitness level.
The Twelve Bens–County Galway
One of the most stunning experiences in Connemara is hiking the Twelve Bens, also known as the Twelve Pins. The hike is located in Connemara National Park in County Galway, in the West of Ireland. The name stems from the Irish word binn, meaning peak; the Twelve Bens are 12 peaks.
The most popular loop is Glencoaghan Horseshoe Walk, roughly 10 miles around that takes eight to nine hours to complete. Be prepared for a full day out with this one. This hike is one of the toughest Ireland has to offer; there are plenty of guided hikes provided locally.
Gap of Dunloe–County Kerry
The Gap of Dunloe is one of the most famous landmarks on the Ring of Kerry. Similar to Carrauntoohil, the Gap of Dunloe can be found in the MacGuillicuddy Reeks mountain range.
The river that flows through the Gap is the River Loe. This is where the name comes from. The Gap starts at Kate Kearney’s Cottage. There’s a famous ‘Wishing Bridge’ relatively close to the cottage. They say that any wishes made here really will come true!
The Gap of Dunloe is around seven miles long. Some visitors choose to cycle rather than walk. It makes a good, challenging day’s exercise by bicycle. Other options include purchasing a tour with a local tour company. This is a great day out; you can have a full day of exploring including a two-hour hike, a boat tour, and even a horse-drawn wagon journey.
Special to BookCottages.com by Donal Lucy.