Like ourselves, guest contributor Kirsten Gallagher is a big fan of active travel. Recently, she’s been relating her stories of hiking and practicing yoga in Guatemala, but today, she’s taking us to beautiful Ireland. Come along as she takes us on a hiking adventure through Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains National Park, the country’s largest national park.
We believe that adding a hiking adventure to your itinerary truly enhances the trip. If you’re traveling to Dublin anytime soon, make sure to include this beautiful hiking adventure.
Wicklow Mountains National Park Hiking Tips
On an independent trip to Ireland, if you’re a brave soul willing to drive on the opposite side of the road, consider hiring a car to explore the Irish countryside. In fact, you don’t have to go too far outside the city to find numerous walking and hiking trails.
Take Wicklow Mountains National Park, for example. Only an hour’s drive from Dublin, this national park is Ireland’s largest, encompassing approximately 20,000 hectares of rolling green hills and mountains. It’s the perfect place to experience the natural beauty of Ireland after spending a few days exploring the historic capital city.
Wicklow Mountains National Park gets its name from the county Wicklow in which it resides. More specifically, the park sits within the valley of Glendalough.
Start with advice from the Wicklow Mountains information office
Just outside of the valley is an information office where you’ll find maps of all the possible hikes that you can do in the vicinity. The maps (and the staff at the office) will tell you everything you need to know: how long each hike is, how difficult it is, what the terrain is like, and whether or not you need special gear.
It’s not uncommon for hikers to stay a few days in or around the area (look for lodging here) in order to do several different hikes and take in the varying scenery. As you can imagine, the more challenging, cliffside hikes offer dramatic vistas while the shorter, flatter walks through the forest are easy-going and tranquil.
Perhaps one the best features of the park is its accessibility. Everyone can find a hike that suits them no matter what kind of shape they’re in.
Pay homage to history before starting your hike
With map in hand, you’ll be keen to set out on your chosen walk. But before you do, there’s a medieval monastic village a few steps away from the information office that you definitely shouldn’t miss. This was once the monastery of St. Kevin of Glendalough. The remarkably well-preserved ruins date as far back as the 10th century.
Among them is an impressive round tower standing 30 meters high. Such towers were used to summon the monks to prayer numerous times throughout the day while also serving as a strongholds in times of siege (the monastery was beset by Vikings and other raiders during its early history). The round tower is a landmark that can be seen from afar while hiking the trails, casting a welcome historical shadow over your walk through nature.
Choosing a Wicklow Mountains hiking trail
The starting point for most of the hikes is the Upper Lake, a short distance from the monastic village. The hikes are classified into four categories: easy, moderate, hillwalk and ramble. If you’re a serious hiker, you’ll be more interested in the last two. The hillwalks, the shortest being 5 kilometers (3+ miles) and the longest 11 kilometers (6.8 miles), have steep climbs that lead you up to a boardwalk that affords a lovely view over the majestic Upper Lake.
It’s possible to spot wildlife such as deer and various bird species on these hillwalks. Rambles, on the other hand, weave their way through the more secretive woodlands of the Glendalough valley.
Navigational experience is recommended for many of the hillwalks and rambles. However all the trails are remarkably well-marked and color-coded, which makes keeping track of your whereabouts that much easier.
Finally, for the long-distance types, there is the Wicklow Way, a multi-day 127 kilometer hike (78.9 miles) beginning in the south of Dublin, passing through County Wicklow and ending in the village of Clonegal in County Carlow. The Wicklow Way is best suited to more experienced hikers, of course, while almost anyone can find a pleasingly challenging option among the trails in Wicklow National Park.
Whichever hike you choose—short or long, flat or steep, or rugged or smooth—you’ll certainly be treated to the beauty of Ireland’s natural landscape with its undulating patchwork of green hues.
Ireland is not short on national treasures. Wicklow Mountains National Park is one of the best in all the country. It’s the place where you can work off all the pints of Guinness you’ll drink during your visit to Ireland.
Once you’ve finished hiking, visit the Giant’s Causeway to experience another of Ireland’s treasures.
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