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Hiking in Ireland: What to Expect

Posted on Aug 13, 2018 by Siobhan McDonald

Thinking about exploring Ireland’s Great Outdoors? Here’s what to expect when you’re hiking in Ireland!

It’s always good to prepare before you travel, especially if you’re planning to explore the outdoors. Find more information about hiking trails in Ireland, terrain, Irish national parks and more.

Hiking Trails in Ireland

Hiking trails in Ireland

Hiking off the path and following sheep trails in northern Donegal.

  • What to Expect

Surely you’ve heard the term ‘off the beaten path’ meaning deviating from the traditional tourist circuit and discovering a little-visited area. We strive to take all of our trips off the beaten path to explore a more ‘authentic’ Ireland.

Yet when hiking in Ireland, it’s even more than ‘off the beaten path’ – it’s usually off the path entirely! Unlike most countries, the vast majority of paths are on private lands, and are maintained by the local farmers and landowners, which means that the state of the trails can’t be guaranteed.

Often the paths are little more that tangled sheep trails or sometimes nothing at all – there is a trailhead and a summit, and it’s up to the hiker to find the best way to navigate through the bog or heathland. While going off piste to hike off the trail is frowned on in the USA and beyond, this is considered normal and even best practice in Ireland.

  • How to Prepare

Before starting your hike, be sure to do plenty of research on the area where you plan to hike, and that you have the right OS maps for the area and navigational tools. In the case that the way may be open to the public, but no trail is marked and you want to leave map reading to the professionals, it’s best to hike with an expert wilderness guide.

Terrain

Hiking the rocky terrain of the Burren in Co Clare.

  • What to Expect

Going off that, when hiking in Ireland, you never know what kind of terrain to expect. Much of Ireland is muddy and boggy. The terrain is usually very uneven. Depending on where you are, expect different kinds of terrain: for example, in Donegal, Connemara and Mayo, expect mud and bogland, in the Wicklow Mountains expect heathland and heathery hills, and in the Burren expect a craggy, barren landscape.

Even roads are often quite uneven, and usually very narrow so watch out for cars when walking on pavement. On the west coast of Ireland, be sure to take into account the wind factor, especially while biking along the coast, or hiking in Ireland’s open, exposed landscapes or summiting hills.

  • How to Prepare

You’ll need the right boots – waterproof, comfortable, well worn in. Weigh the pros and cons of ankle support or low-cut models. Make sure that you’re used to walking on uneven terrain by adding in such days to your training plan or daily activities back home. Don’t try to cram too many miles in one day hiking in Ireland as our uneven terrain will make the going slower than normal – this way, you can aim for quality hiking over quantity.

Irish National Parks

Diamond Hill Connemara

Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park.

  • What to Expect

In Ireland, we have 6 national parks:

  • Connemara National Park – Co Galway
  • The Burren National Park – Co Clare
  • Glenveagh National Park – Co Donegal
  • Killarney National Park – Co Kerry
  • Wicklow National Park – Co Wicklow
  • Ballycroy National Park – Co Mayo

In comparison to the massive and wild North American national parks, Irish national parks were established relatively recently and are much smaller and tamer. In fact, trails within Irish national parks are the most maintained trails in all of Ireland! Chosen for their beauty and uniqueness, they are often very accessible, with a visitor centre, car park, and facilities. For true wilderness, we often have to look beyond the national parks.

Besides Ireland’s 6 national parks maintained by the government, the National Waymarked Trails association maintain over 40 Irish trails around Ireland, including the Dingle Way, the Wicklow Way and the Kerry Way, as well as other shorter hikes. Ireland’s forestry service agency, Coillte, maintains another 12 forest parks as well as 180 recreational sites throughout Ireland.

  • How to Prepare

If you’re visiting one of the national parks, expect crowds as these are Ireland’s most accessible wild spaces. It’s best to come early in the day – early morning sunlight or even better, plan your visit irein the shoulder season like early spring or autumn, both of which are amazing seasons to visit Ireland (wildflowers in spring, golden-covered heather and bracken in the autumn).  But the best way is to hike Ireland’s national parks with a guide, who will take you to the park or surrounding region’s lesser known corners, often meaning deviating from the well-worn trail.

More About Hiking in Ireland

Rights of Way… or not

  • What to Expect

Unlike in Scotland and across Scandinavia, there are no “Rights to Roam” or “Every Man’s Right” that would allow hikers access to roam on any land public or private.

Instead, the majority of the waymarked or signposted trails in Ireland cross private land, and are only signposted for hikers with the agreement of the landowner(s).

  • How to Prepare

Do your research! If you’re planning on hiking off the trail (as in, outside of a national park or nationally owned forest, it’s important to stay up-to-date with any changes in what trails are open to the public. If you’re not sure where you’re allowed to hike, it might be best chose a guided trip with a wilderness guide.

Trail Conduct 

Sheep in Connemara

Sheep in Connemara

As most of the hiking you’ll do in Ireland is on private land – often used for farming or grazing – it’s important to follow and respect the unspoken rules.

Hike at your own discretion. Rules of thumb for hiking: don’t hike alone, make sure someone knows your plans, have plenty of supplies with you, bring a map as well as a Garmin or similar device. Best practice while hiking in Ireland is to hike with an experienced mountain guide. And of course, make sure that the farmer or landowner has opened their land for hikers! All hiking is done at your own discretion, as the state of trails or terrain cannot be guaranteed if you’re off public land.

Always close a gate, even if you find it open. Just because you see a closed gate, doesn’t mean you can’t go through it, especially if it’s on a country lane. But do make sure you close it behind you, even if you found it open. These gates are meant to keep livestock within a certain area and leaving the gates open will only mean future headache for the farmer and potential danger to his livestock.

Never walk your dog off lead if sheep, cows, or other livestock are present. Farmers technically have the right to forcibly remove any animals that are threatening their livestock. While you can take you dog with you while hiking in Ireland, be aware of your surroundings. If you’re on private farmland and you see or think livestock might be present, keep your dog on its leash.

Do not approach any livestock. Though these animals are domesticated, most livestock in Ireland – notably sheep – live in relatively wild conditions, and approaching them could be dangerous.

Respect the land. It seems obvious, but avoid walking through people’s yards or pastures, avoid moving any tools or equipment you see, and respect the terrain below your feet! That way, the farmer will keep letting hikers traverse his lands.

Leave no trace. Another obvious one, but always remove any trash, even if it wasn’t you who brought it. Best practice is to bring a plastic bag for waste.

What to bring when hiking in Ireland

Hiking in Ireland

Things to bring when hiking in Ireland

In your daypack, bring: water, food, extra clothes for the journey home such as a dry t-shirt and fleece, dry socks, and a new pair of shoes to change into. Waterproofs are a must, such as a jacket with a hood, waterproof over-trousers and a backpack cover. Plastic bags to store wet clothes in will make your life easier and vehicle cleaner for your return trip. And most importantly, wear good, comfortable and waterproof hiking boots!

If you’re looking for more details about what to pack in Ireland, read our blog on what to wear when you’re planing a hiking trip to Ireland. 

Ready to get hiking in Ireland? Check out a few trips below.

Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

Hiking Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coastal Route
Location: Northern Ireland – Giants Causeway & Belfast
  • Hike iconic Irish landscapes including UNESCO World Heritage Site the Giant's Causeway, Slieve League Cliffs & Glenveagh National Park
  • Walk Ireland's most northernly peninsula and Star Wars filming location, Malin Head, where mountains meet sea.
  • Hike through Donegal, voted National Geographic's Coolest Place on Earth in 2017
  • Island hopping to Rathlin Island, in search of myths and puffins

Price: from €1,710

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Hiking the Mountains of Connemara and Mayo

Hiking in Connemara
Location: West – Connemara, Burren & Aran Islands
  • Challenge yourself by summiting three of the west of Ireland's highest peaks
  • Join local guides who will help you to really get under the skin of this fascinating landscape
  • Follow in the steps of St Patrick as we follow ancient pilgrimage routes that date to pre-Christian times
  • Explore the wildest and most sparsely populated area of Ireland

Price: from €1,710

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Hiking Connemara to the Cliffs of Moher

hiking Connemara and the Burren
Location: West – Connemara, Burren & Aran Islands
  • Stand at the edge of the world atop the Cliffs of Moher
  • Island hopping adventure to Irish-speaking Aran Islands
  • Explore Connemara's wild mountains, bogs and and windswept vistas
  • Hike the Burren National Park to explore its exposed limestone landscape

Price: from €1,795

View Trip Details

Hiking - Dingle Way

Hiking the Dingle Way on the Dingle Peninsula, Wilderness Ireland
Location: South West – Cork & Kerry
  • Hike the Dingle Way, Ireland's most scenic long distance hiking trail
  • Explore a corner of Ireland once called the 'most beautiful place on Earth' by National Geographic
  • Meet local characters, listen to live traditional music and taste the delicious local food of Dingle

Price: from €1,795

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Hiking The Kerry Mountains

The Ring of Kerry hiking
Location: South West – Cork & Kerry
  • Summit some of Ireland's highest mountains including Irelands highest peak, Carrantuohill
  • Listen to live traditional music and eat the best of food while staying in authentic accommodations
  • Traverse Ireland's southwest peninsulas of Dingle and Iveragh in the majestic Kingdom of Kerry

Price: from €1,995

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Sea Kayaking & Hiking Adventure - Sligo

Introduction to Hiking & Sea Kayaking Adventure
Location: North West – Donegal & Sligo
  • Enjoy an introduction to a new way of experiencing the world, a new sport and a new way to travel; sea kayaking
  • Explore the coves, estuaries and lakes of Ireland's wild hidden gem, Sligo
  • Hike local mountain trails and coastal routes with your expert Wilderness Ireland Guide

Price: from €1,795

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Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry

Skellig Islands tours, Kerry, hiking and island hopping in Cork and Kerry
Location: South West – Cork & Kerry
  • Guided gentle hikes & island hopping along the spectacular coastline and islands of southwest Ireland
  • Climb Skellig Michael, UNESCO World Heritage, and now a Star Wars filming location
  • Explore remote islands where the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) culture & tradition is still strong

Price: from €1,795

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Hiking the Wicklow Way

Hiking the Wicklow Way - Glendalough valley and lakes
Location:
  • Hike the best of the famous Wicklow Way in Ireland's Ancient East
  • Discover the magic of the ancient valley and monastic city of Glendalough
  • Visit Powerscourt Estate & Waterfall, rated among Top 10 Gardens of the World
  • One night's stay a deluxe eco-lodge & celebratory final night in Dublin

Price: from €1,795

View Trip Details

About the author

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Siobhan McDonald

Siobhan has been guiding trips in Ireland for many years and loves nothing more than sharing the best parts of her country with our guests.

Read more articles by Siobhan


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