Hiking Ireland: Gap of Dunloe

After a day of mountain biking in the Ballyhoura mountains, I took to the road headed to Killarney, Ireland. It was a miserable day of riding, with a constant cold drizzle making things uncomfortable and a blown out tire 15 km from my destination for the day. Fortunately, I was only about a mile from a general store that happened to sell bicycles, and after walking there they were able to sell me the only 700c tire that they had – an old road tire with cracking sidewalls. It looked ridiculous on my 29er bike, but it got the job done and me to Killarney. Once I arrived, I was surprised to find that all of the hostels in town were booked up, forcing me to go on the hunt for accommodation. Before long, I found a Bed & Breakfast with reasonable prices, and stopped there for the night. I was anxious to rest my cycling muscles, so I decided to spend two nights in Killarney and the next day off the bike.

While eating breakfast the next morning, I met another American, Andy, who was also traveling solo. After talking for a bit, I found out that he was looking for a good day hike much like myself, so we agreed to meet up a little later to carpool out to the Gap of Dunloe, where we would go hiking. I made a quick run to the local bike shop to pick up a better tire for my back wheel, then met Andy back at the B&B. We loaded up in his rental car and set off for the Gap of Dunloe.

The Gap of Dunloe

The Gap of Dunloe is a very well known route and a popular tourist destination. In addition to hiking the route, you can also see it via horse-drawn carriage or by bicycle. We originally planned to hike this route, but after seeing that it would be entirely on a small paved road and filled with other tourists, Andy and I decided to look for something a bit more rugged, and not long after starting we noticed a trail heading out of the valley towards the summit of one of the surrounding mountains. We passed by the sign warning us of the extreme conditions on top of the mountain and began our climb.

Climbing out of the valley.

The trail started out wide and rocky, with a steady climb up the mountain side. After the first couple of switchbacks, the dirt beneath the rocks began to turn into mud, with some large puddles of water scattered along the trail. It became clear that this trail is also the path that runoff water takes from the higher slopes down to the valley. Despite having beautiful sunny skies for our hike, the large amount of rain from the previous day meant the trail was wet and kept us rock hopping through puddles for the entire way up.

After making our way up the climb, we came to a plateau situated between two peaks. The peak to the east was closer and we thought we could see a trail heading up, so we started heading in that direction. There was no real trail here, but since it was open grassland it was easy to make our own path. Surprisingly, the conditions were even wetter higher up than the trail that we took up to this point. Some areas were almost marshland, with soft soil and shallow standing water. My mesh running shoes really made me wish that I had my waterproof hiking boots with me, but when you are on a cycling tour it is impossible to bring everything.

The plateau we crossed, as viewed from the summit. Our initial climb is down the mountain on the left side of this photo.

After a short trek, we found ourselves at the trail that we saw heading to the summit, which was another wide rocky drainage route. We only had a short distance left to climb, and before we knew it we were at the summit where there were two large rock piles and a panoramic view. From this point, you could see many of Ireland’s best features such as the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, Killarney National Park, and back into the valley where we began our hike towards the Gap of Dunloe. We stopped at the summit to soak in the scenery and eat a little lunch, before moving on with our hike.

The view from the top, looking toward the Dingle Peninsula.

Since Andy had to be back in Dublin that night, we decided to head back to the car and not try to reach another peak. We followed the same route down and made quick work of the descent. Once back at the car, we took off back to Killarney where Andy dropped me off at the B&B before heading out of town. Even though we only did a few hours of hiking, the Killarney area has endless options for hikers. It would have been easy to spend the entire day wandering around the hills, but since it was my rest day I decided to take it easy for the rest of the afternoon and prepare to continue my cycle tour the next day, when I would return to ride the Gap of Dunloe before continuing on to the Ring of Kerry.

Descending back into the valley.

Want to read more about my trip?  Read on at mtnbikeurope.blogspot.com.

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3 thoughts on “Hiking Ireland: Gap of Dunloe

  1. Hey Jeanette,

    I just got back to the States a few weeks ago. Ireland definately has the reputation for being dreary, but I didn’t find that to be the case. In the three weeks I was there, there were only three days where it rained throughout the day. About half of the time, there were only scattered clouds and no rain at all, and the rest of the days were cloudy, with two or three short periods of rain (roughly 10 minutes each).

    From what I was told, summer is the best time to go, but there is a chance of it being cold and wet regardless of the season. I was there in August and had pretty good weather. I was also told that the weather is very different depending on what part of the country you are in, despite Ireland’s small size. The southern end of the island (where this hike was) is supposedly dryer and sunnier than somewhere like Galway or Dublin.

    If I were to go back, I would probably plan to go in either July or August. They seem to have the best chances of good weather.

  2. The trail pictured above is the Striking(sp) Trail (pronounced Streeking). My wife and I hiked to the top last month. It is a beautiful hike on a clear day. It is located about .5 kilometers from Kate Kearney’s Cottage. We took a taxi from Killarney to the cottage and walked up the road to the trail head. It is a easy hike and definitely worth it. Make sure to refuel with a Guiness at Kate Kearney’s afterwards.

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