Winter Hiking: The Essential Info

Before we jump into our list of must-do hikes in Leinster, there are a few things to bear in mind when it comes to hiking in Ireland in the winter:

Weather Conditions If it is going to be treacherous you would be better off playing it safe and staying low.

Daylight – Winter days in Ireland are definitely long enough to get a good hike done in daylight hours, however, if you are running behind schedule you may want to change your route to an easily navigated route. 

Changeable conditions – As all outdoor enthusiasts know the weather can change unexpectedly, especially on the hills. For this reason, in some of the routes below we will suggest an alternative route which will be an easy way back to your car if the weather deteriorates or if night falls. These should not be relied upon but are good peace of mind.

We have included links to the routes discussed for the must-do hikes and climbs below. If you are not confident using a GPS device or a map and compass we would advise sticking to the “Walk, family-friendly walk, or favourite forest” recommendations. 

6 of the best winter walks in Leinster: 

1. A Hike

The Wicklow Way

Distance: 129km (5 – 7 days)

Ireland’s oldest waymarked trail is the mighty Wicklow Way. It which stretches from Marley Park at the foot of the Dublin mountains all the way to Clonegal over the stunning Wicklow mountains. Those that complete the “thru-hike” generally take 5-7 days to complete it! There are many places to stay along the way including hostels, B&Bs and mountain huts as well as many places to wild camp. If the week-long adventure seems a bit overwhelming, fear not, you can tackle the hike in smaller, more manageable stages. This is a great way of enjoying the hike without having to carry as big a bag! If you want to know more about this trail, check out the hiking duo, Tough Soles’ blog all about their experience on the Wicklow Way!

View this route

Wicklow way race graham bushe
Wicklow way race Graham Bushe

2. A climb

Tonelagee. Lough Ouler

Distance: 7.8km (allow 3 hours)

This has become an increasingly popular route due to the unique heart-shaped lake! This is an achievable hike for all intermediate hikers and is very worthwhile adding to anyone’s list. It begins at the car park above Glenmacnass Waterfall. Once you cross the river, head up the main trail towards Tonelagee NE top. There will be a short descent (and photo break) before hitting the main climb up to Tonelagee summit. We would advise resisting the urge to get a photo of the lake at this stage as the cliffs are quite treacherous especially in winter conditions.  At this point, you can continue back the way you came, or if you are confident with your directions you can head down the other side of Lough Ouler. Follow the Brook River down towards the road, turn right and follow the Glenmacnass River parallel to the road back to the car park.

View this route.

We would absolutely advise getting a pre or post hike sandwich, soup or coffee in Clodagh’s café in Laragh!

3. A Walk

Greystones Cliff Walk (with a twist!)

Distance: 13km (allow 3 hours)

If you have the urge to get outside but don’t want to venture too far from civilization this is a brilliant option, with lots of great coffee and food options!

The route we are recommending is not the standard out and back to Bray. This route includes two small summits both which offer great views over the sea and the Wicklow Mountains. Beginning in Greystones and head along the Bray Greystones cliff walk which is well signposted along the coast. Just before you descend into Bray take a left-hand corner heading back up the hill on steps. The climb up Bray Head is short but steep and good hiking footwear is essential as it can be quite slippery. Continue along the main trail the other side of Bray Head admiring the views. If you wish you can make a short 800m detour to the top of Bray Head Hill before heading back down to the main Bray to Greystones cliff walk trail.

View this route.

Needless to say, there are loads of good pre or post-hike food and coffee options in Greystones!

The Best Looped Walks in Dublin

4. A family-friendly walk

Glendalough Upper Lake Loop

Distance: 3 – 5 km (1-2 hours)

Even in winter, the magic of the Glendalough Valley is staggering. If you are lucky, you may even get the valley to yourself in winter. A family stroll from the carpark along the main trail to the upper lake and back via the monastic settlement is a great way to spend a few hours. There are loads of places to get food and coffee in the area also!

Family friendly walks
Image: Giancarlo Onofrio

5. Favourite Forest

Dunmore Wood (colloquially known as the Leafy Loop)

Distance: Varied

This is a beautiful deciduous forest loop along the River Nore in the heart of the Midlands. This walk can be as long or as short as you like. There are about 19 km of trails that weave through the woodlands. We would recommend parking in the “New Line” carpark and going for a wander!

If you are in need of a pre-walk coffee or a post-walk feed, we would recommend going to Polly’s which is the cute spot situated in an old train station that does great coffee and woodfired pizza!

Image: Laois Tourism

6. Honorable mention

Carrickgollogan, Barnaslingan and the Scalp Wood

Distance: 3 – 8km (allow 1-2 hours)

This walk is easily accessible from Dublin city center on public transport (the 44 bus) and is one of the most scenic walks in Dublin. The view from the top of the Scalp Wood out towards the Sugarloaf makes the effort of the climb well worth it. If you are feeling adventurous you can descend the other side into Barnaslingan woodland. There is an old chimney in Carrickgollogan wood (about 200m up the road)  which provided the draw for a lead smelting plant that was in the valley. If you look around in the forest below the “lead mines” you can still find the old flue shaft!

View route from the carpark

View route from bus stop

If you want to read more about the history of this site you can read more information here!

Family Friendly Walks Ireland
Image: Failte Ireland & Tourism Ireland

By Matthew McConnell

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