Winter Hiking: The Essential Info

Before we jump into our list of 6 must to hikes in Munster, 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 Munster: 

1. A hike

Coomloughra Horseshoe

Distance: 12.5 km (Allow 5-6 hours)

 

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A different Carrauntoohil hike! We think this is a great way of taking in Ireland’s highest peak while avoiding the crowds on the devil’s ladder or the zig-zags. We did this route clockwise. Starting at the base of the hydro track on the west side of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks you head up the steep hydro track, turning off before you reach Lough Eighter. The climb up to the ridge from here is quite challenging but ensure you take your time as you have a lot left to go! Follow the ridge to Beenkeragh.

The proceeding section of the hike is the most challenging, the bones ridge. This section of the hike is manageable to most hikers but if you have a fear of heights you may find a few sections scary. Do not proceed if you are uncomfortable or not confident. The summit of Carrauntoohil will wait for you next time. If you do get past the ridge, enjoy a well deserved break on the summit of Ireland before continuing back down.

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Bad Weather Option: We would advise against this route if the weather isn’t good. Perhaps try one of the other routes mentioned below!

5 of Killarney’s Most Stunning Hikes

2. A climb

Mount Brandon

Distance: 12 km (allow 3-4 hours)

Standing at an impressive 952m, Brandon is a must climb mountain for any avid hiker. Brandon sits on the stunning Dingle Peninsula and offers views, (on a good day!) over the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Magillycuddy’s Reeks to the south east. The route we recommend is an out and back that begins on the west side of the mountain at a small car park. Follow the main trail up, as you round the corner 2km in you will be greeted by what we consider to be one of the nicest trails in the country.

This stunning trail contours the side of the hill perfectly and feels like it belongs in the Alps. Arriving at the lakes at the top of the valley you will be confronted with what resembles a cliff. This climb is not for the faint of heart as you gain approximately 170 meters of elevation in about 200 meters. The trail is manageable but can be quite loose underfoot, so good footwear and hiking experience is essential. Turn left when you reach the top and enjoy the relatively flat hike up to the summit of Cnoc Bréanainn!

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Bad Weather Option: If the weather is poor we would recommend turning back once you reach the lakes at the end of the valley. This route is incredibly well sheltered and as a result it can be challenging to predict what the weather will be like on the summit. We would recommend erring on the side of caution and trusting the weather forecast. You will have already walked the nicest part of the route in our opinion.

3. A walk

Gleninchaquin Park

Distance: 3km (allow 1-2 hours)

 

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If you want a short, sweet and stunning walk to do with family or friends the Gleninchaquin loop could be exactly what you are looking for. A very manageable walk for most with enough climbing to satisfy the hardcore hiker. The route we recommend is a 3km loop around the waterfall. This is for sure one to do if you are staying in the Kenmare area.

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4. A family friendly walk

Torc Waterfall

Distance: 5 km for full hike (allow 2 hours)

A short 10 minute drive (or 20 minute cycle) from one of the centers of adventure in Ireland, Killarney, is Torc waterfall. It is totally up to you how much of a walk you want to do here. We have attached a link to a 5km route. It takes in the challenging but short “cardiac hill” , a notoriously steep (but very short) stepped climb. The views over Muckross Lake that you are awarded with at the top make it well worth it. The entire route is in forest, this offers great shelter and makes this a great alternative walk if the weather is not good. If you just want to see the waterfall itself before spinning back into Killarney for lunch, the waterfall itself is a short (300 meter) walk from the carpark.

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5. Favourite Forest

Glenshelane Forest

Distance: Varied

 

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The Glenshelane forest walks consist of one linear and three looped walks. The blue route is 2km long, the green is 3km, the red is 10km, and the purple is 2.75km. The extensive network of forest roads, trails and bridges means you can while away the hours exploring nature. Look out for red squirrel and mink plus there is a noted salmon spawning area upstream.

It’s up to you to decide what route best suits!

New Looped Forest Walk Coming to Kerry

6. Honorable mention

Coumshingaun

Distance: 7.2km (allow 4 hours)

 

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A challenging and satisfying hike that deserves to be on the top of any hiking route list. We think that this is possibly the best hike in the country for a few key reasons.
We did the walk clockwise.

The hike begins in Kilclooney Wood car park and the first few kilometers are through this lovely woodland. Emerging from the Woodlands the trail ramps pretty suddenly up a grassy slope onto the ridge. This is quite challenging and on a wet day good hiking footwear is essential! The ridge itself is quite similar to to the Bones ridge near Carrauntoohil, with a few relatively exposed sections. We would not recommend tackling this hike if you are inexperienced or if the weather is bad. The climb is very much worthwhile. When you get to the top the trail flattens out and you are met with the stunning views over Coumshingaun lough (hopefully!) For the next 3 or 4km of the hike! This flat section is quite similar to what you might experience on the top of Lugnaquilla in County Wicklow!

Bad weather route: If once you emerge from the woodlands you’re out of time or the weather turns we would recommend hiking to the shore of the lake and back.

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By Matthew McConnell

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