Winter Hiking: The Essential Info

Before we jump into our list of 6 top hikes in Connaught, 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 Connaught: 

1. A hike

Mweelrea Loop 

Distance: 18 km (allow 6-7 hours)

 

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Mweelrea is Connaught’s highest peak. There are a few routes up to the top of Mweelrea. This route is difficult but it is definitely one that should be on the list of any avid Irish hiker. It offers stunning views over the Atlantic Ocean and Killary Harbour. However we do not recommend attempting this route in poor weather. The route starts and finishes at the car park at the southernmost end of Doo Lough. We completed this hike anticlockwise. This results in having the road section at the end, if you would prefer to get the road section out of the way at the beginning feel free to complete it clockwise!

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Alternative route. Outsider, Killian Andersen climbed Mweelrea last summer. “I took the route from Silver Strand beach which was very boggy even in the sun so good footwear is essential. It’s a tough hike but a rewarding one, especially when you finish up at the beach and get to cool off with a swim.”

View the Silver Strand route

2. A Climb

Benmore – Croaghan  

Distance: 10km (allow 4-5 hours)

This is definitely one for the bucket list! It is up there in the top hikes in the country in our opinion! Starting and finishing at the stunning Keem Bay, this route takes in some of the most impressive views of the Atlantic Ocean you’ll ever see. 

We must say, however, that this route should not be attempted in poor weather. If the cloud is low not only will you miss out on the views but navigation will be extremely challenging. High winds would also make us discourage giving this one a go as the sea cliffs are quite exposed. 

If you are blessed with a nice sunrise or a crisp winter day this is a spectacular route. The climb up from the bay to the lookout post is steep and can be slippery in wet conditions so good hiking footwear is essential. Take your time along the sea cliffs and take the views in! The climb up Croaghaun is long and steep (about 2km with 400 meters of elevation gain)

This is a tough enough hike but is one to remember, so bring plenty of water, plenty of snacks and make sure your camera battery is fully charged!

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3. A walk

Killary Fjord Loop

Distance: 14km (allow 3-4 hours)

 

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If you are after a more sheltered coastal walk perhaps consider a walk around Ireland’s only fjord. This relatively flat walk follows the shore of the fjord along the old green road. This walk serves as a good substitute if the weather is poor on a day you were considering climbing Mweelrea as they are relatively close to each other. The promise of food in the Misunderstood Heron or dinner in the Leenane Hotel makes this walk extremely worthwhile.

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4. Family Walk

Moore Hall Forest 

Distance: Varied

 

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On the shore of Lough Cara in a small deciduous woodland stands a bit of Irish history. Moore Hall takes its name from the aristocratic Irish family who built the estate in the 18th century. Several of the members of the Moore Family played major parts in the social, cultural and political history of Ireland. This impressive building was burnt down in 1923 by anti-treaty forces during the Irish Civil War as the Moore family was viewed as pro-Treaty. If you would like to read more about the history of the Moore Hall Estate you can read more here.

There are a few kilometres of woodland trails that now surround this historical building that are an excellent way to spend an hour or two.

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5. Favourite Forest

Clonbur Forest Walk

Distance: Varied

 

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On the shore of Lough Mask there is a small town called Clonbur. The quintessential Galway pub Tí Burca (or Burkes) is home to “the best club sandwich in Ireland” (according to Outsider’s Matthew McConnell) which is very high praise but in order to best enjoy this epic sandwich and a Cidona which is, according to Matt “an essential” you must first go for a walk around Clonbur woods. There are many kilometers of trails that stretch from the shore of Lough mask all the way to Ashford Castle on the shore of Lough Corrib. The route we recommend takes in the Pigeon Hole Cave, Ballykine castle and the pub that serves the best club sandwiches! 

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6. Honorable mention 

Tourmakeady Forest

Distance: Varied

 

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This small forest plays host to one of the nicest waterfalls in the country. Just a short 800m from the carpark the Glensaul river tumbles over a small cliff where there is a bench and viewing platform. This is a great place to sit and admire the beauty of nature, with the knowledge that your car is only 10 minutes away. We would recommend getting coffee in Cafe Glas or a pint in O’Tooles in Tourmakeady to complete your day out. 

By Matthew McConnell

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