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The International Appalachian Trail Ulster-Ireland starts from the beautiful Slieve League cliffs in Donegal and finishes up in Larne, Co Antrim. This cross-border trail is 449km (279 miles). The trail is relatively unknown among the Irish, but after reading this article, you’ll be in no doubt about wanting to visit one of the most diverse and epic walking trails in Ireland.
The International Appalachian Trail (IAT) Ulster–Ireland starts from the magnificent sea cliffs at Slieve League and stretches 449km all the way to Larne in Co Antrim. The trail was launched in 2013 and goes through some of the most stunning locations that Donegal and Northern Ireland have to offer. Lovers of short and long walks, of geology and history, of flora and fauna will all find something that will forever cement the IAT Ulster–Ireland as one of the standout walking trails in the country.
The trail, which is Ireland’s only official coast to coast walk, can be tackled in either direction and walkers can dip in to enjoy short sections of trail which feature points of interest, or, in keeping with the Appalachian theme, attempt longer sections – or even the entirety of the trail, and savour the challenge of traversing some of the country’s most amazing landscapes.
There has been significant investment in trail, including trail furniture, artwork installations, improved facilities and updated information panels. The trail has also developed its own social media channels for followers to get a taste of the IAT Ulster–Ireland experience, including a popular section on their Instagram page known as “Tales from the Trails” which looks at short facts or snippets of history about different sections of the trails.
Find out more: IAT Ulster-Ireland
The IAT Ulster-Ireland has been broken down into smaller, more manageable sections. We’ve got tonnes of information here to help you choose which section you’re going to tackle first and you’ll find more information at IAT Ulster-Ireland.
This section starts on the beautiful Wild Atlantic Way at the Slieve League cliffs in Co Donegal. The route takes you through Glencolmcille to Ardara, and ends at Glenties. This section incorporates part of the Bluestack Way between Ardara and Glenties.
Distance: 68km (42 miles)
Difficulty: Hard. This section of the IAT Ulster–Ireland trail is one of the hardest. It involves many steep climbs, boggy and rocky trails, and difficult descents. Parts of the trail are along quiet roads. The mountainous sections can be very difficult. However, the views are worth the intensity. Donegal is beautiful.
Points of interest:
Places to stay:
Find out more: Walk NI – Bunglas to Glenties
This section of the route takes you across the border and into Tyrone in Northern Ireland via the beautiful Bluestack Mountains and Lough Eske.
Distance: 55km (34 miles)
Difficulty: Moderate. This section offers a mix of rocky, boggy and on-road trails. It can be very boggy and waterlogged in places after heavy rainfall. Although there are some areas that offer a steep climb, they are nowhere near as challenging as the climbs in the Bunglas to Glenties section.
Find out more: Walk NI – Glenties to Killeter
This is where the IAT Ulster-Ireland meets up with the Ulster Way. It is also the most isolated section of the trail with very little civilisation around or spots to pick up refreshments.
Distance: 58km (36 miles)
Difficulty: Easy. Although this is quite a long section, it is relatively easy to hike. This route involves a lot of quiet country roads with the occasional hill walk and forest trails.
Find out more: Walk NI – Killeter to Gortin
This section brings you through the heart of the Sperrin Mountains which form the largest area of uplands in Northern Ireland. Many people who visit talk about the amazing natural beauty of the area. It truly epitomises the natural beauty of the Irish countryside.
Distance: 37km (23 miles)
Difficulty: Easy. This route will take you through the Sperrin Mountains, but there is very little elevation gain. This is because the route contours along valley slopes. This section also includes a few forest trails and rural roads.
Find out more: Walk NI – Gortin to Moneyneany
One of the shorter sections, this part takes you through forests and across open hilltops, offering fantastic views of the surrounding area. The rivers and waterfalls in the area are truly breathtaking.
Distance: 21km (13 miles)
Difficulty: Easy. The majority of this section is along rural roads with some forest and open hillside trails.
Find out more: Walk NI – Moneyneany to Dungiven
This section of the IAT Ulster-Ireland offers a variety of walking, from mountainous and forested trails to quiet flatlands. The North Sperrins Way makes up the majority of this route.
Distance: 60km (37.5 miles)
Difficulty: Easy. Although this is an easy walk for 60km, it follows a lot of roads. Some of these roads can be busy at times. The middle section of this route is the most hiker-friendly. It consists of open moorlands and extensive forest trails.
Places to stay:
Find out more: Walk NI – Dungiven to Castlerock
This section acts as a link between the North Sperrins Way and the Causeway Coast Way. It curves around the Bann Estuary to take you into Portstewart.
Distance: 16km (10 miles)
Difficulty: Easy. This route takes you along some main roads and rural roads. The majority of the roads are quiet.
Find out more: Walk NI – Castlerock to Portstewart
This part of the International Appalachian Trail Ulster-Ireland is arguably the most beautiful. Expect castle ruins, cliffs and even the amazing rock formations of the Giant’s Causeway.
Distance: 52km (33 miles)
Difficulty: Moderate. A fantastic long-distance trail for all abilities, this section offers an easy-to-follow route with a variety of beach walking, rocky trails and some sections on the road. It can be spread out over a few days.
Find out more: Walk NI – Causeway Coast Way
This section passes through a wide range of sights and terrains, including ancient monuments, hill summits and rivers.
Distance: 43km (27 miles)
Difficulty: Hard. This section includes a mix of forest trails, hill walking and upland moorlands. If weather conditions are poor, this section will offer real challenges and hikers will need good navigation skills in these circumstances.
Find out more: Walk NI – Moyle Way
This is a ‘link section’ so some walkers may want to skip this section by making use of public transport services, but it is not a necessity.
Distance: 19km (12 miles)
Difficulty: Easy. This section is mostly rural roads, but there are short sections along busy main roads. Unless you are determined to complete the full International Appalachian Trail (IAT) Ulster–Ireland, it is advised that you use public transport services along this section.
Find out more: Walk NI – Waterfoot to Glenarm
This route showcases some of the most scenic upland areas in the Antrim Glens. As well as the upland areas, you will also be treated to some stunning coastal views.
Distance: 23km (14 miles)
Difficulty: Moderate. The majority of this section is on moorland paths. The upland areas are very exposed, meaning the ground can be extremely soft after periods of rainfall. You will come across the occasional rural road and forest path as well.
Find out more: Walk NI – Glenarm to Larne
Knowing the rules around wild camping along this trail is very important. Both Ireland and Northern Ireland have different laws when it comes to wild camping. This can create confusion among backpackers who want to embark on Ireland’s section of the International Appalachian Trail.
Wild camping is allowed in some places in Ireland. It is also permitted in some designated spots in our National Parks and Coillte-owned property. These areas are listed here. Remember that most land in Ireland is privately owned, even mountains, so if you seek to wild camp, always ask the landowner’s permission first. The last thing you want is to get kicked out in the middle of the night. And remember to always follow the Leave No Trace code. You are an ambassador for campers and if you leave any mess, you sully the reputation of all campers and hikers.
Find out more: Wild Camping in Ireland
Wild camping without permission is a civil offence in Northern Ireland. While you can’t be arrested for wild camping, a landowner or police officer can ask you to leave and you must leave. Refusing to leave will result in a trespass, which is an arrestable offence. Asking the landowner for permission before you camp is always advisable.
Find out more: Wild Camping in Northern Ireland
To find out more about this amazing trail check out the IAT Ulster-Ireland website. You can also check out the latest news from the trails on the IAT Ulster-Ireland social media channels; Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can also post from the trail and see what others are up to by using the #IATUlsterIreland.
By Killian Andersen
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