Connemara National Park: The Complete Guide

Green hills in Connemara, Ireland

 Aurélien Pottier / Getty Images

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Connemara National Park

Address
Letterfrack, Co. Galway, Ireland
Phone +353 76 100 2528

After exploring the best of County Galway, take a wild escape to Connemara National Park. It was once all privately owned, but in 1980 the land was donated and it became one of Ireland’s six national parks. The Connemara reserve has 7,000 acres of expansive bogs and uncultivated land set among sharp, rocky peaks for scenery that is quintessentially Irish, especially if you visit in the spring when the rolling hills are covered in green. Hike around the peaks—known as the Twelve Bens or Na Beanna Beola in Irish—that dot the landscape while trying to catch a glimpse of one of the famous Connemara ponies that roam the area.

Things to Do

Connemara National Park is almost pure bogs, hills, and heathland with a few prehistoric sites mixed in, so hiking and exploring are the primary activities. Diamond Hill is the tallest peak in the park but at only 1,450 feet, it's completely accessible to most hikers and gives a good workout with worthwhile views. Keep an eye out for a herd of Connemara ponies, which are closer in size to horses. The horses are the largest animals in the park and are a breed of prized ponies that hail from this corner of Ireland.

Avid hikers can pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the trail, but there is also the Connemara National Park Tea Room for typical Irish toasted sandwiches and hearty vegetable soups. The Tea Room is open every day except in January when the small eatery is only open on the weekends.

The park’s visitor’s center is set inside a building that dates back to 1890 and once belonged to the Letterfrack Industrial School. The visitor’s center has small exhibits about the landscape and provides maps with suggested trails and walks. The national park also organizes special events for children as well as the occasional guided walk, so ask in the visitor's center to see what's going on.

Best Hikes & Trails

All of the hiking trails at Connemara National Park begin at the visitor's center. The Diamond Trails to the summit of the tallest hill are the most popular walking paths and offer the best views of the surrounding landscape. For those who don’t have the time, energy, or appropriate footwear for longer treks, there are small paths that ramble near the visitor’s center.

  • Ellis Wood Nature Trail: The shortest trail in the park is an easy 15-minute stroll. It loops around the visitor's center and is a nice place to stop and enjoy a picnic before setting off on longer trails.
  • Scruffaunboy Trail: Another easy hike, this trail takes only 30 minutes but does include some uphill sections.
  • Lower and Upper Diamond Trails: These two trails are often completed together and bring visitors to the top of Diamond Hill. The full hike takes about two and a half hours, but you can also complete just the Lower Diamond Trail is you want an easier trek, which takes about an hour.

Where to Camp

There are no established campgrounds inside the national park, but visitors can apply for a "wild camping permit" to pitch a tent in the park. Backcountry camping is only allowed in specific areas and away from trails and the visitor's center, so as not to be visually obtrusive for other people enjoying the park. You also need a separate permit in order to light a campfire, so make sure to apply for both if you plan on camping with a fire.

Where to Stay Nearby

The entrance to the park is located in Letterfrack, County Galway. The small town is the best place to stay in order to enjoy the national park over several days. For more accommodation options, the town of Clifden is about a 20-minute drive away and has more hotel options. Galway City is about an hour and a half away but is by far the biggest city in the area.

  • Letterfrack Farm Cottages: If you want to be close to the park and also completely disconnect, these quaint cottages on the Letterfrack Farm are perfect. The rooms are homey and the whole family will enjoy the verdant landscape and resident pigs.
  • Clifden Station House: Located in Clifden, this four-star lodging has hotel rooms as well as apartments with multiple bedrooms and full kitchens for longer stays. It's a perfect jumping-off point for the national park and the rest of Connemara.
  • Abbeyglen Castle: Feel like royalty by spending the night in an actual castle. This Clifden hotel provides all of the luxuries—including a welcome glass of champagne—so you can explore the park during the day and be pampered like a king or queen when you return.

How to Get There

Driving to Connemara National Park is the best way to get an early start or to maximize the amount of time for exploring the trails without needing to worry about bus schedules. The visitor's center and main park entrance are near the village of Letterfrack, which is off the N59.

That said, it is possible to catch a public bus from New Coach Station in Galway to Letterfrack, which takes about two and a half hours. Buses to Letterfrack also depart from the towns of Clifden and Westport. The small village sits on the edge of the national park and it is possible to make the rest of the way into the park on foot once you exit the bus. 

Accessibility

There are parking spaces for people with disabilities and both levels of the visitor's center are accessible to wheelchairs. A section of the Scrruffaunboy Trail is also accessible to wheelchairs.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The park is completely free to visit and open 365 days of the year, although the visitor's center and tea house may close on holidays or seasonally.
  • There are no trash bins in the park, so make sure to pack out all of your garbage to keep Connemara pristine.
  • Dogs are allowed in the park and on hiking trails as long as they are leashed.
  • If there is an Orange level or Red level weather warning in the area, the park closes for safety reasons.
  • Part of the land that now makes up Connemara National Park once belonged to the estate of Kylemore Abbey, a beautiful country home turned abbey that is one of the top things to see in Ireland.
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Connemara National Park: The Complete Guide