Wicklow Mountains National Park: The Complete Guide

Glendalough Monastic Site in Wicklow Mountains National Park

 

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Wicklow Mountains National Park

Address
Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Phone +353 404 45800

Wicklow Mountains National Park is situated just south of Dublin, Ireland, and encompasses 85 square miles in the Wicklow Mountains. A natural wonderland, the topography of the park includes craggy hills, wild boglands, glacial valleys, and a windswept heath. An area sometimes deemed "Irish Hollywood," the Wicklow Mountain region is famous for its untamed countryside where the country's rich and famous have homes. Bono, Daniel Day-Lewis, and the Guinness Family all own properties near the beautiful Wicklow Mountains. However, the most stunning landscape is found within the protected park boundaries, including the scenic Glendalough Valley. Here, you can hike in the mountains, swim, paddleboard, or canoe one of the lakes, rock climb the crags, or fish for brown trout on one of the many waterways. The raw natural beauty of this park provides a perfect outing for those in need of a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of nearby Dublin.

Things to Do

Wicklow Mountains National Park offers avid hikers and backpackers numerous walking trails, including the 81-mile Wicklow Way, a route that takes five to seven days for experienced hikers to tackle, as well as those that venture to medieval ruins and breathtaking vistas.

The most popular stop in this national park (and one of the top places to see in Ireland, in general) is the Monastic City in the Glendalough Valley, known as "the valley of the lakes." This early Christian site was founded by Saint Kevin in the 6th century. Here, you will find the ruins of a cathedral and an impressive Irish round tower.

Sally Gap (along R759) is one of the two east-to-west driving passages in the Wicklow Mountains and one of the best drives in all of Ireland. Often called "the military road," the original route was built by British Forces in an effort to patrol for rebels looking to hide out in nearby hillsides. A popular stop along this majestic byway is at Glenmacnass Waterfall near the village of Laragh.

The crags along Miners' Road at Glendalough and in Glenmalure are full of rock climbing and bouldering routes. You can book a guided climb in Glendalough, complete with single or multi-pitch options on traditional routes. If you're heading out on your own, the Mountaineering Council of Ireland's Climbing Guide ‘Wicklow’ is available for purchase at the park's information office.

On a hot summer day, head to the sandy area at the eastern end of the Upper Lake in Glendalough. This beach is a popular spot for paddling and swimming during the summer. You can also canoe and kayak on the Avonbeg and Avonmore Rivers, as well as on Lower Lake, Upper Lough Bray, and Lough Ouler.

There's also a picnic area at Upper Lake where gas-powered barbeque grills are permitted. However, you will need a permit to host a large group or special event.

Best Hikes & Trails

The hikes in Wicklow Mountains National Park range from leisurely strolls to all-day mountain climbs. Most of the hikes start and finish at the park's information center, and nine of the hikes are one-way only. Consult the trail map at the information center before heading out.

  • Miners’ Road Walk: This easy 5-kilometer (3-mile) hike travels along a two-way path and gains 20 meters (66 feet) of elevation. The walk traverses the banks of Upper Lake and passes through a forest of Scots pine, before reaching the ruins of Miners’ Village. Along the trail is a cave, and feral goats and peregrine falcons can also be spotted.
  • Derrybawn Woodland Trail: This 8-kilometer (5-mile) trail climbs steeply to one of the park's famed sites, Poulanass Waterfall, before cresting the ridge of Derrybawn Mountain. From the top, take in the panoramic view of Glendalough Valley. If you hike this route in the summer, check out the forest floor fauna, looking for bluebells and wood anemone.
  • Spinc Trail: The Spinc Trail starts at Poulanass Waterfall, leading you into mountainous terrain that requires superb navigational skills, before descending into Lugduff Valley, and then climbing up switchbacks to the boardwalk that hugs the cliff of Spic Ridge. It's a 5.5-kilometer (3.5-mile) hike that gains 300 meters (985 feet) in elevation.
  • Spinc and the Wicklow Way: To really experience the entire mountain park, the best thing to do is to walk Wicklow Way. The 81-mile trail can take five to seven days to complete, so the full walk is usually only undertaken by serious backpackers. However, you can jump on the trail at various points, like combining it with the Spinc Trail, for a shorter, 11.5 kilometer (7-mile) hike that can be completed in a long day.

Where to Camp

There are no designated campgrounds inside the park, but backcountry camping is permitted in wilderness areas outside of Glendalough Valley. All backcountry campers must comply with the park's "wild camping code," which includes pitching your tent 400 meters (1,312 feet) from a road or building, moving your tent every two nights, packing out all items that you pack in (including those that are biodegradable), and situating human waste holes 30 meters (98 feet) from any water source. Additionally, in order to comply with the code, visitors arriving in Glendalough will need to walk for at least three hours before they can find a campsite that complies. Lastly, campfires are not permitted in the national park.

Where to Stay Nearby

Enjoy your stay at many fine lodging options located either in the park, or just outside the park in enchanting mountain villages. A historical hotel, a romantic stay with a spa, and a family-style bed and breakfast are included among the lodging options for your visit to Wicklow Mountains National Park.

  • The Glendalough Hotel: The historic hotel dates back to the 1830s and is a short walk from the Monastic City. Many of the original features remain in the main hotel building, including the grandfather clock in the lobby. This hotel offers single, double, and triple rooms, complete with a coffee machine, television, and free Wi-Fi. On-site dining and drinks can be had at Casey's Bar & Bistro, a contemporary spin on a traditional Irish pub.
  • Summerhill House Hotel Wicklow: The Summerhill House is located in the cozy village of Enniskerry, providing a nice reprieve from the city. This stay boasts three separate places to eat, including The Terrace, The Lounge, and The Garden, and a beauty and wellness spa. Choose from double, single, or triple country house bedrooms, courtyard bedrooms with a private balcony, or the honeymoon suite.
  • Wicklow Way Lodge: The Wicklow Way Lodge is a modern bed and breakfast located in Oldbridge that offers twin rooms, king rooms, and family rooms, as well as an entire cottage with a living area and full kitchen. Enjoy a full Irish or continental breakfast with your stay and en-suite "power showers," complimentary toiletries, tea and coffee making facilities, and free Wi-Fi.

How to Get There

Visitors coming by airplane will want to fly into the Dublin International Airport. From there, it is advised to rent a car and drive yourself to the park, especially if you want the flexibility of exploring it on your own terms. The 55-mile drive is easy via R747 towards Avoca. Along the way, let your sightseeing begin by following a self-driving tour of the Wicklow Mountains.

If you are short on time and only want to hit the major sites, several tour companies offer day trips from Dublin. Some companies also offer extended tours, which allow for time to add on hikes and even horseback riding excursions.

Accessibility

With long-term plans to commission an access audit, Wicklow Mountains National Park is committed to people of all ability levels. The paths and lawns around the Upper Lake are wheelchair accessible, and the boardwalk around the Lower Lake is smooth and wheelchair accessible. None of the paths have been officially certified as "wheelchair compliant," though, so use them at your own discretion.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The Wicklow Mountains have provided a backdrop for some of the most widely watched film sets in Ireland, including P.S. I Love You and the television series Vikings.
  • Wicklow Mountains National Park is primarily a wilderness area, so there are limited facilities. You can find parking lots at the visitor center and Upper Lake in Glendalough. Otherwise, parking inside of the National Park consists of small turnoffs near the main roads.
  • There are only two public restrooms inside the park, at the OPW Visitor Center and at the Upper Lake parking lot.
  • The best dining options are in the towns that border the park, rather than inside it. However, a stall sells snacks during the summer in Glendalough near the Monastic City.
  • For a meditative break, stop at Victor’s Way on the Old Enniskerry Road. The wooded park is full of Indian-inspired sculptures that were placed in the Irish countryside by a Berlin-born Buddhist monk. This park does not permit children.
  • For a family-friendly outing, get lost in the Greenan Maze in Ballinanty, a manicured labyrinth made of plants and hedges. After wandering through the maze, check out the farm animals and eat lunch at the café.
  • The Upper Lake is deep with sudden depth changes. The shallows area near the beach is narrow and drops off suddenly. Parents should always supervise their children, as no lifeguards are on duty.
  • Though technically this site lies just outside the park, the Glencree German cemetery is a must-see stop for many visitors. It is Ireland’s only German cemetery and has several World War II-era graves, including the final resting place of a former spy.
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Wicklow Mountains National Park: The Complete Guide