National Park Guides

A Guide to National Parks in Ireland

POSTED ON December 25, 2019 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Nestled in the heart of the country, six national parks in Ireland are waiting to be explored. These natural wonders, scattered across the verdant landscape, are an embodiment of the country’s unparalleled beauty.

From the towering landmarks that stand proud on the west coast to the enchanting expanses of untouched wilderness, each park offers an opportunity for nature enthusiasts to immerse themselves in the unique ecosystems of the Emerald Isle.

Amongst these, the Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park is a hidden gem, providing rugged and pristine terrain that captivates visitors. Equally enticing is Killarney National Park, famous for its scenic lakes and rich wildlife. The Wicklow Mountains National Park, Burren National Park, Connemara National Park, and Glenveagh National Park are also exceptional in their own right, offering a diverse range of flora, fauna, and geology.

Each visit to these parks offers a renewed appreciation for nature and a chance to explore Ireland’s beguiling wilderness.

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Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park

  • Location: southwest of Ireland, in County Kerry.
  • Size: approximately 41 sq. mi. (105 sq. km).
  • Establishment Date: 1932.
  • Number of Visitors: approximately 1.5 million visitors annually.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: 14
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: over 31 miles (50 km).
  • Lowest Point: The surface of Lough Leane, at 65 feet (20 meters) above sea level.
  • Highest Point: The summit of Mangerton Mountain, at 2,749 feet (837 meters) above sea level.

Killarney National Park is crowned the most popular national park in Ireland and for good reasons. As the first park established in Ireland, this majestic location is home to a range of local wildlife that fascinates nature enthusiasts and casual tourists alike. Among the interesting species of animals, the elusive otter, the red deer, a symbol of the park, and the playful red squirrels never fail to delight. The park’s feathered inhabitants, a vast collection of wild birds, add a rhythm of life to the tranquil ambiance.

But Killarney’s charm doesn’t stop with its wildlife. The park is blessed with natural wonders that are both enchanting and humbling. The stunning lakes of Killarney, Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, Upper Lake, the wild beauty of the Gap of Dunloe, and the majestic peaks of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks; the mountain range that houses Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest peak at 3,405 feet (1,038 meters), create a captivating backdrop for every walk.

The park also boasts historical gems such as the Muckross House, a farm and a beautiful reminder of country life in the 1920s; the adjacent Muckross Abbey, a Franciscan friary dating back to the 15th century; and Ross Castle, which transports you back to the late Middle Ages.

Wicklow Mountains National Park

Wicklow Mountains National Park

  • Location: County Wicklow, Eastern Ireland
  • Size: Approximately 79 sq. mi. (205 sq. km)
  • Establishment Date: 1991
  • Number of Visitors: about 732,362 visitors in 2019
  • Number of Hiking Trails: about 9 marked trails
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: Approximately 31 miles (50 kilometers)
  • Lowest Point: East Coast of Ireland (sea level)
  • Highest Point: Lugnaquilla mountain, at 3,035 feet (925 meters) above sea level

Wicklow Mountains National Park, situated on the verdant west coast of Ireland, in County Wicklow, is a vibrant canvas of heath and grassland. The park is a paradise for nature enthusiasts with its intriguing array of wild birds and diverse wildlife habitats.

Wicklow is home to some of Ireland’s highest peaks, including Lugnaquilla, at 3,035 feet (925 meters). Visitors are drawn to the park’s captivating Glendalough Valley, where the ancient monastic settlement of Glendalough, founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin, still echoes with a serene mystique. The round tower, cathedral, and numerous intricately carved high crosses showcase Ireland’s rich medieval heritage. The visitor center located in the park provides insightful knowledge about the area’s flora, fauna, and history.

For those who seek active exploration, a walk along the famed Wicklow Way is a must. This long-distance, self-guided walking route meanders through the park, offering stunning panoramas of the mountains and lakes that adorn the park. Walking the Wicklow Way is not just a trek; it’s an unforgettable journey that captures the essence of Ireland’s beauty.

Burren National Park

Burren National Park

  • Location: County Clare, Western Ireland
  • Size: Approximately 5.8 sq. mi. (15 sq. km)
  • Establishment Date: 1991
  • Number of Visitors: Estimated 800,000 per year
  • Number of Hiking Trails: 7 waymarked trails
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: approximately 18 miles (29 km)
  • Lowest Point: Caher Valley at sea level
  • Highest Point: Slieve Elva, at 1,132 feet (345 m) above sea level.

Located in the heart of the Burren, County Clare, the Burren National Park is an awe-inspiring landscape that captivates its visitors with its unique karst topography and rich biodiversity. This park plays an important role in preserving a range of exceptional habitats that house rare and endangered species of flora and fauna, including the Spring Gentian and herbaceous plants such as the Bloody Cranesbill.

The distinctive limestone pavements, dotted with ancient tombs and monuments, offer beautiful views of this wild and rugged landscape.

The other park’s highlight is the ancient Poulnabrone Dolmen, a Neolithic portal tomb dating back to around 4200 BC. Additionally, Mullaghmore, a prominent hill within the park, presents panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, providing a rewarding hiking experience for those seeking both geological wonders and breathtaking vistas.

Stepping into the visitor center, one can learn about the fascinating geological history of the park. A visit to the Killarney House, located within the park’s boundaries, is a must, offering visitors a glimpse into the country’s rich history and culture.

Lastly, the tranquil lakes within the park, surrounded by lush woodlands, provide a serene setting for relaxation and wildlife viewing.

Connemara National Park

Connemara National Park

  • Location: County Galway, Western Ireland
  • Size: approximately 7.7 sq. mi. (19.94 sq. km)
  • Establishment Date: 1980
  • Number of Visitors: Estimated 250,000 per year
  • Number of Hiking Trails: 4 main trails
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: Approximately 5.6 miles (9 kilometers)
  • Lowest Point: Sea level at the Atlantic coast
  • Highest Point: Benbaun peak at 2,391 feet (729 m) above sea level

Tucked away in Connemara County, Galway, Connemara National Park beckons visitors with its spectacular vistas, rich biodiversity, and vast expanse of rugged bogs. The park’s unique fusion of woodlands, rivers, and lakes creates a captivating setting for nature enthusiasts. The park’s centerpiece, Diamond Hill, offers a rewarding trek with panoramic views of the Twelve Bens mountain range, a crowd-pleaser among hikers and landscape photographers.

In stark contrast to the beauty of the hills, Kylemore Abbey and the Victorian Walled Gardens are stunning examples of Irish architectural heritage. Originally built as a private residence in the 19th century, the abbey is nestled beside the serene waters of Pollacapall Lough.

The visitor center provides insightful information about the park’s Connemara Home Nature & Conservation efforts. A visit to the other side of the park reveals a network of other trails worth exploring, each promising a unique perspective on this dynamic landscape.

Wild Nephin, Ballycroy National Park

Ballycroy National Park

  • Location: County Mayo, Western Ireland
  • Size: Approximately 58 sq. mi. (150 sq. km)
  • Establishment Date: 1998
  • Number of Visitors: Estimated 100,000 per year
  • Number of Hiking Trails: 7 main trails
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: Approximately 46 miles (74 km)
  • Lowest Point: Sea level at the Atlantic coast
  • Highest Point: The peak of Slieve Carr, at 2,365 feet (721 meters) above sea level

Ballycroy National Park, located in County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland, boasts the distinction of being Ireland’s sixth national park and stands out for its unique wilderness and biodiversity.

This park is home to the expansive Nephin Beg mountain range and Owenduff/Nephin Complex, the largest intact active blanket bog in Western Europe. This significant marshland serves as a natural sanctuary for many species of flora and fauna, including the rare marsh saxifrage. The local wildlife, comprising red deer, otters, the elusive red grouse, and a myriad of other bird species, thrives in the park’s diverse habitats.

For those keen on exploring the park on foot, guided walks through Wild Nephin Ballycroy Park, including the Claggan Mountain Coastal Trail, offer a chance to immerse oneself in the splendor of the Irish wilderness.

The Ballycroy visitor center serves as the gateway to this captivating landscape, providing engaging insights into the park’s ecology. The nocturnal visitors are in for a treat, as the park is a recognized International Dark Sky Park, a perfect destination for night gazing at the dark sky filled with stars. For those who treasure serenity and solitude, the tranquil rivers and dense forest areas of the park provide an ideal setting.

Glenveagh National Park

Glenveagh National Park

  • Location: County Donegal, North-Western Ireland
  • Size: Approximately 66 sq. mi. (169 sq. km.)
  • Establishment Date: 1984
  • Number of Visitors: Estimated 200,000 per year
  • Number of Hiking Trails: about 6 main trails. More details are here.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: Approximately 14 miles (23 kilometers)
  • Lowest Point: Sea level at the Atlantic coast
  • Highest Point: The peak of Errigal, standing at 2,405 feet (733 meters)

Situated in the heart of Gleann Bheatha County, Donegal, Glenveagh National Park is the second largest in Ireland and the third to be founded. It is a haven teeming with biodiversity.

This park is home to the iconic Derryveagh Mountains, a landscape punctuated with earth-toned small hills, an abundance of flora and fauna, and mesmerizing waterfalls cascading into lively rivers. One of the park’s gems is Lough Beagh, a pristine lake that mirrors the aesthetic beauty of the encompassing landscapes.

The other striking feature of Glenveagh is the majestic Glenveagh Castle Gardens, a Scottish baronial mansion constructed in the 1880s and perched overlooking Lough Beagh. The castle and its manicured gardens present a stark contrast to the untamed wilderness that engulfs the rest of the park.

These grounds house a rare collection of plants and are a birdwatcher’s paradise, being home to the iconic golden eagles and other avian species. Visitors also have a chance to spot the park’s resident red deer.

Lastly, the vast network of trails, including the popular Bridle Path and the challenging Lough Inshagh Trail, allows visitors to explore the park’s varied landscapes.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the majesty of Ireland’s six national parks displays an uncanny blend of pristine landscapes, fascinating wildlife, and rich cultural heritage. From the rugged beauty of the Wicklow Mountains to the pristine lakes of Killarney, each park acts as a sanctuary for nature’s miracles, from the rugged peaks and tranquil lakes to the mesmerizing flora and fauna.

These parks also serve an essential role in global conservation efforts, contributing to the initiatives of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The beauty, serenity, and sheer diversity of these parks not only make them a paradise for nature enthusiasts but also reflect the tireless strides of local and global bodies towards conserving our planet’s natural wonders.

Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking for a leisurely walk, Ireland’s national parks offer something for everyone.

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Don’t miss out on exploring the rest of breathtaking national parks by checking out our national park archive page and start planning your next nature adventure!


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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