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A Guide To Ards Forest Park In Donegal (Walks, Prices + Maps)

A Guide To Ards Forest Park In Donegal (Walks, Prices + Maps)

The often-missed Ards Forest Park in Donegal really does tick all of the boxes.

If variety is the spice of life, then Donegal’s Ards Forest Park honours that adage with ease. Sand dunes? Check. Woodlands? Check. Salt marshes? Check. Wildlife?

You get the idea. With so much to explore and up to nine different trails to take on, you can easily spend a whole day rambling around Ards Forest Park.

In the guide below, you’ll find everything from how much it costs to enter to where to grab a pre or post-walk coffee!

Some quick need-to-knows about Ards Forest Park in Donegal

ards forest park donegal

Photo by shawnwil23/shutterstock

Although a visit here is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

You’ll find the park in north Donegal. It’s a 10-minute drive from Dunfanaghy, a 25-minute drive from Downings and a 30-minute drive from Letterkenny.

2. Prices / admission

It costs €5 to park at Ards but please keep in mind that cash isn’t accepted – it works off a contactless system which takes credit or debit cards.

3. Opening times

The Ards Forest Park opening times change throughout the year. From April to September, the car park opens from 08:00 to 21:00. From October to March, it opens from 08:00 to 17:00.

4. The annual pass

The Ards Forest Park annual pass is issued by Coillte. It’s €40 if you’re buying a new one and €30 if you’re renewing. They can be bought online here.

5. Facilities and cafe

There’s decent toilets in the car park, a playground, a picnic area and there’s also a cafe – the Ards Coffee Tree.

About Ards Forest Park

Ards Forest Park

Photos via Shutterstock

Located on the N56 between the charming towns of Creeslough and Dunfanaghy, Ards Forest Park covers approx. 1200 acres and contains a vast number of habitats.

Part of a peninsula that juts out into Sheephaven Bay, its waterside position means that you can also throw in golden sandy beaches and rocky shoreline as further reasons to pay a visit. 

Keep a keen eye out for the diverse range of flora and fauna too. In the oak forest for example you’ll come across blackberry and bramble, while all around the park wildlife you may come across includes rabbits, red squirrels, foxes, badgers and hedgehogs.

The Ards Forest Park walks with maps

Ards Forest Park map

Map with thanks to Coillte

There are countless Ards Forest Park walks that you can head off on, many of which are regarded as some of the finest walks in Donegal.

They range in length and difficulty and they showcase the very best that the park has to offer. Here’s a speedy overview:

1. Sand Dune trail

This is one of the handier of the Ards Forest Park walks. It follows forest track, boardwalk and gravel path and hugs the coast while passing through woodland and the extensive sand dune complex. Views of the Back Strand and Clonmass Bay make this a memorable ramble.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 1km
  • Time it takes: 1.5 hours
  • Format: Linear

2. Heritage trail

The slightly more strenuous Heritage Trail is a looped trail that features everything from a ring fort and a hold well to a mass rock and more. It follows forest roads though the lush woodland and boasts stunning views of the surrounding coastline and countryside.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 5km
  • Time it takes: 2 hours
  • Format: Loop

3. Binngorm trail

This is one of the tougher Ards Forest Park walks and it’ll take you a good 2 hours to complete it. This walk follows a trail that skirts around Ards Hill and heads out to the edge of Binnagorm Point. It takes in some brilliant beaches and offers spectacular views of Sheephaven Bay.

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Length: 3.5km
  • Time it takes: 2 hours
  • Format: Loop

4. Red trail

If you look at the Ards Forest Park map above, you’ll see that the Red trail is the parks longest. The Red trail flanks the park, meandering along its perimeter while passing through several habitats and landscapes. Starting and finishing at the park entrance, the sheer number of landscapes you’ll pass through means you’ll have some mighty views and vistas to enjoy! 

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Length: 13km
  • Time it takes: 4 hours
  • Format: Loop

5. Green trail

A short trail that clocks in at 3.5kms but, due to its ascents to the higher parts of the forest, should provide a decent enough challenge. The Green Trail starts in the centre of the forest and, as you pass by the shores of Loughs Lily and Manus, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Donegal’s rugged Atlantic coastline. 

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Length: 3.5km
  • Time it takes: 2 hours
  • Format: Loop

6. Yellow trail

The Yellow trail is one of the handier walks in Ards Forest Park. This trail takes you along forest road and through woodland, past Rinnalack Hill and out onto the glistening shores of Lough Lilly. It’s around 4km in length and should be doable for most.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 4km
  • Time it takes: 1.5 hours
  • Format: Loop

7. Nature trail

Last but by no means least is the popular Nature trail. This kicks off from the car park and takes you close to the sea near Rinnlack Point and nearby Jeffry’s Lough. Your reward on this trail is breath-taking views of the brilliant Back Strand.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 1.5km
  • Time it takes: 1 hour
  • Format: Loop

Things to do near Ards Forest Park

One of the beauties of this is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Donegal.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Ards (plus places to eat!).

1. Post walk feed (10-minute drive)

restaurants in Dunfanaghy

If you fancy a bite after your visit to Ards, take a 10-minute spin and tip into one of the restaurants in Dunfanaghy. Our favourite is the Rusty Oven, but there’s plenty to choose from.

2. Beaches galore (10-minute-plus drive)

marble hill donegal

Courtesy of Chris Hill via Ireland’s Content Pool

You’ll find some mighty beaches near Ards. Our favourites are Marble Hill, Killahoey Beach and Tramore Beach, each of which is less than a 15-minute drive away.

3. Nearby walks (20-minute-plus drive)

errigal mountain

Photos via Shutterstock

Nearby, you have Glenveagh National Park (20-minute drive), Mount Errigal (25-minute drive) and the brand new Boyeeghter Bay trail (30-minute drive).

FAQs about Ards Forest

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from the Ards Forest Park prices to the opening times.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

 Is there an Ards Forest Park maps with the walks?

Yes, if you look at this guide you’ll find a map along with an outline of each of the walks (difficulty, distance, times, etc.).

Are the Ards Forest Park walks hard?

There’s 7+ trails on offer here and they vary from easy to tough. If you look at the Ards Forest Park map above you’ll get a good overview of them.

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