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Why The Ards Forest Park Walks Are Some Of Donegal’s Finest

Why The Ards Forest Park Walks Are Some Of Donegal’s Finest

The often-missed Ards Forest Park in Donegal is one of the most unique parks in Ireland, yet many visitors overlook it.

If variety is the spice of life, then Donegal’s 1200-acre Ards Forest Park honours that adage with ease. Sand dunes? Check. Woodlands? Check. Salt marshes? Check. Wildlife? You get the idea!

This beautiful little corner of Donegal is home to 9 different trails, each of which offers something different. Find everything you need-to-know below!

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

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 €50 and the use a QR code. 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 courtesy of Gareth Wray Photograph

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)

Oyster Bar

Photos via the Oyster Bar on FB

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

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

Marble Hill

Photo left: Gareth Wray. Others courtesy Failte Ireland

You’ll find some mighty beaches near Ards. My 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)

Mount Errigal

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 I haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

How much is it to get into Ards Forest Park?

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.

What time does Ards Forest Park?

Ards Forest Park is open April to September, from 08:00 to 21:00 and October to March, 08:00 to 17:00.

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Friday 3rd of March 2023

Well worth a visit. Beautiful place and lots of variety in the walks. Fabulous beaches and views


Sunday 10th of July 2022

Thank you for writing this Blog. We are traveling with an all abilities group and appreciate the trail descriptions as each person can make a good choice based on their abilities and the driving distances and surrounding attractions features were so useful. We will be visiting in August 2022

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