A Guide To Visiting Ards Forest Park In Donegal

ards forest park in donegal
Photo left: shawnwil23, Right: AlbertMi/shutterstock

The often-missed Ards Forest Park in Donegal is one of many Donegal attractions that ticks 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!

About Ards Forest Park in Donegal

ards forest park donegal
Photo by shawnwil23/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. 

Some quick need-to-knows before you visit Ards Forest Park

So, there’s a couple of need-to-knows before you head off on a visit to Ards Forest Park in Donegal (pay attention to opening hours, in particular!).

Later in the guide, you’ll find information on the best Ards Forest Park walks that you can ramble away on along with things to do nearby. 

1. Parking

The parking fee is €5.00 per car daily and is paid at an unmanned automatic barrier machine, so make sure you’re carrying change!

2. Opening Hours

During the summer season, the park is open from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. During the winter season the opening times are from 8 a.m. until 4.30 p.m.

3. Facilities on site

Similar to Glenveagh National Park, the facilities here are pretty good in comparison to many parks in Ireland. They include a picnic site, playground, orienteering map and toilets.

4. Admission cost and the Annual Pass

There’s a €5.00 ‘entrance fee’, which is pretty much just the parking charge. Again, make sure you have change!

If you plan on visiting the park regularly, you should look into getting the Coillte Annual Pass that’ll give you yearly access to Ards Forest Park. Find more info here.

5. Ards Forest Park Café

Refreshments can be found at the small and friendly on-site café called Ards Coffee Tree, located near the northern shoreline. 

Ards Forest Park walks

ards forest park in donegal
Photo left: shawnwil23. Right: AlbertMi/shutterstock

As I mentioned earlier, there’s up to nine Ards Forest Park walks for you to choose from. It really depends on how long you want to spend walking.

Below, you’ll find two of my favourite walks in Ards along with a trail map that outlines the routes to take on your ramble.

Ards Forest Park map with trails

Before you pick a trail to head off on, it’s well worth looking at this Ards Forest Park map that shows the various different routes to take.

I’m going to give you an overview of two of my favourite Ards Forest Park walks, but which one you pick is up to you (you won’t be disappointed either way!).

The 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, following the green arrows, should take around two hours to complete.

When passing by the shores of Loughs Lily and Manus, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Donegal’s rugged Atlantic coastline. 

The Red Trail

The longest of the Ards Forest Park walks, the Red Trail flanks the park, meandering along its perimeter while passing through several habitats and landscapes.

Following the red arrows, this strenuous walk is 13kms long and will take around four hours to complete.

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! 

Things to do near Ards Forest Park

The view from Mount Errigal
Photo by wildwave4/shutterstock.com

One of the beauties of the park is that it’s a stone’s throw from loads of other places to visit and things to do in Donegal.

Below, you’ll find a clatter of places a short drive from the park that are well worth visiting while you’re close-by. 

1. Head for a stroll on Marble Hill or Killahoey Beach

Marble Hill
Photo by Chris Hill via Failte Ireland

Residing just to the north of Ards Forest Park are the beaches of Marble Hill and Killahoey – two of our favourite beaches in Donegal.

Located in a windswept natural harbour, Marble Hill is deadly for a lovely coastal stroll while Killahoey vast golden sands are only a stone’s throw from some great restaurants in Dunfanaghy

2. Climb Mount Errigal

mount errigal hike
Photos via shutterstock.com

Soaring up to a gaudy 2,464 ft, Mount Errigal is the tallest and steepest of Donegal’s Seven Sisters range. As you can probably gather from the photos above, climbing Mount Errigal is an experience and a half.

Less than 30 minutes from Ards Forest Park, Errigal’s dramatic shape and pointed summit make it visible from miles around. Climbing the iconic mountain will make the post-adventure pints taste all the sweeter!

3. Step back in time at Glenveagh Castle

glenveagh castle in donegal
Photo by alexilena (Shutterstock)

A romantic castellated mansion perched on the shores of Lough Beagh, Glenveagh Castle is undeniably picturesque and it’s one of the finest castles in Donegal.

Built around 150 years ago by Captain John George Adair, its backdrop of mountains, lakes, glens and woods makes it very Instagram-friendly. Entrance to the castle will cost €7.00.

4. Visit Murder Hole Beach

murder hole beach donegal
Photos via Shutterstock

Murder Hole beach is known as a mysterious, semi-secret beach, but how can a place with such a provocative name be kept secret? Well, there’s no direct roads there for a start.

You’ll need to make a short hike from Melmore Head first but eventually you’ll be greeted by one of Ireland’s most beautiful and secluded beaches. Here’s how to reach it.

FAQs about Ards Forest

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from the Ards Forest Park annual pass to whether cycling is allowed.

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 annual pass?

There is. Well, kind of! There’s a Coillte Annual Pass that’ll give you yearly access to Ards Forest Park. Find more info here.

Is cycling allowed in Ards Forest?

Yep, it is indeed. Just ensure to practice caution, especially in places where the paths are narrow and where there are blind spots.

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