You could argue that the Lough Gill Drive is one of the most overlooked things to do in Sligo.
Lough Gill is a freshwater lake (lough) in Sligo that was the setting for the poet William Butler Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”.
The entire loop of the lough (without stopping) only takes 1 hour but, as there are lots of lovely walks on the way, allow half a day at the very least.
Below, you’ll find a map of the Lough Gill Drive with info on each of the stops, along with where to grab some lunch on the way.
Some quick need-to-knows about Lough Gill in Sligo
Although a visit to Lough Gill in Sligo is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Lough Gill is a freshwater lough that is mainly situated in County Sligo, but partly in County Leitrim. It’s a 10-minute drive from Sligo Town, a 25-minute drive from Strandhill, a 20-minute drive from Rosses Point and a 30-minute drive from Mullaghmore.
Lough Gill is a large lake at nearly 8 kilometres long and more than two kilometres wide. However, it only takes around 1 hour to drive around. However, allow at least half a day if you want to tackle some of its many mighty walks.
3. How to see it
There are all sorts of ways to take in this wonderful lough. You can take a boat tour, drive around it (guide below), explore on kayak or walk around it.
About Lough Gill
Lough Gill drains into the River Garavogue. It is an exceptionally picturesque lake that is surrounded by woods and contains about 20 small islands, including the aforementioned Lake Isle of Innisfree that WB Yeats made famous.
The lough features underwater cliffs and due to its natural eutrophic state—where a body of water becomes progressively enriched with minerals and nutrients—it is listed as a protected site under the EU Habitats Directive. The lake also has protected species of lamprey, as well as Atlantic Salmon and otters, pine martens and wintering waterfowl.
In the summer, the lough hosts the Lough Gill 10-kilometre swim for charity and over the years has raised more than €34,000 for the local hospice. In addition, the first man to successfully swim the English Channel, Captain Matthew Webb, used Lough Gill for his training.
The Lough Gill Drive
There are many wonderful things to see along the drive around Lough Gill, which make it a great place for an active day out.
The drive itself is well signposted, although it can be easy to miss some of the stops we’re going to mention below, so take notes.
Stop 1: Hazelwood Forest
We’re going to kick off the drive with one of my favourite walks in Sligo. Hazelwood Forest is just 5 kilometres outside of Sligo town and it has a number of short walks you can do, with the longest taking just 1 hour.
The views from the trail include Church Island, Cottage Island and Goat Island, and you’ll also be able to see the full expanse of the lough.
This is a great first stop on the Lough Gill Drive, and it’ll give you a chance to hop out of the car, stretch the legs and gulp down some fresh forest air.
Stop 2: Parke’s Castle (Leitrim)
Parke’s Castle sits on Lough Gill’s northern shores. It is a restored early 17th century castle that was once the home of Robert Parke, the English planter.
Evidence of an earlier structure on the site is the remains of a tower house that was once owned by the lord of Breifne, Sir Brain O’Rourke, who fell foul of Queen Elizabeth I and English rule, and ended up being hanged for treason at Tyburn.
Interestingly enough, he was the first man to be extradited, having tried to seek help in Scotland from King James VI.
The castle fell into disrepair in the late 17th century but was fully restored in the late 20th using traditional Irish oak. We recommend you view it at sunset, as it casts its silhouette over the waters.
Stop 3: Lunch in Dromahair
All that breath-taking scenery viewing will work up an appetite, and the Stanford Village Inn and Village Tearooms in Dromahair is a fine spot for a bit of lunch.
This is a family-run, rustic inn where you will find a warm welcome and a hearty feed. On a dry day, there is a nice outdoor area where you can do a little alfresco eating, and the homemade cakes, sandwiches and teas are well worth trying.
Stop 4: Lake Isle of Innisfree
The Lake Isle of Innisfree is arguably the most iconic stop on the Lough Gill Drive and it’s arguably one of the best known of Sligo’s many attractions.
This is an uninhabited island in the middle of the lough that is not accessible but can be viewed from the land or by boat.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree gained fame over the years after the worldwide popularity of WB Yeats’ poem of the same name.
Stop 5: Slish Wood
Slish Wood is situated on the southern shore of Lough Gill and it’s note-worthy because of its location between the lough and the Ox Mountains.
Slish is a lakeshore wood and the hillside track is well signposted, and it provides picturesque views over the lough. The walk here, which stretches for around 3km, is tough, and a decent level of fitness is needed.
There’s a nice bit of parking on-site and the walk should take you (roughly) 1 hour in total to complete.
Stop 6: Dooney Rock
The last stop on the Lough Gill Drive is Dooney Rock. Another great nature trail, Dooney Rock is located on the shores of Lough Gill and from here, you’ll be able to see the summit of the rock.
It goes eastward, beginning and ending in the car park. The walk here is short and sweet, and last around 30 minutes in total, however, allow more time for soaking up the views.
Unique ways to explore Lough Gill
If you don’t fancy tackling the Lough Gill Drive, don’t fret, there are some other unique ways to experience this place.
1. Take a boat tour
Boat tours depart from Sligo town and travel along the Garavogue River to reach Lough Gill, and are a wonderful, relaxing way to explore this beautiful lake and its surroundings, and you will certainly get close to the Lake Isle of Innisfree on one of them. You can also visit the isle by taking a boat from one of the small piers.
2. See it from a kayak
Sligo Kayak Tours cover different parts of the lake depending on what the weather is like. You’ll be supplied with a kayak, paddle, lifejacket and spray deck, and the organisers recommend you dress in lightweight but warm outdoor clothing, and suitable footwear. You should also bring a full change of clothing. The trips are suitable for all abilities.
Things to do near Lough Gill
One of the beauties of this spot is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Sligo.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the lake (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
Carrowmore is the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in the country and is south-west of Sligo Town, in the Cúil Írra Peninsula. More than 30 stone tombs are sited here, most of them passage tombs and boulder circles. The origins of these ancient monuments are thought to go back as far as 4,000 BCE. There is also a restored stone cottage you can visit that houses an exhibition about the site and pre-historic Ireland.
If you’re still feeling energetic, the Knocknarea walk is well worth doing. This is a large hill west of Sligo Town that is just over 320 metres in height. It stands on the Cúil Irra Peninsula and overlooks the Atlantic coast. I’d also recommend considering The Glen (one of Sligo’s greatest hidden gems).
Strandhill describes itself as the “jewel of the Wild Atlantic Way’s surf coast”. There are plenty of restaurants in Strandhill and you can take in Strandhill Beach or roam the hills. There is also a surging school here and a yoga studio that will help release any tight muscles built up while you were trying to balance on that board.
4. Coney Island
Coney Island lies 1 kilometre off the shore from Maghery Country Park. The island has a long history, starting with human habitation some 10,000 years ago, and Coney Island was one of the most westerly outposts of the Normans when they occupied Ireland from the 12th century onwards. A boat trip here lasts three hours in total.
FAQs about the Lough Gill Drive
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what there is to see on the Lough Gill drive to how long it takes.
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 the Lough Gill Drive really worth doing?
Yes! This driving route takes in glorious scenery and some excellent, shot walking trails, so you can soak up senery from your seat and then as you stroll.
What are the best stops along the Lough Gill Drive?
If you follow the Google Map above, you’ll stop at Hazelwood Forest, Parke’s Castle, Dromahair (for lunch), the Lake Isle of Innisfree, Slish Wood and Dooney Rock.
How long does the Lough Gill Drive take?
It takes about 1 hour from start to finish, but allow a half day at least if you plan on doing the walks mentioned above.
Emma Baird is a lifestyle editor and novelist. She has worked in the communications industry for more than 25 years, and loves animals, the countryside and lingering in a great pub for the food and the craic.