One of my favourite things to do in Wicklow is to take a hike up Tonelagee to see Lough Ouler – Ireland’s heart shaped lake.
I’ve visited Lough Ouler twice over the years. The first was on a hike with friends on a dry and sunny day and everything went to plan.
The second was on a ‘wild camping’ weekend away and it was an absolute disaster (more on this another day…)
Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about one of the best hikes in Wicklow Tonlegee / Lough Ouler hike.
The Lough Ouler Hike
You’ll find Lough Ouler in the Wicklow Mountains, at the side of Tonelagee Mountain, the 33rd highest mountain in Ireland and the 3rd highest peak in the Wicklow Mountains (Luqnaquilla is the highest).
It’s on the Tonelagee hike that you’ll be treated to a view of Ireland’s unique heart shaped lake. There are two popular starting points for hiking up Tonlegee:
- The Glenmacnass side
- The Turlough Hill car park side.
Having done both, I’d recommend the Turlough Hill car park side as I found it far safer (info below), but I’ll outline both routes so that you can decide for yourself.
Tonlegee Hike Route 1: From Turlough Hill
A group of us took this route back in May of 2019 as we were sick of doing the same Glendalough walking trails over and over again.
Personally, I found it far safer than the route that starts from the car park at Glenmacnass. While it’s not as straightforward as the Great Sugarloaf hike, it’s still hard to go amiss.
If you start the walk from the Glenmacnass Waterfall side, you need to cross a small river. Now, you can use the stones there to do so, but if they’re slippy, which they generally are, you could easily slip and hurt yourself.
The Glenmacnass Waterfall car park is also a bit ropey. Now, don’t get me wrong, both car parks are isolated, but I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my car at the Glenmacnass car park.
Getting to Lough Ouler
Your journey to see one of the most unique lakes in Wicklow begins in the spacious Turlough Hill car park. Pop it into Google Maps – you can’t miss it.
The path to the top of Tonlegee from here couldn’t be more straightforward – when you hop out of your car, cross the road and find the clearest point to the top (see photo above).
It’s nice and steep, but it isn’t overly strenuous if you’ve a decent level of fitness. When you reach level ground at the top of Tonlegee, whip out Google Maps again.
A tip for finding Lough Ouler
When we reached the summit of Tonlegee, we hadn’t a clue which way to go. So, in an attempt to avoid wandering aimlessly for ages, we whipped open Google Maps.
If you zoom in on your location, you’ll be able to see the shape of Lough Ouler very clearly. Make a beeline for it and the view above is what you’ll be greeted with.
I realise that this sounds a bit ridiculous, but it works! Just be careful as you walk as the ground is uneven and you’ll be walking near horizontal as you descend towards the lake.
It took us a total of 4 hours to climb up and down Tonlegee Mountain from the Turlough Hill car park side. Now, you could probably do it quicker, but we spent time chilling looking out at the lake.
Lough Ouler Hike Route 2: From Glenmacnass
The second Tonlegee hike route that takes you up to see the heart-shaped lake starts from the little car park at the top of Glenmacnass waterfall.
This car park is isolated – leave nothing of value visible in the car. From the beginning of your Lough Ouler climb, you’ll notice that paths can be difficult to find (this is more so the case from the waterfall side).
Unsurprisingly, the area can also be wet and boggy at times – wear hiking boots and be careful (more on this in a minute…).
The route to the lake
After leaving your car, head towards the trees and the river. You’ll see stepping stones that you can use to cross the river – be VERY careful here, as the stones are often VERY slippy.
Walk along the bank to the right and you’ll quickly reach the edge of the woods. Once you reach the edge, you may (emphasis on ‘may’) be able to find a path.
It can be difficult to spot (we struggled to find it when we were here in winter). When you find the path, start to climb. Keep going and you’ll see Tonelagee in the distance once you reach the top of the woods.
Some words of advice
Apparently, there’s an old road that runs along the top of the woods, but we didn’t see it when we were there a few years back.
If you find it, follow it to the right and you’ll find a path that’ll lead you up to Tonelagee. Take your time and enjoy the views out over Lough Ouler that you’ll be treated to on the way.
When you finish up taking in the views of the lake, it’s time to make the return journey. From the summit of Tonelagee, follow the path north towards the Stoney Top (you’ll need to keep the lake on your right).
After a little while, you’ll see a standing stone with a cross on it. Take a right at the stone and make your way down from here. The lake will stay on your right.
Lough Ouler FAQs
For those of you that still have questions, here’s some more info. If I’ve missed anything, feel free to leave your question in the comments section below and I’ll reply asap.
Where do you start the Lough Ouler hike?
You can start the Tonlegee Hike from two places:
- The car park that’s right next to Glenmacnass Waterfall
- The Turlough Hill car park (the other side of the mountain)
How do I get to Tonlegee without a car?
When we camped at Lough Ouler, we left the car at home and grabbed a taxi from the village of Roundwood. The taxi dropped us at Turlough Hill car park.
We then followed a clear path to the top. From here, we worked our way down until the heart-shaped lake came into view.
Where is the Lough Ouler car park?
You can park your car at the top of Glenmacnass Waterfall. If you’ve driven the Sally Gap and are driving towards Glenmacnass, you’ll see the car park to the right before you reach the waterfall.
Can you go swimming at Lough Ouler?
According to Outdoor Swimming Ireland, you can swim in Lough Ouler lake in Wicklow. As is the case with any outdoor swimming, you need to be careful and responsible at all times.
Is the Lough Ouler hike safe?
There’s only one section of the hike that I found a little dodgy, and that was at the very beginning.
On the day that we visited, the stepping stones that you need to take near the car park were like ice. You need to exercise a lot of caution here.
Have you visited Lough Ouler before? Let me know how you found the hike in the comments below!