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Everything You Need To Know About The Mourne Mountains

Everything You Need To Know About The Mourne Mountains

The mighty Mourne Mountains boast some of Ireland’s most epic landscapes.

But this gorgeous corner of County Down is so much more than just towering peaks.

With lush forests, bustling lakes, stunning beaches and charming towns, you could easily spend a week exploring the area surrounding the Mountains of Mourne.

Below, you’ll find everything from facts and our favourite walks to where to stay nearby and more.

Some quick need-to-knows about the Mourne Mountains

Mourne Mountains

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Before scrolling to the main guide, take 20 seconds to get up-to-speed with the points below:

1. Location

The Mourne Mountains rise up from southeast County Down in Northern Ireland and are located just north of Carlingford Lough. The nearest town (and the one most convenient for hiking) is Newcastle, while the Mournes are around an hour’s drive south from Belfast.

2. Home to Northern Ireland’s highest mountains

The Mountains of Mourne are the highest mountain range in Northern Ireland, and Slieve Donard – its tallest peak – is the seventh highest mountain on the entire island of Ireland!

3. But the Mournes are much more than mountains

With the beautiful Tollymore Forest and the calm expanse of the Silent Valley Reservoir nearby, you’ll find out that the Mournes are far more than simply a collection of impressive summits! Spending time here reveals a host of beaches, forests and lakes to explore.

4. The Mourne Wall

One of the first things you’ll notice in the Mournes is the presence of a dry stone wall crossing a bunch of the mountains. Measuring 22 miles in length, the Mourne Wall passes over 15 summits and was completed in 1922. It’s also pretty useful when hiking and plenty of the trails follow it!

5. The Mourne shuttle bus

One glance at the map will tell you that the Mournes cover a vast area, so to help you with your walks there’s a handy shuttle bus on hand. They’ll whisk you up to the most convenient starting points while facilitating linear walks and overcoming parking issues.

About the Mountains of Mourne

Slieve Doan hike

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The Mountains of Mourne are a compact range of granite peaks rising abruptly from the Irish Sea that extend for 9 miles (14.5 km) between Newcastle and Rostrevor.

They date back to the Neogene Period (i.e., 23 to 2.6 million years ago) and their Irish name is Beanna Boirche.

Many mighty peaks

There are almost 100 peaks in the entire range, though just over a dozen exceed 2,000ft in height and these are the ones that visitors tend to hike. 

Reaching a height of 2,789 feet (850 metres), Slieve Donard is the highest of all the Mourne Mountains and it sits at the northeastern edge of the Mournes, overlooking Newcastle and Dundrum Bay.

Views that’ll take your breath away

On clear days the Mournes can be seen from the Isle of Man, Dublin and even across the water in Scotland (well, Slieve Donard can be seen at the very least!). 

And it’ll come as no surprise to learn that the Mournes are full of myth and folklore. In fact, the famous English fantasy writer CS Lewis even based his Narnia stories on the mountains!

“I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge,” he wrote in his essay On Stories.

Our favourite Mourne Mountains walks

mourne mountains

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Although we have a dedicated guide to the various Mourne Mountain walks, I’m going to show you our favourites.

These range from moderate to hard and for many of the trails you’ll need hiking experience and a good level of fitness.

1. Slieve Donard (via Glen River)

Slieve Donard

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Northern Ireland’s tallest mountain is an absolute must and the walk via Glen River is a linear route of around 4.6km (9.2km in total). It should take between 4-5 hours to complete, depending on pace and weather.

One unique thing about the Slieve Donard hike (aside from the stunning panoramic views!) is that since it’s only 3km from the sea, you can ascend the full 850m height from sea level at 0m.

2. Slieve Bearnagh Hike (via Hare’s Gap)

Slieve Bearnagh walk

Photos via Shutterstock

The double peak of Slieve Bearnagh makes it one of the most recognisble of the Mourne Mountains and it’s also a fairly long walk. 

Full of steady climbs, steep pitches, scrambles and ridges throughout its solid length, this is one for seasoned hikers and should take between 3.5 to 4 hours to complete its 9km length.

3. Slieve Doan (via Ott Car Park)

slieve doan walk

Photos with thanks to @headinthewild

Despite being one of the smallest of the main Mourne Mountains, Slieve Doan boasts arguably the deadliest views of the lot! The 8km route is reasonably straightforward and suits everyone from casual walkers to seasoned hikers.

Which is good news, as the magnificent 360-degree panoramas from Doan’s summit are exceptional and are well worth the 4-5 hour journey there and back. 

4. Slieve Meelmore and Meelbeg (via Ott Car Park)

Slieve Meelmore And Meelbeg

Photos via Shutterstock

Two for the price of one! This circular walk in the High Mournes tackles two of the seven highest peaks in the region – Slieve Meelmore and Slieve Meelbeg.

From the Ott Car Park, this 5.5 mile (9km) walk should take around four hours to complete and is moderately challenging. 

5. The Hare’s Gap (via Trassey Car Park)

Hare's Gap walk

Photos via Shutterstock

This linear walk doesn’t reward you with a final summit, but you will experience one of Ireland’s most dramatic passes and you’ll get a seriously unique view! The Hare’s Gap is also the start point for a few other trails.

The seven-kilometre walk should take around two and half hours to complete and is manageable for inexperienced walkers (it can get pretty windy up there though!). 

6. Slieve Binnian (via Carrick Little Car Park)

Slieve Binnian walk

Photos via Shutterstock

Taking on Slieve Binnian means tackling one of the longest walks in the Mournes but the views are epic so make sure you properly prepare for a walk like this! 

Binnian is the third-highest mountain of the Mournes and the looped hike clocks in at 7 miles or 11.2km and should take around 3-4 hours to complete. 

Forests, beaches and other attractions in the Mournes

The Mountains of Mourne are home to endless things to see an do, aside from long hikes.

Below, you’ll find forest parks, breath-taking beaches and several of the most unique things to do in Northern Ireland.

1. Tollymore Forest Park

Tollymore Forest Park

Photos via Shutterstock

A world away from the wind-whipped mountain trails, Tollymore Forest Park is an enchanting world of hanging trees and quiet trails that could easily pass for a Lord of the Rings set! 

Just a short drive from the cracking little seaside town of Newcastle and located at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne, there’s plenty to do in the beautiful 630-hectare forest including camping, horse riding and orienteering.

2. Silent Valley Reservoir

Silent Valley Reservoir

Photos via Shutterstock

While its more functional job is supplying most of the water for County Down and Belfast, Silent Valley Reservoir is actually one of the prettiest and most tranquil spots to visit in the Mournes. 

Located just to the west of Slieve Binnian, there are plenty of hikes to tackle around it as well as simpler rambles like the lovely Silent Valley Nature Trail.

3. Rostrevor Forest

Cloughmore Stone

Photos via Shutterstock

Rostrevor Forest hugs the southwestern side of the Mournes and is a gorgeous mature oak woodland covering 1,700 acres on a steep west-facing slope overlooking Carlingford Lough.

With a scenic drive and three waymarked trails varying in length, there are a bunch of ways to explore Rostrevor and miss the famous Cloughmore Stone (more on that later!). 

4. Donard Forest

Donard Forest

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Situated at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, Donard Forest offers some gorgeous views across County Down, including Newcastle, Dundrum Bay, St John’s Point and Slieve Croob.

Get stuck into the scenic trails through pine-filled forest and look out for the Holly Blue butterfly and a wide range of bird species. The Glen River Bridge is a particularly  picturesque viewpoint for Donard Forest’s cascades and waterfalls.

5. Castlewellan Forest Park

Castlewellan Forest

Photos via Shutterstock

You’ll find Castlewellan Forest just a few minutes’ drive north of Tollymore Forest and it’s packed to the brim with activities and beauty.

With a mile-long lake, an outstanding tree and shrub collection and a garden featuring terraces, fountains, ornamental gates and flower borders, it’s a beautifully peaceful spot to stroll. 

Castlewellan is also a lovely place for a leisurely bike ride.

6. Spelga Dam

spelga dam

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Built in 1960, Spelga Dam is another body of water in the Mournes that’s so peaceful it could be therapeutic! As well as the lovely walks and cracking scenery, Spelga is also home to a ‘famous magic hill’.

Just to the south of the reservoir, an optical illusion gives the impression your car is rolling uphill when you take your handbrake off! 

7. Cloughmore Stone

Cloughmore Stone

© Tourism Ireland photographed by Brian Morrison via Ireland’s Content Pool

One of the more unique attractions in the Mountains of Mourne is the Cloughmore Stone.

There are plenty of great views over Carlingford Lough, but none are more unique than the one next to the massive Cloughmore Stone! 

A granite boulder with a calculated mass of 50 tonnes, it sits on the slopes of Slieve Martin and local legend has it that the stone was thrown across the lough from the Cooley Mountains by the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill.

8. Beaches

newcastle down

Photos via Shutterstock

Completing the cracking scenery around the mountains are the selection of fine beaches nearby. 

Newcastle Beach, Warrenpoint Beach, Cranfield Beach and Murlough Beach are all deadly spots in the summer for a ramble and a place to stretch out in the sun.

And don’t forget that Newcastle Beach is right by its namesake town and is ideal for ice creams and fish and chips throughout the summer.

Where to stay in the Mournes

mourne mountains hotels

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We’ve a dedicated guide to the best Mourne Mountain hotels, but here are some of our favourites.

Note: if you book a stay through one of the links below we may make a tiny commission that helps us keep this site going. You won’t pay extra, but we really do appreciate it.

1. Hotels

  • Harbour House Inn Newcastle: A perfect spot at the foot of the Mournes and only a short walk to the delights of Newcastle.
  • The Donard: A cosy family-run hotel that’s well-located in the heart of Newcastle.
  • Kilmorey Arms Hotel: Stylish hotel in the southeast corner of the Mourne Mountains and not far from Cranfield Beach.

2. B&Bs

  • The Sands B&B Rostrevor: Charming little B&B in the picturesque village of Rostrevor with spectacular views of  Kilbroney Forest Park, The Cooley Mountains and Carlingford Lough.
  • Greencastle B&B: Former lighthouse keeper’s house built in 1851 and offering sublime views across Carlingford Lough.
  • The Oystercatcher: Casual little B&B that’s just a few moments from the water’s edge in Rostrevor.

3. Self-catering

Self-catering accommodation is always a great option for those who want a little more freedom on their holidays. If you’re visiting the Mournes with a group, there are excellent options ranging from big to small all around the area. Here’s a few spots to check out!

FAQs about the Mountains of Mourne

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Where is the secret waterfall?’ to ‘Which peak is the toughest?’.

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.

How long does it take to walk the Mourne Mountains?

There are many, many walks in the area and they range from 2 hours to 6 hours in length, depending on pace.

What is the easiest Mourne mountain to climb?

Slieve Doan (via Ott Car Park) is one of the more straightforward routes in the area, although good fitness is required.

What is the hardest mountain to climb in the Mournes?

Slieve Lamagan, which is arguably one of the lesser-known peaks in the area, is one of the hardest Mourne Mountains to summit.

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