Slieve Gullion Forest Park is a bit of a hidden gem.
However, to those in the know, this mythical mountain is a place where you’ll be treated to some of the best views in Ireland.
Home to walking trails, a playground, a cafe and plenty of often-missed features (like the lake), it’s well worth exploring, as you’ll discover below.
Some quick need-to-knows about Slieve Gullion Forest Park
Before you dive into the guide below, take 20 seconds to read these points, as they’ll save you time in the long run:
Getting to Slieve Gullion Forest Park in Newry couldn’t be easier. It’s a 15-minute drive from the centre of Newry and a 20-minute drive from Dundalk.
2. ‘Ireland’s most mystic mountain’
With a tangible history that goes back almost 7,000 years, it’s no wonder that W. B. Yeats called it the most mystic mountain in Ireland. The great news is that you can explore this mythic site, as there’s a hiking route that takes around 4.5-hours, or you can drive around it in about 30-minutes
3. Breathtaking views
Climb to the stony summit of Slieve Gullion, and you’ll soon see why this mountain is steeped in Irish myth and legend. The dramatic and inspiring views that draw your eyes out across southern Armagh, to Dublin Bay, even Wicklow on a good day, are simply out of this world.
4. Plenty to keep kids busy
This mountain isn’t just for big kids; it’s also home to plenty of stuff to keep the little ones occupied. Start by exploring one of Northern Ireland’s most ambitious arts projects; The Giant’s Lair, where there’s more than fairies in the woodland. Then, head over to Slieve Gullion Adventure Playpark, to burn off some excess energy.
Of course, with a full day of fun on this mountain, you’re going to need some refreshing, and thankfully there’s a great cafe on the mountain, Synge&Byrne. You’ll find their menu is full of timeless classics done right, they also serve great Java Coffee.
About Slieve Gullion Mountain
With each step, you’ll become more entranced with this mystical mountain and its legendary story.
Despite usually only being known as the highest point in Armagh, it’s also the heart of the Ring of Gullion and it has rightly earned its ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ title.
On top of that, much of the heath that covers Slieve Gullion Mountain is also listed as a Special Area of Conservation and an Environmentally Sensitive Area.
Slieve Gullion Mountain is also known for bearing two burial cairns that date back to c.3500-2900BCE.
One of the cairns also features an impressively large and detailed passage tomb, the highest surviving in all of Ireland.
It’s said that Slieve Gullion is in fact the home of Cailleach Bhéara, who in Gaelic myth was a divine hag or old woman, with many of the nearby sites bearing her name.
Two famous myths revolve around Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) and Cú Chulainn (Sétanta), and how they came by their names; spoiler, it’s to do with events that take place at Slieve Gullion Forest Park.
Things to do at Slieve Gullion Park
There’s plenty of things to see and do in and around the park here that make it a great morning-out destination.
Below, you’ll find forest walks, looped drives and some things to keep the little ones occupied!
1. The Slieve Gullion Loop
A moderately difficult trail (see our detailed guide to the Slieve Gullion walk), it makes for an engrossing day out for those that like to dawdle, or a challenging half-day hike for the fit and ready.
It’ll take around 4.5-hours to walk for most people to complete the 13.5-kilometre loop, with an overall ascent of 511-metres.
During this walk, you’ll explore castles and cairns, forests and stony mountain faces, a latticework of green fields, and dramatic views at every turn.
There are toilets and a cafe in the Slieve Gullion Forest Park Courtyard, where you can freshen up, or reward your efforts afterwards, with the large car park catering to 120 cars.
2. The scenic drive
Already hiked Slieve Gullion and want another crack, or maybe you’d rather take an easier route? Either way, there’s a great scenic drive which can be done by car or bicycle and takes stunning views of the Ring of Gullion and southern Co. Armagh.
The route starts at the cafe in the Forest Park and heads up the mountain in a one-way drive.
The views are spectacular, and explorers are invited to learn more about the geology, archaeology, wildlife and legends of Slieve Gullion, as well as take in the views across the Mourne Mountains, Cooley Peninsula, and Armagh Drumlins.
3. The Giant’s Lair
Known for its ambitious nature, this remarkable children’s arts project has to be one of the most amazing and encompassing experiences for the young and young at heart.
Now a must-see landmark and cultural attraction, it’s fun for everyone with an innovative look at local myths and legends and a fantastical fairy trail that wanders through woodland.
The Giant’s Lair mixes a magical ‘living storybook’ into telling tales of dragons, giants, witches, and fairies that all inhabit this special woodland that envelops the slopes of Slieve Gullion Forest Park.
Situated next to the Adventure Playpark, there’s handy parking for both attractions, and nearby amenities and comforts.
4. Slieve Gullion Adventure Playpark
Using the backdrop of Slieve Gullion to best effect, this adventure and play park is loads of fun for the whole family.
Scale the climbing frames and become King or Queen of the castle or take a spin across the zip-line.
Whilst you’re on the run, and exploring the maze and swings, keep an eye out for the Forest Park’s Red Squirrels, and other indigenous wildlife that lives in this magical mountain landscape.
Things to do near Slieve Gullion
One of the beauties of the Ring of Gullion is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Armagh.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Gullion (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Newry for food (25-minute drive)
Newry is a handy 15-minute spin from the park and it’s a great spot for a bite-to-eat. If you fancy something hearty, head on into the brilliant La Dolce Vita Pizza Burger Bar for a slap up feed.
2. Walks galore (25 minutes +)
There’s heaps of walks a stone’s throw from the park:
- Ravensdale Forest (11-minute drive)
- Annaloughan Loop Walk (20-minute drive)
- Kilbroney Park (35-minute drive)
- Slieve Foye (40-minute drive).
3. The Mourne Mountains (35-minute drive)
There’s a wide range of walks on and around the Mourne Mountains, with everything from easy coastal routes to more challenging steep hills. Most of the walks are circular, and will loopback, but do check before setting off.
4. Carlingford (35-minute drive)
If you head into the Cooley Peninsula, be sure to stop by Carlingford to explore its gems, like King John’s Castle and the Heritage Centre, and there’s also a host of restaurants and cafes where you can grab a bite to eat.
FAQs about Slieve Gullion Park
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘How do you reach the lake?’ to ‘When’s it open?’.
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 is Gullion Forest Drive?
If you were to drive around Slieve Gullion Forest Park without stopping, it’d take you roughly 25 – 30 minutes. However, allow an hour as the views are outstanding.
Is Slieve Gullion hard to climb?
The looped trail up around Slieve Gullion Park is moderately tough. It’s a 4.5-hour/13.5-km walk, so good fitness is needed.
Can you drive to the top of Slieve Gullion?
You can’t drive to the very top of Slieve Gullion Forest Park, but you can get pretty close to it, with a car park not far from the summit.
What county is Slieve Gullion Forest Park in?
Slieve Gullion Park is located in County Armagh, a stone’s throw from Newry and just up the road from Dundalk in Louth.
I was born in a quiet corner of a Gaeltacht on the Dingle Peninsula. Over the years, I’ve explored Ireland far and wide, from the wilds of West Clare to the shores of Sherkin. Particularly fond of heritage, history and hikes (and words beginning with ‘H’, apparently…).