The Carrauntoohil Hike Guide: A Step-By-Step Guide To The Devils Ladder Route

This guide was fact checked by the experienced climbers at Kerry Climbing

2 photos of Carrauntoohil
Photo left : By Carl Dupont. Photo right : By Failte Ireland/Ireland's Content Pool

The Carrauntoohil hike isn’t a climb you just head off on.

It requires planning and careful consideration and it shouldn’t be attempted by novice climbers (unless accompanied by a guide).

The mighty Carrauntoohil mountain is, at a giddy 1,038 metres, the highest mountain in Ireland – so it isn’t a walk in the park.

Below, you’ll discover the different Carrauntoohil routes, where to park and what to expect. There’s also a step-by-step guide to ascending via Carrauntoohil Devils Ladder route.

Some quick need-to-knows before you start planning your Carrauntoohil hike

Carrauntoohil in Kerry
Photo by wildwave4/shutterstock.com

Climbing Carrauntoohil isn’t anywhere near as straightforward as the likes of the nearby Torc Mountain walk or Cardiac Hill.

The Carrauntoohil hike, depending on which route you take, is one of Ireland’s most challenging climbs. You shouldn’t, under any circumstances, attempt if you’re a hiking amateur without any experience.

The only way you should attempt this hike as an inexperienced climber is if you are accompanied by a guide (more info on guided hikes at the end).

1. Location

You’ll find Carrauntoohil Mountain on the Iveragh Peninsula in an area known as the ‘Reeks District’ in Kerry, a stone’s throw from Killarney.

2. How high

Soaring up to 3,407 ft, Carrauntoohil is the highest point on the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range in the south-west of Ireland.

3. How long it takes to climb

The length of the climb varies depending on which of the Carrauntoohil routes you take. The Devils Ladder route takes around 6 hours. The Brother O’Shea’s Gully route takes around 6, too, while the Caher route takes between 6 and 8 hours.

4. Safety

Climbing Carrauntoohil should only be attempted by experienced climbers or by those accompanied by a guide. The conditions here can change in an instant and dozens of climbers need to be rescued from Carrauntoohil every year.

5. The weather and hiking gear

You’ll need proper hiking gear if you’re climbing Carrauntoohil, and, if possible, you’ll need to plan your trip with decent weather on the horizon! 

Even the most experienced hiker would think twice about taking it on in wet or icy conditions, so planning is essential.

6. Navigational skills

The weather conditions on Carrauntoohil Mountain can change in the blink of an eye. You can, quite literally, go from having nice, clear visibility to not being able to see a foot in front of you in minutes.

If you are unable to use a map and compass, this could result in injury or much, much worse. Ensure that either you or one of your group is competent in navigation and that you have the appropriate tools (map, compass) with you.

The different Carrauntoohil routes

carrauntoohil mountain
Photo by Timaldo (Shutterstock)

There are a number of different Carrauntoohil routes that you can set off on. Now, each route for climbing Carrauntoohil varies in distance and difficulty.

Three of the most popular routes are the Carrauntoohil Devils Ladder route (detailed guide below), the Brother O’Shea’s Gully route and the Caher route.

Route 1: The Devils Ladder 

  • AKA the ‘tourist route’
  • Climb time: 6 hours
  • Difficulty level: Strenuous
  • Other info: You’ll descend the same way you ascend

Route 2: The Brother O’Shea’s Gully route

  • Alternative to the Devils Ladder
  • Climb time: 6 hours
  • Difficulty level: Strenuous

Route 3: The Caher route

  • A long route that takes in Ireland’s third-highest mountain en route to the summit of Carrauntoohil Mountain
  • Climb time: 6-8 hours
  • Difficulty level: Strenuous

Our favourite trail: The Carrauntoohil Devils Ladder route

carrauntoohil devils ladder trail
Carrauntoohil Moutain: Photo by Pierre Leclerc (Shutterstock)

The Carrauntoohil Devils Ladder route is arguably the most popular Carrauntoohil hike route. In fact, it’s so popular that it’s been nicknamed the ‘tourist route’.

The Devil’s Ladder is also the shortest and the most direct way to go about climbing Carrauntoohil Mountain, which is why it gets a lot of footfall.

How long it takes + difficulty level 

Taking between 4 and 6 hours to complete, the Carrauntoohil Devil’s Ladder route is the shortest and most direct way to tackle Carrauntoohil mountain.

The 12km hike is difficult thanks to its length, height, potential conditions and loose rocks underfoot – particularly on the actual Devil’s Ladder section of the trail. It’s strenuous but rewarding!

How to get to Carrauntoohil Mountain

The drive across from Cork along the N22 is about 105km and should take around one hour and forty-five minutes.

If you’re coming down from Dublin via the M7 or M8 then the hefty 320km journey should take about around four hours. Also note that there’s very little in the way of public transport here as it’s a rural and mountainous area.

Where to park 

Located a couple of roads off the N72 and around 15km from Killarney, the traditional starting point for climbing Carrauntoohil is Cronin’s Yard.

There’s plenty of room to park here and you’ll also find a tea-room, toilets and a shower facility. There’s even camping pods on-site, should you wish to spend the night mulling over the challenge to come or basking in the glory of climbing Ireland’s tallest mountain. 

What to bring with you 

As the Carrauntoohil hike is one of the toughest climbs in the country, you’ll want to pack some sturdy walking boots along with some waterproof gear (top and bottom!).

Also chuck in food, drink and some extra layers (depending on how cold it is). In terms of equipment, you’ll need a map, a compass and don’t forget to fully charge your phone. 

The Devils Ladder trail

A hiker approaches "the devils ladder
Carrauntoohil Devils Ladder route: Photo by Carl Dupont on shutterstock.com

The path to the Devil’s Ladder is very straight forward. One of the reasons that it’s as popular as it is is that the path is easy to spot (when the weather is clear) on the ascent and descent.

Start this Carrauntoohil hike from Cronin’s Yard and follow the path into the beautiful Hags Glen, a wide valley with lakes on either side of the trail.

Cross the Gaddagh River using the steppingstones (be careful in wet weather!) and admire the sight of Carrauntoohil mountain rising ahead in the distance while you pass by the Lough’s Gouragh and Callee. 

Climbing the Devil’s Ladder

The walk up to Devil’s Ladder along fairly flat ground should take around 1.5 hours though the ground can get quite boggy in the section leading up to the base and can be quite hard going in poorer conditions. 

The hardest part of the hike is, of course, the rather intimidatingly named Devil’s Ladder and that’s due to its steepness and the potential danger of the loose rocks and pebbles as you climb.

It’s advised to leave a bit of room between yourself and other climbers as you make the scramble up to avoid any falling stones! It might also be handy to bring a walking pole or two to help with this section, especially in more challenging conditions.

On to the summit

The scramble up Devil’s Ladder can take up to 1.5 hours and it’s definitely not an area of the trail to rush. Once you’ve successfully emerged from the ladder, turn right and take on the final long climb to the summit (look out for the cross).

The stony path is well worn, and visibility can be poor at this height so take care on your ascent. Once you’ve made it to the top, you’ll be treated to some stunning views of the Kerry landscape. To get back down, carefully retrace your steps. 

Climbing Carrauntoohil with an experienced guide

climbing Carrauntoohil
Photo left: By Carl Dupont. Photo right: Failte Ireland/Ireland’s Content Pool

Thanks to the difficulty of the Carrauntoohil hike, it may be wise to take advantage of one of the available guided hikes up the mountain.

We recommend the folks at Kerry Climbing. They’re experienced, the reviews are excellent and you’ll be able to enjoy the hike without stressing about getting lost!

Starting in the morning, you can head up Ireland’s highest peak as part of a group tour. Your guide will help you with all the essentials on how to tackle the trail as well as giving you interesting stories about the local myths and legends. 

Ultimately, the best reason for a guided hike though, is that they’ll keep any amateurs or novices safe (especially on the Carrauntoohil Devils Ladder route!) so definitely consider taking one if you’re new to hiking. 

FAQs from those looking for info on the different Carrauntoohil routes

Since mentioned the Carrauntoohil hike in our guide to the best places to visit in Kerry several years ago, we’ve received countless emails asking about the climb.

In the section below, you’ll find the most FAQs. Have a question that we haven’t tackled? Ask away in the comments below!

How long does it take to climb Carrauntoohil?

This is going to vary depending on which of the routes (mentioned above) you opt for. it usually takes between 6 and 8 hours, however, this can change greatly depending on pace, how often you stop and weather conditions.

What height is Carrauntoohil?

Soaring up to 3,407 ft, Carrauntoohil is the highest point on the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range in the south-west of Ireland.

Is the Carrauntoohil Devils Ladder route the best route to the top?

There are several different Carrauntoohil routes. Which one is the best is going to be completely subjective. The Carrauntoohil Devils Ladder route is the most straightforward (and also the quickest) way to reach the summit of Carrauntoohil Mountain.

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