A morning spent exploring the Gap of Dunloe is one of the most popular things to do in Kerry.
However, a visit here tends to cause a fair bit of confusion for first time visitors.
There are several ways to see it – you can do the Gap of Dunloe walk, you can see it by Jaunting Car and you can cycle it.
There’s also the Gap of Dunloe drive, which comes with many warnings. Discover all you need to know below!
Some quick need-to-knows about visiting the Gap of Dunloe
Although a visit to the Gap of Dunloe is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit smoother. Pay particular attention to the point about the Gap of Dunloe drive!
You’ll find the most popular start-point for the Gap of Dunloe (Kate Kearney’s Cottage) 12km west of Killarney town (roughly a 15-minute drive away).
The main Gap of Dunloe parking area is located beside the brilliant Kate Kearney’s Cottage. There’s ample parking here but note that it gets busy during the summer.
3. How to see it
There are several ways to explore the Gap of Dunloe. The ‘traditional’ way is to start at Kate Kearney’s Cottage and walk out to Lord Brandon’s Cottage. You can also rent a Jaunting Car (the horse and cart), cycle it or join one of the Gap of Dunloe Tours (info below).
4. Gap of Dunloe drive (warning)
We get endless emails asking about the Gap of Dunloe drive each week. You should never drive the Gap of Dunloe during the day. The reason for this is that the narrow route will be packed with Jaunting Cars, walkers and cyclists. If you want to drive the Gap of Dunloe, do it very early in the morning before people arrive.
5. Part of the Ring of Kerry
The Gap is part of the Ring of Kerry, a 179km long (111 mile) route that takes in many of Kerry’s top attractions. For that reason, it can get exceptionally busy during the summer season.
About the Gap of Dunloe
Situated between two stunning mountain ranges (the MacGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain), the Gap of Dunloe is a fine place to whittle away an afternoon.
Best explore by foot or on bike, the Gap of Dunloe is one of those places where you kind of feel like you’ve stepped back in time, and I mean that in the best possible sense.
How it was formed
The Gap of Dunloe was created naturally sometime 25,000 years ago during the last ice age of Ireland.
A glacier situated in the Black Valley, which was estimated to be over 500 metres deep and part of the Templenoe Icecap, broke off into the Head of the Gap, slowly pushing northward which eventually resulted in a carved out U-shaped valley.
Lakes and appearence
The stunning glacial lakes, which are all connected by the river Loe, were also created when this huge glacier broke off.
This glacial breach is also the reason why the mountains in the Gap are characterised with their distinct, jagged appearance.
The meaning of the name
The name Dunloe is thought to be the Anglicization of “Dún Lóich” which means fort or stronghold of Lóich.
Deala Mac Lóich was the first leader of the powerful Fir Bolg (“men of bags”) clan and the father of five mighty chieftains that conquered Ireland and divided the country into five provinces, each ruled by one brother.
The different ways to see the Gap of Dunloe
There are several ways to explore this place. Arguably the most popular amongst visiting tourists is via one of the Gap of Dunloe tours.
Personally, I prefer the shorter walk, but I’ll pop down the ‘main’ options you have below.
Option 1: The Gap of Dunloe walk (short and long version)
The most popular Gap of Dunloe walk is the one that starts off at the now-iconic 150-year old family-run Kate Kearney’s Cottage.
The walk takes you over beautiful little bridges, alongside streams, past old ruins and treats you to stunning views throughout.
The only downside of this Gap of Dunloe walk is that it isn’t looped, which means that, once you reach Lord Brandon’s Cottage, you’ll need to retrace your steps.
The walk can take up to 5 hours to complete (roughly 2.5 hours each way) but it’s more than worth it and should be doable for most fitness levels.
If you don’t fancy the long walk, you can take the short ramble to the wishing bridge (the yellow marker on the map above). It’ll take you 15 minutes to walk to here.
This option is good for: Those with reasonable fitness levels who have their own mode of transport.
Option 2: A boat, jaunting and bus combo
One of the more popular Gap of Dunloe tours is this one (affiliate link) which has racked up rave reviews online.
It’s a 5 hour tour that meets at Ross Castle in Killarney National Park and then brings you to Kate Kearney’s Cottage.
From there, you’ll climb into a Jaunting Car and trot up through the Gap of Dunloe, soaking up the views and plenty of stories along the way.
You’ll then get into a boat and take a 2-hour spin around the Lakes of Killarney where you’ll be given a unique perspective on one of the most scenic corners of Kerry.
This option is good for: Those happy to pay a bit more (price from around €110) to have everything arranged for them
Option 3: By foot and boat
Another of the more popular Gap of Dunloe tours is this one (affiliate link) which, over the course of 5 hours, takes in the best of the area.
You’ll be transported by bus from Killarney to the entrance of the Gap where you will then walk up towards Brandon’s Cottage.
This is a long trail (see the Gap of Dunloe hike map at the start of this guide) and you’ll need decent fitness levels.
You’ll then climb aboard a boat and spin across to Ross Castle, taking in mountain and lake views en route.
This option is good for: Those with good fitness levels, no mode of transport and who want to explore on foot
Option 4: Cycling the Gap of Dunloe
If you have a bike, you can take a 56 km loop cycle where you can enjoy the Black Valley, Molls Gap and many other visual treats.
From Killarney town centre, start on the Ring of Kerry towards Killorglin until you see “the Gap Rd” and head down the country road leading to Kate’s Kearney’s.
From Moll’s Gap, take the N71 Rd back to Killarney and you will come across Ladies View on the way, ideal for a refuel and enjoy amazing views.
Need a bike? There’s plenty of places to rent every kind of bike in Killarney Town!
Things to see near the Gap of Dunloe
One of the beauties of the Gap of Dunloe is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do in Killarney and beyond.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the Gap of Dunloe (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Ross Castle
Ross Castle is a 15th century tower house located on the edge of the beautiful Lough Leane. The castle was once home to the infamous O’Donoghue tribe who constructed the castle to withstand attack.
2. Muckross House and Abbey
Muckross House and Gardens lies in a peaceful spot in Killarney National Park! There are a number of gardens to stroll through with flora originating from the southern hemisphere. Muckross Abbey was once the home to Irish monks, founded sometime in 1448. The ruins are wonderful to walk around and the yew tree growing at the centre never fails to impress.
3. Torc Waterfall
4. Ladies View
When Queen Victoria and her ladies-in-waiting were travelling through the area, they stopped for a picnic at what’s now known as Ladies View. The ladies-in-waiting discovered the amazing view and were said to be speechless by its beauty, hence where the name comes from.
FAQs about visiting the Gap of Dunloe in Ireland
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from whether or not you can drive the Gap of Dunloe to how long the walk 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.
Can you drive the Gap of Dunloe?
It is possible to drive the Gap of Dunloe, however, there are many hikers, cyclists and the horse-drawn jaunting cars on the route as well. The only time you should drive the Gap of Dunloe is very early in the morning, before the crowds arrive.
Is the Gap of Dunloe walk hard?
The long version of the Gap of Dunloe hike takes around 5 hours (it’s linear). There’s a shorter, 30-minute walk that takes you to the wishing bridge that’s doable for most.
How far is Gap of Dunloe from Killarney?
The Gap is located 12km west of Killarney town and takes around 15 minutes to get there by car.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.