A Guide To The Gap of Dunloe: The Walk, Tours + A Couple Of Warnings

the gap of dunloe in kerry
Photos via Shutterstock

A visit to the Gap of Dunloe is one of the most popular things to do in Kerry.

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.

In the guide below, you’ll find information on everything from the different Gap of Dunloe walks and tours to what to see nearby.

Some quick need-to-knows about visiting the Gap of Dunloe

walking the gap of dunloe
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

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 getting around, as there are several different ways to see the Gap.

1. Location

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). 

2. Parking

If you’re starting the walk from Kate Kearney’s (this version of the walk isn’t looped), there’s ample parking just across from the cottage.

3. How to see it

There are two 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.

The other way to see it is on one of the numerous Gap of Dunloe Tours that take you from Ross’s Castle on a boat trip to Lord Brandon’s Cottage.

4. Driving through it

The only time you should drive along the Gap of Dunloe is very early in the morning. Driving it during the day, while possible, should be avoided, as the area is packed with walkers, cyclists and jaunting cars.

About the Gap of Dunloe

The gap of Dunloe
Photo by Stefano_Valeri (Shutterstock)

A visit to the Gap of Dunloe is one of the most popular things to do in Killarney, and it has been for quite some time now.

Part of the official Ring of Kerry route, the Gap is a fine place for a walk or cycle, and the beauty that it boasts from beginning to end is simply stunning. 

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.

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 Gap of Dunloe walk

the gap of dunloe in kerry
Photos via Shutterstock

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.

The narrow tarmac path passes a series of five stunning lakes, all connected by the River Loe with the backdrop of Kerry’s wonderful Mountains on each side.

Near the start of the walk is an old arch bridge known as the “Wishing Bridge”, it’s said that any wish made on the bridge will come true. 

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 there, you can go down the Gap, descend into the Black Valley and after 30km, you will enter Moll’s Gap.

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.

Note: If you don’t have a bike, there are several places to rent one in Killarney Town. Ask the person you rent the bike from for the best route to follow.

Organised Gap of Dunloe tours 

gap of dunloe tours
Photo by gabriel12 on Shutterstock

There are many different Gap of Dunloe tours on offer. The one that caught my eye on GetYourGuide is this one.

This tour will take you on a 14-mile voyage where you can experience the mountain pass in a more relaxed way.

Starting at 10:45am at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, you will take a 7 mile jaunt on a pony and trap through the Gap until you reach Lord Brandon’s Cottage (and get some snacks there too).

After you have had lunch, you are taken over three lakes on a traditional open boat which lasts about 2-hours. After the idyllic boat trip, you will reach the 15th century Ross Castle with the tour ending around 3.30pm.

Note: If you book a tour through the link above we’ll make a tiny commission that helps pay for the running of this site. You won’t pay extra, but we really appreciate it.

Things to see near the Gap of Dunloe

Ladies view killarney
Photo by Borisb17 (Shutterstock)

One of the beauties of the Gap of Dunloe is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.

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
Photo by Stefano_Valeri on Shutterstock

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 killarney
Photo by Chris Hill via Tourism Ireland

Muckross House and Gardens lies in a peaceful spot in Killarney National Park and this magical 19th century Victorian house once had Queen Victoria as a guest! There are also a number of gardens to stroll through with many flora originating from the southern hemisphere.

Muckross Abbey was once the home to Irish monks, founded sometime in 1448, the ruins feature amazing cloisters to walk through and the ancient Yew tree, considered the oldest yew tree in Ireland.

3. Torc Waterfall

torc waterfall killarney
Photo left: Luis Santos. Photo right: gabriel12 (Shutterstock)

The area where Torc Waterfall sits was once habitat to wild boars before their extinction and Torc means “wild boar”. There are two popular walks nearby: The tough Cardiac Hill walk and the brilliant Torc Mountain walk.

4. Ladies View

Ladies view killarney
Photo by Borisb17 (Shutterstock)

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

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.

How long does it take to walk the Gap of Dunloe?

It takes around 5 hours to complete the Gap if you start your walk from Kate Kearney’s (it isn’t a looped walk).

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. 

Originally from County Tyrone, Johnny's yearning for new experiences and cultures has taken from Bundoran to Bangkok and everywhere in between!

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