Unlike many of the hikes outlined in our guide to the best walks in Wicklow, the Lugnaquilla hike isn’t one to be taken lightly.
The highest mountain in Ireland outside of County Kerry, Lugnaquilla Mountain is a mighty hike deep in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains!
And while it doesn’t have the classic pointy pyramid look of other famous nearby mountains, like the one you climb on the Great Sugarloaf walk, its vast flat-topped plateau is nonetheless impressive.
Fancy taking on the beast known locally as ‘Lug’? There are a few different Lugnaquilla routes that you can choose from, so let’s get into them!
A warning: If you can’t use a map and compass, or if you aren’t doing this hike with someone who can, you shouldn’t attempt this climb.
About Lugnaquilla: The highest mountain in Wicklow
Located in the south-west corner of the Wicklow Mountains, Lugnaquilla mountain is surrounded by many other summits along with a handful of corrie lakes.
Coming in at a not-too-shabby 925 metres (3,035 ft), ‘Lug’ is Ireland’s 11th tallest peak, the highest in the province of Leinster and the highest mountain in Ireland outside of County Kerry.
Its name comes from the Irish Log na Coille, meaning “hollow of the wood”, while its plateau is known as Percy’s Table, apparently after a local 18th-century landowner going by the name of Colonel Percy.
Things to consider before attempting the Lugnaquilla hike
Owing to its length and the notoriously poor visibility in poor weather conditions (particularly on the plateau), the Lugnaquilla hike is one of Ireland’s more difficult climbs.
Thus, it is really only suitable for experienced hikers who are trained in navigation and that are capable of looking after themselves in bad weather conditions (unless you’re taking part in a guided hike, that is!).
Lugnaquilla weather conditions
Lugnaquilla mountain frequently gets wetter, windier and colder weather than its neighbours so it’s essential to prepare properly and check the weather forecast.
In fact, temperatures at the summit of Lugnaquilla can get as low as -15C with windchill! It’s also worth noting that a clear day in the Wicklow Mountains doesn’t mean a clear day on Lug.
You’ll often have clear blue skies around Wicklow and then low, dense cloud hanging over Lug (it’s the highest point in the county, after all).
The likes of Mountain Forecast and Yr.No are two handy sites for checking conditions (you can also just whack ‘Lugnaquilla Weather’).
The routes on the Lugnaquilla hike can be extremely difficult to follow in the recurrent cloud cover so the ability to use a map and a compass is an ESSENTIAL skill.
Climbing Lugnaquilla isn’t the issue – it’s getting back down it in poor conditions that can result in VERY serious situations. If in doubt, do not do the Lugnaquilla hike.
Daylight, a phone and a companion
If you’re planning on trying the Lugnaquilla walk, make sure to arrive at the starting point for the route early, to ensure that you won’t be up the mountain when the sun starts to drop.
You should also do this hike with a companion, when possible. Hopefully, it goes without saying that a fully charged phone is also a necessity.
Climbing Lugnaquilla Mountain: the different routes
If you’re thinking about climbing Lugnaquilla, you have several different routes to choose from, depending on where you fancy starting the hike and how long you want to walk for.
Below, you’ll find two Lugnaquilla routes (there are several others, such as Luqnaquilla via the Great Gully) with info on where to park, where the trail starts, how long each takes and more.
If you’ve read to this point and you’re worried about navigation, try a different Wicklow walk, like the Lough Ouler hike where you’ll get a glimpse at Ireland’s heart-shaped lake.
Route 1: Lugnaquilla from Glenmalure
Climbing Lugnaquilla from Glenmalure is the most scenic hike of the two we’re covering in this guide. This route is 15km long and will take you around 5-6 hours to complete.
You’ll be heading into the beautiful Glenmalure Valley and passing by some gorgeous scenery on the way to the summit.
This Lugnaquilla hike is tough at times and does go through some boggy marshland but it’s arguably the most rewarding of the three routes.
Where to park
If you’re driving the 80km journey from Dublin, you’ll need to come via the M50 and the R755 and head for Baravore car park. The drive should take around an hour and a half.
Where to start the trail
Start the trail at the path near the historic Glenmalure Youth Hostel (dating back to 1903!). It’s a 9-minute walk from the car park to the hostel.
The forest track to the left will take you into the steep rock-strewn Fraughan Rock Glen, just next to the Benleagh River. The views in the section are stunning and it’s worth stopping for a moment to drink them all in!
The twin flanks of the valley open up and you’ll be rewarded with great views all the way across to the sloping summit of Lugduff.
The route to the summit
Once you’re up and over the glen and heading to the north ridge of Lugnaquilla mountain, you’ll hit the boggy marshland as I mentioned earlier.
This section can be a little hard going (and monotonous) but the spectacular landscapes around you should make this part of the trail much easier to abide by.
When you reach the vast open summit (fingers crossed it’s a clear day!), you’ll then be able to take in some incredible views.
If you get lucky and the skies are clear, you’ll be treated to views of Dublin, the Great Sugarloaf, the coast and maybe, just maybe, a glimpse of Snowdon’s jagged peak over in Wales.
Route 2: Lugnaquilla from the Glen of Imaal/Fenton’s Pub
The shortest route of the three and, unsurprisingly, also known as ‘the tourist route’, this trek starts from Fenton’s Pub in the Glen of Imaal.
Coming in at a slightly brisker 13km, this version of the Lugnaquilla hike should take you between 4-5 hours to complete.
It’s also an easier walk than the Glenmalure route though the trail does pass through an artillery range (seriously!) so look out for the triangular warning signs on the way.
Where to park
The Luqnaquillan from Glen of Imaal trail kicks off near the now-iconic Fenton’s Pub. It’ll take you 70 minutes to get here from Dublin Airport and just over 40 minutes if you’re leaving from Glendalough.
Where to start the trail
The trail from Fentons isn’t marked, but it’s reasonably straightforward to follow on the way up. Head around to the back of Fentons and you’ll see a worn trail that forms the starting point of this Lugnaquilla trail.
The route to the summit
The trail from the back of Fenton’s takes you out onto Military Road. You’ll follow this road for a bit until it reaches a bend. You’ll see a trail just after the bend that goes up the hill (Camara Hill) in front of you.
You’ll need to reach the top of this hill first before you head on to the summit of Lug. The ground here can be difficult enough to walk along, but a sturdy pair of walking boots should do the job.
This Lugnaquilla walk will take you VERY CLOSE TO an artillery range (it’s on your left as you ascend) so look out for the triangular warning signs on the way and make sure to adhere to the notices.
The range is usually pretty quiet at weekends but be sure to check ahead on their operating times if you’re tackling this walk mid-week.
Lugnaquilla map and wrap up
We’ve had a tonne of emails since first publishing this guide that asks for an interactive Luqnaquilla map that can be followed on a phone.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t, to my knowledge, exist (open to correction), which is why sufficient navigation skills are needed to safely climb the highest point in County Wicklow.
It may seem like we’re going on and on about the dangers of the Lugnaquilla hike, but it’s justified – people regularly get into trouble during their climb (usually when trying to get back down).
If you’re after an easier walk, check out our guide to the best Glendalough walks (there are long and short rambles to choose from).