A Guide To The Slieve Donard Walk (Conquering The Highest Mountain In Northern Ireland)

Slieve Donard walk
Photo left: Michal Durinik. Photo right: Carl Dupont (Shutterstock.com)

The Slieve Donard Mountain hike is arguably one of the best walks in Northern Ireland.

While it’s been through a few name changes in the past (Beann Boirche, Sliabh Slangha), one thing that hasn’t changed is Slieve Donard’s position as the highest mountain in Northern Ireland.

From the Giants Causeway to Slemish Mountain, the North is blessed with some serious natural wonders and a hike up Slieve Donard mountain needs to be on your NI bucket list! 

In the guide below, you’ll find a full trail to follow for the Slieve Donard mountain walk, including where to park, how long it takes and much more.

About Slieve Donard Mountain

Slieve Donard walk
Photo by Michal Durinik (Shutterstock)

Located on the County Down coast, the mighty granite peak of Slieve Donard Mountain is visible for miles amid the 12 other majestic peaks that make up the magnificent Mournes.

The Slieve Donard walk is one of the more popular walks in the area, however, the likes of the Slemish Mountain walk and the Glenariff Forest Park walk are worth a shot, too!

Slieve Donard mountain is named after a saint – known in Irish as Domhanghart. A disciple of Saint Patrick, Saint Donard built a small prayer cell at the summit of the mountain during the fifth century.

Up until the 1830s, people would make a pilgrimage to the peak of Slieve Donard Mountain in late July of each year. 

Climbing Slieve Donard Mountain: 6 quick need-to-knows

climbing Slieve Donard
Photo by Carl Dupont on shutterstock.com

It will hopefully go without saying that you need to be adequately prepared before you tackle a walk as long as the Slieve Donard hike.

Below, we’ve stuck in some quick need-to-knows, however, please do ensure that you apply common sense, also, when setting off to climb Slieve Donard (i.e. check the weather in advance!).

1. How long does it take to climb Slieve Donard? 

The Glen River Slieve Donard mountain walk is a linear route of around 4.6km (9.2km in total). It should take between 4-5 hours to complete, depending on pace and weather. 

2. How high is Slieve Donard?

Soaring up to a height of 850m (2789ft), Slieve Donard mountain is the tallest of the Mourne Mountain range and it is the highest mountain in Northern Ireland.

3. Difficulty level

The Slieve Donard walk is generally defined as moderate to strenuous. Although long and steep in places, it isn’t too difficult, when conditions are good.

So, if you have a reasonable level of fitness then it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The views are certainly worth the workout!

4. The weather and navigation skills

The weather is a massive factor you need to take into consideration when thinking about climbing Slieve Donard. The weather on Donard is very changeable.

Ensure that you take adequate precaution when it comes to heading off on the hike. If the conditions are bad, leave it for another day. As always, good navigational skills are crucial when it comes to tackling longer hikes. 

5. What to wear/bring with you

If you’re climbing Slieve Donard, make sure to pack a pair of sturdy walking boots along with layers to you can take off if it gets to warm and chuck back on when you get cool.

Don’t forget to bring a decent supply of food and water since the Slieve Donard hike is a long old hike and make sure your phone is fully charged before setting out for the day.

6. The Slieve Donard car park

The Donard car park is located at the south end of the Central Promenade in the coastal town of Newcastle. The Glen River route then leaves from Donard Park on the outskirts of town.

7. What makes this climb unique

One unique thing about the Slieve Donard climb, aside from the views, is that since it’s only 3km from the sea, you can ascend the full 850m from sea level at 0m.

The Carrauntoohil hike, for example – Ireland’s highest mountain at 1,039m – only has an ascent of 889m if you start at the popular Hags Glen). 

The Slieve Donard Walk (The Glen River Route)

Slieve Donard car park
Photos by Colin Majury on shutterstock.com

As mentioned earlier, the Glen River route is the most popular path up the mountain for those thinking about climbing Slieve Donard and that’s the one we’ll be covering here. 

Leave the Donard car park and ascend the hill along a well-trodden path into the forest of Donard Wood, where the Slieve Donard climb truly starts.

A walk through woodland

Full of oak, birch and Scots pine, it’s rich woodland you’ll be walking through here and is a lovely way to start off what’ll be a long trek up Slieve Donard Mountain.

There are a few bridges along the way as you cross and re-cross the cascading Glen River but these shouldn’t be any bother and the going is fairly steady. 

Getting into the belly of the Slieve Donard hike

As the route gets steeper, watch out for a section of the river that overhangs. This part can be a little tricky so take extra care when navigating. 

Following a gate and stile, you’ll eventually start rising above the river. Head along this section for a couple of kilometres and on towards the saddle between Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donard Mountain.

The track here should be easy as it was recently paved with new steps in order to deal with the pressure of thousands of walkers who choose to take on the Slieve Donard walk annually.

The Mourne Wall

After one more river crossing, you’ll be able to make your way up towards the famous Mourne Wall. Once you’ve made it up to the wall, turn left and follow the wall’s steep path to the summit. 

You’ll head over a few false peaks along this part of the Slieve Donard mountain walk, so keep ploughing on up this steep section until you see a shelter in the form of a tower with a trig point on top.

Reaching the summit 

You’ll know then that you’ve reached the top of the highest mountain in Northern Ireland! And, of course, the two cairns will also be nearby if you want to inspect them. 

The first point of order, though, should be enjoying one of Ireland’s mightiest views! Fingers crossed it’s a clear day when you head up as there’s a smorgasbord of natural beauty emanating all across the British Isles from the lofty peak of Slieve Donard mountain.

Your foreground views will be taken up by the grandiose Mourne mountains spreading out beneath, with Slieve Binnian (another deadly walk!) to the south-west.

Donard’s position right next to the coast means if the weather is behaving then you might get glimpses of Scotland, the Isle of Man and even the peaks of Snowdonia in Wales!

Finishing up the Slieve Donard walk

When you’re ready, it’s time to head back down. You’ll need to retrace your steps back to the Donard car park.

Return by the same route along the wall until you reach the saddle. Be vigilant – it can get very steep in places, which can be tricky in wet weather.

Some post-walk chill time in the Slieve Donard Hotel 

Slieve Donard Hotel by the sea
Photo via Slieve Donard

If you fancy a bit of very fancy chill time after cli, book into the Slieve Donard Hotel. There are some serious views from the pool and the review of the hotel are top-notch.

Fancy seeing what other great walks Northern Ireland has to offer? Check out our guide to 15 of the best right here.

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