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A Guide To Tollymore Forest Park: Walks, History + Handy Info

A Guide To Tollymore Forest Park: Walks, History + Handy Info

Boasting the title of Northern Ireland’s first state forest park, Tollymore Forest Park is an area of stunning natural beauty.

Situated at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, the Shimna River flows through it, lending the park an almost magical atmosphere.

A popular walking area, it’s home to some amazing wildlife and makes for a great day out. Discover everything you need-to-know below!

Some quick need-to-knows about Tollymore Forest Park

tollymore northern irelandtollymore northern ireland

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Before you head to Tollymore Forest Park, take 20 seconds to read the points below, as they’ll save you time and hassle in the long run!

1. Location

Located at the edge of the small village of Bryansford, County Down, Tollymore Forest Park sits at the feet of the Mourne Mountains. It’s just a stone’s throw away from the seaside town of Newcastle, and about 40 km south of Belfast. 

2. Admission/Parking

There’s a decent-sized car park at Tollymore, packed with facilities including a coffee van and good toilets. It costs £5 per car and £2.50 per motorcycle for a day in the forest. A minibus is £13, while a coach is £35. If you arrive on foot, you won’t normally need to pay.

3. Opening hours

You can access the park every day of the year from 10 am until sunset.

4. Lord-of-the-Rings-esque appearance

Tollymore is a land of rivers, towering trees, and quaint bridges. In many respects, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into Tolkien’s Middle Earth or indeed Westeros. In fact, several scenes were recorded here (see our guide to Game of Thrones locations in Ireland).

5. Camping

Irish road trippers travelling with a caravan or motorhome will be glad to hear you can camp at Tollymore Forest Park. It’s a top spot to set up camp, with all the facilities you need like showers, toilets, chemical toilet disposal, and freshwater, and there are plenty of things to see and do. A pitch costs £23 per night with electricity or £20 without.

About Tollymore Forest Park

tollymore forest park walks

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What is now Tollymore Forest Park was once the privately-owned Roden Estate. Taken over by the Forest Service in 1941, it opened to the public in 1955 as the first forest park in Northern Ireland.

The goal was to encourage people to enjoy the forest environment and share the natural beauty with the wider world.

A place of sheer beauty

It’s a gorgeous place to visit, brimming with other-worldly natural beauty. Two rivers flow through the park, the Shimna and the Spinkwee.

Sixteen bridges cross them, the oldest dating back to 1726 with the Ivy Bridge and Foley’s Bridge among the most spectacular.

Immersed in natural beauty, they’re a marriage of ingenious stonework and the moss and foliage of an ancient forest.

Caves and grottos line the riverbank, while the man-made stone hermitage oozes character. There’s also a megalithic cairn and the remnants of an ancient fort.

Wildlife in Tollymore Forest Park

Tollymore Forest Park is home to an array of critters. A herd of wild fallow deer roams the woods, while red and grey squirrels bound about the trees.

The rare pine marten can also sometimes be seen skulking around, while badgers, otters, and foxes also make their home in the forest.

Gorgeous Mandarin ducks can be seen on the river, while woodpeckers fill the air with their unmistakable knocking.

The Tollymore Forest Park walks

Tollymore Forest Park

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There are four official walking routes at Tollymore Forest Park. Differing in length and difficulty, there’s something for everyone. All of the trails begin at the car park.

1. Mountain and Drinns Trail (13.6km/3-4 hours)

By far the longest and toughest trail in the forest, you can expect to take three or four hours to complete this trek. It features mixed trails with some steep gradients, but the challenge is well worth the reward.

The route takes in some gorgeous scenery, including both deciduous and coniferous forests, numerous stone bridges, and mountain views.

The Drinns trail is an optional loop that adds 4.8 km onto the 8.8 km mountain trail. Circumnavigating the two distinct hills known as the Drinns, the path gains height, offering some spectacular viewpoints along the way.

2. River Trail (5.2km/1.5-2 hours)

This is a lovely riverside walk that takes in some of the best scenery in the forest. As you pass through the mixed woodland keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. You’ll follow the banks of the Shimna River first of all, before crossing over at Parnell’s Bridge.

The route takes you up to the ruins of the ancient White Fort, before leading you to the banks of the Spinkwee River for the return leg.

Enjoy the crashing waters of the cascade, before returning to the ‘Meeting of the Waters’. As you amble back to the start point, you’ll pass the impressive hermitage, before crossing the oldest bridge in the park.

3. Arboretum Path (0.7km/25 minutes)

This gentle path takes you through the spectacular Tollymore Arboretum. One of the oldest in Ireland, it dates back to around 1752. The path winds in and out of an incredible array of exotic tree species from around the world.

Some of the highlights include the Giant Redwood, sadly now damaged by a lightning strike, and a cork tree with incredibly thick bark. Smooth, mostly flat paths make this a walk that everyone can enjoy, with access for strollers and wheelchairs. 

Things to do near Tollymore Forest Park

One of the beauties of the park is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Tollymore (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Newcastle for food and a beach walk (10-minute drive)

newcastle down

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The seaside town of Newcastle is home to a beautiful sandy beach. If you’re up for a little more walking, it’s a great beach to take a stroll down, with the sand changing to pebbles and rock pools further on. Otherwise, the town itself is full of great restaurants, ideal for refuelling after a day of hiking in the forest park.

2. The Mourne Mountains (10-minute drive)

Mourne Mountains

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The incredible Mourne Mountains can be seen looming on the horizon from Tollymore Forest Park. If you’re up for more walking, you’ll find countless trails that will take you up to the various peaks. The views from the top are breathtaking, capturing the sea and surrounding landscape. If you’re feeling brave, try to tackle the mighty Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest peak.

3. Castlewellan Forest Park (15-minute drive)

Castlewellan Forest

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This is another fantastic forest park to visit, offering a wholly different experience. Featuring a Victorian castle, an immense hedge maze, and mighty lake, it has its own unique character. Kayaking is a popular activity to indulge in, and there are several trails for mountain bikes. Alternatively, explore the gorgeous gardens.

4. Murlough National Nature Reserve (10-minute drive)

Murlough Nature Reserve

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This hidden gem is just a short drive outside of Newcastle and well worth checking out. An area of sand dunes, mountain, sea, and lake views, it offers diversity and tranquillity. The sandy beach is great for a family picnic, while the numerous trails are the best way to explore this stunning area. 

Tollymore Park FAQs

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘How much is it in?’ to ‘When is it open?’.

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.

How long is the walk around Tollymore Forest Park?

The Tollymore Forest Park walks vary in length, with the longest taking 3-4 hours and the shortest taking 25 minutes or so in total.

Do you have to pay to get into Tollymore?

You have to pay into the car par. It costs £5 per car and £2.50 per motorcycle for a day in the forest. A minibus is £13, while a coach is £35.

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