Wicklow Mountains National Park: Hikes, Walks + Historic Sites To Explore In 2021

wicklow mountains national park guide
Photos via Shutterstock

Although some travel sites would lead you to believe differently, the magnificent Wicklow Mountains National park doesn’t just comprise of Glendalough.

Don’t get me wrong, Glendalough is incredible, but there’s much, much more to the park than Glendalough, as you’ll discover shortly.

The huge mountainous area stretches across most of County Wicklow and is characterised by a variety of beautiful landscapes and wildlife. 

Below, you’ll discover everything from walks in the Wicklow Mountains and historic sites to hidden gems. You’ll also find a map at the end.

Some quick need-to-knows before you visit the Wicklow Mountains National Park

tonlegee hike
Photo by zkbld (Shutterstock)

The Wicklow Mountains National Park is huge, so a visit isn’t overly straightforward unless you plan ahead, as the various attractions are pretty spread out. Here are some quick need-to-knows:

1. Location

The Wicklow Mountains cover a vast area of central County Wicklow and even stretches into the south of County Dublin. It’s just a stone’s throw from Dublin, making it a popular place to visit for city dwellers looking for some time in nature.

2. Size

The Wicklow Mountains National Park is one huge place. It covers an impressive 54,000 acres of County Wicklow and is the largest of the six national parks in Ireland. It’s also the largest area of continuous high ground in Ireland, with stunning rugged peaks some of which are the highest in the country. 

3. An explorer’s paradise

The national park is jam packed with plenty of attractions and things to do for people looking to get outdoors. From some of the best walks in Wicklow to scenic drives and viewpoints, there are a variety of activities for everyone to enjoy. The area is also popular for history buffs with some important ancient sites within its boundaries, including at Glendalough.

4. Wicklow Mountains weather

The weather in the Wicklow Mountains is very changeable, and you need to take it into consideration before you visit, especially if you’re doing one of the hikes mentioned below. A bright, clear day can change in an instant, so adequate planning is required.

About the Wicklow Mountains National Park

 

What areas the park encompasses

The national park area stretches through most of central County Wicklow and into the southern parts of County Dublin.

The northern reaches of the park are just a short distance to the south of Dublin City. The landscapes inside the boundary vary from bogs to grassland and woods to exposed rocky peaks. 

Glendalough

Glendalough is considered one of the highlights of the park and is the main historic site in the area. It features a collection of early medieval monastic structures from the settlement founded by St Kevin in the 6th century.

There are also a variety of walks in the valley as well as a great Visitor Centre offering plenty of facilities and information. It’s a popular place to head on a day trip from Wicklow town. 

Management of the park

The park was announced in 1988 at Glendalough and was eventually opened in 1991. It’s managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service as one of the six national parks in the country.

The service is responsible for conservation, research, education, facilities and public safety for the entire area. The park has continued to expand with an additional 7000 acres added in 2009 and nearly 5000 acres in 2016. 

Things to do in the Wicklow Mountains National Park

The park is home to many of the best places to visit and things to do in Wicklow, from the many Glendalough walks and Powerscourt Waterfall to the Devil’s Glen and more.

Below, you’ll find some of our favourite things to do in the park, from hikes and walks to waterfalls and much more.

1. Explore Glendalough

wicklow mountains guide
Photo by Stefano_Valeri (Shutterstock)

Glendalough is a beautiful valley in the Wicklow Mountains, close to Laragh village. It’s most well-known for its historic sites, particularly the ruins of an early Christian settlement founded by St Kevin in the 6th century. 

However, the area is also home to some of the best walks in the entire national park. From easy rambles to Poulanass Waterfall or more challenging hikes like the Spinc and Wicklow Way route, there’s something for everyone. See our Glendalough walks guide for info on each of the trails.

2. Head off on the Sally Gap Drive

a narrow road near Lough Tay
Photo by Dariusz I (Shutterstock)

The Sally Gap Drive is one of the most scenic drives in Ireland and certainly offers some incredibly wild landscapes along the way.

The best route (in my opinion) is to head off from Roundwood village in Wicklow and make your way up to the Lough Tay Viewing Point. 

From there, you can keep heading towards Sally Gap, before taking a sharp left down towards Glenmacnass Waterfall. You can stop to enjoy plenty of epic vistas on the way. You can read more about why it’s our favourite drive in Ireland here.

3. Soak up the views at Lough Tay

lough tay walk wicklow
Photo by Lukas Fendek (Shutterstock)

Lough Tay is a small but incredibly scenic lake in the Wicklow Mountains. It sits almost in a bowl surrounded by mountains just north of Glendalough and south from Sally Gap.

It’s a great place to soak up the views, which you can easily do with a car parking area just off Wicklow Road.

There are a couple of viewpoints from where you can look over the lake. It’s best to head here at sunrise or sunset though if you can, when the golden light produces incredible photos. 

4. See Glenmacnass Waterfall

things to do in wicklow national park
Photo by Lynn Wood Pics (Shutterstock)

One of the best stops on the Sally Gap Drive, Glenmacnass Waterfall spills over a rockface into the river that runs along the Old Military Road from Sally Gap to Laragh.

It’s a stunning sight and a popular place to stop for a photo. There is a car park above the waterfall just off the road from where you can take a short walk to the falls and viewpoint. 

5. Visit Lough Ouler (Ireland’s heart-shaped lake)

lough ouler hike wicklow
Photo by Remizov (Shutterstock)

Lough Ouler is a stunning heart-shaped lake right in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains at the side of Tonelagee Mountain. If you want to get a great view of this lake, you need to head off on the Tonelagee hike which is best started from Turlough Hill car park.

The lake is a completely unique sight and definitely an Instagram-worthy snap. You can read more about the hiking route to reach the lake in our guide here

6. Conquer Lugnaquilla (for experienced hikers)

the Lugnaquilla hike
Photo left: By CTatiana. Photo right: By Newsome

If you’re an experienced and keen hiker, you’ll certainly want to conquer Lugnaquilla. It’s the highest mountain in Ireland outside of County Kerry, so you’ll need to be an experienced climber for this one.

It’s located in the south-west corner of the Wicklow Mountains and stands a lofty 925 metres high. There are a few different routes to get to the top, which you can read about in our guide to the Lugnaquilla hike.

You need to be fully prepared for crazy weather conditions, but the panoramic view from the summit is what makes the effort worthwhile. 

7. Or try the much easier Sugarloaf walk

sugarloaf
Photos via shutterstock.com

If the Lugnaquilla Hike sounds a little too daunting, then you should perhaps opt for the easier Sugarloaf walk. This is a much more accessible hike that still delivers incredible views on a fine day.

The Great Sugarloaf stands at 501m and is a unique conical shape mountain. It’s located in the north-east of the Wicklow Mountains and you can even look across to Dublin city from the top. The short walk takes just an hour, or you can try the longer option which is around 2.5 hours to the top. You can read our full guide to the Great Sugarloaf Walk for more details. 

8. Explore Djouce Mountain and Woods

2 photos of djouce mountain
Photo left: By Turraoin. Photo right: By Al Kelly

Djouce Woods are a popular place for a ramble through the forest. Less than an hour south of Dublin City, the woods have two main walking trails where you can explore beautiful views over Sugarloaf, Bray and Dublin Bay and unique wildlife including the Sika Deer. 

The Djouce Woods were once part of the Powerscourt Estate and are just a short drive from Powerscourt Waterfall if you have more time to explore further. 

If you fancy conquering the mountain, you can do so on the Djouce Mountain walk, which takes around 2.5 hours, max, with stops.

9. Or the now famous Ballinastoe Forest Walk

Ballinastoe woods walk
Photo by PhilipsPhotos (Shutterstock)

Thanks to a million IG photos that make this place look like a scene from Lord of the Rings, the Ballinastore Forest Walk is suddenly become incredibly popular.

It’s just 5km north of Roundwood village and south of the Powerscourt Estate, making it an easy place to reach on a day trip to the Wicklow Mountains. 

There is a decent car park and picnic area where a nice 5km loop walk heads into the forest. The area is home to foxes, badgers, red squirrels and sika deer as well as many species of birds. For keen mountain bikers, there’s also a 16km trail in the woods as well. 

10. Drop by Powerscourt Waterfall

powerscourt
Photo by Eleni Mavrandoni (Shutterstock)

A must-stop on your way to the Wicklow Mountains from Dublin is the Powerscourt Waterfall. This mighty tumble of water is the highest waterfall in Ireland at 121m. It’s an incredible sight to see and easily reached inside the Powerscourt Estate. 

As part of the estate, you will have to abide by opening hours and admission tickets, but it’s worth a visit for a picnic on a nice day. 

11. Spin along the Blessington Greenway

blessington greenway
Photo by riganmc (Shutterstock)

On the less visited western side of the Wicklow Mountains, a cycle along the Blessington Greenway Trail offers beautiful views across the shores of the Blessington Lakes. The 6.5km trail is an easy ramble or cycle from the historic town of Blessington to the 18th century Palladian mansion at Russborough House. 

The easy path follows a mix of forest roads, tarmac paths, boardwalks and gravel trails. The views of the lake and Wicklow Mountains in the distance make it a nice weekend activity. 

How to get from Dublin to the Wicklow Mountains National Park

One of the most FAQs we’ve received over the last 6 years has revolved around how to get from Dublin to the Wicklow Mountains. There’s 3 ways to do so:

By car

By far the easiest way to get from Dublin to the Wicklow Mountains is by car. Depending on where you leave from, the journey from Dublin should take no more than 60 minutes.

Public transport

Getting from Dublin to the Wicklow Mountains by bus is handier than you might think. St. Kevin’s Bus leaves from many parts of Dublin City and stops at Roundwood, Annamore, Laragh and Glendalough and runs several times throughout the day.

Organised tours

If you fancy letting someone else do all the hard work, this tour (affiliate link) that takes you from Dublin to the Wicklow mountains is worth checking out. It’s €35 and you’ll see a good chunk of the park and Glendalough over 8 hours and the tour has racked up rave reviews.

FAQs about visiting the Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains National Park

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from the where you’re allowed to go camping in the Wicklow Mountains to what there is to do.

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.

What are the best things to do in the Wicklow Mountains?

Explore on foot. Any of the walks mentioned above are worth doing, but note, the likes of Lugnaquilla should only be attempted by experienced walkers.

Can you drive through Wicklow National Park?

Yes. Despite popular belief, the park doesn’t just encompass Glendalough. You can explore much of it on a scenic drive. 

How big is Wicklow National Park?

The park encompasses a whopping 20,483 hectares.

Is camping in the Wicklow Mountains allowed?

Although camping in Glendalough is forbidden, you can camp in the greater National Park, once you abide by the Wild Camping Code.

Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.

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