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Dublin: 11 °C Saturday 6 June, 2020
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'You'll hear the crashing river as you approach': 6 family-friendly walks and hikes around Ireland

Pack up a picnic and hit the trails with the kids this summer.

Walking through Devil's Glen, Co Wicklow.
Walking through Devil's Glen, Co Wicklow.
Image: Shutterstock

IT’S NEVER TOO early to get your kids out on a walk in the great outdoors, be it in a sling, a buggy or on foot.

The benefits of unplugging from technology and connecting with nature will stand to young kids for the rest of their lives – and if you have the time to travel beyond the local playground or sports pitch, all the better.

Ireland boasts hundreds of accessible walking trails (you’ll find details of most of them on irishtrails.ie), where kids can simply enjoy the freedom in being out in the great wide open. Plus, it presents a great opportunity for curious young minds to learn about the flora and wildlife around them.

Here are six handpicked trails that will suit everyone in the family – and I’ve noted the ones that are buggy-friendly. Pack up a picnic this summer and get exploring at…

1. Three Rock Mountain, Co Dublin

Why did you pick it? It’s buggy-friendly, ideal for younger families, with a picnic stop en route
How long will it take us? 3km with some uphill stretches, 1.5 hrs.
How do we get there? Exit the M50 at Junction 13 or 14, then pass through Lamb’s Cross before taking a left turn into Ticknock Road to reach the entrance of Ticknock Forest Recreation Area. Follow the forest drive uphill and park at the top at spaces by an adjacent map board or at lay-bys along the road.

Tell me more: Three Rock offers a perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city as you walk through a forest of pine, spruce and larch trees. Follow a tarmac forest road beyond a metal barrier to reach the base of massive communication masts.

You’ll enjoy a different perspective of Dublin’s metropolis far below, guarded by the shimmering blue waters of Dublin Bay and the finger of Howth. On a very clear day, it is also possible to see as far as the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. A little further uphill is a picnic table and the “three rocks”: three distinctive granite outcrops, which are great fun for kids and parents to explore.

Three Rock At Three Rock Mountain. Source: Adrian Hendroff

2. Devil’s Glen, Co Wicklow

Why did you pick it? It’s an easy, signposted trail, with a stunning waterfall at the end.
How long will it take us? 5km, around 2 hours
How do we get there? From Ashford, follow the R763 west for around 3.5km. As the road climbs steeply up a series of sharp bends, lookout for the forest entrance to the Devil’s Glen on the right. Follow the forest road for around 2km to reach the car park and picnic tables.

Tell me more: From the car-park, take a path down a steep wooded slope following white arrow signposts, not buggy-friendly, but fine for little legs. You will hear the rapids of the Vartry River as you approach – the cascades can be especially dramatic after long rainy spells. The stretch along the river culminates in a lookout point for the Devil’s Glen waterfall.

Your return route is along an upper path that undulates along the southern rim giving stunning views across a dense woodland canopy of birch and oak. Rhododendrons and bluebells bloom in the spring and kids will also love the sculptures along the trail. 

shutterstock_1274623987 Devil's Glen. Source: Shutterstock

3. Mahon Falls, Co Waterford

Why did you pick it? A straightforward hike through the Comeraghs, with a fairy tree to enchant young explorers
How long will it take us? 2.5km, around 1 hour
How do we get there? From Carrick-on-Suir, follow the R676 towards Dungarvan for 18km to reach Mahon Bridge. Turn right at the bridge at a signpost for ‘Mahon Falls’, then immediately right again. After around 2km turn right through a cattle grid entrance, then continue for around 2km to a large car park.

Tell me more: Switch off your car’s engine and put it into neutral at the favour-adorned fairy tree just after the entrance – magically you will find your car reversing uphill! The surfaced track on this trail is suitable for all the family and it’ll take you to the base of the falls.

Early morning is the best time to visit as the sun lights up the valley and surrounding cliffs from the east. Heavy rainfall the night before makes the cascades look particularly impressive, especially the 80m waterfall at the end. Higher up, there are great views back down the valley as far as the sea.

shutterstock_658541590 (1) Spot the falls at the end of the path. Source: Shutterstock/Andrzej Golik

4. Geokaun, Valentia Island, Co Kerry

Why did you pick it? An easy looped walk with lots to entertain kids. The path closer to the sea is buggy friendly.
How long will it take us? 2km, around 1 hour
How do we get there? Turn left at the top of the road after the Maurice O’Neill memorial bridge. Continue for around 1.5 km then turn right at a junction by Foilhomurrin Bay. Follow the narrow road for around 4km. There is an entrance fee of €5 per car/family (coins only). Ignore the car parks along the way and drive to the one at the very top of the mountain access road.

Tell me more: You’ll follow a trail that circumnavigates Geokaun’s 266m summit. The panorama down to Doulus Bay is breathtaking and includes the majestic sweep of the Kerry mountains, the fishing village of Portmagee and the length of Valentia island.

On a clear day, you will catch a glimpse of the Skelligs, forever immortalised in Star Wars, and the Great Blasket Island out to sea. Other attractions for the kids include a tetrapod trackway and lots of educational information panels.

Shepherd's View from Geokaun Mountain on Valentia Island (Ireland). Shepherd's View, from Geokaun mountain. Source: Flickr/bernd_thaller

5. Diamond Hill, Connemara National Park, Co Galway

Why did you pick it? There are two choices of trail here – a longer one for more active older kids and an easier, shorter version for younger walkers. Both are well signposted.
How long will it take us? 7km in 3 hrs for Diamond Hill, or 3km in 1.5 hrs for Lower Diamond Hill. 
How do we get there? Diamond Hill is best approached from Letterfrack village, along the N59 Clifden to Leenaun road. A few hundred metres southwest of the village, turn left off the N59 into the Connemara National Park Visitor Centre. Follow the road up to a large parking area.

Tell me more: Diamond Hill is a solitary peak on the western fringes of the Twelve Bens. From the summit (accessed on the longer trail), you’ll spot the Twelve Bens, Kylemore Lough and Kylemore Abbey.

The signposted trail crosses sections of wooden boardwalk then later up changes to steep and winding flagstone steps, before cutting diagonally up the rocky hillside. If you don’t fancy the summit, then try the easier Lower Diamond Hill Trail.

shutterstock_163503806 Walking on Diamond Hill. Source: Shutterstock

6. Slieve Croob, Co Down

Why did you pick it? A straightforward buggy-friendly walk to one of the most expansive views in the kingdom of Mourne.
How long will it take us? 4km, in 2.5 hrs
How do we get there? From Newry, take the A25 towards Rathfriland, then the B7 to Moneyslane. Continue toward Dromara for 9.5km, and when you reach Finnis/Massford, turn right at the Dree Hill junction. Ignore the immediate junction on the left and continue uphill for around 3km to reach Dree Hill car park.

Tell me more: A well-surfaced road from Dree Hill provides easy access to this 534m summit. A tiny stream from near the summit of Slieve Croob is actually the source of Down’s River Lagan.

Kids will love picking the wild and juicy bilberries which are in season now, and if you are a birdwatcher then look out for skylarks and kestrels. Views from the top include the Mourne Mts, Lough Neagh, Belfast’s Black Mountains, Dundrum Bay and as far as the Sperrin Mountains in the distance.

Slieve Croob Source: Adrian Hendroff

Adrian Hendroff is the author of Family Walks Around Dublin as well as six other Irish walking guidebooks for The Collins Press, an imprint of Gill Books.

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Adrian Hendroff

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