Hiking in Northern Ireland: Best Trails in NI

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Hiking in Northern Ireland

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Northern Ireland is a hiker’s paradise, offering some of the most breathtaking picturesque scenery in the world. With its rugged coastline, rolling hills, and stunning mountains, Northern Ireland has something for everyone, from the casual walker to the experienced hiker. Whether you’re looking for a challenging hike or a leisurely stroll, Northern Ireland has it all.

So grab your hiking boots and start a fantastic walk!

Best Hiking Trails in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is a hiker’s paradise, offering some of the most stunning trails with breathtaking views of the countryside and coast. Here are some of the best hiking trails in Northern Ireland:

Slieve Donard

Slieve Donard is Northern Ireland’s highest peak, standing tall at 850 meters in the heart of the picturesque Mourne Mountains. This challenging hike offers rewarding views of the Irish Sea and surrounding countryside. The typical route begins in Newcastle, taking you through lush forests and along the Glen River.

It can take 5-7 hours, so start early and bring waterproof gear as weather can change rapidly. Wear sturdy boots for rocky sections. Along the way, look out for local wildlife like red squirrels and Irish hares. At the summit, you’ll find the historic Mourne Wall and a stone tower.

Causeway Coast

The Causeway Coast is a stunning coastal area with a rich mix of natural beauty and historic sites. For hikers, the Causeway Coast Way is a fantastic 33-mile route, typically completed in 2-3 days. This trail offers breathtaking views of the North Atlantic, the Giant’s Causeway, and the ruins of Dunluce Castle.

The terrain varies from sandy beaches to rocky cliffs, so appropriate footwear is essential. Look out for seabirds and seals along the way. Note that while the route is well-signposted, some sections can be strenuous and exposed to weather, so check forecasts and plan your trek wisely.

Giant’s Causeway

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a geological marvel featuring 40,000 interlocking basalt columns formed by ancient volcanic activity. The site offers several walking trails, ranging from easy to moderate.

One of the most popular routes is the 4-mile Blue Trail. Starting at the visitor center, this hike takes you along the cliffs, offering an elevated view of the Causeway Coast. Wear good walking shoes as the path can be uneven, and remember, it can be slippery when wet. Don’t miss the legendary Wishing Chair, an especially perfect formation of columns.

Antrim Coast

The Antrim Coast, also known as the Antrim Coast Road, is one of the most scenic drives in Northern Ireland, but it also offers fantastic hiking opportunities. The cliffs, golden beaches, and rolling green hills make the coastline a visual treat. Consider hiking the Antrim Coast and Glens, a 36-mile area of outstanding natural beauty.

The hike includes scenic villages, historical sites like the medieval Carrickfergus Castle, and stunning viewpoints like the Blackhead Path. Be prepared for changing weather conditions and rugged terrain in places. Also, make sure to respect the area’s unique biodiversity.

Divis

ivis and the Black Mountain provide one of the most accessible walking trails in Northern Ireland, located just a few miles from Belfast city center. The Divis Ridge trail, a 4.2 mile circular route, offers panoramic views of Belfast, the Mourne Mountains, and Scotland.

The paths are well-maintained, ideal for a leisurely hike or even a family walk. Look out for diverse wildlife, including peregrine falcons. Please note, while the area is open all year round, visibility can be poor in adverse weather, so check the forecast before you go.

Mourne Wall

The Mourne Wall is a unique hiking feature in Northern Ireland. This 22-mile long stone wall, built over 18 years in the early 20th century, crosses 15 of the Mourne Mountains’ summits, including Slieve Donard, the highest peak.

The hike along the wall is challenging but offers spectacular views and a sense of achievement. You can tackle the entire wall for a real endurance test or choose a section for a day hike. The terrain is rugged, so sturdy boots are essential, and navigation skills are helpful as fog can roll in quickly

Mourne Mountains

The Mourne Mountains are a hiker’s paradise, boasting some of Northern Ireland’s highest peaks and dramatic landscapes. This granite mountain range includes over 20 summits, with Slieve Donard being the tallest.

The Mourne Wall walk, a strenuous but rewarding 22-mile hike, takes you across 15 of these peaks. However, there are trails for all levels, such as the scenic route around Silent Valley Reservoir. Remember to pack layers, as weather can be unpredictable. The Mournes are also home to fascinating flora and fauna, including the rare Peregrine Falcon.

Cuilcagh Mountain

Cuilcagh Mountain, often called the Stairway to Heaven, is a hiker’s dream situated on the border between County Fermanagh and County Cavan. The most popular route is the Legnabrocky trail, a 4.6-mile path that takes you along a wooden boardwalk up to the mountain’s summit. The “stairway” portion, featuring 450 steps, provides stunning views over a prehistoric landscape of blanket bog, crisscrossed with stone walls.

The terrain can be challenging and weather unpredictable, so come prepared with suitable clothing and footwear. Take note that the boardwalk is in place to protect the rare blanket bog and flora, so please stick to the path.

Glens of Antrim

The Glens of Antrim, often simply referred to as The Glens, comprise nine lush valleys that sweep down to the rugged Antrim Coast. This area offers hikers numerous trails, each with its own character and charm. A standout is the Glenariff Forest Park, home to the breathtaking Waterfall Walkway, where you’ll encounter several cascades.

Other options include the Scenic Loop in Glenariff or the coastal path from Cushendun to Ballycastle. Each glen offers stunning landscapes, abundant wildlife, and rich history. As always, come prepared for changeable weather.

Cave hill Circular

Cave hill, located just north of Belfast, offers an excellent hiking trail with panoramic views of the city and beyond. The Cavehill Circular route is a 4.5-mile trail that winds up to Napoleon’s Nose, a basaltic outcrop said to resemble the profile of the famous French Emperorin the Cave Hill Country Park.

Along the way, you’ll pass by fascinating caves, remnants of ancient settlements, and Belfast Castle. The terrain can be steep and rocky in places, so wear sturdy shoes and come prepared for weather changes.

Causeway Coast Circular

The Causeway Coast Circular is a popular 23-mile hiking loop that encompasses some of Northern Ireland’s most iconic landmarks. Starting from the charming village of Bushmills, it passes the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Giant’s Causeway, the historic Dunluce Castle, and stunning white-sand beaches like Whitepark Bay.

The terrain on the Causeway Coastal Walkvaries from rugged cliff paths to flat beach walks, with opportunities to spot wildlife like seals and seabirds. The trail is well-marked, but as with all coastal walks, come prepared for sudden weather changes and slippery surfaces.

Ridge Circular

The Ridge Circular is a delightful hiking route located in Divis and the Black Mountain area near Belfast. This 4.2-mile trail takes you around the summits of both Divis and Black Mountain, offering panoramic views over Belfast and as far as the Mourne Mountains and Scotland on clear days.

The path is well-maintained and has interpretive panels highlighting local history, geology, and wildlife. The terrain is mostly level with a few moderate inclines. The weather can change quickly, so dress appropriately.

Marble Arch Caves

The Marble Arch Caves are a fascinating geological wonder located in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. While not a traditional hiking spot, the caves offer guided tours through a captivating subterranean world of rivers, waterfalls, winding passages, and lofty chambers.

Above ground, the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark spans across counties Fermanagh and Cavan, offering a multitude of walks. One favorite is the Cladagh Glen Walk, a 2.5-mile trail through a limestone gorge, offering views of cascading waterfalls and lush woodland.

Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island, the northernmost point of Northern Ireland, is a walker’s delight with three primary hiking routes offering various degrees of difficulty. The most challenging yet rewarding is the Roonivoolin Walk, taking you around the southern part of the island, offering splendid views of the coastline and a variety of birdlife. T

he Kebble Cliff Walk is a more moderate option, featuring the magnificent cliffs of Kebble Nature Reserve. The Ballyconagan Trail, the easiest of the three, still offers fantastic views and the chance to spot seals. Ferries run regularly from Ballycastle, but always check the schedule and weather before your trip.

Outdoor Activities

Northern Ireland is a beautiful destination for outdoor adventure enthusiasts, offering a wide range of activities for all ages and abilities. Whether you’re looking for a challenging mountain bike trail, a family-friendly hike, or a wheelchair-accessible trail, Northern Ireland has something for everyone. Most of the venues will have a car park and a well signposted walking route.

Mountain Biking

Northern Ireland is home to some of the best mountain biking trails in the world. From the rugged peaks of the Mourne Mountains to the rolling hills of Castlewellan Forest Park, there are trails to suit all levels of experience. Some of the most popular trails include:

  • Rostrevor Mountain Bike Trails: This network of trails offers stunning views of Carlingford Lough and the Mourne Mountains, with trails ranging from beginner to expert.
  • Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails: This trail network is perfect for families, with easy and intermediate trails winding through the forest.
  • Davagh Forest Trails: This trail network offers a mix of flowing singletrack and technical sections, with trails ranging from beginner to advanced.

Family-Friendly Hikes

There are plenty of family-friendly hikes in Northern Ireland that are perfect for a day out with the kids. Some of the most popular include:

  • Tollymore Forest Park: This park offers a range of trails, from easy strolls to more challenging hikes, with stunning views of the Mourne Mountains.
  • Castle Ward: This National Trust property offers a range of trails, including a family-friendly trail that takes you through the beautiful gardens and woodland.
  • Divis and Black Mountain: This trail network offers stunning views of Belfast and the surrounding countryside, with a range of trails suitable for families.

Wheelchair-Friendly Trails

Northern Ireland is committed to making its outdoor spaces accessible to everyone, and there are a number of wheelchair-friendly trails to choose from. Some of the most popular include:

  • Lagan Towpath: This trail follows the River Lagan from Belfast to Lisburn, with a smooth surface that is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
  • Oxford Island: This nature reserve offers a range of trails, including a wheelchair-friendly trail that takes you through the wetlands and woodlands.
  • Antrim Castle Gardens: This beautiful park offers a range of trails, including a wheelchair-friendly trail that takes you through the formal gardens and woodland.

No matter what your interests or abilities, Northern Ireland has plenty of outdoor activities to offer. So why not get out and explore this beautiful country today?

Historical and Mythological Sites

Northern Ireland is a land steeped in history and mythology. From the ancient tales of giants to the more recent stories of St. Patrick, there are plenty of sites to explore for those interested in the region’s rich past.

One of the most famous mythological sites in Northern Ireland is the Giant’s Causeway. This natural wonder is made up of thousands of hexagonal basalt columns that were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago. According to legend, the columns were built by the giant Finn McCool as a bridge to Scotland. Visitors can explore the site on foot and learn more about the geological and mythological history of the area.

Another site steeped in mythology is the Hill of Tara. Located just across the border in the Republic of Ireland, this ancient site was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland and is said to be the entrance to the Otherworld. Visitors can explore the ancient stone structures and learn more about the site’s fascinating history.

For those interested in more recent history, there are plenty of sites to explore as well. St. Patrick’s Trail is a popular tourist route that takes visitors to some of the most important sites associated with Ireland’s patron saint. These include the Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, where visitors can learn about the saint’s life and legacy, and the Hill of Slane, where St. Patrick is said to have lit the first Paschal fire in Ireland.

FAQs For Those About to Hike Northern Ireland

What forest parks are in Northern Ireland which are good for walking?

  1. Tollymore Forest Park: Located at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, Tollymore offers a wide range of walks amidst towering trees, rivers, and beautiful vistas.
  2. Castlewellan Forest Park: Home to a stunning Victorian Castle and one of Northern Ireland’s most famous lakes, Castlewellan has several trails for walking and mountain biking.
  3. Glenariff Forest Park: Known as the ‘Queen of the Glens’, it features a captivating waterfall walkway and a range of trails with stunning views across the glen.
  4. Gosford Forest Park: Set in County Armagh, it offers a mix of woodland and parkland walks. The castle, deer park, and arboretum are must-sees.
  5. Drum Manor Forest Park: With a mix of coniferous and broadleaved trees, it offers a series of trails, beautiful gardens, and a butterfly and Japanese pond.

What is Northern Ireland’s highest point?

Northern Ireland’s highest point is Slieve Donard, which stands at an elevation of 850 meters (2,790 feet). This peak is part of the Mourne Mountains, a stunning mountain range in County Down, known for its breathtaking beauty and panoramic views. Hiking up Slieve Donard is a popular activity for locals and tourists alike. From the summit, on a clear day, hikers can enjoy expansive views across the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man, and even as far as Wales and Scotland.

What is the longest hike in Northern Ireland?

The Ulster Way is considered the longest circular hiking route in Northern Ireland. It spans around 625 miles and takes in some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, including the Mourne Mountains, the Antrim Coast, and Fermanagh Lakelands.

How long would it take to walk across Northern Ireland?

The length of time to walk across Northern Ireland would depend on your exact route and pace, but on average, walking from the easternmost to the westernmost point (i.e., from Portavogie to Belcoo) is around 110 miles and could take roughly 35-45 hours of non-stop walking. Most hikers would spread this over several days.

Which Mourne mountain has the best views?

While beauty is subjective, Slieve Binnian in the Mourne Mountains is often cited for its incredible views. Its distinctive rocky tors at the summit provide panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and Irish Sea.

What mountains are on the north coast of Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, the Antrim Plateau contains the highest ground near the north coast, including Trostan (the highest peak in County Antrim). However, the term ‘mountain’ is often reserved for the more southerly Sperrins and Mourne ranges. The north coast itself is more characterized by dramatic cliffs, like those at the Giant’s Causeway.

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