The Wicklow Mountains
The Wicklow Mountains, just south of Ireland’s capital Dublin, form the largest area of continuous hills and mountains in Ireland with more than 500 km2 above 300 metres. They stretch for almost 70km from Dublin, in the north, to the border with the counties of Wexford and Carlow in the south. The highest peak, Lugnaquilla (925m), is the highest Irish mountain outside of County Kerry, and there are a total of 39 peaks over 600 metres in Wicklow.
The Wicklow Mountains were created 400 million years ago but they owe their current shape largely to the effects of the last ice age, when glaciers deepened the valleys and created the many lakes. Much of the uplands consists of bog, heather and upland grassland while the valleys are mostly a mixture of coniferous and deciduous woodland.
The famous early Christian monastic settlement at Glendalough was founded in the 6th century. Many early medieval churches as well as the impressive, almost 1000 year old, Round Tower can still be seen there. From the 12th to the 19th century, the Wicklow Mountains were a stronghold and hiding place for Irish clans and rebels opposed to English rule. This ended after the construction of the Military Road through the mountains at the start of the 19th century.
These days the Wicklow Mountains are a major destination for tourism and recreation. The entire upland area is protected by law and the Wicklow Mountains National Park is Ireland’s largest national park.
- The Wicklow Way: Most of our tours on the Wicklow Way hike the route from south to north (towards Dublin). That way, the sun and much of the wind and rain will be in your back instead of in your face. This also has the advantage that most of the travelling is done on the first day and when walkers finish their tour, they are closer to Dublin City centre. The Wicklow Way starts in the small village of Clonegal in County Carlow and for the first 50km it crosses a series of gentle foothills. The route then enters the central Wicklow Mountains, with its high rounded ridges and deep valleys. Much of this section is covered in forestry and the landscape often changes when trees get felled or replanted. The route passes through the remote and wild glacial valley of Glenmalure, the longest of its kind in Ireland and Britain, before entering beautiful Glendalough with its ancient monastic site. From there, the trail moves deeper into high, heathery moorland, often with wide vistas over the glens and mountains, before finishing in the southern suburbs of Dublin. The Wicklow Way was originally designed to lead through the mountains from one remote inn or hostel to the next and the route does not pass through any villages or towns. While the trail is never really far from a public road, there is a strong sense of remoteness on many of the hikes and transfers are often required between the trail and the overnight accommodation. It is a richly varied route, with the more dramatic scenery of mountains and lakes at the northern end. The highlights include Glenmalure, Glendalough, Lough Tay and the former Guinness estate and the Powerscourt waterfall.
- Glenealo Valley & The Spinc (Glendalough Loop Walk): This is a popular walk that gives easy access to some of the most spectacular scenery in Wicklow. After a visit to the peaceful valley of Glendasan it follows the Miners Road in Glendalough to the old ‘miner’s village’. An invigorating climb leads to a bridge at the top of the valley from where hundreds of wooden steps lead to a ridge above the lake with spectacular views back towards Glendalough. Descend is via the Poulanass Waterfall to the two lakes and the monastic village.
- Trooperstown Hill: A gentle walk south from the village of Laragh leads through mixed woodland and then up to the top of Trooperstown Hill from where hikers often have wonderful views of the Wicklow Mountains and towards the sea in the east. The route descends through Trooperstown Wood and across the Avonmore River on its way to Laragh.
- Avonmore Way: The route follows the Avonmore River from the village of Rathdrum through the beautiful Claravale Nature Reserve. From the picturesque settlement of Clara with its ancient bridge the trail climbs through forests to a road with views of the valley. You can choose to climb Trooperstown Hill before descending through more forest and across the Avonmore River on your way into Laragh.
- St Kevin’s Way: This hike follows in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims who walked to the ancient monastery at Glendalough. The trail climbs gently towards the spectacular Wicklow Gap with its reservoir and hydroelectricity plant. The route passes reminders of a rich mining heritage before it follows the descent of the Glendasan River and a peaceful river walk leads into the Valley of Glendalough.
Terrain Overview (Wicklow Way)
The terrain on the Wicklow Way consists of forestry tracks, quiet country roads, green boreens (a Gaelic word that literally translates as ‘little road’) and mountain paths through open moorland. Some sections can occasionally be wet and muddy, but many of those have been improved by wooden boardwalks.
Large sections of the route follow gravel tracks through land owned by Coillte, a state owned forestry company. This means that the landscape along those sections is often changing as trees get felled, are replanted, grow and then reach maturity as tall trees within the cycle of commercial forestry.
Approx. 39km or 30% of the total Wicklow Way route follows local roads, to avoid walking on private land. But this percentage can be much lower, depending on which tour itinerary you choose. In general, there is more road walking in the southern part of the route.
Since our Wicklow Mountains tours lead through a landscape of hills and mountains there is naturally a fair amount of ‘up and down’ in all itineraries and as part of every hiking day. The total aggregate ascent is approximately 3,300m over the entire route and there are some steep sections with longer climbs. The highest point is at White Hill, near Lough Tay, where the trail reaches a little over 600m.
Elevation Profile (Wicklow Way)