Carrauntoohil: hiking the highest mountain in Ireland

July 8, 2021 by
POSTED BY July 8, 2021

Carrauntoohil is the legendary highest mountain in Ireland. Its ascent is considered a real challenge for hikers and requires experience and preparation.

Not far from the Atlantic Ocean, this mountain offers unique views of the coast and the surrounding mountains of the MacGillycuddy Reeks. This geographical location also means that the mountain can be exposed to sudden weather changes such as rain and squalls.

Find out everything you need to know for a hike up to Carrauntoohil here.

Devil’s Ladder route up Carrauntoohil. Photo: Simon CaultonTo license.

Characteristics

Height: 1,039 meters

Location: In the south west of Ireland, in County Kerry

Length of a hike to the top:  12km or 7.5 miles (via Devil’s Ladder)

Duration:  4 to 6 hours

Difficulty level:  Challenging. Navigation skills and use of a map and compass are required. Inexperienced hikers are advised to hire a hiking guide or join a group hike.

The name

“Carrauntoohil”, “Carrantoohil”, “Carrantouhil” and “Carrantuohill” are all common spellings of the name of this unique mountain. It is an English modification of the original Irish name Corrán Tuathail. This is translated as “Tuathal’s sickle”.

Tips for your ascent of Carrauntoohil

Equipment

  • The right equipment is essential. Prepare for all weather conditions. A good rain jacket and trousers, along with gloves and a hat, are an essential part of your gear.
  • Prepare to hike in the dark if you are delayed. A headlamp and safety vest should be included.
  • Use a whistle to attract attention should you be injured. You should also have a charged mobile phone with you, as well as a map, compass and possibly a GPS device.
  • Waterproof, ankle-hugging hiking boots with a good profile protect your feet in difficult terrain, such as scree and boggy ground.

Preparation

  • Take enough food and water with you.
  • Check the weather forecast promptly. Rain clouds and high altitude fog can restrict visibility and pose a serious risk. Even with gusts of wind, routes along the ridge should be avoided. You may not be able to correctly assess the high-altitude winds down in the sheltered valley.
  • Leave early enough.
  • Realistically assess your abilities on the mountain. If this is your first time climbing a mountain in Ireland, consider joining a group or hiring a mountain guide.
Carrauntoohil - The Highest Mountain in Ireland
Carrauntoohil – The Highest Mountain in Ireland

The different routes

1. Devil’s Ladder

The most popular route up to the top of Carrauntoohil is the so-called Devil’s Ladder, also known as the “Tourist Route”. But this route does includes all of the main highlights. The starting point for this route is Cronin’s Yard. From here, it goes after a river crossing through the extensive Hag’s Glen valley. The trail runs between two picturesque lakes and eventually takes you to the climb of Devil’s Ladder. The erosion of the trail can lead to falling rocks. So you should take hiking sticks with you.

The steep ascent is rewarded with stunning panoramic views from the summit. Attention in bad weather: the mountain drops steeply on some sides and can thus be a source of danger in limited visibility.

For the way back, we recommend using the same route if possible.

2. Brother O’Shea’s Gully

The Brother O’Shea’s Gully Route initially runs parallel to Devil’s Ladder. This variant is more lonely and in parts even steeper than the popular “Tourist Route”. Bear right before crossing the river at Hag’s Glen. Instead of walking between the lakes, you climb above the water. This will take you from the first, to the second and finally to a third level. Here you are on the shores of Cummeenoughter Lake, the highest lake in Ireland.

Keep to the left where the path runs along the eponymous O’Shea Gorge. Steep cliffs lurk below Beenkeeragh Ridge, so be careful. Hikers on this route should be familiar with using a map, compass or GPS device.

Photo: Rafael Rodrigues CamargoTo license.

3. Coomloughra Horseshoe

This variant up to Carrauntoohil is the ultimate challenge. On the Coomloughra Horseshoe route you will climb various peaks and then you can boast of having climbed the three highest mountains in all of Ireland. The unmarked route runs here as a circular route along the mountain ridges that connect these peaks.

So on this fine line you should be free from giddiness and the weather conditions should be perfect. Due to the exposed location, caution is advised, especially in gusts of wind.

The starting point for this hike is the parking lot on Hydro Road. Follow the road and start the steep climb to Caher Mountain (1,001 meters). Arrived at the summit of Caher Mountain, you now walk along the ridge to Carrauntoohil.

You can add a climb to the second highest mountain in Ireland, Beenkeeragh. The Beenkeeragh Ridge (also called The Bones) is a narrow ridge on which it slopes steeply on both sides. So make a good assessment of whether the weather and your own physical condition will allow this section of the route. You begin the descent along Stumpa and Skregmore.

Those who have completed the 14.5 kilometer route have conquered one of the most beautiful and challenging hikes in Ireland, and at the end of the day they can rightly pat themselves on the shoulder.

A GPS route for the Coomloughra Horseshoe can be found here.

Directions

Like many rural areas in Ireland, the best way to get to the Carrauntoohil area is by car. The starting point at Cronin’s Yard is about 25 minutes from Killarney, the nearest major town. From there, head west and follow the N72, then turn for Dunloe.

Unfortunately, there is no public transport connection to get to the foot of Carrauntoohil. You can join a guided group hike with a shared bus ride. Please contact the Killarney Tourist Office for information.

Alternatively, you can also consider a long-distance hike to Carrauntoohil.

Kerry Way Hillwalk Tours Ltd.
Walking The Kerry Way from Killarney to Glenbeigh

Long distance hikes around Carrauntoohil

Carrauntoohil is not only a breathtaking mountain for climbing to the summit, anyone hiking in the surrounding area will also catch enchanting views of the majestic giant. The MacGillycuddy Reeks are one of the largest mountain ranges in Ireland with 27 peaks and extend over a hundred square kilometers.

This area is the ideal destination for hiking vacationers and is also home to the popular Kerry Way. At 214km (133 miles), this is the longest long-distance hiking trail in Ireland and runs at the foot of Carrauntoohil.

Myths about Carrauntoohil

Many of the place names around Carrauntoohil tell of mystical figures and days gone by. So Hag’s Glen is named after a wise old woman named that who lived on an island there centuries ago. In order to seek her advice and obtain her cures, people went to see her by boat.

The plain above Devil’s Ladder is also called Christ’s Ladder and is believed to be the burial place of an important pagan clan leader or sage.

The MacGillycuddy's Reeks along the Kerry Way
View from the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks

We hope that you enjoyed this guide to hiking the highest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohil. If you’re interested in a Kerry Way hiking tour, just get in touch.

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