Hiking Connemara: Overview & Tips

February 1, 2021 by
POSTED BY February 1, 2021

Hiking in Connemara is an amazing experience. This Gaelic-speaking region in the West of Ireland impresses with its wild beauty and countless options to experience nature. Connemara is west of Galway City and stretches from the romantic coast in the south-west to majestic mountain ranges in the north-east.

The Twelve Bens and Maamturk Mountains are famous among hikers in Ireland, yet still offer solitude and a touch of adventure off the beaten track. The Western Way is also one of the hidden secrets of hiking in Ireland. In this guide, you’ll find the answers to the most common questions about hiking in Connemara.

When can I hike in Connemara?

The best season for hiking in Connemara starts in April. Then the boggy ground is a bit drier after the wet winter months and the daylight hours are longer again.

Many B&Bs and restaurants close in winter (November to February) and the short daylight makes this time of the year a challenge for hiking. Be sure to find out more about the current weather situation if planning to hike in Connemara in winter, for example on the website of the Irish National Weather Service . 

From April to mid October, the conditions for hiking are generally good with mild temperatures and long days. More on the weather in Connemara below.

Connemara Scenery Hillwalk Tours
Connemara Scenery

What’s the weather like in Connemara?

Usually the weather in Connemara is mostly one thing: extremely changeable.

The months from April to June are suitable for hiking, because they not only have the longest days, but also have the least rainfall on average. However, some days and weeks can still see heavy rainfall.

Temperatures in Ireland are usually highest in July and August. But the record high temperature summer of 2018 started in May and surprised hikers with dry phases that lasted for weeks. In 2020, April and May were yet again the best months of the year with long dry spells. In 2019, they were two of the wettest months of the season so there is never a really reliable pattern to follow.

Located directly on the Atlantic coast, clouds usually collect constantly over the mountains and, in an Ireland-wide comparison, ensure above-average rainfall (2000 millimeters per year).

So be sure to prepare for different weather conditions. In Ireland, it is not for nothing that people talk about “four seasons in a day” (experiencing weather from all four seasons in one day). And for more information about hiking in rain, check out our blog post on that very subject.

Meeting the locals in Connemara Hillwalk Tours
Meeting the locals in Connemara

How do I get to Connemara?

For many visitors, Galway is an important stop on the way to Connemara. Numerous buses run from Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports to Galway every day. In Galway you can then take a bus straight to Letterfrack, the entrance to Connemara National Park. If you’re hiking the Western Way, take on the same bus and get off at Oughterard.

A rental car can also be a good option if you want to discover secluded spots independently.

Walking the Western Way Hillwalk Tours
Walking the Western Way

Where can I sleep?

Despite the rural location, there are various sleeping options in Connemara. Along the Western Way you will come across B&Bs in all the villages and sometimes on lonely country roads.

There are also several hostels in Connemara: the Old Monastery in Letterfrack, the Ben Lettery Hostel in Recess and the Sleepzone Hostel near Leenane.

Western Way, Connemara Hillwalk Tours
Western Way, Connemara

Which hikes are there?

#1 Hiking the Western Way

The Western Way is a beautiful multi-day hike that takes you right into the heart of Connemara. This signposted trail begins in Oughterard, a picturesque village near Lough Corrib. The Western Way is mostly hiked from south to north and takes you into wide moorlands and secret valleys.

After Maam’s Cross, you will cross Maumeen or Mam Ean Pass, where there is a small 5th century church that is said to have been built by St. Patrick himself. Here you have fantastic views of the rugged Maumturk Mountains and later of the Twelve Bens. After the water masses of the only fjord in Ireland (Killary Fjord), the route leads to Westport. The holy mountain of Croagh Patrick looms before you.

The entire Western Way is 200 kilometers long and ends in Ballina, County Sligo.

Mam Ean Hillwalk Tours Ltd.
Mam Ean, Western Way, Connemara

#2 Hiking the Diamond Hill Trail

A highlight of a visit to Connemara National Park is a hike up to Diamond Hill. Aside from a few beaten tracks left by the sheep, this is the only marked trail that leads to the top of a Connemara mountain.

Three different routes run through the national park, making it accessible to visitors of different ages and fitness levels.

Those who make it to the top, however, will be rewarded with magnificent views of the coast and the gardens of Kylemore Abbey.

Kylemore Abbey. Photo: flickr_Stéphane Moussie. License.

Connemara National Park

The Connemara National Park is a 3000 hectare nature reserve and mainly comprises mountainous moorland. The moor is a unique habitat and is home to plant and animal species that are perfectly adapted to this barren habitat, including even sundew and other carnivorous plants. The typical pipe grass and the purple flowering heather give this landscape its typical appearance.

Among the animals that are native here are various birds such as wrens, chaffinches and kestrels. But the domesticated Connemara pony and the Connemara sheep are also an integral part of the animal world in Connemara.

The Connemara National Park Visitor Center has an exhibition with valuable information on geology and flora and fauna.

The 12 Bens are part of Connemara National Park and a paradise for hiking. But hiking trails are rare and strong navigation skills are essential. GPS routes for various day hikes can be downloaded here for free.

connemara-pony-white-horse-ireland-grundy
Connemara Pony Photo credit www.nicholasgrundy.com

#3 Hiking the Maamturk Mountains

The Maamturk Mountains are considered to be the wildest and loneliest mountain range in Connemara. Rugged rock formations and silver-gray stone fields characterize the landscape. On steep sections, walking on two legs turns into “scrambling” with hands also needing to be used.

Also, don’t let the 702 meters height reference fool you. You start almost at sea level, so you have a significant ascent and decent ahead of you if you want to conquer the Maamturks. Every year, hikers try to climb all the peaks of the Maamturks in a single day during the Maamturks Challenge . The start is at 5 a.m. with 25 kilometers and 2300 meters of altitude in front of the participants.

Connemara Mountains Hillwalk Tours
The Maumturks, Connemara

#4 Hiking in Leenane

From Leenane there are some fantastic hikes into the solitude of the Connemara Mountains. This small village next to the only fjord in all of Ireland is the starting point for various routes that guarantee views of the shimmering water of Killary Harbor.

At 814 meters, the legendary Mweelrea Mountain is the highest peak in the West of Ireland. However, this giant often wraps itself in a veil of clouds and is not for the inexperienced hiker. Another hiking highlight is Devil’s Mother, a 614 meter high mountain that towers behind Leenane.

Incidentally, Leenane herself gained fame as the location for the 1990 film The Field .

Killary Harbour Hillwalk Tours
Walking along Killary Harbour, Connemara

 #5 Hiking the Twelve Bens

The Twelve Bens or 12 Pins owe their name to the twelve mountain peaks that connect this mountain range. The quartzite mountain range forms a kind of oversized horseshoe. This structure ensures that you are always surrounded by peaks on hikes. Different access points allow the ascent to one or more peaks. Ambitious and experienced hikers can dare to try the Glencoaghan Horseshoe, which takes them 16 kilometers to six of the twelve Bens.

We hope that you enjoyed this guide and if you’re interested in a self-guided hiking the Western Way in Connemara, just get in touch.

Walkers Hillwalk Tours
Walkers taking in the views on the Western Way, Connemara

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