Despite its great popularity, the Kerry Way is not overcrowded. On foot we reached secluded valleys, secluded forests and passes that no car can cross. Often we didn’t meet a soul for hours. The sight of the wild, green landscape made every step a pleasure, even on long and steep sections.
Here we share our experiences and tips for a hike on the Kerry Way. We took a short break covering the sections from Killarney via Black Valley and Glencar to Glenbeigh. We hope that you find our experience and tips useful.
Kerry Way: Fact File
Total length: 214km
Location and route: The Kerry Way is in the South West of Ireland. The circular route runs along the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. The start and end point is the town of Killarney, the gateway to the national park of the same name. The Kerry Way takes you right to the base of the McGillycuddy Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range, has coastal sections and leads into remote valleys including past the famous Lakes of Killarney.
Elevation Meters: The total ascent of the Kerry Way is 5,400 meters.
Difficulty level: The Kerry Way is considered a moderate to demanding hiking trail. Not only is it the longest long-distance hiking trail in Ireland, it also has some steep climbs in mountainous terrain. However, there is the option of choosing shorter sections and only walking part of the way or taking some alternative routes to avoid some of the more challenging sections.
Infrastructure: The tourist infrastructure around Killarney is very well developed. But you come to areas where there are hardly any shops or buses. Research in advance into the route section that you will walk is essential and also make sure to bring adequate provisions with you. B&Bs are available in each of the main stopover locations and B&Bs in the more remote areas will normally also prepare evening meals on request.
Day 1: Killarney to the Black Valley
Length : 19 kilometers
From our B&B, we walk to the N71 road and find the first trail marker for the Kerry Way, which finally turns into a wooded area. Here the path runs under the canopy of pretty large trees along the lake shore and offers a view of the water masses again and again.
Architecturally, there is also a lot to see here. The path brings us directly to the pretty property Muckross House and Gardens. Many tourists visit here, marvel at the gardens or go to the cafe. We see lots of horse drawn carriages passing taking visitors to the highlights of the region. Looking at the clock, we decide not to visit the ruins of Muckross Abbey this time.
* Tip : Take an extra day to see the many highlights in Killarney. If you are here for the first time and are interested in history, Muckross Abbey / House and Gardens, Killarney itself and Ross Castle are worth a visit.
Instead, we follow the path up to Torc Waterfall, one of the most popular attractions in Killarney. Crowds of Spanish teenagers climb the steps with us to the imposing waterfall, chatter, run and take selfies.
Above the lookout point it becomes much quieter and more lonely. The path forks and we walk towards a magical plateau. Mountains like Torc Mountain tower up around us. Golden grass sways in the wind on the moor. We enjoy our first longer break with a view back on a small hill. The second break we spend reading in an oak forest after we have left a small church at Gallways Bridge and crossed the country road one more time. Moss-grown stones decorate the quiet forest.
In the valley we walk towards Lord Brandon’s Cottage. The modern cottage serves as a “stop” for tourists who can take a boat to this remote place. We admire the ancient ruins that Lord Brandon probably once lived in. Overgrown with plants, they have something romantic about them.
Past the lake we see a mother with her son sitting on a towel. Maybe they live in this lonely valley and go swimming here regularly. A few drops of water fall when crossing the moor. At the river we find shelter under the branches of a willow and dip our smoking feet in the cool water.
Finally we arrive in the Black Valley . In our accommodation we meet a few other tourists. Two young French rode their bikes here from Killarney and are visibly impressed that we covered the distance on foot. A warm Canadian tells how she loves to race up the Gap of Dunloe (a narrow mountain pass) in the car and a couple of travelers from London want to set off on trail running the next day.
We eat our well-deserved dinner and enjoy a hot shower. After we have studied the weather forecast in detail, we decide to wait for the rain showers in the morning and only leave for Glencar around 12 noon.
* Tip: There are no shops, pubs or restaurants in Black Valley and just two B&Bs but you can pre-order an evening meal with them. There is also the Black Valley Hostel which sells a small selection of groceries and has a communal kitchen. Hillwalk Tours covers this section in an unique way including a boat trip on the Lakes of Killarney to Lord Brandon’s Cottage in the morning and then walking back to Killarney to stay a second night. The following day, a taxi drops you back to the trail to continue your walk to Glencar
Day 2: Black Valley to Glencar
Length : 22 kilometers (there are different options on the last section to Glencar. The other options are longer.)
The weather report hadn’t lied. White, low-hanging clouds cover the landscape and it is still drizzling as we set off. We come through a small piece of forest into a valley in which only a few houses adorn the slopes of the mountains. Steep cliffs peek out of the clouds across from us. That should be Caher and Carrauntoohil. Just without seeing the peaks, it’s hard to tell whether or not we are now in the shadow of Ireland’s tallest mountains.
A yellow painted farmhouse shines towards us. In front of it there is a huge menhir standing stone protruding from the ground. We follow the path up to the first, steep mountain pass. From afar you can see the stone circle that marks it. The terrain is uneven and steep. There is no road over this pass. We arrive at a mountain saddle that eventually takes us to the Bridia Valley. Rocks rise along the way and seem to form a gate, behind which the landscape forms a wide patchwork carpet. The view is beautiful.
Slowly our stomachs growl and we look forward to paying a visit to the Cookie Monsters Cafe. This is located exactly between the two mountain passes of today’s route and its location at the end of the dead end of the Bridia Valley makes it the only way to stop for miles. Unfortunately, at 4.30 p.m., half an hour before the announced afternoon closing time, there is no more food. And even more unfortunately the operator of the Cookie Monster does not communicate that charmingly.
* Tip: If you want to stop at the Cookie Monster Cafe on your hike, be sure to be there an hour before the end of opening hours. Otherwise you will definitely need enough provisions on this section.
We trudge up the next hill and eat fruit and nuts. Difficult to say which of the two mountain passes is more beautiful. Again, after a bit of exertion, the landscape spreads out in front of us and reveals the view of a deep blue lake, which we will soon circle around.
Deeper in the valley, the Kerry Way forks and as the hour has moved on, we decide to keep left and take the shorter route away from the country road. The path describes a slightly confusing zigzag course, but ultimately brings us to a piece of forest hummed by Midges. There we find a number of abandoned stone houses and we would like to know what life was like here in the past.
* Tip: Be sure to bring insect repellent. The strong smell not only protects against mosquitoes, some insect sprays also help against ticks. There are ticks in County Kerry and they can transmit Lyme disease. So after every hike, check whether you have a tick and remove it as soon as possible.
Over meadows, pastures and a piece of country road we arrive in Glencar, at the Climber’s Inn . Glencar is little more than an intersection with a house. It seems that today a large part of the population of West Kerry has come together here. In the shop adjoining the pub we buy the most essential groceries again and hear that the annual “Cattle show and Carnival” took place on this very day. There was a costume contest for kids, award winning sheep selections, and tons of music and pints of beer tonight.
We join for an after-hike beer, but then decide to stay away from this lively event to get enough sleep before the next stage. Tip: You should always have ear plugs in your luggage in case you encounter a local festival!
* Tip: A cold drink in the Climber’s Inn is always a nice reward after a long day of hiking. Even when it’s not “Cattle Show and Carnival” time.
Day 3: Glencar to Glenbeigh
Length : 13 kilometers
When we leave the next morning, people are still sitting at the bar. Apparently there is no curfew in the country!
The Kerry Way leads us over meadows and ladders first into the quiet Caragh river valley. Then we cross the magical Lickeen oak forest. Rocks tower high above us as we climb up and down the stone steps in the dim light.
Today we hike a few kilometers on country roads. The traffic is however limited.
* Tip: Some Irish long-distance hiking trails run on asphalt in parts. In my experience, to prevent blisters, it is essential not to walk these sections in heavy hiking boots with inflexible soles. It’s best to take a pair of lightweight trainers with you and change them as needed.
We enjoy our first break today on a wall by the roadside, from where we can hear the sheep quietly smacking their lips next to us. Here we see the majestic McGillycuddy Reeks towering and even briefly glimpse the top of Carrauntoohil. At the end of our snack, we have been meeting the first other hikers for days.
At the end of the slope the Kerry Way forks and we decide to take the shorter but steeper section via Windy Gap (the windy gap) to Glenbeigh. This is another narrow mountain pass. When we arrive at the pass, we notice that the hill next to us doesn’t even look that high. The GPS device confirms it and so we quickly leave our backpacks on the way and add a small summit climb to the classic Kerry Way. From here we see the sea for the first time since the beginning of our hike. But beyond that we can roughly work out where the Kerry Way will run in the next few days: along the coast.
The descent down to Glenbeigh is lovely. We meet a farmer in an ancient blue tractor and exchange a few words about the weather. Flowering hedges decorate the roadside.
Another remarkable ruin stands at the entrance to Glenbeigh: Wynne’s Folly. This is a not very ancient building that should be reminiscent of a castle. What he lacks in years, his history makes up for in gloom. In 1867 the large landowner Lord Headley Wynne decided to have the building built and to finance it through rent increases. When the tenants were unable to meet these payments, they were brutally evicted, and the foolish property was never completed. Today horses graze within its walls.
In contrast to Glencar and Black Valley, Glenbeigh is a real little town. There are a number of places to eat here, including a chip shop, bus stop, hotel, and possibly the best pizza place on the whole of Kerry Way.
* Tip: Let Emilie pamper you in Glenbeigh. The stone oven pizza here not only impresses with its creative flavor combinations in terms of the topping, it is also made from sourdough that is not heavy on the stomach.
Due to the shorter route, we still have hours of daylight today and follow the country road and the signs to Ros Beigh (Rossbeigh) Beach. We saw this mile-long sandy beach from the Windy Gap and can’t wait to feel sand under our feet.
The sun is shining and from the beach we can see the long ridges of the Dingle Peninsula. Dingle and Iveragh protrude parallel into the sea and so you can enjoy views of the sea and mountains from both headlands. We go for a swim and from the water the view is even more beautiful. Despite the cold water temperature, it is difficult for us to leave the waves again.
* Tip: For an incomparable beach walk, visit Rossbeigh Beach . Located between Glenbeigh and Cahersiveen, this is the perfect place to cool your feet and relax.
If you too want to experience the unique beauty of the Kerry Way, you can book a self-guided hiking tour with Hillwalk Tours, the specialists in self-guided hiking in Ireland.