It was Easter Saturday last weekend and with a long weekend in play, some time to relax and a good long hike were on the cards. To top that off, it was a really sunny day when we got up on Saturday morning. All the signs were good so we got our gear together and headed for the hills!
The hike we decided to do was Lugnaquilla mountain in the Wicklow mountains in the province of Leinster Ireland. The Wicklow mountains are very accessible from Dublin city center and so are a popular haunt for tourists as well as weekend hikers coming from the city at the weekend.
The Wicklow Mountains form the largest continuous upland area in Ireland and were formed in the last ice age. They are located in the middle of County Wicklow in Ireland but they branch out into Counties Dublin, Carlow and Wexford. The mountains themselves are composed mainly of granite but other older rocks do form part of the geological makeup of the range. Many major rivers are sourced from the Wicklow mountains and the area itself has a lot of history running as far back as the 6th century.
As mentioned, the Wicklow mountains are a very popular tourist attraction and they provide a handy location for weekend hikers coming from Dublin city. With that in mind, they are officially a national park in Ireland and protected as such under European law.
To get started on this hike you need to head out of Dublin south on the M50 motorway. Take the exit marked Glendalough / Kilmacanogue and follow the signs to Glendalough and Laragh. When you get to Laragh, just before Glendalough, take a left at Lynams pub, located in the middle of Laragh, and follow the road for about one to two miles until you come to a a sign pointing right to Glenmalure.
At the junction take the right to Glenmalure, and follow the road for about three to four miles, that's approximate, until you come to a crossroads on the road with a big pub called the Glenmalure Lodge on your left hand side ( This is a really nice spot and perfect to stop into for a quick coffee, beer or bite to eat after your hike 😉 ). Take the right here in the opposite direction of the pub and follow the road for about one to two miles.
As you drive up the road you will have mountains on both sides of you with the ones on your left more visible. Keep going until you come to a waterfall running down the side of the mountain on the left hand side. You can't really miss it, but I've taken a shot of it here to hopefully help identify it.
Now, this is the first place you can park up on the side of the road for this hike. It's a little hard to get a definitive point on the road on Google maps but you can click onto street view on the map below and you'll see the waterfall above. Park anywhere there but be sure to not block the road. You can also drive further on and you will find several car parks.
You can also do this hike in reverse starting from one of those car parks or, alternatively, walk back up to this spot and start from here. Whatever you prefer of course but for this hike we started from the waterfall.
The Zig Zag Path
When you stand on the road at the start of the hike and you look up towards the waterfall to the left, you should see a ziz-zag type path going upwards to the right of the waterfall. This is start of your path to the top of Lugnaquilla. Head off the road towards the white house in the picture above. The path is pretty well marked so you can't miss it. There are some directional arrows on posts too which you can keep your eyes open for.
OK, on with the hike. The Zig Zag path is a gentle enough route ascending to the top of the first peak on the trail to Lugnaquilla. As you walk upwards you'll start to get the opportunity for many beautiful views of the valley from the path. The shot below gives you a taster.
As mentioned, the path is pretty easy to walk up. It's wide and clearly marked so no real fear of getting lost. However, for those of you who use a compass, you will be aiming on a general bearing of 263 to the summit of Lugnaquilla from the top of the ziz zag path.
The Cliff Edge
After walking up to the top of the Ziz Zag path, you follow on upwards towards the summit of Cloghernagh which sits at about 800 meters altitude. There is still a visible path of sorts but it isn't as obvious in places as the Zig Zag path was.
This is a popular hike though so you can see foot prints and natural steps, as such, left by previous hikers. The path becomes a mix of boggy terrain and granite stone. Depending on the time of year you're hiking this can be tricky to negotiate in places with your hiking boots sinking deep into bog at times. You can stick to the stone for most of this part though too. The hike here also gets quite steep too, probably the steepest part of the whole hike.
As you go further and further up you will notice a cliff edge developing on your right hand side. Again, some of the views across the valley and over to the other mountains from here are just stunning.
We were blessed with the weather. It was sunny with only some clouds in the sky. You can stop on some of these cliff edges for a cup of coffee or a banana break as we did. It's worth stopping to take it all in!
The Summit in Sight
As you move further up from this cliff edge area, you will move into a flatter area going up in a steady but gradual incline. Now, on a good day, you can see the summit of Lugnaquilla from here. It's a bit like a horseshoe shape to get from here to the top. You walk straight up and then you start to veer to the left to the summit.
Now, I should add here that the weather at the top of Lugnaquilla can be very temperamental. In fact, I have hiked to the top more than ten times and yesterday was the first time I could actually see the summit from a distance or see out from it for that matter. As it's a high mountain close to the sea, it has a tendency to be wrapped in mist and fog at the summit so visibility isn't always great. Still a joy to hike though, even in tougher weather.
It's worth mentioning that there are little triangle sets of stones on the ground which you can follow, if the visibility isn't great, that were put there as a guide for folks on the trail.
You're now on the final leg when you veer left to swoop upwards to the summit!
When you get to the summit you will be greeted with the summit marker on top of an island of stones. These are common on top of mountains in Ireland and the UK. This is an ideal spot to stop, if the weather is agreeable, have a bite to eat and take a breather. At this stage you've hiked about 5 kms to a height of 925 meters so you deserve a break 😉
After you're sated, and weather permitting, I highly recommend that you head over towards the edge of the mountain at the top and take a look out at the views across the mountains. It really is beautiful to look out from there, the area known as the South Prison in particular has great view on a good day. As I mentioned though, yesterday was one of many times at the top of Lugnaquilla but only the first time I got to enjoy the views from the top!
Heading Back Down
At this point you have two options to head back down to the start point. Option one is to head straight back down the way you came up. This is easy and handy to do. However, if you're feeling more adventurous you can head back down a different way effectively doing a loop back to your starting point. We were feeling adventurous yesterday so that's what we did 🙂
From the top of Lugnaquilla we started out on a rough bearing of 59 aiming to head across open mountain to descend down Fraughan Rock Glen. Now, it's worth noting here that at the top of Lugnaquilla you are right beside an artillery range for the Irish army. So be careful you don't wander off in the wrong direction. The artillery range is well marked though so it should be easy to spot and stay out of. The bearing 59 took us along the edge of the south east corner of the artillery range.
As you move out this direction you will start to see a quite steep descent to get down to the top of Fraughan Rock Glen. Take your time here and find a spot you're comfortable walking down. It's slippy and steep so exercise caution.
We skirted along the top till we found a suitable point and started to side step down to the bottom. As you look down, weather permitting, you'll see a river than leads off into the distance falling over the edge. You want to aim for the left hand side of that going down. As we had skirted up a bit I took another bearing to the river just to be safe. As we would descend it was possible the visual marker could go out of view so no harm to have a rough directional bearing.
As you head downwards you also need to cross a small river or two. These are all flowing into the main river down through the glen. They're very beautiful with lot's of little waterfalls along the way. There are plenty of handy places to cross so if you don't fancy the place you're at just walk up or down the little rivers a bit till you find a more suitable crossing point.
Fraughan Rock Glen
Eventually, you'll come to the top of the river at the top of the Glen. As you look down the glen you'll see lot's of felled trees. These do hamper the route down a bit so take your time and be careful. We decided to skirt along the river down through the glen. It was really pretty to hike down here with the sounds of the river all around. There is also plenty of nature in the glen too. From sheep to deer, there's lot's to see and enjoy!
When you get to the bottom of the glen you will see a path forming in front of you. Take this path and follow it all the way down back to the end of the road. The one you're parked on. Tree's surround you on either side and you might see some campers as you descend, we saw lot's yesterday. There are loads of nice spots to camp out alongside the river at the bottom.
When you get to the bottom, you'll see a big car park. There is one more obstacle you may have to cross to get to it though and that is the river! This river is quite big and normally it's dry to cross over the road. However, yesterday the river was flowing over the road so I needed to do some nimble jumping to get across it!
I'm only kidding, it wasn't that deep at all but I guess it could get harder to cross in heavy rain.
Now it's worth mentioning here that you can actually start the hike from here in this car park at the end of the road. You could drive to the end of the road and park there. This is effectively the hike above but in reverse as I mentioned at the start.
The Last Push
At this point we were back on the Road so we just had to walk back along it to the car. It's about 30 minutes from the car park at the very bottom of the path from Fraughan Rock Glen back to the starting point.
This is a really nice hike to take any time of the year. It's about 10 miles in total distance with about 900 meters in ascent so anywhere from 4 to 6 hours depending on your pace. You need to be pretty fit to attempt it so probably not a good start for a total newbie to hiking. You can of course take your time but it is steep in places and I think you'd be better to get a few shorter hikes in under your belt first before attempting this one.
We were really blessed with the weather on the day and, as you can see in the photo's above, there are some amazing views to be had. It's a hike I've done, in various forms via different routes, and it never ceases to please. As always, be sure you have the right gear with you. As mentioned, we were lucky with the weather but it does rain a lot in Ireland so a good rain jacket, proper hiking boots and other suitable hiking gear are a must.
If you're looking a challenging but really nice hike in the Wicklow Mountains, this fits the bill!