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As the caretakers of Ireland’s National Parks with breathtaking landscapes and wildlife, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is dedicated to preserving and promoting these treasures for generations.
This guide will explore the many stunning Ireland national parks and the incredible wildlife that call them home. From the rugged cliffs of the Wild Atlantic Way to the tranquil lakes of the midlands, join us as we journey through the diverse and captivating landscapes of the Emerald Isle.
We’ll also cover the best activities, from birdwatching and hiking to cycling and kayaking along the coast. So grab your gear, pack a picnic, and let’s explore the beautiful national parks of Ireland!
Why are national parks important?
Our national parks’ primary purpose is to protect Ireland’s biodiversity. These parks provide us with stunning landscapes, forests, and recreational facilities. Not only do they protect our natural heritage, but provide us with exceptional outdoor areas to explore.
They give a home to our native wildlife and can offer protection and refuge to threatened species. They provide invaluable economic, social, cultural, and health benefits too.
We are responsible for protecting and conserving these beautiful parks so that future generations can enjoy them as we do.
Health and wellbeing
The natural beauty found in the national parks in Ireland has a healing influence on our bodies and minds. In turn, this has a positive psychological effect by reducing stress. Take some time out, relax, and revitalise your life and go on a hike in the Wicklow Mountains National Park, for example, on our self-guided hiking tour.
Children also reap the benefits of playing outdoors, exploring, and being in nature. National parks are a tremendous resource for families and friends to enjoy. As they are preserved and protected, our future generations will be able to experience the same beauty that we do today.
National Parks play an important role in protecting our environment and the wildlife within them. They are home to many species.
The natural beauty found in the national parks in Ireland offers a wealth of health benefits. Research has linked time spent outdoors with improved mental well-being and reduced stress levels. In addition, spending time outdoors can also reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
In Ireland, we have six national parks.
- Glenveagh National Park in the North West of Co. Donegal
- Wicklow Mountains National Park is in the southeast of Ireland, just south of Dublin.
- We have the well-known Killarney National Park in the southwest.
- The beautiful Burren National Park on the Wild Atlantic Way
- Connemara National Park on the Wild Atlantic Way
- Finally, the Ballycroy National Park is located on the western seaboard of northwest Mayo.
Each national park has its beauty and attractions that will astound, surprise Ireland’s hundreds of thousands of visitors that alight on them each year.
Glenveagh National Park
Did you know Glenveagh is Ireland’s second-largest national park and boasts rugged mountains, pristine lakes, peatlands, and quartzite hills? It is in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains nDonegal’sof Donegal. Entry to the park is free and open annually from the 1st of November to the 16th of March.
This national park has six walking trails, ranging from 1km-8kms for novice walkers or families. There are 16,000 hectares of North Donegal’s rugged, remote landscape to explore for the more experienced hiker. The 16,000-hectare estate was donated to the Irish state in 1981 by Henry Plumer McIlhenny.
The National park is home to many endangered species, such as the golden eagle, red deer, and freshwater pearl mussel. There are also plenty of opportunities for birdwatching – the rich array of wildfowl, raptors, and seabirds make this an ideal destination.
The park is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on three sides, giving visitors ample opportunities to enjoy stunning seIreland’srom many vantage points throughout the park. The unique geology of the Derryveagh Mountains also makes for some fascinating discoveries.
Ballycroy National Park
Ballycroy National Park is Ireland’s sixth National Park and is located on the Western seaboard in northwest Mayo. It is one of Europe’s largest expanses of peatland, with a unique habitat for flora and fauna.
Ballycroy is on the western seaboard in northwest Mayo. The Nephin Beg mountain range here is an uninhabited and unspoiled wilderness with one of the largest and one of the last intact active blanket bog systems in Europe, 11,000 hectares. This bog system in this national park has both Scientific and scenic significance for the park.
There are short walking trails for the novice and moderate walker, but the park is ideal for anyone wishing to hike in remote areas and is recommended for experienced hillwalkers.
The Bangor trail is the primary 40km route through the park and follows an old road through the Nephin Beg mountains. This walk is challenging for the expert, accomplished hillwalker.
Connemara National Park
Situated in the heart of Connemara, Derryclare Lake is a stunning lake with superb views that awe visitors at the wonders of nature in this beautiful part of Ireland. Derryclare Lake is just before Letterfrack, located in the heart of the famous Connemara National Park.
The Twelve Bens Mountains are some mountain ranges you will find here. You will be delighted with Western blanket bogs, heathland, grassland, and woodland vistas. Admission to the park is free, and the park is open all year.
Connemara National Park has four looped trails, ranging from 0.5 km to 3.7 km, starting from the visitor’s centre. Walkers and hikers can tour solo or with a guide to experience the park’s beautiful landscapes.
Connemara National Park is the perfect escape for tourists craving a day in Ireland’s countryside. This park’s mountainous landscape contrasts with its bogs and grassy valleys, offering flat, easy trails or sharply angled climbs up the Twelve Bens mountain range. There are looped trails for the more adventurous type, ranging from 0.5 km to 3.7 km, starting from the visitor’s centre.
The highlight of a visit here is Diamond Hill, an area of coniferous forests and views of Lough Corrib and Killary Harbour – one of Ireland’s most stunning sights. Visitors
The Burren National Park
The Burren National Park, Mullaghmore, County Clare (www.burrennationalpark.ie ), holds fascinating landscapes—a series of limestone beds eroded during the Ice Age to form a barren, lunar-like landscape. The Burren National Park is fascinating to botanists because it’s the only place in the world where Arctic, Mediterranean, and Alpine plants grow side-by-side.
In addition to its ecological importance, the park has a rich cultural heritage, with megalithic tombs, cairns, and other ancient artefacts scattered throughout the area.
The Park offers extensive trails for hikers and walkers with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. There are
This National Park is located in the South Eastern corner of The Burren and contains all the habitats you will find in the Burren National Park landscape. It will astound you with its beauty with examples of limestone pavement, calcareous grassland, hazel scrub, ash and Hazel woodland, Turloughs, Lakes, Petrifying springs, Cliffs, and fen. ‘Burren’ derives its name from an old Irish word meaning a rocky place.
Seven waymarked trails,
This National park is 1500 hectares in size. Seven waymarked trails, ranging fr“m moderate to challenging,” suit experienced and expert hikers. Each signposted with colour-coded markers.
- Tullahin Loop Trail
- Glanquin Lake Walking trail
- Ballyallaban Woodland Trail
- Glenkeel Valley Trail
- Mullaghmore Mountain Walk
- Slieve Carron Loop Walk
- Burren Viewpoint Cliff Top Trail
Killarney National Park
If you want to visit the highest mountain range in Ireland, the McGillycuddy Reeks, and simultaneously see a spectacular national park, the Killarney National Park is a must.
Nestled inside the park, you will find Muckross house, a 19th-century mansion. Here you will also come across native Oakwood and Yew woods, which are of national and international importance and, of course, not to forget their very ‘own herd of native red deer!
There are seven walking trails, ranging from multi-access to challenging, ranging from 3-8 km.
Wicklow Mountains National Park
Wicklow Mountains National Park is found on the east coast of Ireland and covers part of a mountain range, The Wicklow Mountains, that extends over most of County Wicklow. Here you will view open vistas with winding mountain roads interrupted only by Forestry plantations, where fast-flowing streams descend into deep lakes of the lowlands and wooded valleys.
There are nine way-maIreland’sing trails in the valley of Glendalough. Each trail has colour-coded signposts, ranging from a short half-hour stroll to a long 4-hour hill walk.
The most iconic feature in the valley is the “Round Tower and Graveyard”, built in the 6th century by Christian monks. The tower stands 30 metres high and indicates early Irish monasticism, along with othIreland’sological sites such as Celtic crosses, churches and stone dwellings.
There are also numerous lakes, rivers, mountains and waterfalls to explore. The surrounding hills offer magnificent views, and the valley is a paradise for wildlife lovers, with a wide variety of birds and mammals living in the area. Whether you are looking for an easy family walk or an adventurous trek into the wilds of Wicklow Mountains National Park, Glendalough has something for everyone!
Considerations when visiting national Parks
- One of the most critical factors is to ‘Leave no trace‘. Remove everything you bring on the trail, including fruit skins!
- Leave your dogs at home- mainly when walking to any park trails where wildlife live.
- Leave plants, animals, rocks, shells, soil, and flowers as you find them- disturbing these flora, fauna, and wildlife can ruin these habitats. Imagine if every visitor took a souvenir!
- Ensure your vehicle stays on roads – Vehicles can increase erosion and damage plants and animals.
The parklands are there for us to enjoy, cherish, spend time in, become familiar with, learn from and have fun with.
Visit your nearest parkland soon and believe me, you will get hooked!
Ireland’s national parks are a natural treasure and should be treasured by all. By following the principles of ‘Leave no Trace’, we can ensure these precious habitats remain protected for generations. Taking only memories, and leaving nothing but footprints, is key to preserving our parklands for future visitors to enjoy as much as we do now.
Whether you’re looking for an adventure or just some peace and quiet, Ireland’s National Parks offer something unique that will leave you with lasting impressions. So why not plan your next visit today?