With its varied trails, Ards Forest Park’s habitats range from beaches with Atlantic views to oak woodland. Pick a family friendly walk like the 0.5km Salt Marsh Trail or rise to the challenge of the 13km Red Trail. To make a day of it, stitch together the paths to complete a full circuit. As you tour around the park you can see ringfort ruins, a holy well and megalithic tombs or visit the playground with its wheelchair friendly swing. To refuel, stop at a picnic table or pop into the Ards Coffee Tree for a treat.
In a beautiful spot by Half Moon Bay, the Hazelwood Forest trail hugs the shore of Lough Gill. This nature walk for all abilities can be taken as the full 3km loop or enjoyed over shorter distances. As you follow the track past wooden sculptures by Irish and international artists, enjoy the unfolding lake views. When it's time for a snack, unpack your picnic and relax for a spell.
Gather the gang and follow the Forest Friendly Walking Trail to the viewing platform overlooking Lough Derg. You can include your furriest family members, as it's also dog friendly. This is a gentle stroll, but for more of a workout try the Rinmaher, Woodland or Bonaveen trails. Whichever you choose, be on the lookout for deer, red squirrels, foxes and badgers along the way.
Wind through a nature reserve with a rich diversity of life. On the easy Dromore Wood Loop keen eyed walkers can spot hares, stoats and dozens of other creatures. This dog friendly trail at the Burren's edge takes you from woods to the lake shore, with views of the spectacular O’Brien Castle and Dromore Lake as added highlights. Look out for the unique features of the region as you pass turloughs (disappearing lakes), callows (flooded meadows), and limestone pavement.
The moderate Glenisca Trail with its century old yews and rugged cliffs provides a dramatic backdrop for reconnecting with nature. Along with lakes and mixed woodland, the forest also holds surprises like the remains of Irish poet and author Aubrey de Vere’s old home, an arboretum and pet cemetery. The Curraghchase Café within the park is a handy place to pause and pick up a hot drink and a light snack.
One of Irish nature’s wildest landscapes, Gougane Barra also has a place in history. At the park entrance, look out for the lake and its tiny island. It’s here in the 6th century that St Finbarr, Cork’s patron saint founded his monastery. With six walks to choose from, for an easy option try the Slí Dhoire na Coise by the River Lee that takes you to the lake shore. The strenuous 2.5km Slí na Sléibhe is the toughest of the park's trails, but also the most majestic as it takes you high into the mountains for amazing views.
The Centenary Trail at Avondale Forest Park celebrates 100 years of Irish forestry. Feel the age of the place as you walk through a collection of specimens from the four corners of the globe. The easy, family friendly trail can be walked in either direction and there are 20 stops along the way. This showcase of the most impressive trees on the Avondale estate delights with stunning views across the Vale of Avoca and the Avonmore River.
The diversity of Donadea Forest Park makes every turn of the trail interesting. See the remnants of Donadea Castle and its walled gardens or reflect at the 9/11 Memorial with its scaled limestone replica of the Twin Towers. The Lake Walk is a lovely wheelchair accessible option that clocks in at around 1km, while the Aylmer Walk with its lime tree avenue leads you all around the park. In your wanderings, you can take a break at the onsite café.
At peaceful Mullaghmeen, lose yourself in Ireland's largest planted beech woods with three looped walks and a multi access trail. On the easy 3km Red Walk there are wonderful views of Lough Sheelin, and in springtime you'll be treated to a carpet of bluebells. For a trip into history, along the moderate 8km White Walk you'll find relics dating back to the Famine period of the 1840s.
With trails for all fitness levels, Lough Key Forest and Activity Park has a scenic multi access path by Lough Key with a loop around Drummans Island. You can try a different kind of walking experience on the 300m long Tree-Top Walk or get pulses racing with zip lining. To cap off the excitement, tuck into something sweet at the onsite Lakeside Café and Food Truck.
Along the banks of the River Cabra, steeped in legend Dún na Rí is said to be where Cú Chulainn once camped overnight. Four signposted paths from a River Walk to an Access for All Trail take you through Norway spruce and oak. Watch for glimpses of hares, stoats and otters and you can also see the ruins of the original Cabra House near the Wishing Well.
At an idyllic locale by the shores of Lough Oughter you’ll find Killykeen Forest Park. Ringed around the lake are woodlands of spruce, ash, oak and beech where you can choose from four walks. Each signposted trail is a pleasant, family friendly route with areas for picnicking and swimming.
The views from the 5.5km Ticknock Fairy Castle Loop are as magical as its name. A moderate climb of 210m summits at Three Rock where you’re rewarded by sweeping panoramas of Dublin City and the bay. You’ll also pass the trail’s namesake Fairy Castle, an ancient passage tomb under a mysterious stone cairn.
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