The Gap of Dunloe
Killarney is a big hot-spot for tourists visiting Ireland. The town itself is famous, and being the main place to start driving the Ring of Kerry makes it even more popular. With all of the attention on the city and Ring of Kerry attractions, I would like to shed a little light on another experience: The Gap of Dunloe.
What is The Gap?
On a self-guided tour or through a tour package, The Gap is more of an adventure than a tour. A narrow glacial-carved pass between the MacGillycuddy Reeks and the famous Purple Mountain (the highest mountains in Ireland), this seven mile hike gives you an up-close look at the beauty of Southwestern Ireland.
How do you Access the Gap of Dunloe?
You have a few options:
- Drive to Kate Kearney’s Cottage, park your car and walk through
- Hire a tour company to transport you
- Drive through the Gap. This is not my recommended method. The roads are extremely narrow and hikers could be hiding around any corner. If you choose to drive, be sure to go slowly for everyone’s safety.
When we hiked the Gap of Dunloe, we used a tour company called Gap of Dunloe Tours. You can follow this link to their website for more information. We booked their Bus and Boat tour (more about their tour options below). With this tour, you are picked up from your hotel in an antique bus and dropped off at Kate Kearney’s Cottage (the starting point for the hike). You are returned to Ross Castle by boat from Lord Brandon’s cottage (hike end) and the bus will deliver you back to your hotel. During our experience, the people were lovely, everything was well organized and we made some new friends during our transport back and forth. Although we went with a tour company, it was mainly used for transportation purposes. Everyone goes their own way after being dropped off at the cottage.
Kate Kearney’s Cottage
Upon arrival at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, you will notice they offer a host of different items for sale. If you have forgotten anything, no need to worry, as they will have you covered. I needed a replacement rain coat, and purchased the red one in the pictures. It has been my favourite ever since. They also have a bar, restaurant and washrooms at your disposal. Round the back of the cottage to catch the road and begin your adventure.
Our hike was a rainy one. In Ireland, this is not unusual weather, but this particular day it really poured. We were soaked from head to toe within the first few minutes. Our pictures turned out less than awe-inspiring (it isn’t easy getting good pictures while using backpacks and body parts as rain shields) and the clouds were so low we lost a lot of visibility. BUT… while we were drenched on the outside, our spirits weren’t dampened! Despite the previous description sounding quite negative, this hike was incredible.
Okay, try and picture yourself there; A thin paved road winds through a narrow pass between the base of surrounding mountains. A river rushes downstream beside you, fueled by the mountains’ new waterfalls created by the rain. Around you are green mountainsides, speckled with sheep and horses grazing. Ahead of you the mountains loom, their bases intertwining. The clouds and fog hang around you, masking the Gap in a blanket of mystery. This is true Ireland. You can feel the magic of Irish folklore surrounding you with every step.
With surroundings like that, no weather can hide the beauty!
So you want to visit the Gap of Dunloe…
If you’re thinking of visiting the Gap of Dunloe, I recommend considering the tour packages offered by Gap of Dunloe Tours. Their services were top notch and extremely convenient. They offer a few tour types for you to choose from:
- Backpacker Tour (boat to or from Ross Castle) – 15 Euros
- Bike on Boat (Bike hire and boat to or from Ross Castle) – 30 Euros
- Bus and Boat (Bus pick-up and Drop-off, including boat through Killarney Lakes) – 30 Euros
- Don’t feel like hiking? Hire a Jaunting Cart (25 Euros per person)
- Family Bus and Boat (Same as above, but less expensive for families!) – 100 Euros for 2 adults and 2 children (12 and under)
Of course there are other ways of seeing the Gap, however, unless you are adventurous enough to hike to Lord Brandon’s Cottage and back again, you will need to find a provider to ferry you back through the lakes.
On the above map you can see the route from Killarney town centre to Kate Kearney’s Cottage (beginning of hike) and Lord Brandon’s Cottage (end of hike). From Lord Brandon’s Cottage you will either need to hire a boat to take your through the lakes to Ross Castle, or hike back to Kate Kearney’s.
What to Bring:
- Comfortable, worn-in hiking shoes
- Extra layers (possibly even gloves and a hat)
- Wind breaker or rain jacket
- Watch (it is important to be at the boats on time)
- A sense of adventure!
During your Visit
The best time to visit the Gap of Dunloe is in the summer months, from June to early September. Weather in Ireland changes quickly, so it is best to come prepared for heat, cold and rain. We were wet but very warm during our hike, but the boat ride was very cold. We visited in August and wished we had brought gloves. The hike on average takes approximately 3 hours, if you’re moving at a decent rate. The roadway is winding and hilly, so you will want a moderate level of fitness. This could be a great experience to share with your children, but they will either need to be old enough to keep up (again, the boats keep a strict schedule) or you will want to hire a jaunting cart.
Whether you choose to hike, bike or hire a jaunting cart, and whether you explore solo, with our recommended tour group, or with a company you find on your own, The Gap of Dunloe will not leave you disappointed. County Kerry and the Killarney area provide many options for tourists, and this hike is one way to feel “off the beaten path” and closer to the heart of Ireland.
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