Image by Rob Hurson / CC BY-SA 2.0

As you drive south from Dublin into Wicklow, your eyes are guaranteed to settle on the profile of the Great Sugar Loaf mountain in the sky in front of you. As part of our Irish Icons series, we’re taking a closer look at one of Leinster’s most recognisable landmarks, answering common questions and myths about the Great Sugar Loaf and the short but challenging trail you can climb.

The Great Sugar Loaf is in the northeastern section of the Wicklow Mountains, overlooking the small villages of Kilmacanoge and Delgany. At 501 metres, the Great Sugar Loaf doesn’t even make the top 400 highest peaks in Ireland, yet its uniqueness makes it one of the most well-known in the country.

Why is it called the Sugar Loaf?

The Great Sugar Loaf gets its name from its steep slopes and unique shape, reminiscent of a pile of sugar. This likeness of mountains to sugar hasn’t only been noticed in County Wicklow. In fact, many other peaks around the world have been similarly named for these features, such as Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and multiple peaks in France given the French translation, ‘Le Pain de Sucre’.

The Great Sugar Loaf is the larger neighbour to the Little Sugar Loaf, which lies slightly northeastwards on the other side of the N11. You’ll recognise it by its rocky double summit (see below).

Image by Sarah777

Was the Sugar Loaf a volcano?

The mountain is often mistaken for a dormant volcano because of its distinctive, conical shape. However, the Great Sugar Loaf was never a volcano, quite the opposite. It started life as sand on the ocean floor and rose up to become mountains in a collision of tectonic plates. It’s made up of sedimentary deposits and is highly resistant to erosion, which is just as well… if you’ve ever hiked the mountain on a blustery day, you’ll attest to the battering by the elements it withstands.

How long does the Sugar Loaf take?

The Walk

  • Difficulty: Moderate to hard
  • Type: Up and Back
  • Distance: 2.70 KM
  • Duration: 60 – 90 mins
  • Parking: Sugar Loaf car park off the L1031

The trail is very easily accessible thanks to its purpose-built car park located just off the L1031 at the base of the mountain. From there, you set your sights on the peak and head straight for it.

It starts off as a relatively straight forward walk, but as you get closer to the peak, it becomes quickly steeper. To reach the summit, you’ll need to spend a short time balancing on hands and feet in the final scramble to the top.

The hike is perfect for those who like a bit of a challenge, without giving up the whole day to do so. Up and back should only take you about 60 to 90 minutes, depending on how long you decide to rest at the summit. And on a clear day, the panoramic, 360° views of the Irish Sea, Dublin City and the Wicklow Mountains may well tempt you to sit a little longer than you planned.

What else should I see and do there?

One of the great things about the Sugar Loaf is that you can get up and down and still have lots of time to continue exploring this stunning part of north Wicklow. If you’re not quite ready to take off your walking shoes, there are plenty of other highly recommended walking routes in the area. Check out our post on Wicklow Walks for details on the Bray to Greystones cliff walk, for example.

Finally, what’s a hike without the reward of tasty snack afterwards? Well in this neck of the woods you’ll be spoilt for choice. When you get back to the car, you’ll be just 6 km from the famous Avoca Handweavers where you can sit down in the stunning, greenhouse-like Fern House Café or build your own picnic to take away from the Avoca Food Market. Also just 6 km away is Firehouse Bakery and Café in Old Delgany, where you can enjoy out-of-this-world breads, pastries, pizzas, soups and sambos. We defy you not to bring home an extra loaf of sourdough!

OSi has been drafting comprehensive maps of every corner of the country for over 190 years. County Wicklow is mostly covered by the Discovery Series 1:50,000 sheet 56 and sheet 62 and both can be bought from our Online Shop.

County Wicklow has also been mapped at the new, more detailed scale of 1:25,000 as part of the Adventure Series which can be bought online also. See maps for this area below with links to the Online Shop.