Whether you’re a hardened off-road campaigner or still in the process of figuring out how to start trail running, Ireland has plenty of great cross country trails to offer. With thousands of kilometres of stunning coastline and countless beautiful inland spots to explore, you won’t get bored anytime soon. Aside from being spoiled for choice when it comes to scenery, you’ll also find options to suit all experience levels.
Whether you’re looking for running trails near Dublin, Cork or Galway, we’re here to guide you to your destination as only Ireland’s national mapping agency can.
Trail running in Dublin & Wicklow
The great thing about Dublin is you don’t have to travel too far outside the city to feel like you’re immersed in nature.
Here are a few not to be missed running trails close to Dublin…
Howth Peninsula Trail
For most Dublin natives, Howth is synonymous with great seafood and tourists. For trail runners and outdoor enthusiasts, however, it’s the cliff trails outside the village that are its main selling point. The full Howth Peninsula trail, also known as ‘The Bog of Frogs’ or the ‘Purple Route’, is a shade under 12km long and provides lovely views of the Irish Sea Coastline, Dublin Bay and the Wicklow Mountains. While the full trail is on the long side and not really suitable for beginners, there are also shorter Red, Green and Blue routes – 8 km, 6 km and 7 km respectively – for those looking for a less challenging experience.
Starting point: Howth Railway Station (53.388712, -6.074284)
Total distance (Purple Route): 11.9 km
Elevation & ascent: Maximum elevation 137m, total ascent 239m
Public transportation to start point: Yes. Final stop on the DART route & 31 or 31b bus from Dublin City Centre.
The Fairy Castle Loop at Ticknock
Ticknock is one of the most popular spots for Dubliners looking to escape the city for a little outdoor recreation. Mountain biking, forest walks and of course, trail running – this place is perfect for all of them. The area contains a network of paths that criss-cross the forest and higher elevations, taking in gorgeous views of Co. Dublin and the Irish Sea along the way. At under 6 km long, the Fairy Castle Loop is a perfect choice for trail running beginners and those in the mood for a simpler challenge. That said, there are ways to level-up the difficulty if you’re so inclined. For a considerably tougher challenge, consider the aptly named 18 km long Fairy Castle Long Loop.
Starting point: Ticknock forest entrance car park (53.253226, -6.246115)
Total distance (Short loop): 5.5 km
Elevation & ascent: Maximum elevation 536m, total ascent 210m
Public transportation to start point: No
Wicklow Trail runs
When it comes to trail running in Wicklow, it’s hard to pick just a single route as this area is probably the best in all of Ireland when it comes to variety and raw scenic beauty. ‘The Garden of Ireland’ contains the country’s largest mountain and forest covered areas, its highest waterfall, some of its oldest buildings and an unmatched network of trails and viewpoints.
The best routes for trail running in Wicklow include the 15.5 km long Glendalough Trail or any of the numerous others in the area, the 9 km long Maulin Loop through the Crone Woods and foothills of Djouce mountain (or the 18 km long Djouce Climb route for a tougher challenge) and the 15 km Bray to Sugar Loaf trail.
Trail Running Cork
Most of the popular trails in Co. Cork are considered easy to moderate. The 7.4 km long Ballycotton Cliff Walk is a great place to start. As the name suggests, the entire route takes in spectacular cliffside views. It’s a relatively easy trail with not much elevation gain, making it ideal for beginners.
If the forest is more your cup of tea, head to the Killavullen Loop, a 12.6 km trail located in Mallow. This moderate grade trail has an elevation gain of 433 m and takes you through the enchanting landscape of the Killavullen Woodland. Also in Mallow, you’ll find the 10.9 km Mount Hillary Loop. This trail takes you up a total of 347 m through a tranquil forestry. Tip: When done in reverse, the views are even better and there are more downhill sections than uphill.
If you’re based in Cork, your best bet to find more difficult trails is to head to Co. Kerry and explore some of the fantastic routes on offer in Killarney National Park. The 12.9 km long Carrauntoohil via Coomloughra Horseshoe has 1083 m of elevation and plenty of points to stop and admire the breathtaking surroundings. The just slightly shorter 12.6 km Carrauntoohil Loop is also well worth checking out. For a slightly more manageable Killarney experience, try the picturesque 6.3 km Torc Waterwall Walk.
Trail Running Galway
Home to some of Ireland’s most beautiful scenic routes, Co. Galway is a trail runner’s paradise. If you’re looking for a route that is moderate in difficulty but delivers on natural beauty, the 7.2 km long Diamond Hill Loop in Connemara National Park is hard to beat. This trail offers both incredible views and the chance to view indigenous wildlife. With 400 m of total elevation gain, it offers a decent physical challenge that is perfect for new and intermediate level runners.
The longer but still relatively moderate 15 km Portumna Forest Circular is also a great option for runners in this category. Expect pretty wildflowers, lush forest glades and a sense of total escape from the hustle and bustle of life. While 15 km may sound long, the elevation gain on this trail is only 288 m.
If you’re after a more physically demanding challenge, your first stop for trail running in Galway should be the 17.4 km Glencoaghan Loop. The trail is located near Clifden, just outside of Connemara. With over 1478 m of elevation gain that takes you over the peaks of 6 mountains, it’s considered quite a doozy. On fine weather days you can expect spectacular views of Croagh Patrick to the north and the Cliffs of Moher and the Dingle Peninsula to the south.
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