It’s part of the Mourne Mountain range, which consists of 12 mountains, all over 600 metres tall, and of course, Slieve Donard is the tallest of them all at 853 metres or 2,970 feet. In comparison to the rest of the world, it’s relatively small, but for a very small country like Northern Ireland, it’s pretty big.
Slieve Donard and the Mourne Mountains are just over an hour’s drive from Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. They are without a doubt worth visiting during a trip to Northern Ireland.
The first part of the trail begins with steps in the traditional sense, they are man-made and bring you to an elevation of around 30 metres. From here, the gravel tracks and dirt paths begin as you hike through the forest at the bottom of the mountain.
At the bottom of Slieve Donard lies Tollymore Forest, which was used to film Game of Thrones, has lots of walking trails and is home to some of the best waterfalls in Northern Ireland. It is another popular tourist destination and definitely worth spending some time in after hiking Slieve Donard.
After climbing the steps and hiking through the forest, there is a natural path made of stones which leads up the mountain for the next few hundred metres of elevation. It winds up the side of Slieve Donard and is relatively easy to climb. Many people would run up and down this part of the hike. It’s also common to see elderly people complete the climb to the top of Slieve Donard, it’s a pretty easy hike as it’s only 853 metres above sea level, at the very top.
The steps continue for a few hundred metres as said before, going over little streams of water and winding through the large grass banks of Donard. Eventually, the stone steps turn back into a gravel trail, and the more traditional, conventional British hiking path begins. This part of the trail is where it begins to get slightly steeper. Nonetheless, it’s still manageable. There are lots of opportunities for breaks on this part of the trail, with large boulders offering a good place to sit.
It’s worth noting that at this point you most likely cannot see the peak, it’s always extremely foggy at the top of Slieve Donard. It’s unlikely that you will get a good view from the top, 90% of the time, you see nothing, quite literally.
Once you have reached the end of the gravel trail, you begin to climb a little higher until you reach the base of the peak. You will be mostly walking on dirt at this point as the gravel has stopped. It would be recommended to take a break at some point along this part of the trail, as there aren’t many options to take a break once you have begun climbing to the top.
From here, the final part of the hike, but also the steepest part of the hike begins. Even at the bottom of the peak, you are unable to see the top. There are also many false summits along this part of the trail, you won’t know you are near the top until you reach it. The summit comes out of nowhere, especially on foggy days.
The final part of the hike consists of steep, stone steps for approximately 200 metres. You walk alongside one of the infamous walls of the Mourne Mountains, which also happens to be one of the most Instagrammable places in Northern Ireland, if you are a photographer. The climbing of the steps can be pretty gruelling on the legs as the steps are uneven and steep, make sure to take caution when climbing and watch where you put your feet. It’s very easy to put a foot wrong. That being said, some people bring their dogs right to the top of Slieve Donard- if a dog can do it, you can do it.
When you finally reach the top after at least three false summits, the view will be spectacular. Or so you would hope, in reality, it’s more than likely a view of fog. As mentioned before, quite literally nothing. At the top of the summit, there is a junction in the Mourne Walls, as well as a stone hut where you can warm up. It’s usually extremely windy and cold up there!
There is also a pile of rocks, boulders and stones, similar to other mountains in the UK which you can climb, such as Ben Nevis. Climbing these means you are the highest person up in the whole of Northern Ireland, which is always a pretty cool feeling.
Return the way you came, following the same route but in reverse. You will once again reach Donard Car Park in Newcastle, allowing you to be on your way.
Hiking Slieve Donard is a very rewarding hike. Although a small hike in comparison to the rest of the world, it’s the tallest in Northern Ireland and is thoroughly enjoyed by Northern Irish locals. If you are visiting Northern Ireland, it’s a hike worth doing, without a doubt.
Need to Know
Length: 10 km
Time: 4 hrs
Grade: Easy – Moderate
Car Access: The trail starts from Donard Carpark in Newcastle, accessible via Donard Park off Bryansford Road.
Further Info: Slieve Donard and the Mourne Mountains are a National Trust-protected area. Entry is free and no permit is required.
Have you visited Slieve Donard? Got it on your bucket list? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.
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