A Day At Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is an outdoor treasure in the heart of Kerry County. Onsite there is a castle, abbey, and manor house to explore as well as miles of paved walkways through lush and biodiverse ecosystems. A day trip to the park is one of the best things to do in Killarney, Ireland.
Sitting at the foot of the MacGillicuddy Reeks, the park is the traditional starting point of the Ring of Kerry drive. The three Lakes of Killarney (Lough Leane, Middle, and Upper) are the centerpiece of the park. Miles of hiking trails surround the lakes and link park attractions such as Ross Castle, Muckross House, Muckross Abbey, and the Torc Waterfall.
The attractions can get busy, but the walkways are closed to motorized traffic and the park has a peaceful feeling. Wide paths wind past bogs, hillsides of flowers, red deer, and stands of vine-wrapped yew trees. Intense blues, browns, and greens intertwine under an ever-changing sky.
Within the Killarney National Park’s 41 square mile radius there are many amazing sites to see. Our article will cover all the highlights, and help you organize your day.
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ENTRY AND HOURS
Entry into Killarney National Park is free. There is pedestrian access 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
Some attractions within the park charge an entrance fee (Muckross House, Traditional Farms, and Ross Castle). Hours to these sites change throughout the year. They are generally open 8am – 5pm with later hours in summer.
PARK POINTS OF ACCESS
The park can be accessed by foot or bike at many points. There are vehicle parking lots (free) by the Killarney National Park Visitor Center, Ross Castle, Muckross House, Dinis Cottage, Torc Waterfall, Lord Brandon’s Cottage, and at the entrance to many trailheads throughout the park.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Walk/Hike: Walking is great way to experience the park’s historical sites and nature. The 10 km (6mile) Muckross Dinis Loop Trail is a popular hiking route. The trail is closed to motorized vehicles and takes in Muckross Abbey, Muckross House, Rosie's Beach, Brickeen Bridge, Dinis Cottage, and Torc Waterfall. Or, try one of the many wilderness hikes throughout the area. There are trails for all difficulty levels and lengths to enjoy.
Bike: We think by bike is the best way to experience the park. Hire a bike or e-bike in town, and make use of the extensive network of trails throughout the park. Traveling on bicycle, most visitors will be able to take in the Ross Castle area, Killarney Town, and the Muckross Dinis Loop Trail all in one day (see the itinerary below for detail).
Traditional Jaunting Car: Pony-pulled carts are stationed throughout the park at different locations. For a fee (usually cash), the carts can be hired to tour park attractions. There are a number of routes that customers can choose including rides around Ross Castle, Muckross House, Muckross Abby, Torc Waterfall, and the Gap of Dunloe.
Private Vehicle: Visitors can use a private vehicle to shuttle between the free parking lots at points around the park (Killarney National Park Visitor Center, Ross Castle, Muckross House, Dinis Cottage, Torc Waterfall, Lord Brandon’s Cottage, and at the entrance to many trailheads) to see major park highlights.
Commercial Tours: Tour operators offer excursions into the park by bus, minivan, car, boat, and jaunting car.
DINING, FACILITIES AND RESTROOMS
There are dining venues at Muckross House, Dinis Cottage, and Lord Brandon’s Cottage. There are restroom facilities at Ross Castle, Muckross House, Dinis Cottage, Lord Brandon’s Cottage, and Torc Waterfall.
TERRAIN AND ASSISTIVE DEVICES
Much of park terrain consists of gently rolling hills appropriate for walking and biking. Paths around major attractions are wide and paved suitable for walking, biking, wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. As visitors travel further into the park away from the major attractions, the walkways (and hiking trails) get narrower and turn to gravel/dirt/grass. They are much less suitable for visitors with mobility impairments.
SUGGESTED ROUTE, ITINERARY, AND POINTS OF INTEREST
Our Killarney National Park itinerary outlines a route around the park that take in all of the major points of interest in one day. Other than Ross Castle, most of the historical sites are on the 10-km (6-mile) Muckross Dinis Loop Trail. While following this itinerary keep an eye on the weather, and vary the route as needed.
The route is designed to be seen by bike, but it can also be walked. A big part of the magic of this park is the stunning nature you will experienced between attractions. If it is not possible to bike or hike, you can travel by vehicle between Ross Castle, Muckross House, Dinis Cottage, and the Torc Waterfall. Or take a tour.
The itinerary begins at Ross Castle. The castle is about 2.5 km from town and is near a number of bike hire shops. Once on Killarney National Park grounds you can ride nearly the entire route on walking/biking trails.
Ross Castle: Begin your exploration of Killarney National Park at the ruins of the 15th century O’Donoghue family castle. The fortress sits at the edge of Lough Leane. For a small fee you can tour inside of the castle. There are many short hikes around the castle and lake. From this site you can take a jaunting car ride or a boat ride to Innisfallen Island where the remains of a 12th century monastery can be viewed.
Muckross Abbey: Next, ride 7 km to Muckross Abbey (Friary). The well-preserved Franciscan friary has three floors of archeological ruins to discover. The free site sits at the edge of a meadow and is surrounded by a cemetery, flowering bushes, and woodlands. Monks worshipped at this 15th century friary until driven out in 1652 by Oliver Cromwell’s army. Visitors can wander through the Abbey’s kitchen, living quarters, refectory, and roofless cloisters. The Abbey is one of our favorite spots in the park.
Muckross House and Gardens: A short distance from the Abbey, a number of trails lead to Muckross House and Gardens. The 19th century Elizabethan-style manor house is a major park draw. Visitors can walk the house’s immaculately landscaped grounds (overlooking the lake) or take a jaunting car ride. For a fee, the house and gardens can be toured to learn about how gentry in 1800’s would have lived.
Rosie's Beach: Leaving Muckross House follow the signs toward Dinis Cottage. After about 1.5 km keep an eye out for a narrow foot path in the tall grass. The path leads to Rosie’s Beach on Muckross (Middle) Lake. This serene little beach goes also by the names “Secret” and “Hidden” beach. Enjoy the seclusion.
Brickeen Bridge: Follow the paved hiking path toward Brickeen Bridge/Dinis Cottage. The arched bridge sits at the intersection of Lough Leane (Lower Lake) and Muckross Lake (Middle Lake). If you linger on the bridge you are apt to see traditional wooden boats filled with hikers and bikers motoring toward Dinis Cottage.
Dinis Cottage: The next stop on your route will be a 1700’s era Victorian hunting lodge. The lodge is a short hike or bike ride from the Weir Bridge and the Meeting of the Waters (where three lakes meet). Dinis Cottage is the dropping off point of some tours that begin with a cruise across the lakes. Stop at the cottage’s tea room for tea, scones, and bathrooms.
Torc Waterfall: Travel on to the Torc Waterfall parking lot. From here, a footpath of gravel and stones steps follows a gorge grown thick with brilliant green mosses, ferns, vines, and trees. After a ten-minute walk uphill visitors are treated to a photo-worthy cascading waterfall.
Muckross Traditional Farms: If you love gardening, make the traditional farms your last stop of the day. The living museum includes reconstructed barns and outbuildings. There are farm animals onsite, a blacksmith’s forge, and carpentry workshop.
May the road rise up to meet you, Laura and Randy
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