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Guide to Killarney's Gap of Dunloe

Black Lough | Guide to Killarney's Gap of Dunloe
Black Lough | Gap of Dunloe
Guide to Killarney's Gap of Dunloe At-A-Glance | Ireland

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WHAT IS "THE GAP”: The Gap of Dunloe is a paved mountain pass nestled between Ireland’s MacGillicuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain ranges. Hillsides along the route are dotted with jagged rocks, lush grass, and wooly sheep. There is an ever-present wind that scatters about the clouds and mist. The sky is often brilliant blue. Five glacial lakes, connected by a river, parallel the one-lane highway. A day trip traversing the stark and stunningly beautiful road is a bucket list experience for many travelers.

Middle Lake | Killarney | Gap of Dunloe | County Kerry
Glacial Lake | Killarney

WHERE IS THE GAP OF DUNLOE: Located in County Kerry, the U-shaped notch was formed during Ireland’s last ice-age. The remote pass is located about 10 km (6 miles) west of the Killarney National Park. On any given day, the 11km (7mile) section of the road between Lord Brandon’s Cottage (south) and Kate Kearney’s Cottage (north) is peppered with hikers, bikers, and jaunting cars (pony pulled carts). There is an elevation change of about 200 meters (650 feet) between the cottages.

Jaunting Car | Gap of Dunloe | Killarney, Kerry County, Ireland
Jaunting Car

WAYS TO SEE THE GAP: The following options are some of the most affordable, efficient, and fun ways to see the Gap of Dunloe. All three options can be coordinated independently, or as part of a tour.

Walk: Hike the Gap of Dunloe for an unforgettable day. Those with private vehicles can park in a free lot by Kate Kearney’s cottage. From here, it is a a 6 km (3.7 mile) walk to the Head of Gap (the highest point on the route). Hikers can subsequently retrace their steps to the car park. Alternatively, many tours drop hikers at Kate Kearney’s. Most participants proceed to hike to Lord Brandon’s cottage (11 km or 7 miles), and take a boat across the lakes to Ross’s Castle in Killarney (or vice versa).

Pasture | Lord Brandon's Cottage | Hike Gap of Dunloe | Killarney, Ireland
Pasture | Lord Brandon's Cottage

Bike or e-Bike: Many visitors choose to bike the Gap of Dunloe. There are two popular routes. There is a 56 km loop for serious cyclists that takes in the Black Valley, Gap of Dunloe, and Killarney. Or, tour operators offer bike-on-boat tours that take cyclists and their bikes across the lakes of Killarney National Park to Lord Brandon’s Cottage. Here, they disembark and pedal back to Killarney (see details below).

Laura cycling to the Head of Gap | Bike the Gap of Dunloe | Killarney, Ireland
Laura cycling to the Head of Gap

Hire a Jaunting Car: Traditional pony-pulled carts are a popular way to travel the Gap. Jaunting cars can be hired at Kate Kearney’s cottage (generally require cash), or Lord Brandon’s Cottage (usually pre-booked from this location). Many commercial tours offer jaunting car rides as part of the package.

Wishing Bridge | Gap of Dunloe | Killarney, Ireland
Wishing Bridge


The Gap is not a loop. Unless part of an organized tour, whatever length of the road is trekked will need to be retraced.

The Gap of Dunloe highway (one-lane road) is public and opened to motorized vehicles. Except for traffic from the homes and hotels along the route, motorized traffic is strongly discouraged during the daylight hours when walkers, bikers, and jaunting cars fill the roadway between Kate Kearney’s and Lord Brandon’s cottages. However, be aware, even though vehicles are discouraged, we did experience frequent vehicle traffic along the route (much more than expected).

Sheep Grazing | Gap of Dunloe Walk | Killarney, Ireland
Sheep Grazing

Food, drink, and bathrooms can be found at Lord Brandon’s and Kate Kearney’s Cottages (and surrounding area). There are no services (food, drink, bathrooms) on the road between these locations.

Weather changes frequently along the mountain pass. Dress in layers, wear sturdy shoes with good tread, and have rain gear available.

It is a mountain pass. There is a lot of up and down terrain and spotty cell service.

MacGillicuddy Reeks | Killarney National Park | Hike Gap of Dunloe
MacGillicuddy Reeks

RECOMMENDED ROUTE: Randy and I highly recommend booking a walking or biking tour that includes a boat ride across the lakes. These very affordable tours generally embark from Ross Castle. Participants are treated to a ride across Lower, Middle, and Upper Lakes in a traditional wooden boat. Local guides narrate the trip while pointing out landmarks of interest such as Innisfallen Island, Brickeen Bridge, and Dinis Cottage.

Boat and Bike Tour | Gap of Dunloe | Kerry County, Ireland
Boat and Bike Tour | Gap of Dunloe

Randy and I did a bike-on-boat tour with e-bikes. We parked our rental car at the bike shop, picked up our bikes, and rode the few kilometers to Ross Castle. After an unforgettable ride across the glacial lakes and streams of Killarney National Park (that included Randy helping to pull the boat over a rocky pass in low water), we were dropped at Lord Brandon’s Cottage. Onsite, tour participants scattered. After a rest stop, Randy and I were off.

Local Guide | Bike-On-Boat Tour Gap of Dunloe | Killarney, Ireland
Local Guide | Bike-On-Boat Tour

There was short ride to the Gap of Dunloe road. From there, we rode 5 km uphill to the Head of Gap (very doable with e-bikes). As pastures receded, we cruised downward. For the next 6 kms of winding road we saw only eerily majestic back country.

Lord Brandon's Cottage | Bike on Boat Gap of Dunloe Tour | Killarney, Ireland
Lord Brandon's Cottage

After reaching Kate Kearney’s Cottage we stopped for ice cream before following signs to the N71. It was another 12 km back to Killarney, much of it over very busy, heavily trafficked roads. Near Killarney town center, we veered off onto a National Forest bike trail which took us to the rental shop. From pick up at the bike shop to drop off, it was about a 7-hour span.

Kate Kearney's Cottage | Gap of Dunloe | Killarney, Ireland
Kate Kearney's Cottage

The day will be etched in our minds forever. We hope you experience this grand ride one day! Laura and Randy

For more information on Ireland travel read our articles on:

Gypsy & Joe at the Gap of Dunloe | Walk the Gap of Dunloe | Killarney, Ireland
Gap of Dunloe


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