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25 best autumn walks in Ireland - seasonal strolls for all the family

Our experts pick 25 walks stunning walks to check out all over the island of Ireland this autumn

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Cuilcagh's 'Stairway to Heaven', from The Sunday Independent

Cuilcagh's 'Stairway to Heaven', from The Sunday Independent

Family walks for autumn. Photo: Sunday Independent

Family walks for autumn. Photo: Sunday Independent

Roisin Finlay

Roisin Finlay

The Great South Wall

The Great South Wall

The River Dodder

The River Dodder

Eric Laudonien

Dublin Mountains

Dublin Mountains

Clondra, Co Longford

Clondra, Co Longford

Overlooking the Comeragh Mountains from Mahon Falls, Co. Waterford

Overlooking the Comeragh Mountains from Mahon Falls, Co. Waterford

Pól Ó Conghaile

Kilkenny

Kilkenny

Killarney

Killarney

Sheep's Head Peninsula, County Cork

Sheep's Head Peninsula, County Cork

Red deer

Red deer

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Cuilcagh's 'Stairway to Heaven', from The Sunday Independent

Welcome to our guide to 25 wonderful autumn walks for all the family.

Our expert writers and hikers, Helen Fairbairn and Roisin Finlay have chosen routes from across the entire country to tempt you outdoors.

They include a gentle lakeland loop, a tougher hike that rewards you with views of the Blasket islands, a beach you can only reach by foot, and a stroll along the forest paths of an old country estate. There's even a 'Stairway to Heaven' to climb...

The early days of parenthood can put a brake on the most adventurous of hikers, but our walks writer Helen, a mum herself, has tips for those early days too.

"If they're still at the buggy or backpack stage, it's all about finding trails with accessible terrain," she says. "But the goalposts change as the kids grow. As they become independent, you can introduce short but interesting routes with lots of potential for exploration. By the time they're physically confident, they'll revel in challenges like short hill climbs or scrambling off the trail.

"Kids love to prove how strong they are and it won't take long before they're striding ahead just to impress you."

To cater for all types and ages of family, we've featured all levels of route here. No matter how arduous or easy the trails are, though, they all have one thing in common - somewhere delicious to stop for a cup of tea (or something stronger) and a bit of a treat afterwards.

There's a chill in the air, the leaves are turning gold, and there's no better time to boot up and step outside to explore.

Dublin

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The River Dodder

The River Dodder

Eric Laudonien

The River Dodder

By Roisin Finlay

1. Best for tree-lovers

Where Massy's Estate, Rathfarnham

What This Coillte-run forest at the foot of the Dublin Mountains is a great spot for a family walk. Once a grand estate dating back to the early 1800s, the now-gone stately mansion Killakee House was the location for extravagant parties where tables would be set with fine dishes and glassware out amongst the trees. What remains these days is an atmospheric collection of ruins that are great for young explorers. They include an old walled garden, stone bridges and an icehouse. You'll also find stunning specimen trees like cedars, limes and giant sequoia. There are a number of marked trails to follow but the linear Riverside Trail, which has white markers (6km out and back), is a nice option as it has a bit of length. Or you can opt for the 1.5km Nature Trail walk (orange way markers).

Start/Finish The estate across the road from the Hell Fire Club car park.

Getting there South of Rathfarnham, take the R115 road to Killakee and park in the Hell Fire Club car park.

Level Moderate - the trails can be mucky.

Length/Time Riverside Trail - 6km/2 hours; Nature Trail - 1.5km/45 minutes

Pack Downloadable maps from dublinmountains.ie - and wellies and a copy of Peter Wyse Jackson's pocket book of Irish Trees and Shrubs to help you name the specimen trees.

Refuel at Timbertrove Country Store and Cafe (timbertrove.com), beside Massy's Wood, which offers everything from great brekkies to delicious cakes

2. Best for spotting seabirds and big ships

Where The Great South Wall, Dublin 4

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The Great South Wall

The Great South Wall

The Great South Wall


What Although you'll pass through a scruffy industrial area to reach this walk, it's still one of the best places to escape from Dublin city. When completed in 1795, it was one of the longest sea walls in the world and offers 2km of rough promenade stretching out to the bright red beacon of Poolbeg Lighthouse. Views include the North Bull Island, Dollymount Strand, Howth, with the Baily Lighthouse perched on its cliffs, and the Sugar Loaf in Wicklow. Keep your eyes open for everything from brent geese to Arctic terns and razorbills. At about the halfway point, you'll see the Half Moon Swimming and Water Polo Club. The structures were once home to a gun battery. These days, its shelter provides a great place to soak up the peace and warmth of a sunny day and break out the picnic.

Start/Finish In front of the twin red-and-white-striped towers of the Poolbeg Power Station.

Getting there At the roundabout on the road leading south from the Eastlink Bridge, take the opposite exit. Take the first left onto Pigeon House Road, and then the sharp right turn. Follow the road to the South Wall.

Level While the walk is flat, the granite blocks are bumpy so it's not buggy friendly. Avoid the pier if the seas are stormy.

Length/Time 4km return/ 45 minutes

Pack Binoculars and The Birds of Ireland, A Field Guide by Jim Wilson which has photos and pointers on how to know each bird

Refuel Enjoy coffee, hot chocolate and snacks at the mobile Mr Hobbs Coffee at the start of the walk

3. Best for urban nature lovers

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The River Dodder

The River Dodder

Eric Laudonien

The River Dodder


Where The River Dodder Trail

What The 5km of the Dodder Trail, which runs from Bushy Park in Terenure to Clonskeagh, is easy to access but also a great nature escape within the city. You will spot ducks, swans and herons here regularly, and if you're lucky you might see an otter or the blue flash of a kingfisher zipping by. This route brings you through Bushy Park at the start and on through Orwell Park and Dartry Park too. Following the Dodder's course, you'll pass weirs and small rapids, and travel through an often-lush landscape of weeping willows that dip into the water. There is plenty of evidence of old mills and industrialisation too. Largely traffic-free, although you will occasionally have to cross roads, this route is buggy- and bike-friendly once you've crossed the stepping-stones in Bushy Park. If you want to double the length of the route, just turn back to where you started.

Getting there Bushy Park is on Templeogue Road in Terenure, Dublin 6.

Level Easy

Length/Time 5km/1 hour

Pack You won't need a map because the route follows the river, but there are tempting green spaces along the route to kick a ball around.

Refuel Local favourite, the Dropping Well pub (droppingwell.com) in Milltown serves food and has a lovely conservatory overlooking the river. Or check out nearby Wilde & Green (wildeandgreen.com) in Milltown or the 105 Bistro (the105.ie) on the Clonskeagh Road right at the end of the walk. Bushy Park's Saturday market (11am-4pm) has lots of foodie delights that you can stash away for a picnic en route.

Leinster

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Dublin Mountains

Dublin Mountains

Dublin Mountains

By Roisin Finlay

4. Best for an adrenaline rush

Where Tibradden Mountain Trail, Cruagh, Co Dublin

What The 2.4km linear Tibradden Mountain Trail (just under 5km out and back) is a perfect hike for energetic kids and teens. The route zigzags up the hill into a forest of old pine trees. A more challenging section follows, climbing open mountain on a stony trail to reach the top of Tibradden. Just north of the summit there's a stone cairn, a great sheltered spot for a picnic with views across Dublin Bay to Howth. Then simply follow the same route back to the car park. If the troops still have energy, check out Zipit (zipit.ie), a high ropes course set amidst the trees. This adventure (for kids aged 7+) will have you climbing poles, wobbling across narrow planks, swinging Tarzan-style into cargo nets and zooming down zipwires (all while secured with a harness).

Start/Finish Tibradden Woods car park

Getting there Take the exit at Junction 12 on the M50 and follow the R113 towards Ballyboden. At the third roundabout, turn right onto the R116 (signposted Glencullen). Drive for about 4.5km until the R116 turns sharply left, heading for Glencullen. Tibradden Woods car park is on your left, about 200m after the sharp left.

Level Moderate - you're on a well-marked trail but it can be rough underfoot.

Length/Time 4.8km/2 hours

Pack A map downloaded from coillte.ie

Refuel at The Merry Ploughboy (mpbpub.com) in Rathfarnham, which serves good bar food alongside a dollop of live music and will arrange shuttle buses back to the city centre.

5. Best for autumn leaves

Where Oak Park Forest Park, Co Carlow

What Once part of an old estate, the mature woodland at Oak Park Forest Park is a haven for ferns and mosses, and offers a lovely collection of short wheelchair- and buggy-accessible walks. There are also lovely spots to have a picnic. You'll usually see swans, ducks and game birds on the lake and, if you visit in autumn, you're sure to be wowed by the leaves as they change colour and carpet the forest floor. The woodland is home to deciduous beech, oak, sycamore and larch, as well as evergreen Scots pine and silver fir. Running along boardwalks and wooded paths, there are four walks in total: the Butlers Wood Loop (0.7km), the Lake Path (0.8km), the Fox Covert Track (1.1km) and the Sally Island Trail (1.7km). Or connect them all together for the gorgeous 4km Oak Park loop walk.

Start/Finish at the map board at the car park.

Getting there Take Exit 4 on the M9 motorway. Follow the signs for Carlow, take the first right after Toughers Steakhouse (toughersrestaurant.ie) and then turn left at the next junction.

Level Easy

Length/Time 4km /1 hour

Pack A picnic and a downloadable map from IrishTrails.ie

Refuel BeaNice Cafe (059 913 1921) in Carlow town centre serves hearty salads, homemade soups and loads of treats, even gluten-free brownies.

6. Best for riverside strolls

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Kilkenny

Kilkenny

Kilkenny


Where Nore Valley Walk, Co Kilkenny

What Without doubt one of the country's finest river walks, the 12km stretch from Kilkenny City to Bennettsbridge is a feast of peace, fine castle views, old mills, trees bowing gracefully into the water, meadows and abundant wildlife. Aside from one 2km stretch where you'll use a quiet laneway, the entire walk traces the banks of the River Nore as it meanders through the tranquil countryside. In autumn, the trees along the way add great splashes of colour and there are blackberries to be foraged in the hedgerows. Keep your eyes peeled for squirrels, kingfishers, otters or foxes. And if you want to add the romance of dusk to your outing, bats are sure to keep you company.

Start/Finish The river walk leaves Kilkenny City under Ossory footbridge. It ends at the bridge in Bennettsbridge. Public transport from Bennettsbridge is negligible so leave a car here for your return trip or pre-arrange a taxi.

Getting there You'll get to the start from the Lacken Walk in the city (via Maudlin Street, or from the Carlow Road near the HSE headquarters).

Level Moderate - you'll cover a variety of terrains from grassy riverbanks, trail and grasslands.

Length/Time 12km /3 hours

Pack A bucket to pick blackberries and a map from trailkilkenny.ie/activity-trail/walking-trails/kilkenny-to-bennettsbridge/

Refuel Nicholas Mosse's Country Shop and Cafe (nicholasmosse.com) in Bennettsbridge is a perfect spot for afternoon tea with homemade quiches and scones - the flour is

ground in the mill across the river.

7. Best for amateur geologists

Where Knockbarron Wood, Kinnitty, Co Offaly

What It's always a great time to visit Knockbarron Wood and exploring the 5km Eco Walk is the ideal way to understand all there is to see here. The most dramatic features are the two eskers that were deposited here when the glaciers that once covered Ireland melted. These ridge-like mounds are made of sand, gravel and rock that the glaciers picked up as they moved across the landscape. The best time of year to view these eskers is winter when the vegetation is least abundant. If you visit in spring however, you'll be treated to woodland carpeted in a blaze of bluebells. In summer, the rare smooth newt, Ireland's only tailed amphibian, breeds in The Marsh. And, in autumn, there are all manner of fungi and mushrooms to marvel at.

Start/Finish From Knockbarron Wood car park

Getting there Follow the Rath/Kilcormack road from Kinnitty for 2.2km. At the crossroads, turn right and you'll see a sign indicating the start of the walk. Continue a further 1km to the car park.

Level Moderate - while relatively quick, this walk has some short but punchy climbs and descents so is more suited to older kids.

Length/Time 5km /2 hours

Pack The map from slievebloom.ie/perch/resources/knockbarron-downloadable-map.pdf

Refuel at Giltraps in Kinnitty (giltrapspub.com), the spot to carb up on steak and kidney pie, pizzas and home-grown sausage and bacon - and if you're too tired to make it home, book into a yurt on the glamping site and visit the farm's pigs and chickens.

8. Best for views

Where Forth Mountain Trail, Co Wexford

What Just southwest of Wexford town, at 235m, Forth Mountain may be relatively small but it still packs a punch, particularly at the start. It's an ideal walk to challenge kids or teens, and it is also a great introduction to the experience of scaling a mountain, complete with the reward of panoramic views at the end. As you follow the red waymarkers, make sure you visit Skeator Rock where on a clear day you'll be able to see the Wexford coastline, Our Lady's Island, Saltee Islands, Hook Head lighthouse and across to Dunmore East and the Waterford estuary. And when you reach the gentler Tincurra section, you'll be able to see the Blackstairs Mountains.

Start/Finish The car park below

Getting there From Wexford town, Enniscorthy or New Ross, take the N25 to the Duncannon roundabout at Whitford House Hotel. Take the R733 exit for Duncannon. After about 6.5km, the car park is on your right.

Level Moderate

Length/Time 10km /3.5 hours

Pack OSI Discovery Map Series 77 and visit wexfordwalkingtrail.ie/forth-mountain for more details. Also, bring your binoculars to see if you can spot the Tuskar Rock, with its lighthouse. This treacherous feature has claimed 176 ships over the years.

Refuel Bring hot soup in a Thermos and enjoy those views! Then drive to Wexford, 10km away, to Button & Spoon for a vintage afternoon tea (buttonandspoon.ie).

9. Best for former grandeur

Where Djouce Woods, Co Wicklow

What Formerly part of the Powerscourt Estate, Djouce Woods would once have boasted numerous drives built to please the owners. These had names like Lady's Drive and Earl's Drive and are now part of a trail network. The 9km Deerpark Walk is a looped trail on forest road and track. Look out for the now-dry Paddock Ponds, which once fed the estate fountains. There are also remnants of a boathouse in the bank on the western side of the ponds. After this, you will follow a road to a stretch along the edge of the forest before you gradually start to climb. The reward for your efforts will be views of the Sugarloaf, Bray, Glensoulan Valley and Maulin in Wicklow, as well as out over Dublin Bay to Howth Head.

Start/Finish Either of the two Long Hill car parks.

Getting there Take the N11 to Kilmacanogue, then the R755. Turn right onto the R760 until you reach Ballybawn. Turn left here onto the old Long Hill Road for Roundwood and the car park will be on your right.

Level Moderate

Length/Time 9km /3 hours

Pack A downloadable map from coillte.ie/media/2017/01/Wicklow-Djouce_Wood.pdf or bring OSI Discover Series Sheet 56.

REFUEL Delicious soups, salads and hot food, and a zillion sweet treats at the Avoca Terrace Cafe at Powerscourt House and Gardens (Powerscourt.com).

10. Best for history lovers

Where Grange, Co Louth

What If the 7km Rooskey Loop at Grange could talk it would tell you that you're treading old laneways that were once used by farmers and their horses and carts. These days, the laneways offer a tranquil way to explore what was once an outlying farm for the Cistercian Order located in Newry during medieval times. Following the purple arrows, walk along forest tracks, grassy roads and trails to arrive at an abandoned village with an old limekiln and the ruin of the Rooskey Priory - an early Christian site. Keep your eyes peeled for the grinding stone at the end of Billy's Lane that was once used to crush gorse plants for horse fodder.

Start/Finish John Long's Pub, Grange Village, Co Louth

Getting there Take Exit 18 off the M1, then take the R173 towards Carlingford. Follow the R173 for 15km passing the village of The Bush. After approximately 1km, watch for a crossroads and signs for the village of Grange on your left, at an old railway bridge. Turn left here and follow the road for approximately 1km to reach St James's Church on your right.

Level Moderate - there's some ascent and descent but nothing too hectic.

Length/Time 7km /2.5 hours

Pack OSI Sheet 36 or a downloadable map from IrishTrails.ie.

Refuel Thatched old-style John Long's Pub (johnlongsbar.com) offers everything from steaks to curry, with a fine pint. Be sure to leave room for the killer puds.

11. Best for learning to navigate

Where Donadea Forest Park, Co Kildare

What The home of the Aylmer family until 1935, Donadea Forest Park is now a haven for those looking to escape to a world of nature. The park features three lovely looped walks, including the 5.7km Aylmer Loop, the 0.8km wheelchair- and buggy-friendly Lake Walk and the 1.6km Nature Trail. And if you're keen to get your kids started with navigation, check out the three permanent orienteering courses (1.8km, 3.4km and 4.6km). As you explore, you'll see the ruins of the castle and walled gardens, an icehouse, boathouse and St Peter's church. The small lake will delight youngster with its ducks and waterhens. You may also come across a scaled replica of New York's Twin Towers. It is a 9/11 Memorial in memory of Sean Tallon, a firefighter with the New York Fire Department who died during the attack. His father was born in Donadea.

Start/Finish Forest park car park

Getting there Take the M4 to Kilcock, then the R407 towards Clane/Naas. After about 5km, take a left at Baltracey crossroads to Donadea Forest Park.

Level Easy

Length/Time Aylmer Loop - 5.7km/1.5 hours, Lake Walk - 0.8km/30 minutes, Nature Trail - 1.6km/45 minutes

Pack €5 in coins for the car park and a map from coillte.ie/site/donadea-forest-park.

REFUEL The cute Donadea Forest Cafe ((087 672 5320) is open on weekends for snacks and coffees.

Bring a picnic for mid-week.

12. Best for exploring the bog

Where Killamuck Bog Loop, Co Laois

What This is a remarkable walk for many reasons. The first is that it came about when a group of local volunteers leased 500 acres from Bord na Mona and set out to protect it. Now a once-degraded raised bog is recovering, together with woodland and meadows, and a wonderland of flora and fauna is emerging. The 8km Killamuck Bog loop, which follows purple arrows, travels along everything from riverbank to old railway line but the highlight is the High Bog Walkway. This 600m boardwalk brings people into the heart of the bog that would otherwise be too wet and boggy to reach. It was assembled by hand by the volunteers. Depending on the time of year, expect to see an abundance of birdlife, butterflies and dragonflies, and a huge array of unusual wild plants and flowers.

Start/Finish at the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel, Abbeyleix

Getting there The hotel is the last building on the left as you leave Abbeyleix Town on the N8 heading towards Cork.

Level Easy but it's wet in places

Length/Time 8km /2 hours

Pack Wellie and OSI Discovery Series Sheet 60 or a downloadable map from IrishTrails.ie

Refuel You'll be well fed and watered at the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel (abbeyleixmanorhotel.com).

13. Best for peace and quiet

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Clondra, Co Longford

Clondra, Co Longford

Clondra, Co Longford


Where Royal Canal Greenway from Longford town to Clondra, Co Longford

What This flat 16.5km multi-activity path for cyclists, walkers and runners leaves Longford town on an old canal spur before joining the Royal Canal proper. Travelling along on old towpath, expect a route lined with green rushes, quaint lock cottages and limestone bridges, as well as verges abundant with wild flowers. Look out for creamy meadowsweet, orange-red poppies, purple tufted vetch, red clover and common spotted orchids. Most of the route is off road, although you will have six road crossings so take care at these and keep an eye on kids near the open water. This route is also buggy friendly, if rough in spots. It ends as the canal approaches the Shannon at lovely Clondra, a beautiful waterside village.

Start/Finish Start at Farranyoogan Bridge in Longford Town and finish at Richmond Harbour in Clondra. The 22 bus travels back to Longford several times a day.

Getting there Make your way to Longford bus and train station and follow the brown Royal Canal Greenway signs from there.

Level Moderate because of length

Length 16km /4 hours

Pack Snacks - 16km with kids is a long enough jaunt. Take a downloadable map from IrishTrails.ie

Refuel The Purple Onion Kitchen (purpleonion.ie) serves a side portion of art alongside good bar and restaurant fare

Munster

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Killarney

Killarney

Killarney

By Helen Fairbairn

14. Best for island views

Where Mount Eagle, Co Kerry

What This short hill walk provides spectacular coastal views, and is a perfect way to introduce children to mountain climbing. The trip begins with a stretch along the Dingle Way that climbs the hillside to a stone wall and stile. Cross the stile, then turn left and follow the wall up the shoulder ahead. Splashes of orange paint mark the trail, with increasingly expansive views extending across to the Blasket Islands. By the time you reach the jagged rock outcrop of Binn an Choma (424m), the vista is nothing short of spectacular. A line of wooden posts leads across the upper plateau to the trig point at the 516m summit of Mount Eagle. Enjoy the 360° panorama, then retrace your steps back to the start.

Start/Finish at Coumeenoole Bay lay-by

Getting there From Dingle town, follow the R559 west. Park in the lay-by above Coumeenoole Bay, some 9km west of Ventry.

Level Moderate to difficult - a signed but rough out-and-back mountain path, with 500m ascent.

Length/Time 6km /2-2.5 hours

Pack Good hiking boots, a warm coat and OSI 1:50,000 map sheet 70.

Refuel at Dunquin Pottery and Cafe in Ballinglanna, 3km north along the R559. Delicious cakes and quiches and unique craftwork in a friendly setting.

15. Best for spotting red deer

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Red deer

Red deer

Red deer


Where Knockreer Loop, Co Kerry

What The Circular Walk in Knockreer Estate is a popular trail around an expanse of parkland in Killarney National Park. Just 3km long, it follows a wide, paved footpath throughout, making it suitable for bikes and buggies. As well as fine views over the Killarney lakes, you're virtually guaranteed sightings of magnificent red deer, which graze in the park as if they were tame. For a longer trip, add the signposted detour to 15th-century Ross Castle, an imposing keep located on the water's edge. Finish by looping back via the Deenagh River and Lake Shore Walk. These additions will add 5km extra to your route.

Start/Finish at Deenagh Lodge entrance, Killarney National Park.

Getting there The Deenagh Lodge entrance is located directly opposite St Mary's Cathedral, on the west side of Killarney town. Park along Port Road, beside the entrance gateway.

Level Easy - flat, paved paths with minimal ascent.

Length/Time 3km or 8km /1 or 2.5 hours

Pack Your camera to capture the deer, plus route notes from KillarneyGuide.ie/knockreer-ross-5mile

Refuel at Cafe du Parc in Killarney Plaza Hotel (Killarneyplaza.com). A modern cafe just a short walk from Deenagh Lodge, with mouth-watering lunches and a special

Funky Brunch menu on Sundays. Kids will love the waffles and French toast.

16. Best to enjoy a remote lighthouse


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The Sheep's Head Way. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

The Sheep's Head Way. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

The Sheep's Head Way. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Where Sheep's Head Lighthouse Loop, Co Cork

What The Sheep's Head is the most isolated peninsula in southwest Ireland; its wild scenery combining with fabulous coastal views to make it a truly memorable place. This short circuit explores the very tip of the headland, following upland trails marked by blue arrows. Start by crossing an expanse of rugged heathland, then pass along the southern shore of beautiful Lough Akeen. At the apex of the peninsula you reach Sheep's Head Lighthouse, which lies down a flight of concrete steps. The path along the northern side of the headland runs across 100m-high cliffs, before you turn right at a trail junction and head back towards the car park.

Start/Finish at Sheep's Head car park

Getting there Drive along the southern side of Sheep's Head Peninsula, through Kilcrohane village. Then follow signs for Sheep's Head, reaching the road end after 9km.

Level Moderate - signed mountain paths with some rough ground and 150m ascent.

Length/Time 4km /1.5 hours

Pack Decent boots and a route overview from IrishTrails.ie

Refuel at Bernie's Cupan Tae, a tiny cafe in the car park that's renowned for serving delicious cakes and sandwiches, even in wild conditions.

17. Best for a waterfall

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Overlooking the Comeragh Mountains from Mahon Falls, Co. Waterford

Overlooking the Comeragh Mountains from Mahon Falls, Co. Waterford

Pól Ó Conghaile

Overlooking the Comeragh Mountains from Mahon Falls, Co. Waterford


Where Mahon Falls, Co Waterford

What This route is an interesting juxtaposition of two environments. You're in the dramatic heart of the Comeragh Mountains, with steep cliffs and towering peaks looming all around. Yet the trail itself is so well constructed, you could almost be in a city park, so buggies and wheelchairs can cover the distance with ease. The unrivalled focal point is Mahon Falls, where the River Mahon tumbles down 80m of boulders and cliffs. The route from the car park is obvious; out and back along the only path. Unless it has rained recently, water levels are generally low enough to let the children play around the rocks and pools once you arrive.

Start/Finish at Mahon Falls car park

Getting there Take the N25 between Dungarven and Kilmacthomas. At Lemybrien, turn north onto the R676 towards Carrick-on-Suir. Mahon Falls is signed from the third road on the left.

Level Easy - a virtually flat, out-and-back path with a firm surface.

Length/Time 4km /1 hour

Pack Wellies and spare clothes so the kids can splash in the river.

Refuel at Made on Main in Kilmacthomas. A little gem of a cafe, where the in-house bakery and

delicatessen ensures every dish on the menu is deliciously fresh.

Connacht

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Ben Bulben, Co. Sligo. Photo: Tourism Ireland

Ben Bulben, Co. Sligo. Photo: Tourism Ireland

Ben Bulben, Co. Sligo. Photo: Tourism Ireland


By Helen Fairbairn

18. Ben Bulben Forest Walk

What Benbulben mountain is a natural icon of Ireland's northwest, yet its slopes are notoriously steep to climb. This family-friendly route lets you get up close and personal with the mountain, without involving any major ascent. It explores a forestry plantation on the lower slopes, and when the trees fall back, the precipitous prow of the mountain looms directly overhead. Turn the corner and the scene turns into a coastal masterpiece, with panoramic views extending across Donegal Bay. A forest rath lies hidden in the trees, and there's the option of a shorter 4km loop for little legs. Firm gravel surfaces also mean you can bring the buggy.

Start/Finish at Benbulben Forest car park

Getting there From Sligo town, take the N15 north for 10km. Turn right towards Barnaribbon, then keep left at a fork to reach the forest car park.

Level Easy - a signed circuit over surfaced paths with 60m ascent.

Length/Time 5.5km /2 hours

Pack A camera to capture the fabulous views, plus extra route information from SligoWalks.ie

Refuel at Drumcliffe Tea House and Craft Shop (drimcliffeteahouse.ie), back along the N15. Enjoy fabulous cakes, quiches and salads beside Drumcliffe church, with the grave of WB Yeats just outside.

19. Best for lakeside luxury

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Kilronan Castle

Kilronan Castle

Kilronan Castle

Where Kilronan Castle Loop, Co Roscommon

What Originally constructed in the 1820s, Kilronan Castle is an imposing, Gothic-style manor house that now serves as a luxury hotel. The 49 acres of surrounding parkland includes open lawns and mixed deciduous and pine forest, and extends to the shores of Lough Meelagh. There are three marked walks to chose from, varying from 2km to 4.6km in length. All are buggy-friendly, with a mixture of woodland trails and lakeshore paths taking you out to Doon Point, a narrow promontory that extends into the lake.

Start/Finish at Kilronan Castle car park

Getting there Follow the N4 6km west of Carrick-on Shannon, then divert north onto the R285. Follow for 10km, then turn left in Keadue to reach the castle after 1.5km.

Level Easy - flat, signposted pathways through forest and parkland

Length/Time 2-4.6km /1-1.5 hours

Pack An overview of the walking route from IrishTrails.ie

Refuel at the opulent and historic Kilronan Castle Hotel (kilronancastle.ie). Memories of a generous, if pricey, afternoon tea served in the drawing room will last a long time.

20. Best for wild headland

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View from inside a coastal watch station on Erris Head, Co Mayo. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

View from inside a coastal watch station on Erris Head, Co Mayo. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

View from inside a coastal watch station on Erris Head, Co Mayo. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Where Erris Head Loop, Co Mayo

What Erris Head is one of the great coastal headlands of Ireland, thrusting boldly into the Atlantic and holding fast against the ocean swells. Despite the dramatic location, it can be visited relatively easily on this short loop walk. The spectacular scenery and simple route-finding make it a perfect option for families, with kids and adults alike left invigorated and asking for more. The route passes near cliffs at the very tip of the headland, so use your common sense here and hold the hands of any little ones. Bring decent footwear too, because the terrain can be rough and wet underfoot.

Start/Finish at Erris Head car park

Getting there From Belmullet town, head north along the R313, then continue straight ahead at a junction. Follow signs for the trailhead and Ceann Iorrais to the end of the road after 8km.

Level Moderate - a signed route over rough ground with 100m ascent.

Length/Time 5km /1.5-2 hours

Pack Warm coats and full route details from the brochure at MayoWalks.ie

Refuel at cosy Lunasa Tea Room (lunasa.co) in Belmullet town, where you can enjoy winter warmer soups and farmer's salads before browsing the fairtrade gift shop.

21. Best (and only) Irish fjord

Where Killary Harbour, Co Galway

What This route explores the shore of Killary Harbour, Ireland's only true fjord. It also offers a poignant reminder of the Great Famine of 1845-49, visiting a deserted village and famine relief road that are legacies of that era. From the pier, head southeast along the road. After 1km, at the apex of a sharp right bend, turn left onto a faint track and climb to Salrock Pass. Descend steeply through a pedestrian gate, then follow a stone wall to the deserted famine village of Foher. Join the Green Road - an old famine relief project - at the base of the slope, then turn left and follow the track along the edge of the fjord all the way back to Rosroe.

Start/Finish at Rosroe Pier

Getting there Turn off the N59 7km southwest of Leenane, following a sign to Tullycross. After 5km, turn right to arrive at Rosroe Pier some 3km later.

Level Moderate - an unsigned path over rough ground, with 160m ascent.

Length/Time 6.5km / 2-2.5 hours

Pack Extra route information from Helen Fairbairn's Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way: A Walking Guide

Refuel at The Fjord Cafe (the-fjord-cafe.business.site/) in Leenane, at the head of Killary Harbour. Homemade seafood chowder is a speciality and there's a good kids' menu.

Ulster

by Helen Fairbairn

22. Best for beachcombers

Where Tramore Strand, Co Donegal (above)

What The beauty of this outing is the kids think they're going to play on the beach, and they get a walk thrown into the bargain. Sell it as a secret beach; no roads lead here, so the only way to find it is by foot. The trail is fully signposted, and leads through a forest to a huge expanse of dune. The big reveal comes as you reach the 2km arc of golden sand. Drop onto the foreshore for some traditional seaside fun, or simply perch on the rocks to appreciate the stunning coastline in front of you. The return trail loops back via a different course to ensure variety from start to finish.

Start/Finish at Hornhead Bridge car park

Getting there Take the N56 to the village of Dunfanaghy, then follow signs to Horn Head. About 80m past Hornhead Bridge, turn left up a lane to the car park.

Level Easy to moderate - a signposted circuit through forest, grass and dune, with 160m ascent.

Length/Time 5km /1.5-2 hours

Pack A bucket and spade, plus more route details from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way: A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn.

Refuel at Muck 'n' Muffins (mucknmuffins.ie), a wonderful little coffee shop beside the harbour in Dunfanaghy. Admire home-made pottery as you revive with paninis, lasagne or pastries.

23. Best mountain stairway

Where Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail, Co Fermanagh

What Cuilcagh Mountain rises to 665m, forming an upland island in the sea of bog that cloaks the border of Fermanagh and Cavan. It used to be an arduous undertaking to scale the mountain's flanks, but not anymore, thanks to what has become known as the 'Stairway to Heaven'. The out-and-back route begins with 4km of gravel track, which winds across the bog towards a precipitous wooden staircase. Climb the steps to gain a bird's-eye perspective over the flatlands below. Access to the summit itself is prohibited, but the views from the cliff top more than justify the effort.

Start/Finish at Cuilcagh Boardwalk car park

Getting there Follow signs for Marble Arch Caves from the A4/N16 Enniskillen-Blacklion road. The car park is located 300m west of the entrance to the caves.

Level Moderate to difficult -signed tracks and boardwalk with 550m ascent.

Length/Time 10km / 3-4 hours

Pack £5 or €6 to pay for the car park, plus extra time to combine the walk with a visit to nearby Marble Arch Caves.

Refuel at Marble Arch Caves visitor centre (marblearchcavesgeopark.com), where a suspended mannequin of a caver dangles overhead as you tuck into lunch.

24. Best lakeshore loop

Where Castle Lake Loops, Co Cavan

What Peaceful and beautiful, this remote spot has long been a favourite with local families. The most popular route is the 3km Lake Loop, which circumnavigates Castle Lake along verdant, buggy-friendly trails. The lough itself is ever-present, and there are historic sites too, such as the memorial to those who died at Rebel Hill in 1798. For a longer outing, add a side-trip onto Castle Loop, which explores the southern part of the forest and visits the ruins of 17th-century Bailieborough Castle.

Start/Finish at Castle Lake Forest car park

Getting there Take the N3 to Virginia, then follow the R178 northeast through Bailieborough. Turn left at Lakeland Dairies to the forest entrance 1.5km later.

Level Easy - signposted forest tracks with 30m or 150m ascent.

Length/Time 3.5 or 6.5km /1 or 2 hours

Pack A route map from IrishTrails.ie, and wellies so kids can dip their toes in the lake.

Refuel at The Bailie Hotel (bailiehotel.com) in the heart of Bailieborough, where a warming soup and toasted sandwich will help you recover from your exertions.

25. Best for Game of Thrones fans

What Castle Ward Estate, Co Down

Where The National Trust estate of Castle Ward lies on the southern shore of Strangford Lough, and offers a choice of four signed walks between 3km and 13km long. For families, the 3km Castle Trail or 4km Loughside Walk are the best options, and both are suitable for buggies. As well as passing through woodland and along the shore of Strangford Lough, you'll visit numerous historic landmarks, including two 15th-century tower houses and the imposing manor built in the 1760s. Fans of the popular TV series Game of Thrones will also recognise Winterfell, and find no less than 10 filming locations dotted around the estate.

Start/Finish at the shore car park in Castle Ward estate

Getting there The estate is signed off the A25 Downpatrick-Strangford road, around 2km southwest of Strangford.

Level Easy - signed and constructed pathways with negligible ascent.

Length/Time 3-13km /1-3.5 hours

Pack Your wallet - entry costs £9.50/4.75 per adult/child, or £23.80 per family. In return you'll receive a useful map marking all the various walking trails.

Refuel at the Stableyard Tea Room within Castle Ward. Visit on a weekday and you can enjoy an old-style afternoon tea (booking essential, 048 4488 1204). Weekends offer soup, cakes and sambos.

Meet the experts

Roisin Finlay

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Roisin Finlay

Roisin Finlay

Roisin Finlay

Editor of Outsider (outsider.ie) magazine for the last decade, loves walking, nature and just being outdoors. She is also passionate about encouraging others to experience the power of what is outside our front door. Roisin is convinced that being ‘coerced’ by her parents to go on family walks to the beach or up the mountains sowed the seed for a lifelong love of all things al fresco. Now she tries to encourage the young people in her life, including her four brilliant step-children, to join her. She reckons the best kind of family walk is one where the kids will find things that interest them, whether that is poking dead jellyfish on the shore, finding frog spawn or a walk that ends with a hot chocolate.

Helen Fairbairn

As the mother of two children, hiking book author Helen Fairbairn is well aware of the pleasures and challenges of walking with kids. Outdoor activity is so important for children, providing a healthy counter-balance to time spent on phones or computers. Time spent walking is a great opportunity for family bonding too, says Helen, with experiences shared in the outdoors developing into family stories that will be recounted for years. Helen’s children often accompany her on walks and other activities, and her most recent book, Ireland’s Adventure Bucket List: Great Outdoor Experiences, has a chapter dedicated to family adventures including hiking, cycling, canoeing and snorkelling.

Sunday Indo Living