Playing On The Edge of Ireland – Hill walking in Donegal

In part 2 of a 3 part series, mountain instructor Iain Miller describes the incredible range of  walking to be had in the hills of Donegal.  (Part 1 here)

The County of Donegal in northwest Ireland is blessed with the amount and quality of its natural and unspoiled scenery, with miles of empty sandy beaches, an archipelago of beautiful islands off its western coast, spectacular sea cliff scenery and many many miles of uninhabited and rarely frequented open uplands.

But where Donegal’s true blessing is found is high in its mountain ranges.


Starting in the South East of the county the skyline to the North of Donegal Town is dominated by the sprawling expanse of the Blue Stack Mountain range. This range of hills extends over 20km from Barnesmore Gap in the East to Glenties Village in the West and provide spectacular views over Donegal Bay towards County Mayo to the south. A full range walks can be found in this mountain range from short scenic walks around Lough Eske to long mountain treks to the Blue Stacks highest summits. The newly establish Blue Stacks way follows a 47KM low level walking trail weaving its way through the foothills to the South of the range providing spectacular scenery and is an excellent introduction to Donegal’s mountain ranges.

In the far South West of the county, there is the Slieve League and Slievetooey mountain ranges both providing absolutely spectacular sea cliff scenery with Slieve League boasting one of the highest sea cliffs in Ireland. At 601 metres the Slieve League sea cliffs are almost three times higher than the much more famous sea cliffs of Moher in county Clare. The Sievetooey mountain range offers a truly breathtaking hill walking experience with one of the best coastal walks in Ireland many miles of uninhabited uplands, rugged 250m sea cliffs and a huge collection of large, isolated sea stacks including Tormore Island Irelands highest sea stack. A drive to lonely Port bay followed by a clifftop walk to the remote and spectacular Glenlough bay will be one of the highlights of your walking holiday in Donegal.

In the West of the county lives Errigal Mountain, Donegal’s highest point and the counties most popular mountain. This 751m Peak sits in isolation from its neighbours, the Aghla’s to the North and provides spectacular views over the Rosses and across into the Poison Glen to the South. Errigal mountain is the most southerly of an enchainment of mountains spanning 15km to the North East over twin summits of Aghla More and Aghla Beg and ending on the huge flat-topped Muckish Mountain.


Donegal under a blanket of snow My trusty dog Patches really enjoys the hills

Donegal’s largest mountain range spanning over 25KM from Doocharry Village to the South to Glenveagh National park to the North is the Derryveagh Mountains. This huge ridge of granite mountains offers spectacular hill walking with uninterrupted views in all directions, looking out towards the isolated Tory Island to the West and across to the Sperrins in Northern Ireland to the East.

For less strenuous walking Donegal offers spectacular low-level coastal walks around its many peninsulas and offshore islands. The looped walk at Dunfanaghy around Horn Head provides an excellent half day coastal walk with endless spectacular sea cliffs and a 2km long sandy beach to finish. For further low level walks the island of Arranmore, Owey, Gola and Tory provide many lifetimes of exploring around these unspoilt and magical places.

It is impossible to describe in print the beauty of rural Donegal, the only way to see it is to visit and explore, I absolutely guarantee it won’t be your last visit.

Next time in part 3, we go rock climbing in the mountains of Donegal.

Iain Miller is a fully qualified mountain instructor with over 30 years experience and is company director of Unique Ascent which provides outdoor adventure holidays, outdoor activities and mountain training courses with a difference. To find out more about Unique Ascent and the outdoor adventure packages they offer, visit their website Unique Ascent.

About the Author

Ann Robinson
Has a passion for coastal heritage and maritime history. Loves sharing the best of the Irish coast online. Contact me or follow me on Twitter @AnnRobinson22