The Kerry Way – Ireland in Stages
Killarney to Black Valley, Distance 22Km, Ascent 400m
The official start of the Kerry Way is at the Tourist Office in the town of Killarney. Walk south along the Muckross Road, a stretch of hotels and B&B’s, crossing the River Flesk, and walk a gravel road which you’ll share with horse-drawn jaunting cars!
Enter the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park, Skirt the edge of Castlelough Bay with wonderful views across Lough Leane to the Shehy Mountains as you hike towards the Victorian townhouse and gardens of Muckross House and then on to the foot of Torc waterfall.
A steep climb for 80m by the waterfall, where we join the old Kenmare road dating back to medieval times – the original Ring of Kerry Road!
Following this old cobbled road with Mangerton and Torc mountains on either side and the Owengarriff river for several kms, through the Esknamucky Glen to Galways Bridge.
- Watch out for: The highest mountain, Carrauntoohill (1039m) in front of you.
- Standing stone: Situated on the West side of the medieval road. Around half a kilometer from the supposed position of the destroyed Gortroe Circle, this stone is intriguing. Most standing stones in Kerry are tall and thin or quite substantial, it is more usual to find stones of this shape as part of five stone circles. Its position, having been left standing at the edge of the road implies that it was treated with some respect by the road builders and may be a circle remnant.
Soon after passing through Esknamucky Glen, a beautiful dense oak forest is reached with dense moss carpeting the rocks beneath. A reasonably steep descent sees the Kerry Way meet a tarmac road. The trail forks with Galway’s Bridge and Black Valley to the right and north.
This stretch is very tranquil through the wild moorland, oakwoods and Lakes of Killarney national park and Lord Brandon’s Cottage.
- At Galway’s bridge, there is the quaint Derrycunihy Church, now bricked up, dating back to the 19th
The trail gently descends to the valley floor, with Purple Mountain and Tomies Mountain to the north. In front of you is the Upper Lake of Killarney and Ross Castle in the distance. Following the gravel path for 2 kms, you will come to Lord Brandon’s Cottage where light refreshments can be purchased but can be quite busy during the summer season.
The Kerry Way now crosses a beautiful six-arch bridge over the Gearhameen River and gently climbs 40m over the final 3km to the Hostel in the Black Valley.
Black Valley to Glencar, Distance 20Km, Ascent 500m – 8 hours
The way out of the Black Valley ascends with fine views of Bridia Valley ahead.
Watch out for: Walkers will need to be careful on a couple of steep and boulder descents from the two passes on this section. The route follows quiet tarmac and gravel roads, as well as paths through forest, and fields.
Take in views to the wide Caragh River Valley and the range of hills beyond, dominated by the tilted triangular peak of Mulaghanattin (773m).
With a further kilometer on the road leading to Maghanlawaun, you may be greatly surprised to come across the Cooky Monster’s Café in this remotest of places!
Once you reach the head of the pass, you will have a fabulous view of Lough Acoose at the end of the valley ahead of you, with views beyond to the Dingle Peninsula, western Reeks and Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain (1,039m).
The Kerry way follows the flank of Lough Acoose and reaches the main road to Glencar.
Glencar to Glenbeigh, Distance 18Km, Ascent 420m – 5 hours
Start from The Climbers Inn, the trail out of the town follows the road and meanders along quiet country roads and forestry paths through the Glencar Valley. You will have fabulous views of The McGillycuddy Reeks, Seefin Mountain and Lough Carragh.
- Bothair (Bow-her) is the Irish for road and boreen is a small road – een being the diminutive in the Irish language.
This rough path eventually reaches a Gortdirragh, where the Kerry Way reaches a T-Junction. The left turn is the direct path to Glenbeigh with a 100m climb to the saddle at The Windy Gap with views of Rossbeigh, Inch Strand and The Dingle Peninsula.
1km of rough trail descends to meet a boreen at Gowlane, where the final 2km of tarmac road lead to the centre of Glenbeigh.
Glenbeigh to Caherciveen, Distance 28Km, Ascent 450m – 8 hours
This section of the Kerry Way is a strenuous 7 to 10 hour (28 km) walking route along quiet back roads and gentle ascents. It offers stunning views of Dingle Bay and Peninsula from mountain stage on the slopes on Drung Hill (640m), through woodland and finishing on quiet county roads to Cahersiveen.
- The field systems – The seaweed was used to make formerly worthless land arable. (Seaweed is a natural source of potash—it’s organic farming, before it was trendy.)
- Look above at the patches of land slowly made into farmland by the inhabitants of this westernmost piece of Europe. Rocks were cleared and piled into fences. Sand and seaweed were laid on the clay, and in time it was good for grass. The created land, if at all tillable, was generally used for growing potatoes; otherwise, it was only good for grazing. Much has fallen out of use now.
- You can see more good examples of land reclamation, patch by patch, climbing up the hillside.
Caherciveen to Waterville, Distance 22km, Ascent 270m
Rejoin the Kerry Way at Teeraha. The trail leads up along a ridge of small hills and gradually up to some higher peaks of over 300 metres. Descending again, the trail leads along minor roads to Mastergeehy and on towards Coomduff.
- Watch out for: Standing on the summit of Coomduff, the views to the north are of Aghatubride, Foilclogh and Beenduff. The south-east is dominated by Coomcallee. Lough Currane is to the south-west with Mullaghbeg, Cahernageeha and Farraniaragh Mountains forming the backdrop. Waterville can be seen on the western horizon with Ballinskelligs Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond it.
The following 7km of rough terrain and track brings you up and over Knag Hill and down into the pretty seaside village of Waterville.
Waterville to Caherdaniel, Distance 13km, Ascent 300m – 5 hours
Starting from the Tourist Office (open in Summer), the first 1km of the Kerry Way passes a statue of Charlie Chaplin who was a frequent visit to Waterville. After traveling the length of the promenade, the trail crosses the Currane River.
Watch out for: A low lying building on your left was once the only Club Mediterranee hotel in these islands.
We share the next 3kms with the ‘Ring of Kerry Cycle Route’ along a quiet back road. The road heads out in the direction of Hogs Head, passing many holiday homes facing out across Ballinskelligs Bay to Bolus Head and the Skelligs.
- Watch out for: Old stone forts litter the landscape with Loher Fort being the most prominent. Irish: An Lóthar built by a local chieftain in the early 9th century has dry stone walls up to 3m high in places.
- Study the top fields, untouched since the planting of 1845, when the potatoes didn’t grow, but rotted in the ground. The faint vertical ridges of the potato beds can still be seen—a reminder of the famine.
As you turn the corner, more stunning views are ahead of you – Derrynane Bay, Lamb’s Head, and a number of islands including Deenish and Scariff.
The final 2.5kms passes through ancient native forest in Derrynane National Park before arriving in Caherdaniel.
Caherdaniel to Sneem, Distance 19km, Ascent 400m – 7 hours
This is a quite pleasant walk along ” green roads” , part of it being the Old Kenmare Road (we started from Killarney on this old medieval track) with boggy pasture around and views south over the Kenmare River Bay towards Bantry.
- Watch out for Staigue Fort enroute: This ancient ring fort is well worth the small detour and is highly recommended. Staigue is an iron age fort, 1km off the track in quiet countryside. The drystone walls are 30 mtrs in diameter, 4 mtrs thick and 5 mtrs high! An intriguing system of diagonal runs of steps is leading to the top of the wall.
The next 1½km follows the hedge-lined road to a beautiful old stone bridge which spans the Staigue River.
The next 2kms follows what was once an old stagecoach road and rises over 100m but can be quite boggy in places. Views over Staigue below you and across the Kenmare River, Kilcatherine and Cod’s Head can be seen on the Beara Peninsula.
Following the signposts through forests, over hills and along boreens and even along the Ring of Kerry (N70) in places, the final 2.5km follows a quiet back road into the colourful village of Sneem.
Sneem to Kenmare, Distance 23km, Ascent 520m – 8 hours
This penultimate section of the Kerry Way is one of the longest but, luckily, one of the flattest. Leaving Sneem behind, the route heads south east towards the 19th c estate of Parknasilla and through various types of oak, birch and holly, all mixed with the ubiquitous rhododendron.
After about 2.5km, you will arrive at the dormant village of Tahilla which was once a busy fishing village. The trail gradually gains height along Lough Fadda with great views back across Coongar Harbour and Drongawn Lough beyond to the south-west.
- The bamboo-like rushes on either side of the road are the kind used to make the local thatched roofs. Thatching, which nearly died out because of the fire danger, is more popular now that anti-flame treatments are available. It’s not a cheap roofing alternative, however, as it’s expensive to pay the few qualified craftsman thatchers that remain in Ireland.
Following forest tracks, mountain trails and tarmac roads, you will reach the Blackwater Bridge and the beautiful cottage which is marked as a post office on the OSI map but is closed down. From the Bridge, the trail takes us along the estuary of the Blackwater River, around the 1830’s private house – Dromore Castle – and the ruins of Cappanacush Castle from the 13th century.
After 2.5kms you are in the village of Templenoe and the Kenmare Estuary on your right is becoming increasingly narrow and you have fine views of The Caha Mountains on Beara Peninsula across the water. Leaving the village behind, you start an ascent of 120m over the next 2km to cross a spur of Lacka Hill. A second ascent of 150m sees the Kerry Way climb Gortamullin Hill (205m) over the next 1½km.
The final 1km of trail approaches the town along a secluded gravel path which escapes the traffic before emerging in the central market square of Kenmare.
Kenmare to Killarney, Distance 26km, Ascent 630m – 7 hours
This final stage of the Kerry Way starts from outside the Kenmare Tourist Office (only open in Summer).
The first two-thirds of the section is uphill climb to the Windy Gap at around 320m via Strickeen Hill. From here you descend into Killarney National Park.
Incheens is surrounded by a splendid horse-shoe of mountain peaks. From Eagles Nest to the west, to Peakeen and Knockanaguish to the south. Knockrower and Shaking Rock are to the east and Stumpacommeen and Cromaglan Mountain to the north-east.
The exit to the valley is to the north with the more distant Purple Mountain on the horizon, above Killarney’s Upper Lake.
After walking 3½km from Windy Gap, the Kerry Way once again splits into two with Galway’s Bridge straight ahead. The route to Killarney climbing up towards Cromaglan Mountain and through a beautiful old oak forest. After crossing Galway’s River, the trail rises above the tree line and the unmistakeable ridge of the MacGillycuddy Reeks is to the north-west.
Here we are retracing our steps from our first day, down through the Esknamucky Glen. Crossing the Crinnagh River the Kerry Way rejoins the Old Kenmare Road, along the Owengarriff River at the foot of the Mangertons. After passing the upper car-park at Torc, the trail steeply descends a stone staircase to a viewing platform at the base of Torc Waterfall.
Passing through a tunnel beneath the ‘Ring of Kerry’, the trail stats a 4km section through Muckross Estate. Tarmac paths make for easing strolling beside Muckross Lake up to Muckross House. The trail then goes down along the lakeshore of Lough Leane. The final 2.5kms of the Kerry Way is back into Killarney via the Muckross Road.
Note: There are many public buses and a train station in Killarney that can get you to many parts of Ireland.