Key information: MacGillycuddy's Reeks
- A small massif, but the highest mountains in Ireland, and the country’s famous walking area.
- A line of green-brown hills, its ramparts a series of long grassy slopes and crags, nestling dramatic cirques, lakes and tarns. At the heart of the range are the tough, dramatic spires, cliffs and crags of the Carrauntoohil mass.
- From the high ground, you will revel in huge and knee-weakeningly lovely views along the Iveragh Peninsula, and across to both the Dingle and the Beara peninsulas.
- Walkopedia rating88.5
- Natural interest15.5
- Human interest8
- Negative points2
- Total rating88.5
- Note: Neg: likely bad weather
- Length: Your choice
- Maximum Altitude: 1040m
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
The highest mountains in Ireland, and the country’s most famous walking area, are a small massif – essentially one ridge and its offshoots – at the eastern end of the Iveragh Peninsula; a long line of green-brown craggy hills rising near Lough Leane near Killarney in the east, and running some 10km (as the crow flies) to the Caragh valley in the west.
This really is an outstandingly beautiful area: the Reeks’ ramparts are, from the north especially, a series of long grassy slopes and crags, nestling dramatic cirques, lakes and tarns; at the heart of the range is the forbidding pinnacle and dark 2,000+ ft cliffs of Carrauntoohil and the dramatic spires, cliffs and crags of its neighbours.
From the south, it is harder to get a feel for the range, as it is to a degree screened by the high peaks across the Black Valley, and from the fine walk up that valley – on the Kerry Way – they are too close to really appreciate, other than as huge rocky slopes and high broken ridges without an overall coherence.
From the high ground, you will revel in huge and knee-weakeningly lovely views – even to Walkopedia’s at-risk-of-jaded palate – of the crags, ridges, lakes and eventually glimpses of the sea along the lovely Iveragh Peninsula, and north- and south-west across the bays to both the Dingle and the Beara peninsulas, always varying in the changing weather conditions, always mediated by the soft, vaporous, Turneresque Atlantic light.
The Reeks are packed with routes that cry out to be walked – but, as we lament elsewhere, there is no general right of access to the countryside in Ireland, and no traditional footpaths/rights of way, so walking options are limited to relatively few paths. There is little ability to improvise, or to create your own circuits.
Carrauntoohil: this forbidding pinnacle at the heart of the range, Ireland’s highest mountain, at 1,040m, is the particular challenge in the Reeks that keen walkers are most likely to tackle. Almost everyone approaches via the Hag’s Glen to the north-east, from Cromin’s Yard centre. The main walking routes climb:
- Up the Devil’s Ladder, the most direct (and most-used) route up, but now degraded and unstable, so not an enjoyable or especially safe climb.
- Up the relatively easy if lengthy Zig-zags to the east up to Cnoc na Tionne on the main Reeks ridge, then along the ridge to the base of the main peak itself.
- Via Brother O’Shea’s Gulley to the north, the most direct and most beautiful route but a steep scramble in places, and the least-used route.
From the summit, you see the whole area, and miles beyond. The high Reeks ridges run invitingly in several directions. See our detailed Carrauntoohil page, and William Mackesy’s account of climbing Carrauntoohil.
The rest of the Reeks should make marvellous walking – but, as we lament elsewhere, walking options are actually quite limited.
From Carrauntoohil: once you are up on the high ground, you can carry on further.
- To the north, the ridge runs invitingly to the broken crags of the nearby Bones Peak, and on round to the shapely pyramid of Beenkeragh, Ireland’s second-highest peak at 1,010m.
- To the west is the gorgeous narrow ridge round to Caher, Ireland’s third highest peak and on westward along for the main ridge for 4 or 5 kilometres, with a long, steady descent to the little road above Lough Acoose – or south to Curraghmore and on south-west to the Lack Road, although this would involve a longer descent on a lesser path. The former would also make a brilliant long ascent route.
- to the east, is the soft, flat top of Cnoc na Tionne; beyond it, the main Reeks ridge runs gorgeously away via 9 other peaks over 900m.
The Traverse of the MacGillyduddy’s Reeks ridge is probably Ireland’s finest walk. It is a tough walk, some 26km and taking in 8 of Ireland’s 10 highest mountains. Travelling east to west, you start near the Gap of Dunloe, climbing steeply up to gain the beginnings of the ridge. Thence you yomp westward along the ridge, the drama intensifying as it narrows and steepens and loughans appear below. You drop to the gap above the Devil’s Staircase and on up Carrauntoohil. Thence you take the amazing ridge walk to Caher and continue either south or on westward. An outstanding if tiring walk.
Hag’s Glen: A walk up the Hag’s Glen to the loughs in the great bowl right below Carrauntoohil would be a fine way to enjoy 2-3 hours and get a feel for the drama and beauty of the area.
The Kerry Way passes to the south (through the Black Valley) and west of the Reeks, with outstanding views and atmosphere. Great day walks, or try the whole Way?
It is remarkable what hard work a 1,000m mountain can be – a height that many countries would disdain to call a mountain. And the South-west gets a lot of rain and wind, plus cloud/fog [and winter snow on high ground. There is little shelter on the mountains, either from sun or rain. Be prepared, both mentally and with the right kit.
Best books: The Dingle, Iveragh and Beara Peninsulas: A Walking Guide – Adrian Hendorff, Collins Press walking guides; The Mountains of Ireland – Paddy Dillon/ Cicerone: enthusiastic and exhaustive exploration of every one of the country’s 200+ summits. Find relevant books on Amazon.
See our Iveragh Peninsula page for more general and practical information and photos.
Other accounts: share your experiences
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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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