Gap of Dunloe walk: best route, distance, when to visit, and more

This may just be one of Ireland’s most majestic trails: read on to learn everything you need to know about the Gap of Dunloe walk.

The Gap of Dunloe hike is located in County Kerry.

Separating the impressive MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range to the west and the Purple Mountain Group range to the east, this scenic mountain pass is a favourite of hillwalkers, hikers, bikers, and road trippers looking for an epic experience to remember.

This is your ultimate guide to the Gap of Dunloe walk, including insider tips, when to visit, and what to see along the way.

Basic info – the essentials

  • Route: Gap of Dunloe walk
  • Distance: 11 km or 6.8 miles (one-way) / 22 km or 13.6 miles (round-trip)
  • Start / End Point: Kate Kearney’s Cottage / Lord Brandon’s Cottage
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Duration: 2-2.5 hours (one way) / 4-5 hours (round-trip)

Overview – in a nutshell

Gap of Dunloe walk route.
Credit: Ireland Before You Die

The Gap of Dunloe walk is a major bucket list entry on any Irish adventure list. Located in the heart of Kerry, separating two majestic mountain ranges, this hike is as spellbinding as they come.

While most visitors enjoy tackling the Gap of Dunloe hike one-way, others choose to tackle the trail on a round-trip. The option is entirely up to you and is based on your fitness level and the time available.

When to visit – the months in question

When to visit the Gap of Dunloe hike.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

As always, we recommend visiting key attractions, like the Gap of Dunloe walk, during spring and autumn. In these seasons, visitors to the area will be fewer, allowing for a more peaceful experience in this ruggedly beautiful part of Ireland.

While summer has its draws – the weather being the most obvious – you can also expect many visitors during this time.

This may be an added bonus for solo travellers or those looking to socialise along their journey. Still, if you’re looking for a serene experience, this is not the time to do the Gap of Dunloe hike.

Winter is the coldest and wettest season in Ireland. During this time, the Gap of Dunloe will be at its quietest.

Key stops – what not to miss

Key stops on the Gap of Dunloe hike.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

The Gap of Dunloe begins at Kate Kearney’s Cottage and ends at Lord Brandon’s Cottage. For those keen to experience the round-trip, you will turn around at Lord Brandon’s Cottage and make your way back to your start point.

Along the Gap of Dunloe walk, the centre stage star will be the immense, unspoiled natural beauty. Keep an eye out for the stone cottages that lie in ruin, abandoned from the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1852).

You will also experience winding roads and weaving glacial lakes that have been carving out the earth since the last Ice Age. Keep an eye out for native wildlife, too. It’s not uncommon to spot eagles and red deer along the Gap of Dunloe hike.

Directions – how to get there

How to get to the Gap of Dunloe walk.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Kate Kearney’s Cottage is only a fifteen-minute drive from Killarney, making it an easily accessed trail when exploring the town and surrounding areas.

Distance – the fine details

The details of the Gap of Dunloe hike.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

The Gap of Dunloe walk is 11 km (6.8 miles) one-way or 22 km (13.6 miles) round-trip. The trail usually takes walkers between 2-2.5 hours or 4-5 hours.

If you choose to experience the trek one way, the route is suitable for relatively fit adults and children. For those keen to enjoy the looped trail, a more experienced level of fitness is required.

Things to know – the inside scoop

Things to know about the Gap of Dunloe walk.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Technically, yes, you are allowed to drive through the Gap of Dunloe as it is a public road.

Saying that, if you do choose to tackle the trail on four wheels, exercise caution. The road is ripe with blind turns and is well-populated with walkers, cyclists, runners, and horse riders.

There are steep ascents, loose and uneven footing, so wear appropriate footwear and bring a rain jacket in case the weather turns.

There are no facilities en route, so make sure to bring water, snacks, and any other supplies with you on your journey.

Where to eat – for the love of food

Grab a bite to eat at Kate Kearney's.
Credit: Facebook / @katekearneys

The Gap of Dunloe hike is commonly bookmarked with a meal in either Kate Kearney’s Cottage and Lord Brandon’s Cottage.

Both serve hot drinks and fresh food, but if you’re looking for the ultimate sit-down after a long walk, we suggest the former.

Kate Kearney’s Cottage is a 150-year-old family-run establishment, and its hospitality is as memorable as its food.

Where to stay – for a golden slumber

Aghadoe Heights Hotel and Spa is a must visit.
Credit: Facebook / @aghadoeheights

The Sika Lodge Bed & Breakfast is ideal for those looking for a home away from home. Suppose a more traditional hotel set up sounds to your liking. In that case, the three-star McSweeney Arms Hotel in Killarney is a solid shout.

For four-star comfort, stay at the Great Southern Killarney. Although, if you’re looking to rest in the lap of luxury after completing the Gap of Dunloe walk, it has to be the five-star Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa.

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