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Donegal 12 Day Hike/Self Guide

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Donegal 12 Day Hike/Self Guide

Geographically speaking, Donegal is a county of contradictions: it contains the northernmost point in the whole of Ireland - Malin Head on the remote Inishowen Peninsula and yet it is in ‘the South’ (Republic of Ireland). It is in Ulster (i.e. the nine-county province), but not in Northern Ireland. The county is very sparsely populated, with large tracts of land being uninhabited and a good deal of the open land and grazing country covered by blanket bogs.

The north-western tip of Donegal, around Bloody Foreland, is known for the interplay of light and water. The rocks are given a magical pink or reddish hue when sunlight falls on them, particularly at sunset, and this is particularly noticeable on the cone of Errigal, Donegal’s highest peak. Donegal Irish is spoken in the districts of the Rosses and Gweedore, this being one of the strongest Gaeltacht areas in the country.

The Gaeltacht village of Glencolumbcille gets its name from St. Columbcille (Latin: Columba) who retreated there in the 5th Century. It has one of the best-preserved groupings of Early Christian pillar stones, spread over the valley. These are located at the 13 stations of the ‘turas’ or pilgrimage, still held every year on June 9th, the feast day of St. Columbcille.

Donegal has some of the finest cliff scenery in Ireland, the most famous being the cliffs of Slieve League, a mountain of 595m which drops almost sheer into the sea. These cliffs stretch for 3 miles and can be best viewed from Bunglass near Teelin. A spectacular walk from here leads to the summit of Slieve League, passing over the cliff-tops and crossing the notorious arete called ‘One Man’s Pass’. The cliffs of Horn Head near Dunfanaghy are also well worth a visit. From here you will glimpse Tory Island, mythical home of the Fomorians, lying 12 kms north of Bloody Foreland.

Situated just 5kms. off the coast of Donegal, Arranmore or Aran Island has been inhabited since prehistoric times and it's likely to have been one of Donegal's first coastal population centres. Archaeological sites on the island have been dated to the Early Iron Age (800 BC) and the island was also home to a number of Gaelic chieftains, Manus Óg O'Domhnaill (Manus O'Donnell), a cousin of the Donegal chieftain Aodh Dubh O'Domhnaill, being its most famous.

Many of the Gaelic traditions practised by these families are still alive on Arranmore today and can be heard and seen on your visit.

Trip Outline:

This trip begins in Donegal town in the southern part of this vast county – only an hour from Sligo town and very accessible from Dublin Airport – 3 hours by connecting bus. From Donegal you follow a wonderful walk through the Blue Stack Mountains to arrive in the coastal town of Ardara. Heading south west from here – your walk continues to the historical Glencolmcille & the beautiful village of Carrick.

From here – you can arrange a visit to the famous Slieve League if you so wish. Returning to Ardara you then continue northwest and explore the northern part of the county – by the coast around Bloody Foreland & inland to the famous Errigal Mountain and Glenveagh National Park.

By dividing this holiday into southern and northern Donegal – it gives you a wonderful overview of this glorious county. For this reason – it is also possible to break this trip into 2 or 3 different “mini-break” holidays – of 5 days each or combine them together into an 8-Day or a 12 -Day holiday. There is an excellent bus service from Dublin Airport to Donegal town & a good bus service from many parts of southern Donegal (privately operated), returns you to Donegal town.

There is also an excellent service now to Donegal Airport (Carrickfinn) in northern Donegal, and buses now leave from Dunfanaghy to Letterkenny and directly to Dublin. From Letterkenny it is possible to connect with a wide range of services that bring you to many of the larger towns & cities in Ireland.

Day 1:

Arrive in Donegal town where you will be spending your first 2 nights. On arrival at your first accommodation, your hostess will give you your full Detailed Information pack. She will also be able to recommend places to eat in the town & suggest some of the pubs where you may find Irish music.

Access for this holiday is made by a bus connection from Dublin Airport to Donegal. This service is available all year round.

Day 2:

Walking from your accommodation you follow the “Blue Stack Way-Marked Way” around the shores of the beautiful Lough Eske, along the foothills of Banagher Hill, beside the Eglish River to finish in the little village of Letterbarra. On your arrival to Letterbarra you can phone for your taxi to come & collect you (unless you have already arranged this ahead of time). Return to Donegal town for your 2nd overnight.

Walk Details: Distance: 16kms. Duration: 5 hours. Max. Height: 250m. Most of today's walk is on quiet back-roads & tracks with the last 2kms going across bog land before re-joining road to Letterbarra. The “cross-country section can be muddy and wet underfoot so we recommend boots for this walk.

Day 3:

Leaving your Donegal accommodation, you will be driven back to Letterbarra to start walking off the road from where you finished yesterday. Following across old bog roads & through farmland, you then have a lovely walk over the foothills of the Bluestacks to arrive into the village of Glenties. This is your highest walk of your first few days – but if the weather is not good then we recommend you take the lower level alternative walk around the higher ground to re-join the route further on. From Glenties you can ring your taxi to bring you on to Ardara for your next 2 night’s accommodation.

Walk Details: Distance: 16 kms. Duration: 5-6 hours. Max. Height: 400m. Some road walking, muddy and rocky grass tracks, open mountains & bogland which can be wet underfoot. Boots essential.

Day 4:

You will be driven back to Glenties to start your walk from this lovely village. From here you follow along a quiet back road to arrive at the banks of the Owentocker River. Following along beside the river, a beautiful walk brings you into the village of Ardara where you return to your accommodation for your 2nd night.

Walk Details: Distance: 11kms. Duration: 3-4 hours. Max. Height: 150m. Roadways & tracks, river banks which can be rocky and uneven in places. Then back to track & road walking into Ardara. Boots essential.

Day 5:

Today you will be leaving Ardara to walk to Kilcar & from there transfer to your accommodation in Carrick. This walk follows along the magnificent Glengesh Pass an amazing V-shaped valley with some of the most spectacular scenery you could wish to see. Continuing over bogland & through forestry you then descend to the village of Kilcar with wonderful views over Donegal Bay.

Kilcar is famous for its woollen & tweed industry & your walk finishes just across from one of the factory shops here where you can get a welcome cup of tea or coffee as well as an opportunity to see their beautiful range of clothing. From here you can ring for your taxi to bring you on to your accommodation for the next 2 nights in Carrick. Your luggage will already be here.

Walk Details: Distance: 20kms. Duration: 5-6 hours. Max. Height: 350m. Road walking, grass and muddy tracks, bogland & rocky paths. Can be very wet underfoot. 75% road walking today but boots are essential for the section off road.

Day 6:

Starting from your accommodation in Carrick – or if you wish – you will be driven back to Kilcar where you start walking from where you finished yesterday to follow a lovely coastal track out of the village & around Derrylahan hill to continue on to Crockunna. From there you parallel with the road to Glencolmcille with fabulous views as you get closer to this wonderful corner of Ireland. Descending into Glencolmcille village – you can then ring for your taxi back to Carrick for your 2nd night. Overnight in Carrick.

Walk Details: Distance: 15kms with optional extra 5kms. Duration: 5-6 hours. Max. Height: 220m. Road & track walking, also grass tracks - rocky and muddy in places, open hillside & bogland. Can be wet underfoot - boots essential.

Day 7:

Today you will be dropped back to Glencolmcille where you start walking a beautiful and very remote route back to the village of Ardara. With glorious views across Glen Head and Donegal bay, you then descend to Port & walk through this beautiful valley before ascending Crockuna & then walking beside the Owenwee River you continue through another magnificent valley to finish close to Ardara.

Walk Details: Distance: 20kms with additional 5kms at end if you wish. Duration: 6-7 hours. Max. Height: 320m. Road & track walking, some grassy & boggy tracks - rocky and muddy in places. Open hillside & bogland. Can be wet and muddy underfoot - boots essential.

Day 8:

From Ardara, you will take the bus at 09.50hrs from the Heritage Centre (Bus Eireann route 492 – very often this is operated by McGeehan's buses) to Dungloe (An Clochán Liath in Irish or Gaelic). The cost of the bus is approx $10 per adult (one way) and you will need to pay the driver this money. On your arrival to Dungloe (the old Sweeney's Hotel) at 10.30am you will be collected & brought to the start of your next walk & your luggage will be taken to your next accommodation in Bunbeg.

You start walking at Clady Bridge near Gweedore and follow a lovely walk through forestry to Dunlewy. As you come closer to Dunlewy Lake you will have magnificent views of Errigal – the infamous mountain that is SO associated with Donegal. Descending to Dunlewy you ring for your taxi to collect you and return you to your accommodation in Bunbeg where you will be staying for your next 2 nights. Alternatively, today – you may prefer to avail of the opportunity to take a boat & visit the beautiful GOLA Island – a walker's haven on a very unspoilt place, OR take a boat to the better known TORY island.

Walk Details: Distance: 8kms. Duration: 2-3 hours. Max. Height: 100m. Grass tracks - rocky and muddy in places. Can be wet and muddy underfoot - boots recommended. Some road walking.

Day 9:

From your accommodation in Bunbeg – you will be driven to Glenveagh National Park where you can enjoy this wonderful place. No visit to Donegal is complete without a visit here (entrance fees & buses are at your own cost – it is €5 for a guided tour of the castle & €3 for the shuttle bus to the castle – or you can enjoy the walk along the lake shore to the castle yourself).

There are 2 walks available in the Park if you wish to walk – the “Glen” walk or the Lough Inshagh walk. Alternatively – you may be lucky if you ring ahead – some days the Park Rangers offer Guided Walks at a cost of €10 per person. See information in your pack or ask in your accommodation for more information. Overnight in Bunbeg.

Day 10:

From Bunbeg, you will be driven to Dunlewy where you walk along very remote & small back roads to the village of Falcarragh. This is a beautiful walk under the foothills of Errigal, following part of the old railway line that ran from Creeslough to Dungloe & finishing close to the coast. On your arrival to Falcarragh, you can phone your taxi to collect you & bring you to your accommodation in Dunfanaghy.

Walk Details: Distance: 12kms. Duration: 3-4 hours. Max. Height: 150m. Grass tracks - rocky and muddy in places. Can be wet and muddy underfoot - boots recommended. Some road walking.

Day 11:

Today you have a choice of walks from Dunfanaghy. If the weather is good – then we strongly recommend you walk McSwyne's Gun Loop on Horn Head – walking from your accommodation to Horn Head Bridge & back again. This walk is 12kms & can be extended to 21kms if you wish.

Otherwise your walk today takes you around Bloody Foreland on a beautiful coastal walk & through extensive bog lands which are still harvested today for turf which is sold locally. A taxi will take you to Glashagh where you start walking & follow the coastline to Gortahork. From there – a phonecall will get your taxi to come & collect you & bring you back to Dunfanaghy for your final overnight.

Walk Details: Distance: 22kms. Duration: 5-6 hours. Max. Height: 150m. Road walking, grass and sandy tracks, bog roads & open bogland. Can be wet and muddy underfoot - boots essential.

Day 12:

From Dunfanaghy there is a good bus service back to Letterkenny. On your arrival to Letterkenny you can connect with an excellent bus service that will take you directly to Dublin Airport or City or any other larger towns and cities throughout Ireland. Alternatively – you can take a taxi to Donegal Airport in Carrickfinn which has connecting flights to Dublin & the UK.

Please do check public transport or


Should you wish to extend your holiday – or change one or two of your walk days from this itinerary - we recommend the following extra days which are suitable for rest days or to add a little more walking to your holiday:

Day 5:

If your time is limited – then skip today's walk & travel with your luggage to Kilcar. From there you can arrange a taxi to take you to the famous Slieve League to view these amazing sea cliffs. Alternatively – we will be happy to arrange a local guide to take you on a walk over Slieve League – one of the most spectacular walks in Ireland – but NOT to be undertaken lightly or without local knowledge.

Day 6:

Stay an extra day in Kilcar & arrange to go to Slieve League as outlined in Day 5 above.

Day 8:

At the end of your walk to Dunlewy – you can enjoy a lovely boat trip around this fabulous lake & relax at the Dunlewy Centre before returning to Bunbeg. Alternatively – you can take an extra day here (or change your walk for the day) and avail of a local boat to take you to Gola Island – a glorious and very untouched island which is ideal for walking, or you may prefer to visit the more remote Tory Island with its fascinating sea cliffs & wonderful community headed up by the local “King”. Of course – you could just add another extra day to ensure you get to visit both these places & really immerse yourself into what is the real Donegal.

Day 9:

Take the opportunity to change your activities today OR stay an extra day to climb the iconic Errigal Mountain. Our transport will be happy to take you to and from Errigal instead of Glenveagh OR you can arrange a taxi to take you. We will be happy to arrange a local guide to take you on this walk should you wish but please note – this is a TOUGH walk & NOT to be undertaken lightly or without local knowledge.

Day 10:

Stay an extra day in Bunbeg to give yourself the opportunity to climb Errigal Mountain as outlined above in Day 9.

Day 11:

Change your walk today and enjoy a beautiful coastal walk on Horn Head – a magnificent headland that has withstood the abuse from the Atlantic Ocean to shape it into one of nature's very own places of wonder.

Day 12:

Stay an extra day in Dunfanaghy & enjoy a glorious walk around Horn Head – extending it into a longer day walk if you wish.

Make enquiries when booking and we can organise the extra reservations and transport necessary to do these options.

Benny's Ireland Vacations,Inc. reserves the right to alter this itinerary due to weather conditions, the conditions of the walks, or the ability of clients.

Benny's Ireland Vacations,Inc. has given the above Walk Details as a guideline - these may not be accurate on the day due to the prevailing weather or individual walkers.

Do note that Ireland can at times be a “damp” country both underfoot and overhead. Irish weather is unpredictable, that’s one of the “joys” of walking in Ireland, but the nature of walks can alter quickly and dramatically because of this weather change.

© Benny’s Ireland Vacations Inc.

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