Ireland’s Gap of Dunloe


We all visit places that are greatly hyped and yet sometimes quite disappointing upon arrival. Then there are places about which you’ve heard relatively little, but that prove quite impressive from the first moment of your visit.

Put the Gap of Dunloe in Ireland’s County Kerry on that list of deeply satisfying, largely undersold experiences.

Just a few miles from the popular city of Killarney, the Gap of Dunloe does show up in Internet searches and pictured in the windows of tour operations. They can sell you a combination of bus excursion, hike and boat ride that forms a round-trip tour from Killarney.

But you need not part with a lot of money to enjoy this natural treasure.

If you have transportation (or can arrange a taxi ride), go to the parking lot at Kate Kearney’s cottage. The hiking trail starts there and continues for about 10 miles. The paved but narrow road will take you through green, rocky meadows, alongside sparkling lakes and eventually through the pass (or gap) from which the area gets its name. Along the way, you’ll see sheep, dodge horse-drawn carriages (and the manure they leave behind) and even a few automobiles (people do live in this area). But the enduring memories will be forged from the cool, fresh air and the impressive scenery on the edge of Killarney National Park.

County Kerry is famous for its two scenic drives: The Dingle Peninsula drive and the Ring of Kerry circuit. Hiking the Gap of Dunloe can be combined with either one of these drives, which can begin a short distance from the cottage.

A few words of warning: unlike those scenic drives, the Gap of Dunloe route is not a loop. If you walk forward four miles, you’ll be walking back that same distance. For families, it pays to hire one of those horse-drawn carriages (called jaunting carts) for at least part of the trip. You’ll also need protection from the elements. There are few shelters along the route, so have rain gear and a warm coat ready for the changing weather conditions.

This might be obvious advice, but it is worth adding: have your camera batteries charged and ready for action. Visiting the Gap of Dunloe will make you thankful anew for digital media. You’ll want to take far more pictures than would have been practical in the days of film.