A land of jagged seascapes and mountains concealed in mist, Donegal is a place where adventure can be found around every twisting road. While many tourists flock to the buzz of Dublin or Kerry’s natural wonders, Ireland’s most northerly county promises an array of adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities – minus the crowds.
Take a Hike
The Derryveagh mountain range dominates the skyline of Donegal, its peaks towering over windy roads and historic villages. Here lies Mount Errigal, the tallest mountain in Donegal, with its snowy-hued slopes making it an alluring day hike for locals and visiting hikers. On a clear day (not guaranteed, this is still Ireland remember) it is possible to see all of Donegal county from the summit via a popular tourist trail at its base.
For hikers wanting to reach more summits, Muckish (Gaelic for ‘the pig’s back’) mountain is only a short distance away. The peak’s flat-topped summit offers a panoramic view of the rest of the Derryveagh range and beyond to the crashing shores of the Atlantic coast. The top can be accessed via the steep Miner’s Track, where much of the machinery of yesteryear remains today, or the more tranquil route via the Muckish Gap.
For adventurers wanting more level hikes, Glenveagh National Park provides walking routes that incorporates the fairytale-like Glenveagh Castle, thundering waterfalls and even mysteriously-named places such as ‘The Poisoned Glen’.
Go Climb a Sea Stack
Experience for yourself the power of the Atlantic Ocean’s crashing waves from the unique perspective at the top of a sea stack. Iain Miller of Unique Ascent has been guiding new and experienced climbers alike to the top of Donegal’s jagged sea stacks for years. It’s an adventurous day from the start as you dodge waves with a quick paddle in an inflatable boat over to a stack, or abseil down a sea cliff as the sound of crashing swells echo beneath your feet. Miller has literally written the guidebook to sea stack climbing in Donegal, and can offer suggestions for challenging routes, and answer any questions about the landscape – or Donegal itself.
Go Wild Swimming
Many of Donegal’s sandy, turquoise beaches wouldn’t look out of place on a Caribbean island brochure. Unfortunately that’s where the similarities end. The water is chilly, even in the summer, but the dramatic scenery of mountains tumbling into the ocean and waterfalls dripping down peaks can distract anyone from numbness in their extremities. Silver Strand beach near Slieve League is particularly jaw-dropping with its emerald-green fields and azure waters; just don’t be alarmed if one of the inquisitive sheep that call the beach home give you an eyeful.
Surf Donegal’s Coast
Bundoran is the surf capital of Donegal, with surf shops lining the shores ready and armed with boards and instructors prepared to help you tackle the waves. Even if you’re a seasoned pro, there are a variety of reef breaks and beaches around Bundoran where you’re sure to find a wave fit for your ability – depending on the sea, of course.
Explore Donegal’s Landscape on Bike
While most wheeled visitors to Donegal explore the region by car via the Wild Atlantic Way, cycling gives you more opportunity to stop and enjoy its tranquil lochs and moody mountains. There’s even the Donegal Cycle Route, a 200km-long trail that takes cyclists along its coastline, with secluded coves, beaches and dramatic landscapes to enjoy, all to yourself. This is Donegal also offers shorter routes around Donegal’s picturesque spots that can be completed in a day or afternoon. Bike hire is widely available throughout Donegal, but call ahead to ensure you don’t wind up wheely disappointed.
A car is essential for getting around Donegal. While some public transport is available, if you want to complete a particular hike or see a remote spot, or other outdoor activities in Donegal, a car is the easiest option.
Make sure you pack all necessary outdoor clothing and accessories before you head outdoors. Given the mountainous landscape of Donegal, a town that looks only a short distance away on the map can take an hour to reach. If you don’t want to waste an afternoon driving and shopping, plan what you will pack in advance!
Dungloe is a great base for exploring Donegal. A range of restaurants serving first-class Irish fare are open on the high street, and on weekends the pubs have live music. For explorers on a budget, there’s also two supermarkets and takeaways nearby. An abundance of accommodation is available, but The River House Hostel in particular offers comfortable rooms with breakfast at bargain prices.
Have you got any recommendations for outdoor activities in Donegal to try? Share them below!