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Killarney National Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrKillarney National Park is located in County Kerry, at the foot of country's highest mountain range, MacGillycuddy's Reeks in southwestern Ireland.
The National Park was created in 1932 when Muckross Estate was donated to the Irish State by Senator Arthur Vincent. Over the years, the park has been expanded and today covers an area of over 100 square kilometers. In 1981, the park was designated by the UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, part of a world network of natural areas which have conservation, research, education, and training as major objectives.
Home to herds of red deer and Ireland’s largest native forest, Killarney National Park is brimming with all sorts of rare flora and fauna. The three Lakes of Killarney cover about a quarter of the park’s area. The largest of these, the Lower Lake, is called Lough Leane, which means ‘the lake of learning’. Nearby are the Muckross Lake, and the smallest of the three, the Upper Lake.
But, there is much to see beyond the beauty of its stunning lakes, peaceful woods, and rugged mountains, such as Ross Castle on the shores of Killarney’s Lower Lake, the famous Muckross House, and the beautiful spots like Ladies View, and the Meeting of the Waters.
The scenic drive from Killarney Town along the Kenmare Road N71 to Moll's Gap offers superb views of the lakes and the National Park. The road is often narrow and has more than its share of curves and turns, but it is well-worth the effort. And be sure to stop at the Ladies View.
Things to See & DoThe Killarney National Park is a perfect place for hiking, cycling, boating, fishing, or riding in a horse-drawn jaunting car. You can catch a boat across to Innisfallen Island on the Lower Lake, and historic Dinis Cottage which has a tearoom, or take the boat across the Lord Brandon's Cottage, and explore the spectacular U-shaped glacial valley, Gap of Dunloe. The park is a walker's paradise. There are superb walks which cater for all levels of ability from a pleasant stroll around the lakes and historic treks to strenuous mountain hikes. Detailed maps for walking trails are available at the visitor center at Muckross House.
Muckross House & GardensThe eye-catching, 19th-century, Victorian mansion with original furnishings and exhibits is the most famous attraction within the park. The house is richly furnished in in splendid Victorian style giving an excellent insight into the lives of the landed gentry. You can visit the interior of the house and stroll around its extensive gardens and grounds. The Muckross Gardens are renowned for their fine collection of Rhododendron species, and Azaleas, an impressive water garden, and a lovely rock garden created out of local limestone. There are also three Muckross Traditional Farms which demonstrate to visitors the past farming traditions of Ireland’s countryside. At the farms there is also a blacksmith forge and a carpenter's workshop.
On the grounds you'll find a delightful café where you can enjoy a piece of cake, a tasty lunch, or maybe just a cup of coffee. Although walking around the gardens and grounds is free, there is an admission charge to the Traditional Farms, as well as to tour Muckross House itself.
Muckross AbbeyTake a stroll to Muckross Abbey. The Abbey, formerly known as the Franciscan friary, dates back to the mid-1400s and is the final resting place of local chieftains and Irish poets. The ruins are well-preserved and you will have the opportunity to view the church, tower, and courtyard. In the center of the courtyard lives an ancient yew tree, which, local legend has it, is as old as the Abbey itself.
Dinis CottageThe historical Dinis Cottage dates back to the 1700s and is located on the shore of Muckross Lake, close to the Old Weir Bridge and the Meeting of the Waters. In recent years, it has been beautifully restored and boasts a lovely tearoom. Although accessible from both Muckross Estate and the Kenmare Road, the easiest route is from Muckross House. Walk away from the front entrance of the house and follow the signs for two kilometers.
Torc WaterfallThe Torc Waterfall is located about 8 km from Killarney Town and not far from the Muckross House. Although not the largest, is the most famous of the Killarney waterfalls. Getting to the waterfall is a fairly easy, from the car park its about a 300 m walk to see the waterfall. The adventurous can continue on from the waterfall and climb the 200 or so steps up the hill to a trail that loops back to the parking lot.
Ross CastleThe three story-high Ross Castle, located on the shores of Lough Leane Lake, was built in the 15th century by O'Donoghue Mór. The picturesque castle is fully restored and contains 16th- and 17th-century oak furniture. History buffs will be interested to know that Ross Castle was the last stronghold in the area to hold out against Cromwell. There's quite a few stairs, many of them uneven and some steep, so be prepared. Make sure you call ahead to find out when the guided tours are being held. At Ross Castle you can take boat trips on the lakes, visit Innisfallen Island, and even hire your own boat to row around the Bay of Ross.
Innisfallen IslandTake the trip to Innisfallen Island on pristine Lough Leane Lake. The quiet, tiny island is the site of a small 12th-century church of red sandstone. A short boat ride from Ross Castle will get you there and you can explore at your leisure by following the old trail that circles the peaceful island.
Gap of DunloeThe Gap of Dunloe is about a 10 kilometers long, narrow, scenic mountain pass between the Purple Mountains and the MacGuillcuddy Reeks Mountains. Five lakes line the route. South to north, they are Black Lough, Auger Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Black Lake, and Coosaun Lough. The road is very narrow and winding but is easy to drive as long as you take your time and be vigilant for cars, jaunty cars, and walkers. If you are thinking of hiking, bring water for the trip. It takes about 2.5 hours to walk through the Gap of Dunloe. There are no facilities along the road but there are one or two small cafés at the beginning of the climb.
VegetationThe park is famous for its native natural habitats and species including oak-holly woods, yew woods, and red deer. Within the National Park are the most extensive areas of natural woodland remaining in the country. On the low-lying Carboniferous Limestone on the lake edges, swamp forest is dominated by Alder, while on the limestone reefs of the Muckross Peninsula is a unique yew wood. In the uplands, the park contains areas of bog and moorland vegetation.
WildlifeRed deer have lived in Ireland since the last Ice Age. A policy of total protection of these animals has been in operation in the National Park since 1964. Among the park’s notable mammals are otters, stoats; hedgehogs, pygmy shrews; Irish hares, foxes; red squirrels, and the American mink. With the varied habitats of mountain moorland, woodland, and lake, the park is also rich in bird life. Local waters are home to salmon and trout, and water-loving birds like Kingfisher and Dipper thrive in the park. Of special interest is the Charr, a species of fish which usually occupies subarctic lakes. Seven species of bat have also been identified within the park.
Visitors InformationAdmission into the Park is free. Car parking is free in all areas. However, an admission charge applies to Muckross House, the Traditional Farms and the Ross Castel. Muckross House and Gardens are open daily from 9 a.m. and closing times are 7.00 p.m. in the summer, and 5:30 pm in the spring, autumn and winter. Ross Castle is only open for tours March through October and pre-booking is essential.
Boat trips are available at Ross Castle and at Dundag in Muckross. Horse-drawn jaunting cars are available in Killarney Town and in Muckross and offer a traditional way of experiencing the National Park. Bicycles can be rented in and around Killarney Town.
The National Park Visitor Center at Muckross House provides much information about the park, including a twenty-minute audiovisual on the landscape, flora and fauna. More information is also available at Information Point, found near Torc Waterfall. Be prepared for the Irish weather – bring a raincoat, something warm, a hat, and possibly even sun cream.
AccommodationsKillarney Town has accommodation to suit all budgets, from budget hostels to luxury 5-star hotels. Guesthouses and bed and breakfasts are widely available in the area. You can easily find bed and breakfasts by the 'B&B' signs that are hung out front. If you are struggling to find accommodation within Killarney Town, remember that Kenmare is only a short drive away and often offers cheaper accommodation options. It is also an interesting town to explore in itself. Additionally, Killarney National Park has a variety of camping options.
Best Time to VisitAlthough summer boasts the nicest weather, May and September can be quite nice too. These months are also low season so there are fewer visitors around and you might get lower rates in B&B's and hotels. Winter may not be the ideal time to travel since many of the establishments close during the off-season from October to Easter.
Getting ThereTwo major highways connect Kerry to the rest of Ireland; the north-south N22 and the east-west N72. Killarney Town is on the Irish Rail system, with direct connections to Dublin, Limerick, and Galway. The Killarney National Park is located only a few kilometers from the nearest town of Killarney. The best way to visit the area is driving a car. The drive through Killarney National Park is spectacular and should not to be missed. If driving on the left is not your thing get on-board the Killarney Hop On Hop Off Big Red Bus and explore the park.
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Author: Ayda. Last updated: May 27, 2015