Co Donegal: one walk, one run, one hike, one swim, one cycle, one park and one outdoor gym

Your essential, outdoor, family-friendly guide to Co Donegal

 
This summer, The Irish Times will offer tips, advice and information for parents on how to help their children thrive during the holiday months. Read all about it at  irishtimes.com/summeroffamily

When the weather is good, there is so much to do outdoors in Ireland – solo, or with family or friends. Here are seven activities - with locations, descriptions, tips and some maps for a general guide.

Below you can read John O’Dwyer’s pick for a great walking path, Conor O’Keeffe on a running route, Rozanna Purcell recommends a hiking trail, Mary McCarthy on an outdoor swimming location, Ian O'Riordan picks a cycle trip, Sylvia Thompson on a family-friendly park and Fiona Alston selects a popular outdoor gym.

And remember, whatever you do and wherever you go, please be safe. And enjoy. 

ONE WALK

Name Tower Loop
Distance 10km
Approximate duration 3 hours
Difficulty Strenuous
Starting point Google Maps Glencolumbcille firestation (grid reference G 529 847)
Amenities Parking, cafes and pubs
Rough underfoot conditions in places demand sturdy footwear, and a full set of protective clothing is required. In mist, navigational skills may be required on Beefan and Garveross mountains.
Read: Donegal’s ancient byway

ONE RUN

Name: Glenveagh – Lakeside Walk Glenveagh National Park,Churchill
Length: 3.5km (7km out and back)
Grade: Easy
Terrain: A mostly flat gravel path
Route type: Linear
Footwear: Road or Trail Runners
Background: This trail brings you through the glen from the visitor centre. It begins at the bus stop near the visitor centre to Glenveagh Castle and Gardens. The run begins at the bus shelter from where there is a wondrous view of the valley of Glenveagh and continues along the shores of Lough Veagh.

Route Information: The run starts through a stand of mature Austrian Pines and scattered native broadleaved trees such as holly, rowan and birch. See if you can identify each one (the app PlantNet will help you out here!). Past the wooden shingled roofed boathouse is a recently constructed bridge over the Owencarrow River. The bridge was constructed by park staff using seasoned larch and recycled plastic decking. Am I the only one who loves running over bridges? Thought not! The Owencarrow River is the main outflow from Lough Veagh which eventually meets the sea at the Lackagh Bridge near Doe Castle. The Owencarrow river is home to breeding salmon, trout, eel, freshwater pearl mussel, and otter. Keep and eye out for them as you run! Beyond the bridge the path takes runners out on to the more open landscape of blanket bog and wet heath habitat that is typical of much of Glenveagh and the west of Ireland generally. These wet peatlands may look quite barren with the lack of large tree life but they are home to an abundance of flora and fauna, many of which are unique to these types of habitat.

As the path meanders along the glen and lake side there are beautiful views across Lough Veagh and it’s scattered islets to the cliffs and open hilltops beyond. Make sure you raise your head and look around from time to time to really allow the scenery to soak in. This sublime landscape offers a taste of a remote and peaceful Irish wilderness in all its raw beauty. Further along you will find examples of small native scrub woodland and the trickle of mountain streams. The path ends in the wonderful castle gardens, an amazing botanical contrast to the wilder surrounding landscape. Once you get there you can relax, take on some water and make your way back to the start for a lovely 7km run that’ll get your blood pumping and fill your hungry eyes with beautiful natural West Coast scenes. (Aided by: Coillte)

ONE HIKE

Hike name Mount Errigal
Distance 4.4km
Elevation gain 504m
Approximate duration 2.5-3 hours
Difficulty Intermediate/advanced
Route type Out and back
Starting point See AllTrails Mount Errigal
Amenities Parking
Dog-friendly? No
Tips You’ll come across loose stones near the top, so take care: have the hands free just in case

ONE SWIM

Name: Harry’s Hole
Location: Google Map: Dunfanaghy
Brief description:
Sheltered diving pool
Amenities: No
Lifeguard: No
Water quality: Excellent (swimming distance (for strong swimmers) from Blue Flag Marble beach)
Tips: You can swim only at high tide which makes it even more special. A great time to go is 7am though in summer you’ll rarely have the place to yourself.

Vicki McGrath at Harry’s Hole, Marble Hill, Co Donegal.
Vicki McGrath at Harry’s Hole, Marble Hill, Co Donegal.

ONE CYCLE

Name: The Donegal Cycle Route
Start location: Donegal Town/Newtowncunningham
Route: A linear route that can be tackled from either direction, the Donegal Town start taking in Mountcharles, Inver, Ardara, Dungloe, Loughanure, Crolly, Dunlewey, Creeslough, Glen, Milford, Ramelton, Letterkenny, broken into 14 sections.
Distance: 200km in total.
Time: Dependent on number of sections, a few hours to all day.
Highlights: The magnificent coastline and myriad of landscapes, mostly along quiet and scenic local roads, some main roads offering a parallel segregated cycle path.
Look out for: Three signed loops on the route – The Dooey Way Loop, The Maghery Way Loop and the Bunlin Way Loop, which offer short scenic circular diversions along the route.
Tips: The route is a section of the trans-national EuroVelo 1, the Atlantic Coast Route running from the North Cape in Norway to Porto in Portugal, so why stop here? (For the full EuroVelo1 Route see eurovelo.com)

The Donegal Cycle Route.

ONE PARK

Park name: Glenveagh National Park.
Amenities: A vast track of land (16,000 hectares) with moorland, mountains, woodlands and lakes, this park is suitable for families who enjoy hiking.
Special features: Glenveagh Castle, a 19th Century castellated mansion surrounding by gardens with exotic plants.
Access: 24 km north-west of Letterkenny, the park is most easily accessed by car. Cars park near visitor centre. Google Map “Glenveagh National Park”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads only.
Tip: Check weather conditions before planning an outing and bring rainproof clothing and footwear.

Glenveagh National Park, Lough Veagh Donegal
Glenveagh National Park

ONE OUTDOOR GYM

Name: Letterkenny Town Park
Equipment: Assisted pull-up, leg press, bench general, chest press, cross trainer, lat pull-down, shoulder press, plyometric boxes, recumbent bike, spinning bike.
Location: Google Maps
Information: The park is a great space for exercise and also has a great kids’ play park, a herb garden and a church. 

Get Active Series
- 32 great walking routes in Ireland - one in each county
- 32 great hikes in Ireland
- 32 great running routes
- 32 great outdoor swim locations
- 32 great cycling routes
- 32 great parks
- 32 great outdoor gyms

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