Ireland’s 10 best parks for adventure and activity

From Killarney to Lough Key to the Burren to Glendalough, here are the places to walk, bike, camp or picnic

Take a jaunt in Killarney

For a park for all seasons, you'd be hard pressed to beat Killarney National Park in Co Kerry. You can walk through it, boat across it, take a jaunting cart around it or a horse ride in it. At every turn you'll find a view more spectacular than the last, including two waterfalls

Torc and O'Sullivan's Cascade. Tour the house and gardens at Muckross, or take a spin around the 1930s farmsteads of its heritage park.

Go electric in Glenveagh

If you think cycling is better than walking, you'll appreciate that electric bikes are better still. Certainly when you're faced with an estate the size of Glenveagh National Park, a 16,000-hectare wilderness in Co Donegal, you'll welcome a little extra oomph. E-bikes are available from Grass Routes, a bike hire company that takes up residence here in summer. Whizzing around on one should help you outrun the midges that take up residence too.

Tweet from a Wicklow wetlands

Ditch Twitter for twitching at the East Coast Wetlands & Nature Reserve at Kilcoole, Co Wicklow. It's the place to see such feathered friends as little egret, kingfisher and Greenland white-fronted goose. The endangered little tern comes all the way from Ghana to lay its eggs on the beach here, but right now it's all about the skylark, whose song rivals only bees and lawnmowers as the official sound of summer.


Make a break for the Burren

If you think there's a reason just one letter separates Burren and barren, think again. The unique northwest Clare landscape is home to 75 per cent of native Irish flora and this is the time to go, when wildflowers burst through its limestone cracks. It is more than 250sq km in area, with seven way-marked trails and free guided tours in summer.

Bog off in Offaly

Bog has undergone something of a transformation, no longer tantamount to an insult, a la bogman and bog-trotter. Nowadays, it's recognised by our much more insightful young folk as a unique habitat and invaluable part of our natural heritage. See for yourself at the Lough Boora Discovery Park in Co Offaly, a bog-based mix of Mesolithic archaeology, sculpture trail and wildlife park, perfect for wandering and pondering whether anyone says bog-roll anymore.

Find yourself in a Dublin forest

State forestry body Coillte has almost transformed itself into a provider of outdoor pursuits,by building permanent orienteering courses at 13 of its forests, from Ards in Co Donegal to Ballyhoura in Co Limerick, and including many – Carrickgollogan, Hellfire and Massey – handy for Dubs. There are courses for beginners, intermediates and advanced practitioners, and maps are downloadable from its website.

Bike down a mountain in Galway

If you like your outdoor pursuits to provide a little more adrenaline, ditch hiking for biking at one of the dedicated mountain bike paths now in a range of forest parks, including Ticknock in Co Dublin, Portumna in Co Galway and Ballinastoe in Co Wicklow. Among the most scenic is Derroura, a 16km looped biking trail near Oughterard, Co Galway, providing picnic- perfect views north into the Maam valley, west to the Twelve Pins and, at the halfway point, overlooking Lough Corrib.

Picnic on a platform in Wicklow

For a dining-room with a view, you can't beat the platform at Spinc Mountain, in Wicklow Mountains National Park. Accessed via a hidden staircase tucked into a steep forest, it offers panoramic views over Glendalough's lakes. Take the mountaintop boardwalk all the way around the ridge, descending through a deserted miners' village, or stay put and recover from that 600-step staircase with a restorative picnic and a bird's-eye view.

Enjoy the high life in Roscommon

For variety, Lough Key Forest Park has to be the country's top playground. It has a terrific outdoor play area for kids, plus an indoor brain-teaser – the Boda Borg – for all the family, and a treetop canopy walk and zipline course too. It also has trees, and lots of them, which is important given a recent survey found one-third of Irish kids had never climbed one. It also has a campsite, so you can stay over and climb some more tomorrow.

Go wild in the West

At Ballycroy National Park, the big draw is the opportunity to go camping in remote places that nobody has likely set foot on. The 11,000-hectare park, in the midst of the Nephin Beg range in northwest Mayo, is Ireland's first designated "wilderness area". You don't have to go completely off grid, however: it also has a number of Adirondack shelters specially built for trekkers.