Twelve great family cycles around every corner of Ireland

From Curraghchase Forest Park, in Limerick, and Lough Boora Discovery Park, in Co Offaly, to Blessington Greenway, in Co Wicklow, there’s no shortage of places to get some fresh air, fabulous countryside and family fun this summer

Make chase to Curraghchase

Curraghchase Forest Park in Kilcornan, Co Limerick extends to nearly 300 hectares of parkland, lakes and woodlands, with loads of cycling trails - shared with walkers - that are just the right distance for children. The 2.4km Curragh Trail is flat and takes you away from the park’s lake through mature broadleaf and conifer forest while the Glenisca Trail is 3.5km and includes an old cave. In both cases much of your cycling is done under tree canopy, a handy umbrella. All that’s left of the big house is a grand facade and resident bats but there are playgrounds, an orienteering course, picnic spots and barbecue pits, and a campsite to stay over in for tired little legs, including your own. curraghchasecaravanpark.com

The Great Western Greenway offers traffic free cycling from Westport to Achill along the old railway track
The Great Western Greenway offers traffic free cycling from Westport to Achill along the old railway track

Go wild in Westport

Westport is wonderful for cycling with loads of great options for bike hire too. The country’s best known leisure cycle route is the 42km Great Western Greenway, which offers traffic free cycling from Westport to Achill along the old railway track. Destination Westport, a community initiative that could give master classes on tourism management, has been quick to develop a Westport Cycle Hub, extending the offering to cyclists with three relatively short trails around the town, as well as the National Coastal Trail from Westport to Murrisk and Croagh Patrick. Stick around and you’ll have the little legs cycled off you. Clew Bay Bike Hire has bases in towns and villages along the Greenway, so you can cycle just as much as you want to, and shuttle bus back. destinationwestport.com

Lakeside cycling in Portumna

Portumna Forest Park in Galway, on the border with Tipperary, spans 450 hectares with a 15th century abbey, a 17th century castle and very family friendly cycling, suitable even for those still depending on stabilisers. It has a short inner loop of just 1.5km long with a fully tarred surface, which is ideal for tag-a-longs and child seats. There’s a new looped trail too which connects to the town along forest roads with smooth and compact surfaces. For older kids, the forest park’s Bonaveen Cycling Trail is a 10km spin that skirts Lough Derg with lakeshore paths and twisty and narrow forest tracks, which too is almost entirely flat. There are red squirrel to spot, a large herd of resident deer in the park and, if you’re very lucky, a white tailed sea eagle doing some wheeling of its own above. visitportumna.com

Bring the bikes to Lough Key explore the 350 hectare estate made up of parkland and forest
Bring the bikes to Lough Key explore the 350 hectare estate made up of parkland and forest

Zip around Lough Key

For best in family friendly forest parks, you’d be hard pressed to top Lough Key. Bring the bikes to explore the 350 hectare estate made up of parkland and forest, with follies, bridges and canals and innumerable woodland trails. What makes Lough Key so family friendly is that, on those, ahem, very occasional days when it rains in Ireland there are still things to do, with underground tunnels to explore and the Boda Borg quest-style adventure. For younger cyclists, there are 8km of traffic free trails to explore in confidence. For lazier riders, opt for an e-bike from Electric Bike Trails in nearby Leitrim Village to whiz through the hills and miners paths of the surrounding countryside with ease. electricbiketrails.com;loughkey.ie

Bike round Boora

Cycling is a great way to discover Lough Boora Discovery Park in Co Offaly. There are 22km of shared cycle and walking trails to explore plus a dedicated tarred and car free 9km cycle track that novice riders can feel safe on. There are also bike hire options for all the family, including tandems which might suit less confident children even more. Lough Boora is a great way to sneak in a bit of home schooling as you cycle, with bird hides, an ancient Mesolithic site and areas of cut-away bog along the canal. If you’re set to make a day of it, the Turraun Route trail is nearly 16km long. For shorter bursts of energy, the Farmland Route is just 6km and bike hire is available on site from just €3 an hour for kids. loughboora.com

The Ballyhoura Trail Centre boasts the largest mountain bike trail network of its kind in Ireland. Photograph: Gerard McCarthy
The Ballyhoura Trail Centre boasts the largest mountain bike trail network of its kind in Ireland. Photograph: Gerard McCarthy

Twist the tracks in Ballyhoura

Ballyhoura, on the borders of Tipperary, Limerick and Cork, is the country’s best known mountain biking option and a great place for an adrenaline filled home holiday. The Ballyhoura Trail Centre boasts the largest mountain bike trail network of its kind in Ireland, with a challenging mix of forest road climbs, tight twisty single track and board walks, and all the ups, downs and sideways bits you could want. But you don’t have to be Dafydd Davis, its legendary designer, to enjoy it. There’s every sort of option here from the modest 6km Greenwood Loop to the whopping 50km Castlepook Loop which comes with mandatory bragging rights. You can also book the kids in for an introductory mountain biking session for beginners to start them off. visitballyhoura.com

Swallows and cycles in St Mullins

Can there be a more beautiful tow path in the world than the stretch of the Barrow that runs to St Mullins on the Carlow-Kilkenny border? The beautiful grassy path is flat, totally silent and traffic free, even the barges are static. Go early before it gets busy with walkers, but only after fuelling up at the picture perfect Mullichain Cafe. Stop along the way for a picnic lunch or an ice cream and a wander around Graiguenamanagh, before heading on up the canal to Ballytiglea Bridge. Then turn around and enjoy all that beauty from the other direction. At the end of the day you’ll have done a leisurely 20km and made a memory that goes on forever.
waterwaysireland.org

Dash the Deise

The Waterford Greenway opens up the sunny southeast to family friendly off road cycling with 46km of paved pathway running along the former railway from Waterford to Dungarvan. There are loads of places to stop and explore along the way, including Mount Congreve, Kilmeaden and Kilmacthomas. Fly over bridges and viaducts, whiz through tunnels and freewheel past beaches and, if you rent from Waterford Greenway Bikehire (€ 25 a day for adult bikes, a tenner for kids and electric bikes € 45) they’ll pick you up in their free shuttle bus when you’ve had enough. waterfordgreenwaybikehire.com

Portumna has a new looped trail too which connects to the town along forest roads with smooth and compact surfaces
Portumna has a new looped trail too which connects to the town along forest roads with smooth and compact surfaces

Get rugged in Roundwood

For spectacular views out over the Irish Sea on one side and the Sally Gap on the other, take on the challenge of the Ballinastoe Mountain Bike Trail, just outside Roundwood in Co Wicklow. The first half is an uphill task, literally, but well rewards the effort with stunning views out over Lough Tay, the Guinness lake. Hard to believe you’re close to a capital city when it feels so remote, with spruce and Scots pine giving way to open moorland as you climb. It’s a rough and ready track that requires proper mountain bikes for 9km of purpose built singletrack, some of it just 1m wide, with all the technical challenges older kids enjoy, but put the heart crossways on trailing parents. Biking.ie has bike hire at weekends for €30. biking.ie

Greenways for greener cyclists

On the other side of the Sally Gap, the Blessington Greenway offers a much more relaxed alternative to be enjoyed at a gentler pace. It’s made up of easier off-road trails that cover up to 15km along relatively flat terrain, heading south from the west Wicklow town out along the shores of Blessington Lakes, through forest and woodland and past Russborough House, a stately home for a stately pace. If you’re up for it, you can actually double the journey and go right around Blessington Lakes. There’s the Poulaphouca Lake and a dam and wildlife sanctuary to explore and, apart from one main road crossing, it’s pretty much traffic free. CP Adventure has bikes for € 15 for a day or stay over and book a house at The Avon, right on the lake, and hire a bike from its Adventure Centre. cpadventure.ietheavon.ie

Bike a blueway

Opt for the quieter roads and gentler biking of Leitrim’s blueway with a spin around the Drumleague Lock Looped Cycle Trail
Biking on Drumleague Lock Looped Cycle Trail

While the world and its newly sprung granny high tails it off to the coasts, opt for the quieter roads and gentler biking of Leitrim instead, with a spin around the Drumleague Lock Looped Cycle Trail, one of the country’s Blueways, which keep watery views as their main attraction. This looped cycle trail starts at Drumleague Lock and follows the tow path – nice and flat – along the west side of the canal to Battlebridge Lock, where you pass over onto the other side and come back past Drumleague Lock and on to Drumhauver Bridge, cycling on out along the new Acres Lake Floating Boardwalk in Drumshanbo. It’s an ideal option for families looking for a gentle spin not just off road, but on water. waterwaysireland.org