Scaling the Summit: A Guide to the Highest Mountain in Ireland

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Standing at 1,039 meters, Carrauntoohil holds the title of the highest mountain in Ireland. Located in scenic County Kerry, this peak offers explorers a mix of challenging treks and stunning vistas. Our comprehensive guide will navigate you through the essentials of conquering Carrauntoohil—from trail selection to safety tips, ensuring an unforgettable climbing experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Carrauntoohil stands as Ireland’s highest mountain at 1,039 meters and is located in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks range in County Kerry, offering diverse geographical features and a testament to Ireland’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.

  • Hiking Carrauntoohil requires careful preparation due to rapid weather fluctuations; essential gear includes durable boots, waterproof attire, navigational tools, and safety equipment, with various trails such as the Devil’s Ladder and Coomloughra Horseshoe providing options for different skill levels.

  • After ascending Carrauntoohil, visitors can explore other attractions in County Kerry, including Killarney with its range of accommodations and sights, as well as other notable highs like Lugnaquilla and Brandon Mountain for those seeking further mountainous adventures.

Discovering Carrauntoohil: Ireland’s Highest Mountain

A scenic view of Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest mountain, surrounded by the MacGillycuddy's Reeks mountain range

Nestled in the picturesque County Kerry, Carrauntoohil stands tall as the highest mountain in Ireland, reaching an impressive 1,039 meters into the sky. It forms a part of the majestic MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range, a crown jewel of the Irish countryside.

The allure of Carrauntoohil lies not just in its height, but in the raw, untouched beauty of its landscapes and the exhilarating challenges it presents to hikers.

Geology and Geography

Carrauntoohil is a testament to nature’s artistry, crafted from resilient sandstone and set amidst a landscape of mountainous ridges and deep valleys. The mountain’s diverse geography, stretching from western County Cork to Valencia Island, offers a unique backdrop for an unforgettable hiking adventure.

Naming Origins

The name Carrauntoohil holds a deep connection to Irish culture and history. Derived from ‘Corrán Tuathail’, it translates to ‘Tuathal’s sickle’, paying tribute to the traditional male first name, Tuathal, in Ireland.

This intriguing name further adds to the mountain’s charm, making it a beloved symbol of Ireland’s rich heritage.

Preparing for Your Hike: Weather and Safety Tips

Tackling Carrauntoohil is an ambitious undertaking. Due to its high altitude and close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, weather conditions can fluctuate rapidly, transitioning from clear skies to fog, wind, and rain within minutes. Thus, thorough preparation and well-timed planning are integral to a successful hike.

As you embark on your adventure, it’s imperative to gear up with:

  • Durable boots

  • Waterproof attire

  • Additional layers

  • Fundamental navigational tools like a tangible map and compass

  • Safety equipment like a whistle and first aid kit

These items form an essential part of your hiking kit.

Trail Options: Finding the Right Route for You

Carrauntoohil provides a multitude of walking routes, each offering its distinct set of challenges and rewards. One of the most popular options is the Devil’s Ladder, a direct path to the summit that attracts many hikers with its straightforward route.

For those seeking a more challenging adventure, Brother O’Shea’s Gully provides a moderate to strenuous option. This trail involves easy scrambling and offers a stunning viewing point at the ‘first level’, although caution is advised at exposed spots.

Experienced hikers may want to take on the Coomloughra Horseshoe, a demanding route that includes Ireland’s three highest peaks. This trail involves:

  • a steep initial ascent

  • an alternative descent option

  • a high level of physical fitness

  • readiness for exposure to heights

A Journey Through Carrauntoohil: From Cronin’s Yard to the Summit

A challenging section of the hike featuring the Devil's Ladder route leading to the summit of Carrauntoohil

The voyage to Carrauntoohil’s summit commences at the famous Cronin’s Yard. Traversing the initial trail, the stunning vistas of lakes, rivers, and rough terrain will greet you, setting the mood for the ensuing adventure.

The hike from Cronin’s Yard to the summit is a challenging one, composed of three main sections and spanning an 11.4-kilometer out-and-back trail. The three main sections are:

  1. The initial ascent, which is a gradual climb through grassy slopes.

  2. The Devil’s Ladder, which is a steep ascent and slippery section that requires careful navigation and often involves scrambling over rocks with hands. This section takes around 35 minutes to ascend.

  3. The final push to the summit, which involves a rocky and exposed climb.

This challenging hike tests your endurance and resilience, but the stunning views from the summit make it all worth it.

The reward, however, is worth every step. Reaching the summit of Carrauntoohil, you’ll be greeted with:

  • Panoramic views across Kerry

  • Landmarks such as a wind shelter and a large cross

  • Sights of wildflowers and wildlife

  • The opportunity to take a dip in Ireland’s highest lake if the weather permits

Descending Carrauntoohil: Exploring Alternative Routes Down

A scenic view of the Heavenly Gates route, an alternative descent path from Carrauntoohil

Coming down from Carrauntoohil’s summit presents as much of a challenge as the climb up. It’s vital to backtrack your route to steer clear of dangerous areas, particularly the north, northeast, east, or southeast directions from the summit that could be treacherous.

While descending via the Devil’s Ladder may take longer, it’s considerably less precarious and generally recommended. For a more picturesque pathway, the Heavenly Gates descent offers a scenic waterfall and the thrill of navigating through a cleft. However, this route should be approached with caution, particularly near streams not crossed on the outward journey, as the devil’s ladder route is a safer option.

Nearby Attractions and Accommodations: Making the Most of Your Trip

The charming town of Killarney with Killarney National Park in the background

Once you’ve successfully ascended Carrauntoohil, you might be interested in discovering more of County Kerry’s attractions. The nearest major town, Killarney, known for its abundance of hotel beds outside of Dublin, offers a wide range of accommodation options. From luxury hotels to traditional Irish bed and breakfasts, there’s something for every preference.

In addition to rest and relaxation, Killarney offers a range of attractions. You can stroll through the stunning Killarney National Park, visit the historical Muckross House and Ross Castle, or simply take in the breathtaking views at Ladies View and Torc Waterfall. The surrounding areas of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks also offer additional attractions like the scenic Gap of Dunloe, the tranquil Caragh Lake, and the spectacular Irish scenery along the Kerry Way.

Conquering More Peaks: Other High Mountains in Ireland

Although Carrauntoohil is essential for any hiking aficionado, Ireland boasts several other highest mountains that merit exploration. Lugnaquilla, for instance, is the tallest peak in the Wicklow Mountains and the highest peak in Ireland outside County Kerry, standing at an impressive 925 meters.

Another notable peak among Ireland’s highest mountains, including those in Northern Ireland, is Brandon Mountain in County Kerry. Known for its Christian pilgrimage route, this mountain boasts an elevation of 952 meters, making it the third-highest central peak in Ireland.

For those eager to conquer more peaks, the likes of Cnoc na Péiste, Galtymore, Slieve Donard, Mweelrea, and the Galty Mountain Range offer thrilling hikes with stunning views, including picturesque lakes.

The Majesty of Irish Mountains: Capturing the Beauty and Culture

A mythical and picturesque Irish mountain landscape with cultural connections and historical significance

Irish mountains extend beyond being mere geographical entities; they weave a rich tapestry of myths, legends, and cultural ties. From stories of the formidable giant Fionn McCool who is said to have created the Giant’s Causeway, to the tragic tale of the Children of Lir who were cursed to live as swans for 900 years, these mountains are steeped in folklore that adds to their allure.

The cultural landscape of the Irish mountain communities is just as vibrant. With the Dingle Peninsula’s Irish-language speakers and the goddess Ériu, after whom Ireland is named, these mountains symbolize a deep cultural connection to the landscape. Historic figures like Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen, have left an indelible mark on Irish culture, enriching the experience of hiking in the Dingle Peninsula.


In essence, hiking Carrauntoohil is more than just a physical challenge; it’s a journey that takes you through Ireland’s stunning landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture. From the rugged terrain of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range to the serene vistas atop Carrauntoohil’s summit, every step on this adventure offers an unforgettable experience.

But the adventure doesn’t end at Carrauntoohil. With a plethora of other high mountains waiting to be explored and a wealth of attractions in Killarney and beyond, Ireland is a treasure trove for hiking enthusiasts. So lace up your boots, pack your gear, and set off on your Irish hiking adventure. The mountains are calling!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 3 highest mountains in Ireland?

The three highest mountains in Ireland are Carrauntoohil (Corrán Tuathail) at 1,038.6 meters, Beenkeragh (Binn Chaorach) at 1,010 meters, and Caher at 1,001 meters. This makes up the 3 Peaks of Ireland Challenge.

Is Ben Nevis harder than Carrauntoohil?

Yes, Ben Nevis is generally considered harder than Carrauntoohil. The challenging terrain makes it a tough walk.

Is errigal the highest mountain in Ireland?

No, Mount Errigal is not the highest mountain in Ireland, but it is still a beautiful and iconic peak in the stunning landscape of Donegal.

What are the 4 mountains in Ireland?

The four mountains in Ireland are Carrauntoohil in County Kerry, Mweelrea in County Mayo, Slieve Donard…

How difficult is it to hike Carrauntoohil?

Hiking Carrauntoohil is a challenging adventure due to its high altitude and changing weather conditions. Be sure to prepare thoroughly and check the forecast, wear proper gear, and carry necessary safety equipment.

About the author

Originally from Scotland, Colin now resides near the beautiful seaside town of Portstewart on the Causeway Coastal Route. By day he works in IT and by day off he spends much of his time travelling around the Island with his young family, writing about his experiences for many sites both locally and nationally.