Hiking Ireland's Croagh Patrick
If you’re heading to the west coast of Ireland and you need something to do in-between pub visits…add this stunning half-day hike up Ireland’s holiest mountain to your list! Here’s a quick little guide from our Marketing + Events Coordinator, Thuc.
Croagh Patrick in County Mayo is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland. It’s one of the highest peaks in Ireland’s west, rising 750 metres above sea level, serving up spectacular views over Clew Bay and the surrounding Mayo countryside.
I thoroughly enjoyed this hike - way more than I’d expected! The start is gentle and takes you through some grassy and rocky sections and as you work your way higher, the views over the bay are very Irish and very pretty!
We hiked Croagh Patrick in late December and the second and third sections (more on the 3 sections further down) were snow-covered, adding the complexity of hiking on ice and snow. I was very thankful that I was in my proper hiking boots instead of just trail runners! Even still, there were a few spots that felt precarious but nothing that deep breaths and firm footing couldn’t solve!
As with all mountains, the weather can be a game-changer. The wind picked up as we were approaching the summit, growing bitterly cold and sweeping in clouds that compromised visibility. The wind was so strong that we couldn’t hear each other talk and so cold that we really struggled to get those all-important iPhone selfies! We spent only mere minutes on the summit before starting back down.
Once I got back through the slippery scree section and defrosted, I could finally relax and enjoy how beautiful the hike was. We had started out mid-morning so by now, it was golden hour. The sun sliced in and out of the moody clouds that had rolled in and then a rainbow appeared over the bay to bid us farewell. Back in Westport, we treated ourselves to frothy Guinnesses and live music. Croagh Patrick is the only mountain I’ve hiked in Ireland so far but it has set the bar high!
Steeped in history
Croagh Patrick is believed to have held significance, even before Christian times, as a pagan pilgrimage route.
Today, the mountain still attracts about one million pilgrims annually. On the last Sunday in July, over 25,000 pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick and celebrate mass at the summit where a modern chapel as been built.
Of course, even if you are not religious, hiking Croagh Patrick is well worth it for the challenge and the landscape.
Start and end point - the Croagh Patrick Visitor Centre is your starting point. It is 10 kilometres (15-minute drive) from Westport.
There is a carpark here and facilities.
Packing list - a small day pack is sufficient to carry your water and snacks. Sturdy hiking shoes with good grip are a must in my books and I highly recommend a lightweight fleece and a rain jacket. I would also advise taking trekking poles (you can rent a stick at the Visitor Centre). I would also take a small First Aid kit; it is a popular hike near town but best be prepared! For example, when we headed up, we only came across 4 other hikers.
The difficulty of the hike: overall 2.5/5
On fine days, this is a half-day hike on mostly moderate gradient and mostly predictable, firm terrain.
Navigation - in terms of route finding, the hike up Croagh Patrick is easy as the trail is very easy to follow.
Gradient - we can break the hike into three sections. The first section is from the carpark through some grassy and rocky sections at a gentle gradient, leading to the shelf of the mountain. The second section is also easy to handle and takes you from the shelf to the base of the final upper slope. The third section is the most difficult; it is the steepest and is on loose scree so footing can be tricky (here is where trekking poles come in handy!).
Length and duration - on average, this hike takes 3-4 hours return (Google Maps above is a little ambitious!)