Mountain Bike Trails
Mountain biking in Ireland is a hobby in a hidden world. While others are safe indoors or sitting behind a steering wheel, passionate cyclists are negotiating the hilly, muddy, thrilling and picturesque trails that run up and down the country.
In fact, Ireland is a fabulous place for mountain biking: While the weather is far from tropical, the maritime climate means that you can cycle all year round, and this little island has a huge variety of topography and natural wonder.
Whether you’re a hardened mountain biker, going on a family cycle or somewhere in between, there is a mountain bike trail in Ireland for you.
Let’s start with one that the whole family can enjoy…
On the north shore of Lough Derg in County Galway, you’ll find all 450-hectares of Portumna Forest Park. There are four multi-use trails in this park, and it’s a relatively flat surface, devoid of too many rocks, roots and other little obstacles mountain bikers are used to dodging. In fact, some cyclists are happy to just take their hybrid bike on this route, and kids can frequently be seen on it.
As you might imagine for a place this big, Portumna is endearingly varied: There’s a wide variety of animals you might spot (from squirrels to deer) and the beautiful forestry includes yew trees, oak, ash, hazel and Scots pine.
There are four multi-use trails in the park: There’s a forest trail, with a nice, wide path that’s suitable for all (including wheelchair users) and a woodland trail, which is a bit more rugged, but suitable for families. For mountain bikers, two of the bike trails (Rinmaher and Bonaveen) can be cycled in one very enjoyable 18k journey – a narrow, winding, single track.
Getting a little trickier now, Ballinastoe in the Wicklow Mountains is good for adult beginner or intermediate cyclists. This is a 14k loop, 9k of which has purpose-built tracks and it’s one of five purpose-built Coillte trail centres.
The gentle, incremental climb has two fabulous effects. Firstly, the views are scenic (as any Wicklow native or fan will tell you): You’ll enjoy a grand vista of the Wicklow Mountains when you’re at the journey’s apex. And secondly, the finale of the journey is a speedy zip downhill, neatly delivering you right where you started.
This spot is handy if you’re driving: There are facilities for bike rental, repairs and even washing (there’s a good chance of accumulating some mud).
We talked about Ticknock before in our forest guide, but this Dublin spot is just as popular with bikers as botanists. Ticknock is quite elevated from the start, and it’s relatively steep from the get-go: Trails go from 270 metres above sea level (the entrance point) to 444 metres. So this is an ascent recommended for experienced mountain bikers.
Much of the tarmac and gravel track goes through dense forest, making for an engaging, fast-paced journey.
For those who make the trip, the view at the top is spectacular: It differs from other vantage points mentioned here, in that it takes in the city and the coast. One a clear day you should be able to see numerous Dublin landmarks and all the way out into the Irish Sea.
Ballyhoura, Co Limerick
Arguably the largest single location for mountain biking in the country, Ballyhoura offers over 90k of mountain bike ranges.
As you might expect, these go from 6k easy jaunts (the Greenwoord loop) to the much more challenging 50k Castlepook loop. The latter has a very challenging forest climb that (like many climbs) rewards the cyclist with glorious views and a thrilling descent that’s not for the faint hearted.
This is an especially beautiful part of Limerick, with lush forestry, rugged landscapes and fascinating trails.
There are also options for walkers, with waymarked trails along the glens, valleys and peaks of the Ballyhouras
Clogheen Loop, Tipperary
Probably the most varied trip on the list, this route will take you on roads, forest tracks and onto a mountain. It’s tough, with 22 kilometres and plenty of hill to climb, but popular among locals and (hardened) visitors.
A nice thing about Clogheen Loop is that it’s versatile: Cyclists have been known to extend or shorten their routes here, cutting out bits they don’t like and extending favourites (opting for more of the flats, for instance, or switching roads for rougher ground).
A theme of these journeys is that hard work pays off, not just in fitness, but in the sights at the summit. And Clogheen Loop is no exception, as it takes you to the top of Knockolugga.
This time of year is the start of mountain biking season, as adventurers at different stages of their journeys hit the trails and find their limits. On these trails they’ll find challenges, adrenaline-pumping descents and humbling encounters with nature. Ireland, perhaps more than any other country, is a mountain biker’s paradise.
And remember, all of these locations can be handily found in the OSI Discovery Map series, which will always keep you on the right track.