Home Uncategorized Taking on the Lough Bray Loop hike

Taking on the Lough Bray Loop hike

by Roberto
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Located on one of the most beautiful mountain saddles in Ireland, the Sally Gap, the Lough Bray loop hike is a challenging trail suited for experienced hikers. Circling two lakes, Lough Bray Lower and Lough Bray Upper, its path has stunning views over both lakes from the rim above, and across the Glencree Valley to the conical Great Sugar Loaf mountain.

The area surrounding is part of the Wicklow Mountains National Park. One of six Irish national parks, it covers an area of 220 square kilometres. Lough Bray is 24 km from Dublin city, on the border of County Wicklow, and an easy trip for anyone from the city. The lakes are reached by following the R137 from Dublin as far as Terenure. From there you continue onto the R114 to Rathfarnham. At the Yellow House Pub (pubs are always good for Irish directions- you can’t miss it, it’s a yellow pub) turn to the 115. Follow this all the way into the mountains and you can’t go wrong.

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Some facts about the Lough Bray Loop

  • Lough Bray is located 24 km from Dublin’s city centre on the R115 mountain gap.
  • It is not served by public transport.
  • There is parking at the trailhead in the Wicklow Mountains, but it is recomended to park at the Glencree Centre.
  • The looped walk is 6.5 km or 9 km depending on whether you take that advice
  • The Lough Bray Loop is rated moderate to hard due to the boggy terrain, steep sides, and lack of a proper marked trail
  • The elevation gain is around 300 metres
  • Some wildlife in the area include red deer, and birds that nest in upland bog such as red grouse, snipe, curlew and skylark.
  • Don’t take the kids or pets along due to the steep edges on the rim
  • Hiking boots are essential due to wet terrain and I recommend poles too.
  • Bring water, snacks, a waterproof jacket (it is Ireland), sunscreen, and a map and compass
  • The original shorter trail can be downloaded from alltrails.com and is really helpful

Step by Step on the Lough Bray Loop

I started my hike by arriving at the small car park at a quarry opposite the lakes. As I kitted out I was approached by a helpful group of hikers in possession of some good advice. Along the lines of “don’t park there, cars regularly get broken into”.

Was this to be the end of the hike so? Thankfully for this blog, no. Their advice also suggested to backtrack to the Glencree Visitor Centre, where hikers are welcome to park.

Bear in mind this is what will increase your hike from 6.5 km to 9 km as it includes a long walk along the road back to the visitor centre.

Preferring my car windows intact over any possible blisters I backtracked. I set out walking from Glencree back along the road. I was armed with advice on how to get up the trail too. Keep an eye out for the three signs together, and push up through the ferns beyond. I found these half a kilometer along the road.

Hike entrance
The clear entrance to the path!

From here it’s an elevation gain as you climb to 550 metres above sea level and the rim above the lakes. While the path is rough and wet, it’s still a clear and worn route to the top. You intersect with the other path from the quarry car park as you near the top. It’s advisable not to lose the bottom part of your hiking pole without realising it halfway up too (as yours truly did), as going back to fetch it doesn’t make the hike any easier.

D'oh
Wasn’t the easiest thing to find

Lower Lake

When you reach the top of the lower lake the challenge doesn’t end here. While the path mostly levels off, it’s still as rough as before. The new challenge comes in the drop from the sides, one that will test anyone with a fear of heights.

But those views. The views more than make it all worthwhile. They continue all along the rim above the lower lake, before meeting a small crag of granite known as Eagles Crag. Perhaps it’s known for its eagles but i didn’t meet any on that day. Those looking to shorten the walk can do so here, but it’s a very steep descent down that I wouldn’t fancy.

Upper lake and descent

Once more the path climbs up over the upper lake, with the peak of Kippure Mountain your view to the right. Just when you thought the view couldn’t get any better, it does with a vista over both lakes. Again expect a path that hugs the rim, with hair raising drops to the lake below.

As you descend from the top the path enters an open bog. I’ll be honest I lost the trail here. It just seemed to vanish, around the same time it started to rain. However there was only one direction it could go so I followed my instinct and eventually found it after ten minutes. Do take care in the bog, you can lose a boot in the wet ground or even a whole leg down one of the cracks that often appear in it. Again I’m speaking from past experience.

The path afterwards is quite clear and straightforward. It final crosses a stream before meeting the road, just south of that quarry. If I had taken a risk with the car I would be home dry, but instead it was 2.5km along the road for me. The road is not heavily trafficked so it’s not particularly dangerous to walk on.

Lough Bray Loop Hike
Lower Lake
Lough Bray Loop Hike
Eagles Crag
Lough Bray Loop Hike
View of both lakes just beyond eagles crag
Lough Bray Loop Hike
The steep sides of the lower lake
Lough Bray Loop Hike
Upper lake
bray head loop
Upper lake

Glencree Visitor Centre

As I returned to the Glencree Visitor Centre, I deemed it only polite to return the favour of allowing hikers to use the car park, and so dined in their Armoury Cafe. Besides I was starving, and severely caffeine defficint. A spinach and feta cheese quiche served with chips and a large cappuccino and I was back to myself.

The visitor centre is worth visiting for more than just the food. For such a remote location it has an excellent story behind it. Originally founded as a British barracks to hunt Irish in the wake of the 1798 rebellion, it then served as a reform school, an orphanage and a prison during the world wars. While much of the site is now in ruins, there is an exhibition, and the Glencree centre for peace and reconciliation runs from here, looking to help repair relations in war torn areas around the world. On the grounds are a church and a grotto also.

Glencree Visitor centre
Glencree Visitor Centre

Glencrees most unusual find though is a German war cemetery located nearby. It’s worth stretching those tired legs once more to descend through the grotto of Glencree and pass over to the cemetery, to take in an unusual and unexpected piece of wartime history. Our Irish vlogging friends over at Borders and Beyond released this vlog on the area.


Pro Tip

If you can time your walk just right, so you are coming home in the evening, you can catch the sunset on the Sally Gap. It’s one of the most glorious areas on the east coast to watch the days final showdown. There is parking along the road to jump out and enjoy and the sheep will provide the perfect foreground subject if you can get close enough to them.


Dublin and Wicklow are a paradise for hikes and walks. With a stunning coastline, and a considerable amount of uplands, there’s something for everyone. For a full list of great hikes, ranging from the Howth cliff walk to the Wicklow Way, check out this compilation on the 30 best hikes and walks in Dublin.

Have you tried this hike? Let me know how it went.

Lough Bray Loop

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