So far in my 38 years of life, I haven’t discovered anything as peaceful as walking through the woods, looking up at the tree canopy, and watching the sun push through the leaves and illuminate the trail ahead of me.
And, if there is one thing that we can take away from the past 18 years of travelling together, both in Ireland and abroad, is that the joy isn’t gathered from a sheer number of places or countries that we have visited but by the experiences, we had in each place, and by people, we met along the way.
It was during the hike up to the top of Knocknarea on a warm summer night to see a sunset that I identified what makes me happy and what makes me-me. We may have stopped quite a lot on the way up to catch our breath and to take photos, but watching the fleeting sun, I suddenly realised that being in nature makes my heart full and my head clear.
I loved the effort of hiking, reaching the top of a mountain for rewarding views, and eating a healthy picnic in celebration.
Ever since that day, I discovered my passion for hiking and when the beckoning of the mountains grow louder, we pack our adventure gear and head towards the Knocknarea Mountain, located within a short drive from our home.
A Fantastic walk for a weekend: Hiking Queen Maeve’s Trail in Sligo
With all the uncertainty surrounding the world of travel in current times, more and more people are looking for a secure way to take a vacation. Don’t brush off an opportunity to explore Ireland, staying closer to home for a summer holiday means you can swap spending time in long security lines and airport terminals for a more enjoyable experience.
If you are looking for a memorable staycation spot, why not visit Sligo? If you feel swept up in a rush of life then a visit to Sligo, where you can hike Knocknarea mountain with Queen Maeve’s cairn located on its summit, can awaken a deep appreciation for the world around you. Having lived in Sligo for two years, we’ve always thought of Knocknarea as a small oasis of tranquillity that provides hikers with the relaxation they need.
If you are interested in checking out one of the top trails in Sligo, then keep on reading. In this blog post, we are sharing everything you need to know about the hike. We hope this guide helps you plan your hiking adventures in Sligo and if you found this guide helpful, feel free to share it with your friends.
Safety always first
Although many countries, Ireland including are easing on travel restrictions, the pandemic is far from over and that’s why it is very important, once you rush out the door, to follow the guidelines imposed by the government. Research rules and regulations of the city or a region you are travelling to. Being respectful of the health and safety measures during the pandemic crisis is of paramount importance. Don’t forget that your holiday spot is someone else’s home town, traveling at the moment is a privilege and we can’t do it at the expense of locals’ safety.
- Pack enough alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) and keep it within easy to reach.
- Make sure you wash your hands often, especially after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose.
- Wear your mask and change it regularly
- Avoid close contact with others
What to expect from the hike
Hiking Knocknarea is a memorable and inspiring experience like no other, and it’s well worth your time and effort as every meter of the path bring you closer to the mountain, magical moments, and incredible views. The trail includes over 500 wooden steps, so make sure it’s the right hike to suit your fitness level.
As you put one foot in front of the other again and again take time to notice your surroundings and every little detail, this way, the whole journey to the top will leave a lasting impression.
Once at the top, you’ll be greeted with fantastic views. Take your time revelling in the splendour before heading back down to the car park. Watch the waves rolling in and take in the panorama of Ben Bulben, Rosses Point, Coney Island and far away to the North, Slieve League cliffs.
Although its distinctive peak is a mere 327 metres, there are three different paths to reach its summit; each of them challenging enough to keep any hiker satisfied.
But the most fantastic aspect of Knocknarea, according to Irish mythology and folklore, is the colossal cairn sitting at the top of it said to be the Queen Maeve, the Warrior Queen of Connaught, last resting place. It is said she’s buried standing in an upright position fully dressed in her battle gear.
What to bring on the hike
Heading out for a walk, be it with friends, family or by yourself, is a fantastic way to explore nature, but you always have to be prepared for changing weather, and you have to carry proper equipment.
As for any walking holiday, it’s advisable to pack lightly yet you need to be prepared for weather and activities.
There are a few essential things you need to bring along no matter how long or short the hike is. You can even make a list if necessary because you don’t want to realise, a mile or two into the walk that you’ve left your water bottle or phone behind.
- Backpack | For a safe space to keep all your supplies, bring your backpack. A backpack should be comfortable and well-fitting with easy access to everything you need.
- Hiking boots or shoes | Appropriate footwear with a good grip is essential for any hiking trip, no matter how big or small. If you have strong ankles and are in good shape, bring you trail running shoes. Otherwise, stick to hiking shoes.
- Sun protection | Even when the weather is cloudy, sun protection is a vital part of any hiking adventure. Bring your sunglasses, SPF lip balm, hat and sunscreen to protect your skin and had from the sun.
- Rain jacket | Hiking in Ireland means you have to bring a waterproof jacket. Weather can always change within minutes, and there’s still a chance of being caught out in the rain.
- Hydration | Plenty of water because staying hydrated while exercising is vital for your body. Water will keep your joints and muscles working correctly and keep you cool on a hot day.
- Nutrition |Bring plenty of food such as energy bars, dried fruits, nuts or even a sandwich you can eat once you have reached the top.
Know before you go
The Queen Maeve’s Trail is pretty much a straightforward hike. But nevertheless, before you start, familiarise yourself with the trail map, check the weather forecast, sunset times and dress accordingly. Ireland is known for unpredictable weather.
- Stay on the trail | Always follow the market path and stay on the trail. It’s essential because humans can have a considerable impact on the soil, that’s full of water and nutrition and is used as “food” for various plants and microorganisms. When we walk on it, our body weight compresses the soil underneath our feet and thus reduces the amount of water and air it holds.
- Don’t climb the cairn | It is good luck to carry a stone to the top of the mountain, and it’s bad luck to remove one. It is also forbidden to climb the cairn after all Knocknarea is a historical site and therefore should be respected and looked after, both by locals and visitors alike.
- Leave no trace| Respect the environment you are exploring and follow the leave, no trace principles. Always carry a bag with you to haul your litter and even someone else’s you see on a trail. From cigarette buts to empty water bottles – litter is ugly and bad for the environment.
- Emergency | In the event of an emergency please call 999112 and ask for Mountain Rescue.
Quick facts about Queen Maeve’s trail
Trail Lenght: 2.4 kilometres out and back, Elevation Gain: 300 metres, Difficulty: Strenuous, Terrain: Pathways and mountain terrain, Location: 54.2703551161 8.5847854614
If you are arriving by car, you can leave it in the car park of the Sligo Rugby Football Club and easily access the trailhead, located just across the road. The trail is in excellent condition, and the beginning of it is wide enough for two people to walk hand in hand.
The level section quickly becomes a steep stairway before you go through the gates and turn right onto a short and horizontal path. Here you can catch your breathe and enjoy the first views of the surrounding landscape while making your way to the viewpoint.
From this viewpoint, the path changes to grip-covered wooden steps that will bring you through a beautiful wooded area after which the trail becomes natural – and can be muddy in wet weather conditions – all the way to the top of the mountain.
Getting to the trailhead
The Queen Maeve Trail is located on Strandhill Road, right across the road from the Sligo Rugby Club. Next to it is the beautifully preserved 200-year-old thatched house known as Dolly’s Cottage and the trail can be easily reached from both Strandhill and Sligo town.
- By bus | If you don’t have a car, you can catch an early morning bus from Sligo to the Sligo Rugby Club. You can stock up on essential snacks and drinks at the nearby gas station before heading for the top. Keep in mind though, that the bus service only runs more or less once per hour.
- Driving From Sligo | Head southwest on N4 toward Markievicz, turn right onto Lord Edward St/R292 and follow R292 to the Rugby Club car park.
Things to do nearby – visit Strandhill village
After the hike, you can either choose to travel to Sligo or Strandhill, where you can relax and fuel yourself with a hearty meal. In Strandhill, you can pop in the beachfront pub Strand Bar where you can feast on a seafood chowder followed by ice cream at Mammy Johnson’s.
Strandhill, a lovely seaside village that shouldn’t be missed on your trip, can also be used as a base for hiking Knocknarea and for exploring County Sligo and its surroundings. There are a couple of fantastic hotels and B&Bs, a golf resort, a weekly market, plenty of award-winning cafes, and incredible surf.
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Now, over to you!
Have you ever been on a Queen Maeve Trail? Let us know in the comments!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Sligo and have travel-related questions!