A Fantastic Walk for a Weekend: Benbulben Forest Walk in Beautiful Sligo

One of the best ways to stay inspired and stretch out creative muscles, while living in a fast-paced society, is to head out into the countryside, rain or shine. I firmly believe that being in the wild will push you to new limits, and I believe that by exploring the diverse world of rurality will broaden your horizons. And, in return, you’ll be empowered by the ability to see how everything in our lives has a purpose.

Despite the constantly changeable weather conditions and ongoing pandemic crisis, we’ve been blessed to spend a lot of time outdoors recently, which has been especially healing. From physically exerting myself in the ocean by taking up cold water swimming and enjoying the powerful effect of the Atlantic ocean to exploring nearby woodlands and valleys on those rare sunny days; we thrive on all of the challenges nature throws at us.

Having lived in Sligo for three years, we’ve always thought of Benbulben Forest Walk as a small oasis of tranquillity that provides hikers with the relaxation they need. We love spending early mornings in the woods for the chance to see the sun hitting the soft leaves. There’s something special about early morning light and there’s something special about the softness and quietness of the surroundings.

Blossoming rhododendron flowers along the Benbulben Forest trail in early summer
En route to the Benbulben Forest Walk in Sligo

With its easily identifiable flat top rising up to 1,726 ft, Benbulben Mountain, named after a Gaelic chieftain, is one of Sligo’s most recognizable landmarks. The mountain is formed from Dartry limestone and there are many routes up the mountain if you wish to reach its summit to get a birds eyes view of Yeats Country.

But you don’t have to scramble up the steep slopes to fully appreciate its unique shape and size.

Within a short drive from Sligo town lies a lovely looped trail that can bring you right to the imposing mountain, and with the warmth gradually returning to Sligo, we set out to explore Benbulben Forest walk once more a few weekends ago. The rain soon caught up with us as we meandered on back roads.

The sun filtered and sifted through the abundant cloud cover yet never made an appearance. We stayed around for an hour, drinking hot tea and watching young, playful lambs frolicking through the grassy fields, but as the conditions didn’t improve, headed back home.

We returned again last week and were greeted by blooming rhododendrons and a gorgeous blue sky.

A photo from one of many winters walks
The fluffy, white seed heads of cotton grass
Benbulben Forest Walk trail in Sligo

A Fantastic Walk for a Weekend: Benbulben Forest Walk in Beautiful Sligo

There’s no secret that Sligo’s stunning scenery and unique landscapes offer a real escape from the hectic lives so many of us are living and that’s why there’s no better way to soak up the true essence of Sligo’s charm than to head into the great outdoors.

For visitors and locals alike, Sligo is home to a wide range of stunning walks. From Queen Maeve Trail to Killaspugbrone Loop walk, it’s hard to pick a favourite trail, but Benbulben Forest Walk comes pretty close in my book.

In this blog post, we are sharing everything you need to know about the beautiful loop walk, including how to get there, what to bring along and things to do nearby.

If you love using weekends and free time for outdoor activities, then keep on reading.

One of many captivating sea views


What to expect from Benbulben Forest Walk

On the Benbulben forest walk also known as the Gortarowey looped walk, you’ll be rewarded with peaceful surroundings and panoramic views. You’ll love the distinctive shape of the mountain and the ever-flowing beauty of its ragged edges.

Rhododendrons – Although they are a non-native, invasive species in Ireland, with its vibrant, eye-popping curtains of pink and purple blooms covering Ireland’s landscape in the months of May and June Rhododendron is a sight to behold. Easily recognisable by its distinctive flowers and large dark green, oval leaves, the plant can be found in the wilder parts of the Irish countryside, Benbulben Forest walk including.

Unique Fauna – There are many plants around Benbluben that you won’t find anywhere else in Ireland and many of them are artic in origin. A rare plant known as Tea Leaf Willow or Irish Willow grows high up on the North Face Gullys of Benbulben.

The Mountain – The trail offers a fantastic opportunity to be up close to this epic mountain and when the walk loops around the first bend, you’ll get the added beauty of the magnificent Benbulben, so beloved and immortalised by William Butler Yeats.

Tranquillity – Nature is a source of beauty that can increase pleasant feelings and reduce stress. Listening to the sounds of nature nurses the well-being of the mind and makes us much happier.

The Views – Expect beautiful woodlands, scenic views of Donegal Bay, Slieve League and the Blue Stacks Mountains.

Benbulbin up close and personal

Quick facts about the trail

Benbulben Forest Walk is a very well maintained and signposted loop walk and a great way to spend a couple of hours if you haven’t time for a big trail.

Getting there | To explore the forest trail at the base of Ben Bulben, take the N15 road north of Sligo for 8km. Continue for 1.6km after Drumcliff village where W.B.Yeats is buried. It shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes to reach the trail.

The Trail |  The trail is 5.5km in lengths, waymarked with red arrows and shouldn’t take longer than 1.5 hours to complete. The loop runs around the outside of the wood and finishes by running through a logged out area and can be used for running, walking and hiking.

Difficulty | Benbulben Forest walk doesn’t involve climbing the mountain and given its simplicity and length make it perfect for families.

Parking | About 400m from the main road you can leave your car in a designated parking lot. Parking and an entrance to the looped walk are free of charge.

One of many sheep’s happy to pose for a photo

What to bring on a hike

Heading out for a day hike is a delightful way to explore natural surroundings, but before you set out on the walk, make sure weather conditions are good enough for being outdoors, otherwise, there isn’t much cover if it starts lashing down. And as you know, it rains quite a lot in Ireland.

Weather circumstances are quick to change on Ireland’s West coast. particularly during the winter month, so make sure you are equipped with the right clothing and footwear, even if it’s a short trail. To determine what you need to bring on a hike, think about how far you plan to hike, how remote the area is and what are you planning to do after.

On a misty day you may not be able to see the views or the mountain itself, so do check the weather forecast before you set out.

Appropriate clothing – Good sturdy boots or runners would be perfect for this walk as the ground is uneven in places and can be muddy in wet conditions.

Camera – Don’t forget to bring your camera. While hiking Sligo’s green valleys and exploring mountainsides, you’ll want to capture the moments and sweeping views.

Food – Also bring plenty of food (like energy bars and nuts that you can eat easily on the trail) and plenty of water.

The unique shape of Benbluben was sculpted by glaciers during the last ice age.

Things to do nearby

Benbulben Forest Walk is located within close proximity to many other interesting tourist attractions which means that you can pair it up to make your day even more exciting.

Raghly Harbour | Designed by the famous Scottish engineer, Alexander Nimmo  and located only 13.5 km from Benbulben Forest Walk, Raghly Harbour takes in beautiful views of Sligo’s majestic mountains, rugged coastline and picturesque countryside. There are also several sea birds to be spotted in the area the dark-bellied Brent and the red-throated diver among them.

Lissadell House | Situated on the shores of Sligo Bay, Lissadell House and Gardens make for a perfect stopover for anyone interested to learn about the history of the Gore-Booth family and the famous Countess Markiewicz. The setting of the estate, the stunning backdrop of the surrounding mountains, the sea at your feet and alpine gardens

Drumcliff | Why not visit the village of Drumcliffe famous for being Yeats resting place? Located in a peaceful churchyard under the mighty Benbulben, W.B.Yeats grave is adorned with a simple headstone. Close by is the site of a 6th Century Columbian monastery and coffee shop selling home-baked goods and various crafts.

Early spring morning at the Raghly Harbour, Sligo

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Now, over to you!

Have you ever been on Benbulben Forest Walk? Let us know in the comments!

Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Sligo and have travel-related questions!

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55 thoughts on “A Fantastic Walk for a Weekend: Benbulben Forest Walk in Beautiful Sligo

    1. Thank you very much. I couldn’t be happier to have such a lovely trail on our doorstep. Although the forest itself is quite small and doesn’t provide much cover for when it’s raining, it is a fantastic looped trail for any time of the year. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, Meg 🙂 Hiking is a fun, relaxing way to experience the great outdoors with friends and family, and that’s why we’ve been returning to Benbulben Forest Walk many times over the last few month 🙂 Have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Your little one is really growing up Aiva. I remember staring at Benbulben as we drove by it in June 2017 for what seemed like forever. It does stand out. We drove on by as we had a schedule to keep. The forest walk looks enticing. Are there also trails up the mountain? It is too hot here this week for walks of any kind. Supposed to hit +36-38 by Wednesday. Thanks so much for sharing. Have a great week. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Allan 🙂 There is nothing like reconnecting with friends or loved ones on a journey through nature, and Benbulben Forest Walk is one of those places that reawaken your sense of wonder. There are a few ways to reach its flat top, one of the hikes to Benbulben commences at Lukes Bridge and the ascent route climbs gently up the gully and to the summit plateau. And, yes, Ericeira is growing up quite fast and all of a sudden she’s not a toddler but a preschooler getting ready to develop the basic life skills, independence, and knowledge that they will need as they enter their school years. Wow, +38’C sounds quite a lot! The air temperature reached +37 degrees in Latvia last week, so it looks like with +14’C in Ireland today, we are left out of enjoying much-needed sunshine. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

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    1. Thanks so much, Marion 🙂 There’s beauty in returning to the same places to see the seasons change. Despite last week’s heavy rain and wind, the rhododendron display was still as beautiful as ever with a wonderful array of colours along with a number of flowering specimen trees. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

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    1. Thank you kindly. Benbulben Forest Walk is one of the most spectacular trails in Sligo as it brings you so close to the iconic mountain 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

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  2. So, so pretty! Those cliffs are so distinctive and awe inspiring. The photographs are beautiful, especially Ericeira with the blossoms and the lovely little harbor. I am longing for a trip to the seaside and must head south soon. K x

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    1. Thanks so much, Kerry 🙂 I know that children connect with nature when they have the freedom to touch and interact with it, but I usually limit the number of flowers she can pick along the trails, particularly in areas with sensitive or vulnerable ecosystems, but as rhododendrons are invasive species, I made an exception, and she was allowed to snap a few blooming branches. I was curious to see what’s the closest beach to Texas and Google tells me that it’s Galveston, 205 miles to the southeast, located on the Gulf of Mexico. Is that where you guys usually go? Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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      1. From what I remember rhododendrons are from Asia – and they are all over Glasgow, too. My mum remembered picking ‘Our Lady’s Earrings’ (Fuchsia) that grew wild in Sligo, back in the day. Our nearest beach is probably Galveston or Kemah. Usually I am happy with a lake, which often have beaches, but after this year I miss the sea. We usually avoid Galveston in the summer as it is PACKED!!! The best beaches are at Corpus Christi by the Mexican border – glorious white sand.

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  3. Such beautiful pictures. I expecially love the one of Benbulben Mountain with the cottage. Monring light really does bring a softness doesn’t it. I found a typo though. You said fauna and I think you meant flora. Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Maggie 🙂 We are fortunate to have a good few family-friendly looped walks in Sligo which are suitable for all ages and levels of fitness. We can usually speed around Benbulben Forest Walk looped trail in under an hour, but the route has the potential to keep any kids, Ericeira including, entertained for much longer. Thanks for letting me know about the typo, somehow it slipped by unnoticed. Have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

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  4. I have to say, it looks idyllic, Aiva. Rhodies are some of my favourite plants and the scenery in that awesome light is really beautiful. Lovely to see your little one enjoying it too 🙂 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Jo 🙂 I love Rhodies, too and I love how Rhodies come in a wide spectrum of colours. There are probably thousands of different pinks, along with whites of every variety, and purples from light to dark and approaching blue. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

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  5. That last shot of Raghly Harbour is the epitome of perfect in photography– such clear, crisp views of the sky and reflection upon water! I enjoy your close-up shots of nature, as they remind us of the minute, but significant beauty surrounding us that we often forget to appreciate with our hectic lives. Never been to Benbulben Forest, but it looks to be quite the treat!

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    1. Thanks so much, Rebecca. We try to escape to Raghly Harbour as soon as the sun comes out. The views over the vast waters are truly amazing and there’s a lovely coastal walk nearby with hardly any people on it which is perfect in these challenging times when social distancing is a new norm. As non-essential overseas travel is forbidden and all the restaurants and pubs are still closed, we are always on the lookout for new and exciting things to do in Sligo. And discovering its lesser know corners is what keeps us happy and content. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

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    1. Thank you kindly, Glenys 🙂 While the summit of Benbulben offers stunning views out over Strandhill, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal, the looped walk at its base is also a great spot to soak up the majesty of the mountain. Have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

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  6. I couldn’t agree with you more about how important it is to just spend time in nature. It definitely is very healing. This looks like a wonderful area to hike with gorgeous scenery. I applaud your efforts to go out rain or shine! There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.

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    1. Thanks so much. During the winter, we try to avoid coastal walks due to a constant battering of winds and mainly stick to woodland walks that provide shelter from the constant drizzling. After two decades of living in Ireland, we are well used to the sudden changes in the weather forecast and try to go for a walk every day as it is a great way to improve and maintain our overall health. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

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    1. Thank you very much. Sligo is riddled with many scenic walks and it’s a real treat to be outside these days when nature is blossoming and the weather is warm. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  7. Based on your first photo, I never would have pegged this as Ireland! The craggy peaks and orange hues remind me of semi-arid landscapes in the US Southwest. It’s incredibly beautiful. I’m sure you have “sold” Ireland, and especially Sligo to all of your readers. Your posts continue to fill me with awe about your beautiful country.

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    1. Thank you, Caroline. Ireland isn’t exactly renowned for its beautiful weather – but when the sun is out there are few places more glorious. In all honesty, I have never seen a country so instantly transformed by the sunshine as the Emerald isle, especially after experiencing months and months of rain and mist and cloud. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

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    1. Over the last few years, we’ve seen our fair share of dense fog in Sligo, but it doesn’t even compare to what we had a chance to experience while we lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was always fascinating to see the coastal fog which typically formed in Spring and Summer over eastern Scotland and England. It would drastically transform the city beyond recognition. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

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    1. Thanks so much, Ali 🙂 Benbulben Forest Walk is one of my favourite places to go for a walk in Sligo. I’m not a big fan of staying indoors and I feel that once I make the time to step outside, nature helps my brain and body to stay healthy and happy.Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

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  8. Wonderful. This place seems almost magical. I agree with you – I find when I go on hikes, I always get a different perspective on my life and myself. I feel humbled and yet weirdly empowered by how privileged we are to be allowed to live in this beautiful place that is Earth. Thank you so much for sharing this! Oh I really want to explore Sligo one day!

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    1. Thank you kindly. I love to escape the stresses of everyday life and soak up the summer sunshine in one of many woodlands walks around Sligo. Benbulben Forest Walk is an easy circular trail where the walk meanders through the forest and lets the visitors enjoy some peace and quiet of nature. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice weekend. Aiva 🙂 xxx

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    1. Thank you kindly. The nation’s forests are so much more than just rural landscapes. They also provide limitless ways for us to find our connection and enhance our wellbeing. Have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

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    1. Thank you kindly, Hannah 🙂 Forests are places to seek adventure, make memories and find an escape. Just a few minutes devoted to relaxing under the forest canopy can fill us with energy from experiencing the landscape, and fresh forest air. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

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  9. Wow, this seems like a stunning place! The rhododendrons look so pretty, and so does the little one holding their flowers 😊 I love being surrounded by nature but really struggle with the motivation when the weather is not great – maybe I just need appropriate clothing! Thanks for sharing such beautiful places with us 😊

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    1. Thanks so much, Juliette. Being stuck inside for a few hours or even days due to bad and rainy weather usually drives me crazy to the point where I start to find series of negative emotions and distressing sensations creeping upon me. While I would usually avoid exposed places, I am more than happy to escape to wooded areas and we are fortunate to have plenty of wonderful forest walks that provide shelter from the constant drizzle. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

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  10. All your posts on Sligo really prove that it is such an underrated gem of a destination. Perhaps that is the magic of places that people don’t often think of visiting: their quiet, tucked-away charm is truly unparalleled. And your photography captures it all so beautifully. It’s gotten quite hot and humid where I’m living and just these pictures immediately make me feel so refreshed! I hope you’re having a nice day! xx

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    1. Thank you kindly, Arshia 🙂 The idea of “love where you live” has been on my mind a lot recently, and it’s something I’ve thought about a lot over the past decade as we’ve moved around the country. And after three years in Sligo, I can honestly say that I love every corner of it, and sometimes wonder why would most people skip this part of Ireland when it comes to travelling. I firmly believe that even in your backyard, no matter how big or small, rugged or flat, there are new adventures, new sights, new perspectives: you just have to make the small effort to go and discover them. And once you do, you can uncover a whole new world. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

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    1. Hi, Indi, I am so glad to hear from you. I hope you are keeping well. Rhododendron is a well-known sight, particularly in the west of Ireland and around Sligo. Although its rather nasty habit of taking over is causing grief to many native species by shading them out and growing all over their natural habitats, they make for fantastic photo backgrounds. Have a nice day and thanks for stopping by 🙂 Aiva xxx

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    1. Thanks so much. Going for long walks in our backyard and seeing seasons change when exploring Benbulben Forest walk was a great way to clear our heads and stay sane during the pandemic and never-ending lockdowns. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. You could make arguments for plenty of counties across Ireland being the most beautiful and County Mayo is one of them! One of the Mayo beaches just ranked as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world by Condé Nast which as we all know carries plenty of weight in global travel circles.

      Yes, we are fortunate to have many quiet forest trails here in Sligo that are perfect for family walks no matter the weather and Benbulben Forest Walk is just the right length for Ericeira before she wants to be carried. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thanks so much. There is a certain magic when it comes to Sligo landscapes and vast ocean vistas. Last week, as we were going for a ride to one of our favourite beaches, we even spotted three Highland cows slowly grazing away in a field! Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. You are very welcome. I love reading his work and ‘Under Ben Bulben’ still remains one of my favourite poems and perhaps even, it is one of W. B. Yeats’s last great poems. The final three lines from the poem can even be found on his tomb that we had a chance to visit last week. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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