Pad your itinerary with pub time (Patricia Hofmeester / age fotostock)
Journeying across Ireland's 3,000-foot Wicklow Mountains might be as much of a challenge to your liver as to your feet: As one Irish hiker I met declared, “If I’m not walking to a pub, I’m not walking!” But the country’s famous brews are just one of many charms the 82-mile, semi-wild path has to offer. From the remote town of Clonegal up to Dublin, trek past beehive huts, villages, farmland, lichen-covered rocks, and pine forests. Sheep and cows abound, but you'll need Irishluck to spot Wicklow’s infamous red squirrel (English-introduced grey squirrels nearly wiped them out). The 10,892 feet of total elevation gain and loss through the rolling, upland hills will leave you just a wee bit worn, but it’s nothing a Guinness won’t cure.
Ireland’s first long-distance trek is as much cultural immersion as wilderness experience (it includes road walking, as do many UK treks), but that didn’t disappoint. En route, I milked a cow at Kyle Farmhouse, caught chickens at the Wicklow Way Lodge, and feigned river dancing at the Glenmalure Lodge pub. Love history? The trek passes the ruins of the 7th-century Glendalough Monastic City, among other sites. With trail markers at each junction, you can’t get lost. Expect evenings of Celtic craic (fun) in the infamous Irish pubs, and traditional Irish hospitality—I couldn’t pay for a pint even when I tried.
GET THERE Fly to Dublin and take Bus Eireann (buseireann.ie) from Dublin’s Busáras to Bunclody and charge up at Moss Cottage (mosscottageireland.com)—the cottage will provide transportation to trailhead at Clonegal.
SEASON Spring through fall. Summer is best, but the Irish green comes at the cost of near assured rain: Annual rainfall reaches 80 inches a year.
WHERE TO STAY Camping is prohibited in Wicklow Mountains National Park, but may be permitted on open mountains or moorland, with one established campsite at Roundwood Caravan Park (camping-ireland.ie). Want a one-stop shop for Wicklow Way accommodations? Call Footfalls Walking Holiday (walkinghikingireland.com) to reserve all stays and luggage transfers.
B&B Route Take the B&B route to hit the pubs and meet the characters of small town Ireland. Indulge in the luggage transfer service for a week of ultralight trekking from Clonegal to Dublin.
Day 1: From the trailhead in Clonegal, hike to Lugnaquillia View Guest House, right off the trail and a stone’s throw from Wicklow’s greatest pub, The Dying Cow.
Day 2: Kyle Farm House (kylefarm.com).
Day 3: Glenmalure Lodge (glenmalurelodge.ie).
Day 4: Glendalough hostel or hotel: Leave the Wicklow Way for a mandatory excursion along the Spinc. Start on the Wicklow Way and take the red path, then the white path until you meet back with the Wicklow Way at the Monastic City in Glendalough.
Day 5: A short hike to the Wicklow Way Lodge (wicklowwaylodge.com) for an easy day.
Day 6: Knockree hostel (knockree.hostel.com)—it’s so deep in the forest, you may miss it.
Day 7: Marlay Park in Dublin.
Wicklow Way Hut System Or stick to the Irish wild with a shortened route of the Northern Wicklow Way’s hut system. Hit a four-day hut trip through three huts based off the Adirondack system—catching the most popular section of the Wicklow Way including a Prince William’s Seat summit, through Glendalough’s “valley of the two lakes” where St. Kevin built his monastery, and the Powerscourt Waterfall. Start from Marlay Park and hike to the first hut at Brushers Gap (Paddock Hill). Day two: Mullacor near Glenmalure. Day three: Mucklagh (aughavannagh) and bus back from Glendalough via St. Kevin’s Bus: two buses daily via Roundwood and Laragh (wicklowwaybus.com).