Where is the Gap of Dunloe?
The Gap of Dunloe is located on the eastern side of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks (Ireland’s highest mountain range) near Killarney National Park in County Kerry, Ireland. The most common starting point for the Gap of Dunloe is Kate Kearney’s Cottage. (During the 1800s, a local gal ran an illegal drinking house (síbín) in the Gap where she sold her famous Kate Kearney’s Mountain Dew to locals and passer-bys. Plan your visit to the Gap on a Wednesday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday in July or August, and you’ll be privy to nightly entertainment with traditional and costumed dancers at the famous cottage.)
The Gap of Dunloe is a mountain pass through the Killarney mountains that was formed by glaciers 10,000 years ago. The gorge is up to 1500 ft (450m) deep and almost 4 miles (6.5km) in length. Within the Gap of Dunloe are five lakes (north to south): Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough. These lakes are connected by the River Loe. There are several ways in which you can explore the Gap and take in its natural beauty.
How to See the Gap of Dunloe
The distance from Kate Kearney’s Cottage to Lord Brandon’s Cottage is close to 7 miles (11 km) with an elevation change of about 700 feet (200 m). Depending on your level of mobility and fitness, there are a few options for exploring the Gap.
Walking The Gap of Dunloe
During our first trip to Ireland, we decided to take a walk through the Gap of Dunloe. We parked our rental car at the free parking lot near Kate Kearney’s Cottage and walked right past the horse drawn traps (also known as jaunting cars). Though seeing the Gap by horse and cart is a popular experience, we do not support or encourage this method of transportation. We believe this spectacular glaciated valley is best seen by foot so you can slowly take in the surrounding beauty. Get some exercise and breath in fresh mountain air.
Gap of Dunloe by Bike
Because the Gap of Dunloe is a paved road, you are also welcome to cycle through the pass. There are a few places to rent bikes near Killarney National Park, so if you’re up for the challenge – rent a bike and cycle the Gap of Dunloe! You can combine a cycling trip through the Gap with a visit to nearby Killarney National Park attractions, such as Muckross House, Ross Castle, and Torc waterfall.
Can I Drive Through the Gap of Dunloe?
Many people may tell you that you can’t drive through the Gap of Dunloe. The truth is, however, the Gap of Dunloe IS a public road and technically you CAN drive it. The question is, though… should you? The road is extremely narrow (only wide enough for one car) with sharp curves and extremely limited places to pull off. It is absolutely NOT recommended to drive the Gap in the busy summer months when the road’s foot, cycling, and horse cart traffic is at its peak. You’ll certainly get glaring looks from the jaunting cart operators if you try to drive the Gap of Dunloe when the horse carts are in operation.
During a return visit to Ireland, we did in fact enjoy the Gap of Dunloe by car. We were able to go much further than we did a few years prior when we partially walked the Gap. It was a drizzly day in November and there was not a jaunting cart in sight. We practically had the entire place to ourselves save a few other cars we let pass during our journey. Because the weather was a little iffy, and we had our infant son with us, we decided that driving through the Gap was in our best interest. It was yet again a highlight of our trip!
Below are some of the views we did not get to see on our initial visit to the Gap because they are found deeper in the gorge. Even though it wasn’t as lush and green as it was during our July visit, we were still in absolute awe of the natural beauty. Because it had been raining for a few days prior to our visit, the waterfalls and streams were rushing at full force!
Take a Gap of Dunloe Tour
There are several tour companies that offer a Gap of Dunloe tour which drops you off at Kate Kearney’s Cottage and picks you up at the other end (Lord Brandon’s Cottage) later in the day. If you want something a little more guided, have a look at this half day tour from Killarney. Or if you’re feeling super adventurous, check out this full day adventure tour!
Keep in mind, rainfall can be abundant in this region any time of year. In the summer, during our first visit, the fields and flowers were vibrant and in bloom. In November, while it wasn’t as lush, the streams and waterfalls were magnificent! With that in mind, it’s always a good idea to wear water resistant outerwear when exploring the Gap of Dunloe in Ireland. You never know when the skies above will open up!
No matter the time of year you visit Ireland, you should always try to squeeze in a visit to the Gap of Dunloe. Whether you walk, cycle, drive, or take a boat, it’s a beautiful scene wherever you look. And so with that, we’ll leave you with a few more pictures from our first visit to the Gap of Dunloe…
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