Wicklow is the land that has inspired about 1000 day trips for me. It’s lush green mountains, peaceful lakes and rich history are perfect for road trips. There is one place in particular though that embodies this, and that’s Glendalough. The Glendalough Valley is the main focus of the Wicklow Mountains National Park for visitors. Translating as the valley of the two lakes, it’s much more than that. But today we won’t focus on that. Today we focus on what is quite possibly Ireland’s best hiking route. Known as the Spinc Glendalough to those who have passed this route for years, it has become more commonly known as the Glendalough White Route in recent years.
Traditionally this route featured a gruelling 600 steps route just to reach the top of the Spinc ridge. In those days it was a quiet walk, with many put off by that. But those days are no more. Obviously those in power knew that they had a great asset on their hands and so 2020 saw the building of a zigzag path, in place of the stairs. It has opened up the walk to many. It is still a 10 km hike though so don’t think it’s made it easy. I would edge towards moderate.
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How to get to Glendalough
Glendalough is located 68 km from Dublin city centre, and the fastest route there takes 1h 10m via the N11, before turning onto the R755 at Kilmacanogue. From there it’s a straight route to Glendalough. A far more scenic but time consuming route follows the Military Road across the Wicklow Mountains.
Glendalough is served by St Kevin’s bus service which leaves from St Stephens Green Dublin at 1130 daily. It arrives in Glendalough at 1250. The last bus back is at 1650 so you better get your skates on when you get there. To better enjoy the area, and with more time, shack up in one of the excellent accommodation choices in nearby Laragh such as the Wicklow Heather of the Tudor Lodge B&B. Then take the 7am or afternoon bus back the following day. The bus costs €20 return.
Some Facts about the Spinc Glendalough
- There is parking at both the upper and lower lake in Glendalough. The lower lake parking is free but will add over 3 km, as the green road walk had to be followed to the route. The upper lake car park costs €4.
- The lower lake is also the location of the monastic site which was settled for several centuries from the 6th onwards. There is also the Glendalough Hotel, and some craft stalls, while the upper lake features a number of food stalls for hungry hikers. More at Glendalough.ie.
- The looped walk is 10 km, climbing the Glendalough Spinc first then travelling out into the Glenealo Valley and returning via the miners village
- With social distancing a major factor you should only attempt the trail clockwise starting via the Poulanass Waterfall
- The elevation gain is around 450 metres,
- The walk should take around 3 hours to complete
- There are steep edges on the Spinc so caution is recomended. Teens will enjoy it, but it might be difficult for younger kids
- Some wildlife in the area include sika red deer, goats, mountain hares, pine martens and birds such as red grouse, jays, and ravens.
- Hiking boots are recomended due to the rocky terrain in the Glenealo Valley and I recommend poles too.
- Bring water, snacks, a waterproof jacket (it is Ireland), sunscreen, and a map and compass
- The trail is available on alltrails.com
- There are many other walks available in the area should you want to come back. Trust me, you will.
- Remember to leave no trace.
Step by Step on the Glendalough White Route
The trail begins from the upper lake car park, now led by all the social distancing signs. The walk follows the route of the Wicklow Way, climbing up through woodland past the Poulanass Waterfall. This area is particularly aesthetic, with the narrow falls, and the passive river that’s feeds it. It’s worth going off trail to appreciate it.
Keep an eye on the signs for the white Route, as it switches back now. What follows would have been the most challenging part, but those steps are no more. Imagine climbing in excess of those 528 steps of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, and all at the start of the hike. Thankfully it’s now a series of switchbacks.
Once you get past this (which is a bit unsightly as the vegetation has yet to grow around it) you’ll reach the spinc boardwalk. And the views. The lakes below are a sublime sight, with the upper lake in particular being your main view. From it, the Glenealo River serpentines away into its eponymous valley. There are numerous photo opportunities along the way here, and the views get better as you progress. At this point there is the option of the blue route, which halves the length of the hike and veers off into the forest. Keep going it’s worth it.
Glenealo Valley and miners village
The boardwalk sweeps down from the Spinc into the Glenealo Valley, before crossing the river. From here the walk takes on a new lease of life, following a rocky path by the river side. The flowing water and the ruins of a mining village become the new focus. Mining of lead took place here for over 200 years, before finally coming to a stop in 1957. There are many buildings scattered along the Glenealo Valley and some old mining equipment too. The area took on the name Van Diemen’s Land (the old name of modern day Tasmania), due to the remoteness of its location. When they miners departed, they left behind a herd of goats, Nowadays those goats still run wild here.
The descent from this point is a little tricky underfoot, as the path is strewn with stones. Hiking poles and boots were very welcome and trainers would render it difficult. We noticed some others struggling.
As if that wasn’t enough the walk finally passes a glacial debris field before reaching the upper lake. Strewn with large boulders, it’s perfect for anyone looking to take up bouldering. Finally the tree lined road by the upper lake returns you to the car park.
Pro Tip for the Spinc Glendalough
My pro tip for the Spinc doesn’t have anything to do with the Spinc. It’s a well marked route, and nothing poses and particular difficulty. Instead my pro tip is for when you finish. Skip those food trucks and get back on the road. A few kilometres back towards Laragh is the Wicklow Heather, a gastropub without comparison in this region. With plenty of outdoor seating, it’s perfect for the year we are in. The food is the wholesome Irish plate you need after your hike. But the real surprise here, is the Irish Writers Room, with a collection of first editions from Joyce, Stoker and Swift among many others. Ask for a table here if you can.
Laragh is also a great base for other hiking adventures in the area.
Other Walks in Wicklow
The Wicklow Mountains are a hikers paradise and it’s low but challenging mountains are crisscrossed by many trails. One of the best I’ve discovered this year is Lough Bray, not altogether dissimilar to the Spinc Glendalough. Find its delights out for yourself on my blog on the Lough Bray loop.
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Have you hiked the Spinc Glendalough? Let me know your experiences in the comments below.