Spinc Glendalough

Spinc Glendalough – How to Climb Ireland’s Finest Trail

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.

Poulanass Waterfall Wicklow
Poulanass Waterfall is the best sight on the way up
Another part of the waterfall
The Poulanass river that feeds the waterfall
Spinc Glendalough
View of the upper lake from the Spinc
Spinc Glendalough
Continued view of the Glenealo River
Spinc Glendalough
Beata surveying all before her

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.

Spinc Glendalough, Glenealo Valley
The boardwalk reaches out into the Glenealo Valley
Spinc Glendalough, Glenealo Valley
Bring a telephoto if you can, wildlife is common here. I clearly didn’t!
Spinc Glendalough, Glenealo Valley
Spinc Glendalough, Glenealo Valley
Views of the Glenealo Valley
Spinc Glendalough, Glenealo Valley
Hiking Master
Spinc Glendalough
Don’t think I’ve quite gotten the hang of this bouldering though.
Spinc Glendalough Miners Village
One of the ruins of the miners village
Spinc  Glendalough

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.

First edition of James Joyce Ulysses
and a tasty lasagna. The food is consistently excellent at the Wicklow Heather

Laragh is also a great base for other hiking adventures in the area.

Booking.com

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.

30 thoughts on “Spinc Glendalough – How to Climb Ireland’s Finest Trail

  1. yet another amazing hike! i love the views of the valley and the lake! great tip on the gastro pub. you know a good food tip is always appreciate in this direction 🙂

  2. Lovely views once again. Fantastic photo of that tree bending over with the hill beside it! They have obviously put a lot of work into making the trail accessible with that boardwalk and I guess with the zigzag trail you mentioned. So great to be able to explore so close to home! 🙂

  3. Wow, this hike is absolutely spectacular. The views are to die for. And that scene at the Poulanass river looks like something out of a tale where elves and fairies might reside. You truly have become a hiking master, if not so much a bouldering one ;)) Lovely to have such wonderful places to explore near home.

  4. Thank you for taking us all along with you on this spectacular Spinc Glenalough hike! I definitely would take the Poulanass waterfall route! I really like your Pro Tip too! If/when we ever get to visit Ireland, I am remembering this; I think we’d enjoy those Wicklow mountains as well for certain!

    1. I think you would Shannon. It’s an amazing part of the country. I’ll be sharing more of it with the months.

  5. I really enjoyed this! Your narrative made me feel as though I was right there, and your pictures are fantastic. Such a beautiful place!

  6. Wow wow wow… That’s some amazing pictures you got there! I would love to take my drone there, Nature is such a beauty. Thanks for sharing!

  7. What a wonderful hiking experience. The photos are incredibly beautiful. Ireland seems to have too many beautiful hiking routes. Thanks for sharing this detailed and amazing guide.

  8. What an incredible hike this must have been! Absolutely stunning photos, particularly of the waterfalls. I would definitely be heading to that gastropub afterwards for a nosey at the books!

  9. This looks like such a great hike, John! Your photos are beautiful and I think you’re really getting the hang of bouldering. 😉 I love seeing the amazing natural beauty of Ireland through your posts.

  10. Is it just me or does food just taste so much better after a day hike? Beautiful trek, John! This is an incredibly beautiful area for hikes!!!

  11. That valley looks so beautiful!! I never even knew about this walk, which is funny because I’ve seen some things about Wicklow before and none of them caught my eye like this. Also the photo of you in the boulder is hilarious haha!

    1. I always try to get a bit of funny in each blog. Wicklow is amazing if you dig deep. Probably my favourite place on Earth

  12. As always, your photos are spectacularly gorgeous! Aspiring to being a hiking master, think this route is a great plan for our family as my teenagers like a good hike like the White Route. And definitely into gastropubs & the addition of some literary history is even better! Always enjoy your articles John – thank you!

  13. Looks like quite a tough hike. Reckon you earned that Lasagne! It’s always interesting to see the remains of buildings on a hike like this and incredible to think people actually took the materials there to build them! That boardwalk is amazing and you know we love a waterfall 😉😆 Great post John. Looks like you had a blast!

  14. Great post it looks beautiful there, loved the photos of the waterfall.

    For some reason we have never been to Glendalough but it is on our list of places to visit once we can travel down there again 😊

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