Ireland's six national parks offer some of the most spectacular scenery and best walking in the country, and all have free admission.
- The Burren National Park, Mullaghmore, County Clare (www.burrennationalpark.ie), holds fascinating landscapes -- a series of limestone beds eroded during the Ice Age to form a barren, lunarlike landscape. The Burren is of particular interest to botanists, since it's the only place in the world where Arctic, Mediterranean, and Alpine species of wildflowers grow side by side in the fissures of the rock.
- Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, County Galway (www.connemaranationalpark.ie), is a rugged, heather-clad landscape of blanket bog and wet heath, encompassing some of the Twelve Bens mountain range. There are nature trails with accompanying map/booklets (guided walks are available in summer) and a visitor center at Letterfrack.
- Glenveagh National Park, near Gweedore, County Donegal (www.glenveaghnationalpark.ie), is Ireland's largest national park and also its remotest wilderness -- 103,600 sq. km (40,000 sq. miles) of mountains, lakes, and natural woodlands that are home to a large red deer population. From the visitor center, you can grab a ride on a minibus along the shores of Lough Veagh to Glenveagh Castle, notable for its outstanding gardens. There are also a self-guided nature trail and a summer program of guided walks.
- Killarney National Park, Killarney, County Kerry (www.killarneynationalpark.ie), contains nearly 64,750 sq. km (25,000 sq. miles) of spectacular lake and mountain scenery. There are four self-guided trails, a visitor center with a restaurant, and two small lodges with tearooms.
- Ballycroy National Park, Ballycroy, County Mayo (www.ballycroynationalpark.ie), is the newest of the parks, centered in the Owenduff-Nephinbeg area. It features gorgeous bog landscapes. Along with a visitor center in Ballycroy, there are nature trails galore.
- Wicklow Mountains National Park, Glendalough, County Wicklow (www.wicklowmountainsnationalpark.ie), is the only park of the six that's not on the west coast. At over 129,500 sq. km (50,000 sq. miles), it contains picturesque woodlands, moors, and mountains, and includes the atmospheric Glendalough monastic site and the Glenealo Valley. There is a park information office at the Upper Lake, near the Glendalough car park.
In addition to national parks, there are 12 forest reserve parks, several of which were former private estates. Among the most enchanting is Lough Key Forest Park (www.loughkey.ie), in County Roscommon, which features a bog-garden, fairy bridge, and archaeological monuments. Contact Tourism Ireland for more information on Ireland's park system.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.