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Kilarney National Park 

A huge, rambling wilderness with breathtaking scenery, Killarney National Park ★★★ is an essential stop along the Ring of Kerry. Within the park’s limits are lakes, mountains, and two estates—Muckross and Knockreer. The main visitor center for the park, located in Muckross House (064/663-1440), is clearly signposted. Drop by here to pick up maps before you get started. The visitor center is open daily from 9am to 5:30pm; hours may vary in winter.

Cars are banned from most of the trails that traverse the park, so you’ll have to explore it on foot—or else hire a “jarvey,” or “jaunting car,” an old-fashioned horse-and-buggy. Jarveys can be booked at the National Park Visitor Centre at Muckross House or from Killarney Jaunting Cars, Muckross Close (www.killarneyjauntingcars.ie; 064/663-3358). Drivers also often congregate in one of the small parking lots on the main N72 Ring of Kerry Road, between the edge of Killarney Town and the entrance to Muckross House.

Three lakes dot the park. The largest, the Lower Lake, is sometimes called Lough Leane or Lough Lein, translated as "the lake of learning." It’s more than 6km (3 3/4 miles) long and holds 30 small islands that seem to rise from the mist. The most celebrated of Killarney's islands, the lovely Innisfallen ★★, can be found on Lower Lake. Nearby are the Middle Lake or Muckross Lake, and the smallest of the three, the Upper Lake.

Rising steeply from the south shore of Muckross Lake, Torc Mountain provides spectacular views of the Killarney Lakes and nearby MacGillycuddy's Reeks, a moody mountain range. Start at the Torc Waterfall parking lot, about 6km (3 3/4 miles) south of Killarney, and follow the trail to the top of the falls. At a T-intersection, turn left toward the top parking lot, and almost immediately turn right on the Old Kenmare Road, which follows a small stream along the south slopes of Torc Mountain. After leaving the woods, you will see Torc Mountain on your right. Look for a crescent-shaped gouge in the side of the road, about 9m (30 ft.) across, with a small cairn at its far edge. This is the beginning of the path to the ridge top, marked somewhat erratically by cairns along the way. Return the way you came; the whole trip is just under 10km (6.2 miles), takes about 4 hours, and is moderately difficult.

If you prefer a little guidance, you could choose a guided walking tour of some length (from 1 day to a weekend to a full week). A number of walks and walking holidays of varying lengths are offered by SouthWestWalks Ireland Ltd., 40 The Anchorage, Tralee, County Kerry (066/712-8733; www.irelandwalkhikebike.com). Or you can arrange in advance to meet up with the Wayfarers, an international organization of passionate pedestrians, who schedule 5-week-long footloose circuits of the Ring of Kerry each spring, summer, and fall. To receive a schedule, contact the Wayfarers, 174 Bellevue Ave., Newport, RI 02840 (800/249-4620; www.thewayfarers.com).

MacGillycuddy's Reeks -- This marvelously named mountain range just west of Killarney is a magnificent sight to behold. Formed of red sandstone, the mountains were gradually shaved down by glaciers until the peaks reached the gentle shape they hold today. The name, however, sounds anything but dignified. It may help to know that the mountains were named after an ancient and noble clan that once predominated in this area, the Mac Gilla Machudas, and the word “reek” has nothing to do with a stinky smell—it’s an old Irish term for a peaked hill.

Five Hikes in Killarney National Park

Within the park's 10,000-hectare (25,000-acre) limits are forest trails, bogs, moorland, landscaped gardens, four mountains, three major lakes, and two historic estates. It's also teeming with rare plants and wildlife. Venture into the woods and you'll be walking through the last natural habitat of the Irish red deer, and if you're very lucky, you might even see a white-tailed eagle, extinct in these parts for nearly 200 years until they were reintroduced in 2007. Note: Detailed maps and audioguides for this and the other trails listed below are available at the visitor center at Muckross House. The following four trails are among our favorites:

Blue Pool Nature Trail -- Starting behind the Muckross Park Hotel, this trail winds for a relaxing 2.3km (1.5 miles) through coniferous woodland beside a small lake. The trail is named for the lake’s unusually deep blue-green color, a result of copper deposits in the soil.

Cloghereen Nature Trail -- Incorporated into a small section of the Blue Pool trail (see above), this walk is fully accessible to blind visitors. A guide rope leads you along the route, lined by plants identifiable by scent and touch. An audio guide is available from the Muckross House visitor center for a small deposit.

Mossy Woods Nature Trail -- One of the park’s gentler trails, this route starts from Muckross Lake and runs just under 2km (1.2 miles). The moss-covered trees and rocks it passes are a major habitat for bird life. You’ll also see several strawberry trees (Arbutus), something of a botanical mystery—they’re common in these parts but found almost nowhere else in Northern Europe. The route offers incredible mountain views.

Old Boat House Nature Trail -- This short lakeside walk begins at the 19th-century boathouse below Muckross Gardens and goes .8km (1/2 mile) around a small peninsula by Muckross Lake.

Arthur Young's Walk -- Starting on the road to Dinis Island, this longer (4.8km/3 miles) hike traverses natural yew woods, then follows a 200-year-old road on the Muckross Peninsula.

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.