Gougane Barra was an important area in County Cork, long before the park was established. It’s the source of the River Lee. High in the mountains, the River Lee starts as a crystal clear stream, before rushing downwards and winding its way to Cork City. Gougane Barra is also where St Finbarr, patron saint of Cork, built a monastery in the 6th century. Today, the remains of the monastery are on a tiny island in the lake, behind a chapel.
Beyond the lake, the road continues into Gougane Barra Forest Park. For a €5 entrance fee, you can follow the looped road and drive around the park. But the park is at its most impressive when explored on foot. There are six marked trails in the park, and they range from easy to difficult. Whether you’re in the mood for a gentle stroll or a tougher hike, it’s easy to find a suitable trail.
1. Sli Laoi
Sli Laoi starts with an enjoyable walk along the floor of the valley, before following the meandering course of the infant River Lee. The trail then climbs to the head of the valley via stone and wooden steps, where the views take in the valley. The walk takes about 1 hour to complete.
Distance: 1.30kms Climb: 50m
2. Sli Ghaorthaidh (Nature Trail)
A flat and easy walk, the Nature Trail is a stroll through the forest. It’s an opportunity to see the trees and plant life of Gougane Barra up close, and there’s also the possibility of spotting some wildlife. The walk takes about 30 minutes, and loops back to where it starts.
Distance: .50km Climb:0m
3. Sli Com Rua
Sli Com Rua is a short, 20 minute hike through the valley. Its drama comes from the walls of red sandstone rock that rise up on either side of the path. The trail then winds through a pine and spruce forest, across a wooden footbridge and up to a viewing platform.
Distance: .35 kms Climb: 30m
4. Sli Sleibthe
The longest and most strenuous of the Gougane Barra trails, Sli Sleibhte is also the most thrilling hike in the park. It starts by following paths and a minor road, before winding upwards through the forest. It crosses the small River Lee a few times, before bursting out onto the open mountain side. From the mountain, the views take in the valley, lake and forests of the national park. The trail takes about an hour and 45 minutes to complete.
Distance: 2.40 kms Climb: 130m Start: Upper carpark
5. Sli an Easa (Waterfalls Walk)
This uphill trail is quite strenuous, but the waterfalls make it all worth it. Stopping for a breather means a chance to look down at the valley and surrounding mountains, so it’s hard to lose. Two viewing platforms are also in place, and the hike generally takes an hour to finish.
Distance: 1.80kms Climb: 65m Start: Lower car park
6. Sli Doire na Coise
Sli Doire na Coise is a walk that winds through the moss-covered forest in the valley. The path crosses footbridges, weaves in and out of Larch and Spruce trees, and eventually leads to the shore of Gougane Barra Lake. Taking about 45 minutes to complete, it’s one of the most relaxing walks in the park.
Distance: 1.80kms Climb: 10m Start: Lower car park
Planning a trip?
- You can drive to Gougane Barra from Cork City, via Ballingeary, in about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
- Gougane Barra Hotel is located next to the lake, but it’s often closed for the winter. If you’re planning a full day out, bring water and snacks with you.
- Instead of driving into the forest, you can also park your car near the hotel. You can walk into the park from there, along a quiet road.
Copper Coast Geopark