Kenmare, a lovely town of just over 2,000, would be our home for the next few days. It's strange how a town so small by US standards felt much bigger there. Kenmare and Killarney are considered the 2 jumping off point for exploring the famous Ring of Kerry. If you're looking for a peaceful time with a lot less tourist-y feel, Kenmare is your type of place. Killarney was fun and not a large city by any means, but it is definitely more of a tourist central area.
No matter which town you stay in, you need to drive the road between them to see one of the most amazing views in Ireland in my opinion. Moll's Gap is a mountainous intersection of roads. Our first day in Kenmare, we headed to the Killarney National Park and needed to drive through Moll's Gap to get there. As we trekked along the mountain roads there came a point where the road curved to the right seemingly right into the rocks. We made that right and instantly a "wooooooooowwwww!" came from both our lips in exclamation. To be fair, Ireland would do this over and over again throughout our adventures.
We pulled off and just stared out into the vast mountain range with its valleys and windy roads. I love my wife, we both said when looking out at all of this, "I can't wait to go hike this!" Not wanting to miss any time hiking through one of only 6 National Parks in Ireland, we headed back to the car to drive those windy roads to Killarney town.
As windy as our drive along the Healy Pass was on the Beara Peninsula, the road to Killarney was far more so. This isn't a bad thing though, I thoroughly enjoyed driving the windy roads. Our little Hyundai was right at home along these windy roads to Killarney, but it was the tour buses (they're a recurring enemy of mine on this trip) that would make this road feel so much more difficult to drive on at times. But we had arrived. We had made it to Killarney National Park and it was awesome. The Emerald Isle was on full display here, the various shades of green shimmering in the sunlight.
Starting up the steep path through the woods we didn't make it far before we had to stop. Not from exhaustion but because we found a waterfall! I don't know about you but I'm a sucker for waterfalls. Something about them is always cool to me. The rushing water creates a peaceful and relaxing noise that washes away all my worries. Though, while I'm in Ireland, what worries do I have?
Many people made the short trip to the waterfall but few went further and climbing up the steep path to continue the hike and that's a shame. They missed some wonderful hiking to the top of the waterfall and views that you can't get from down in the parking lot. Maybe that's just me though, I have always been one to push that little bit further, knowing it almost always pays off. The views you get from vistas are great, but the best views are the ones you have to work to get to.
Eschewing the jaunting cars (horse-drawn carriages) that were rather pushy about getting us to hire them, we made our way to the Muckross House and Gardens. Situated on Muckross Lake and in the middle of Killarney National Park, this mansion is well worth the visit. Though, we were both expecting a mansion with grandeur similar to that of the Biltmore, this estate is far less expansive. However, the perfectly manicured grounds and gardens (which are free to visit) make this a place well worth the visit.
Leaving Muckross, we made our way to Killarney, which is a lot of fun to say in your best Irish brogue. Just don't do so around someone actually from Ireland...can't imagine you're good enough at it to pull it off. Walking around Killarney we stopped in little shops and even went into some of the tourist-y shops. After dinner, we decided to treat ourselves to a pastry from French pastry shop knowing that tomorrow we would be hiking about 13 miles in the Gap of Dunloe.
One thing we were surprised at while visiting the National Parks though was the lack of trails. At both Killarney and Connemara later there was very trails. At Connemara especially, there was only one trail that was broken up into three different loops.
Heading back through the windy roads to Kenmare, we decided to stop one more time at the first vista we came to upon entering the Park. Glad we did, a man was out there playing the bagpipes. Which is just awesome.
Remember, Adventure is Calling!
September 14th, 2016