A photo guide to hiking Mount Brandon in Dingle, Ireland

The weather was not the best during our recent trip to Kerry. So when we saw a potentially nice day coming up, we decided to get out and hike Mount Brandon. My parents, unsure about whether they’d be up for the challenge, were looking online to try and get an idea of how tough it would be. It’s quite hard to tell from the reviews, which describe the walk as easy to strenuous.

Even with photos it can be difficult to tell, but if you are considering hiking Mount Brandon, hopefully this photo guide will give you a better idea of what to expect. Do bear in mind that this is the harder option to climb Mount Brandon, though the scenery is supposedly more spectacular in return for the additional effort.  So, if you feel that this route might not be for you, there is an easier alternative route from the Dingle side. My mam was not too happy hearing this half way through our hike!

Anyway, prior to this knowledge my parents decided they would give it a go and so we set off, along with our nephew who joined us for the adventure too. We headed for the small town of Cloghane on the Dingle Peninsula. These images show the route starting from the Faha Grotto, not far from Cloghane. It’s a narrow winding road to get to the start of the walk and there is limited parking. We could make out only 8 marked spaces. Luckily for us there were still two spots available.

My mam leaving the carpark at the start of our climb up Mount Brandon

Mam leaving the parking area. Those views already!

Heading towards the grotto at the start of our Mount Brandon climb.

Heading towards the grotto

Even from the parking area, the views were beautiful. However, as you’ll see from the photos, it only gets better from here! From the carpark a grassy trail leads you up towards the grotto and on to the mountainside. From the grotto the trail becomes more rocky underfoot but is easy going and the trail is marked by white poles.

My nephew followed by José at the start of the climb up Mount Brandon.

A lone sheep on the mountainside with a yellow gorse bush in the foreground.

For this initial part of the climb, you probably won’t be able to stop looking back at the stunning views towards the Maharees and Brandon Bay. The Maharees is an extensive sand spit separating Brandon Bay and Tralee Bay. With long sandy beaches stretching both sides it’s a popular spot for windsurfing.  The clouds rolled by overhead while the sun played hide and seek, scattering light up and down the Slieve Mish mountains. As we continued climbing we caught the first glimmer of some small lakes in the distance.

Looking back toward the Maharees from Mount Brandon.

Looking back toward the Maharees

José soaking in the views from Mount Brandon

Once the lakes are in view, you’ll start to lose the view back toward the Maharees and following the trail to the right, the landscape soon changes completely. We were soon facing massive walls of rock. And feeling really tiny in comparison. Think Lord of the Rings kind of landscape! There were lots of little waterfalls running down the rocks and the sound was so nice. Considering we have had a really dry winter, it must be even more spectacular in wetter weather. 

Stunning views of the lakes as you continue to climb.

Stunning views of the lakes as you climb.

Approaching Lord of the Rings territory!

Approaching Lord of the Rings territory!

Surrounded by walls of rock as we climbed Mount Brandon.

Surrounded by walls of rock

Curved wall of rock making up the Faha ridge.

You really need to start watching your footing here. There is still a clear trail but it is very narrow in parts and with a steep drop to your left. So make sure you stop when taking your photos as you really don’t want to take a tumble.

We continued onwards, climbing steadily until the trail curves to the left. Here we had to climb over a few larger boulders and cross a small stream. As the level of water was quite low this wasn’t a problem as we could easily cross using the stepping stones. After this the serious climbing really begins, with probably about another 1km or so to get to the summit.

The trail begins to narrow

The trail begins to narrow here

Shot showing the trail and the drop down to the valley.

Passing a small pool of water just before the start the tough climb

Many people will find this stretch to be very challenging and though it seems scary in parts you can generally find an easier way to navigate the rocks on your way up. In saying that, I was so fixated on the views and taking pictures that I lost my way a bit and ended up scrambling around the rocks trying to find a less treacherous route upward! We also met a girl from another group who had chosen not to continue and just waited for her group to return. 

Now the fun starts as we face climbing this wall of rock.

Now the fun starts!

Now the fun starts as we face climbing this wall of rock.

The views at this stage are really amazing though, so you should take a moment to appreciate them! A series of glacial lakes stretches out before you and further up the Maharees pop back into view above the mountain ridge. 

The beautiful paternoster lake and views over the ridge.

Beautiful views over the ridge and of the paternoster lake.

The Maharees come back into view as we get higher.

The Maharees come back into view.

As we neared the top of the ridge the clouds were starting to roll in. I had read numerous times that Mount Brandon’s summit is often covered in cloud and it looked like it was going to be case for us. In fact I just managed to make it to the top of the ridge in time to see the view right out to the Blasket Islands before it was gobbled up by cloud! Unfortunately for us, that meant the final stretch to the summit was also covered. 

stunning view over the Dingle Peninsula towards the Blasket Islands.

Just managed to get this shot before the view was covered in cloud

Cloud covers the final stretch to the summit

So having done the hard yards, and with just a short way to go, we didn’t make it to the summit! I was keen to wait for it to clear again but majority rules and the vote was to head back down. Probably the smarter option as as we were starting to run out of daylight hours and actually had we continued it would have been proper dark as we finished. So we headed off back the way we came, taking our time navigating the rocks on the steep descent.

Family photo at the cloudy sub-summit of Mount Brandon

The family that hikes together gets really tired together!

Starting the long journey back down Mount Brandon

Starting the long journey down!

The route is described as a 4-6 hr hike but in total it took us over 7 hours and we hadn’t even reached the summit, though I think just another ten minutes or so would have got us there. To be fair we spent a lot of time photographing and taking video so we could have knocked quite a bit of time off (and got to the summit before it was clouded over!!!). We were also very slow descending so I would say the 5-6 hr mark is an accurate description if you are moderately fit.

If my parents had known what they were in for, they would have left us to it. They did find it very tough going, particularly on the way down. When your legs have been going for that long, the rocky trail which seemed easy on the way up becomes pretty tough going and the potential for slips and falls is big. We were all pretty worn out by the end and very much in need of a feed!  My parents also announced (not for the first time!) that it is the end of their hiking days with me. Though I think we should try the easier route next time and hopefully get clear weather at the summit. I’ll keep you posted.

I really can’t emphasise how incredibly beautiful this route up Mount Brandon is. Even if you aren’t sure you’ll be able for all of it, I would still encourage you to do as much as you can. This hike rewards you with stunning scenery every step of the way, so you’re not going to regret doing any amount of it. Just ask my folks!