Family-Friendly Mourne Mountains
Top 5 Hikes for Children in the Mourne Mountains
9th August 2019 by Jen Duffield
As a mother to two girls I realise that it is not always realistic or practical to go out hiking when you have routine and responsibilities, especially if your children are still quite young. However, I have discovered a few hidden gems in the Mourne Mountains that are perfect for family hikes!
Up until spring time this year my husband or myself used a babywearing carrier to carry our youngest on all hikes which enabled us to hike as a family since she was 2 and ½ years old. We were able to hike any of the mountains in the range and plenty more around Ireland too. However, for now I’m going to give my top 5 mountains in the Mournes that I recommend for children of all ages capable of walking themselves with parental accompaniment.
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“Hiking gives kids’ confidence and perspective”
Number one on my list has to be Hen Mountain. At 354m high, it is situated in the Western Mournes and in my opinion is one of the best for children of all ages. A short uphill hike over grassy paths brings you to the top of this little mountain. Parking at the Sandbank car park (check it out on Google Maps, it’s situated just outside of Hilltown and before Spelga dam), you cross the road and follow a stone track until you reach a metal gate. Enter through the gate and to your left follow the worn down grass/path straight up towards the rocky tors on top of Hen.
This mountain is a good starting point for any children – my four year old daughter did it yesterday for the umpteenth time and was running up it ahead of me! Yesterday I think it took us an hour in total from the car park to the top with a short play break and some exploring, and then our descent back down to the car park.
Once on top the views are beautiful out across the Western Mournes and despite its low height it has a very grand and mountainous feel to it, which is great for little ones who want to feel a sense of achievement! There are a few rocky tors on top which on a calm day can be nice to clamber up and explore, but be cautious as there are a few drops to either side of them so sometimes it’s best not to take little ones up there especially if it’s breezy out! Due to its short length, it’s great for little legs as they shouldn’t tire out as easily, and if they do there are plenty of rocks on the way up to sit and have a rest.
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At number two on my list are Slieve Meelbeg and Slieve Meelmore. I thought I would incorporate these two together. Ok so technically they’re two different mountains, but they’re right beside each other and in my opinion I would grade them about the same difficulty when approached from the saddle between them. Slieve Meelbeg is 702m and one of my favourite mountains in the Mournes – it’s part of the 7 highest peaks in the Mourne Mountain range but don’t let that put you off. My 4-year-old has walked this mountain twice. There is a great car park at the bottom of Slieve Meelmore/ Slieve Meelbeg on the Trassey Road (search ‘Happy Valley Car Park’ on Google Maps) which is perfect for this hike.
If you feel really keen you can incorporate the two mountains and do an 11.6km loop walk! But that is a lot for little legs to walk. From the car park, you can see the two mountains, Slieve Meelmore on your left and Slieve Meelbeg on the right. Head up the valley in between the two – there is a crossing at the river and you can head up on the left side of it up through the valley. I prefer the left hand side of the river as it is less boggy and easier on little legs. Be sure to stop for plenty of rest breaks as you go along and enjoy the views.
Once you reach the Mourne Wall you can follow it up on the left hand side to head up Slieve Meelmore (just keep following the wall to the top until you see the stone house at the summit). It’s best to descend the same route as the other side of Meelmore is rocky and difficult for small legs to get down in parts.
For Slieve Meelbeg where you branched off at the wall for Slieve Meelmore continue on straight inside and head for the saddle/col between the two mountains. Once you reach here turn right and whilst it looks steep, it’s not too bad. My youngest absolutely loves this part of the walk and sometimes uses my walking pole to help. It takes about 15-30 minutes to reach the summit, depending on your pace. Just keep following the wall. Slieve Meelbeg has lovely views across to Slieve Muck and Binnian, as well as looking down towards Lough Shannagh. These two walks are both a big step up from the likes of Hen Mountain, but with plenty of breaks, they’re achievable for children.
“You’re off to great places,
Today is your day.
Your mountain is waiting
So get on your way”
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Number three on my list is Slieve Loughshannagh – at 617m it’s another nice family-friendly hike in the Mournes. The route is just over 5km in length via the Ott track. Parking at Ott car park on the Slievenaman Road (check it out on Google Maps – a great starting point for many hikes), cross the road, over the stile and head up the stone track. At the fork in the path take the right and ascend the path. Follow it until you reach the grassy worn-down path heading for the saddle with Slieve Loughshannagh on your left and Carn on your right.
Once you reach the saddle you will see the Mourne Wall and another stile. Stay on this side of the wall and turn left, ascending up Slieve Loughshannagh. This is quite a short hike from here to the top and you will be ascending up a grassy path, great for little legs. The views from the summit are beautiful looking across the higher Mournes and dams. My favourite time is summer for this mountain as the bog cotton is beautiful up there! Descend the same way you came and follow the path back to the car park. My children love this route and the views that come with it.
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Number four on my list is Doan. At 593m in height and in the centre of the higher Mournes, it offers a 360-degree view of the mountains and loughs! Wow! What more could you ask for? Just to top it off this is a really fun hike for children! Over 6km of hiking for this one but highly achievable for kids with plenty of breaks and supplies for energy!
To reach Doan summit we usually start from the Ott car park as listed above for Slieve Loughshannagh. This time you follow the Ott track till you reach the saddle of Slieve Loughshannagh and Carn, but upon reaching the wall you then cross the stile and follow the track straight ahead. This path leads you towards the valley and bog which you must cross to reach Doan.
This hike is best in good weather as the bog can be featureless and disorientating when the cloud lowers if you are not familiar with the area. Be sure to always check the forecast before hiking. Sometimes it can seem like the path disappears in the bog, but head for Doan which rises up in the middle of the valley. Once you reach the bottom of Doan there are a few paths to take – we usually weave to the right of the mountain and follow the path up this direction.
Care is required as the path narrows eventually and you will reach a false summit. The views from here are beautiful but if you’re keen to reach the top then a short scramble up the last few rocks on the right hand side will bring you to the summit with amazing 360 views of the area! This is my favourite spot for sunset especially on long clear summer evenings and the children absolutely LOVE watching the sunset from atop the mountain. What an adventure!
“Hiking with kids is not about the miles,
It’s about the smiles together.”
My number five recommendation is Slieve Binnian – some might say I’m crazy but I definitely think this one is achievable for children of all ages! At 747m high, Binnian is the third highest in the Mournes. The route encompasses an 11km loop walk to take in both the summit Tor and North Tor as well as views down to Ben Crom dam and walking back via the Blue Lough.
This is a great hike. The starting point begins by parking at Carrick Little car park just outside of Annalong. Follow the dirt path up along the side of the car park until you reach a gate. Continue on the path until the Mourne Wall appears on your left before you reach the Annalong Wood, which will be on your right. Follow the wall on the left from here all the way to the top.
I appreciate this is a long walk but with plenty of rest stops it’s achievable – my youngest who is 4 is yet to walk the full 11km but has walked to the top from the Summit Tor to the North Tor which stretches the whole length of Slieve Binnian. That’s pretty good going for little legs. Her big sister walks it no problem and has walked it both in summer and after heavy snowfall in winter. My youngest still likes to hitch a ride back down to the blue lough in my babywearing carrier. Much to her sister’s envy!
Whilst there are many more mountains in the Mournes that are great for children, these are just my top 5 based on distance, difficulty and views around different areas of the Mournes. These walks make for a good weekend of fun outdoors and family time!
To finish, I will leave a few of my essential tips when hiking with children:
- Make sure to carry plenty of water, snacks and food when hiking with children – little people get tired, hot and hungry and there’s nothing worse than being stuck in the mountains with a child who needs an energy boost. Water is also key, especially over summer as dehydration can happen so quickly. I always make sure to carry a banana and some nuts for my youngest as a snack after lunch is over as they seem to give her a quick boost in energy, as well as a few sugary snacks.
- Make sure that everyone has correct footwear. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but good ankle support is essential, especially if little legs start to get tired. I managed to pick my youngest a pair of waterproof hiking boots up in Trespass for £15 and a few pairs of hiking socks – they get the seal of approval from her as she says they’re super comfy!
- Always carry a backpack and spare clothes and layers. The mountain weather can be very unpredictable so it’s important to cover all seasons! I always carry spare bottoms, socks and top for the children and myself. Even on a sunny hot day at home it can be chilly with low cloud in the mountains, so always carry a waterproof coat each and some fleeces or layers in your bag for warmth.
- Make sure to carry a mobile phone at all times – you never want to be stuck in the mountains with children and have no way to contact anyone in an emergency. Always tell someone at home where you are going and when to expect you back.
- Finally, two apps recommendations. First, the Met Office app: they provide a specific forecast for the Mourne Mountains including visibility, wind speed and any weather warnings. Alltrails or Viewranger are both good for showing maps and trails in the Mournes. It is always best to have a map and compass with you and your route planned before your hike.
“There is no time to be bored
In a world as beautiful as this”
Thanks for reading!
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