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My love for the outdoors started with hiking mountains. I noticed that my favourite hikes began with a trail through beautiful forests, Binevenagh Mountain being one of my first hikes and the first forest trail I experienced.
Throughout the years I wanted to explore more and more places, and began to realise how many beautiful forests there were in Northern Ireland. After three years of exploring, I’ve found three in Northern Ireland that seem to be largely un-explored by many besides locals in the area.
These are Davagh Forest, Isnicarn Forest and Moydamlaght Forest.
I’ll start with Davagh Forest, which is hidden in a rural area not far from Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. You will see many reviews and information on this forest from NI Explorer and Walk NI, which is where I found information on this hidden gem in the North of Ireland.
I went there with a friend as we both wanted a long forest trail, and this one did not disappoint. From the carpark we followed the longest walking route that would lead roughly 12km around the forest, and would include the treat of hiking to a mountain cairn. Unfortunately with forest operation we didn’t make it to the cairn, but we still enjoyed everything the trail had to offer. The terrain in Davagh forest changes from gravel and stone to muck and bog, so be prepared.
This is an inviting walking trail, passing through tall dense trees with beautiful mountains and countryside all around. The further you go into the forest, the higher you go, and views start to appear all around you making it hard not to stop and take them all in and, of course, grab a photo opportunity (which we took plenty advantage of!).
If you decide to take the shorter route you are also treated to a loop walk along the river. Davagh is a big open forest suitable for everyone which is why I enjoyed my trek here so much – we both did, in fact. What’s also good about Davagh is that it has a big open carpark with toilets facilities, and for me that scores big points.
The second forest is Iniscarn Forest, beautifully secluded and roughly 6 miles outside of Magherafelt in Co. Derry. I discovered this hidden gem as it was the beginning of my hike to Slieve Gallion. As I mentioned before, my favourite hikes start with forest trails at the foot of the mountain, so I was excited to explore a new forest before I bagged a new summit. We were lucky as the day we visited Iniscarn was beautiful and snowy – a new experience for me.
Unlike Davagh Forest there are no carparks or toilets – you are simply parking at the entrance of the forest or on the side of the road, being mindful not to cause any disturbance. Once safely parked, the forest is well signed. The terrain is mostly gravel and muck, though for us on that cold day in January we walked on snow and ice. This definitely added to the beauty and I was drawn in from the first sighting of tall trees surrounding me.
Unsurprisingly, Iniscarn welcomes you with a hill to start your trek, and rightly so as it is at the foot of a mountain. The path through the forest is wide and lined with trees of all different types. Similar to Davagh, the higher you go, the more of beautiful Co. Derry opens behind you to give some pretty views, which were even better on the descent portion of the hike.
I really liked that you can take different loops around the forest and you most likely won’t get lost, giving anyone the freedom to make the trek as long or as short as they want. You also have the choice to make the trek more challenging by going higher to meet the mountain. This leads you through narrow paths as you ascend deep into the forest.
The path is much wetter and boggier so if you intend to explore as far as you can go, bring your hiking boots and prepare to get a little muddy – I know I’d recommend this to make your visit an adventure!
Third in the list is my most recent unexplored forest, found in the Sperrin Mountains, the spectacular mountain range in Co. Derry and Co. Tyrone – Moydamlaght Forest.
Similar to Iniscarn, this forest leads to beautiful destinations and is a great forest trek. Moydamlaght’s main purpose is to lead you to what’s known as Eagles Rock in the Sperrin Mountains – again, this is mainly uphill with a cool rock face at the end.
Truthfully, this is why we explored here, to find Eagles Rock. The path is mainly gravel and loops around the forest to lead you back to the main road, or when you meet Eagles Rock you can then take the same path down.
READ: Family-friendly walking trails in Derrynoid Forest
Expect to work up a bit of a sweat with the continuous up-hill trek surrounding by stacked logs in areas which give the walk something different at every turn. I included this forest because it offered so much in one trek: the stacked logs, beautiful woodland, countryside views and an interesting end destination. You can continue to hike to Eagles Rock as there are signposts to explore further into the Sperrins if you had your hiking boots packed and ready.
I highly recommend adding these three forest treks to your weekend hit list. Each are unique and offer something different with lots of potential for adventure. I haven’t added in how long each trail would take to complete as I find it’s down to yourself and how long you want to spend exploring or walking through the forest. Personally for me I can spend a few hours exploring one place!
I started hiking in 2017 and fell in love with the great outdoors and exploring beautiful Ireland in particular. I love getting out hiking or adventuring every weekend. I’m also a fitness fanatic and enjoy all things to do with well-being and health. I take my phone camera to new places to try and capture our beautiful country and show others that being outdoors is the best possible thing for our mind, body and soul.