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5 Great Forest Trails in Belfast

1st July 2021 by Mikala Smee Share

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Belfast is home to many nature walks – those of us who live here are spoilt for choice. I’ve made it my mission to find as many of these walks as I can, and I definitely have some favourites. For walks closer to home these are a few of my top picks.

1. Colin Glen

My first pick is Colin Glen forest. I started this walk at the Colin Glen carpark, which thankfully has many spaces (it was very busy both times I was there). The carpark also has an array of murals along the walls as well as a café and a children’s area inside.

To start the trail, I went through the large arch that has depictions of the Gruffalo tale on it. Straight away you will notice one of many statues of the characters from the children’s book on the left. On the right side there is an activity area for kids. I followed the path straight ahead.

Following this there is a bridge which leads to one of the other paths on the right, but I continued along the main path until I reached the first fork. I sat at the bench at this fork and contemplated which way to go. Here you can decide whether or not you would like to head towards the Gruffalo trail to the right or the longer path towards the left. I choose to take the path to the left.

I continued along the trail until I reached the next fork – at this junction there are multiple paths to take, including a mountain bike trail. I followed the curved path to the left, where there is another bench. I would recommend bringing a picnic blanket to make use of the clearing very close to Mila’s Lake.

This spot is great as there are a few benches along the lake edge and a bridge that shortcuts the trail. I chose to walk around the lake as it wasn’t very big, and I wanted to watch the ducks for a bit!

After sitting for a bit, I decided to follow the path back to the main trail. At this point I was a little confused as there is a mountain bike trail running through this section which is not highlighted on the map. After a few minutes, I decided to follow the mountain bike trail, ensuring no-one was using it until I found the main path again.

Once I was back on track, I continued along until I saw the path I wanted to take to the right, which led me back into the forest. Be aware: there are some stairs here, though they are quite large and not very steep.

At the bottom of the stairs the path led me to the left, onto a small bridge that took me to a little pond. There are some stone seats here which I thought was very interesting as I hadn’t seen any like them before on my other adventures.

Once I had finished admiring the water, I followed the path to the left, which took me up towards the glen itself. At this point I could hear the roaring of the waterfall as it cascaded across the rocks.

Continuing along, there was a bridge to the right. This bridge can lead you two ways: back towards the start of the trek or deeper into the glen. I chose to follow it to the right, which led me toward another set of stone seats. These were placed beside the small stream, which luckily enough had a few ducks swimming in it.

The trail after this section is quite straightforward. Along the way there are many unique things to see such as a large waterfall, old wooden signs, and some benches with mosaic artwork. I really enjoyed this section of the walk as there were small white flowers that spilled across the forest floor – they almost looked like snow.

Following this loop led me to the children’s activity area and the bridge that connects to the end of the Gruffalo trail. I decide to ignore the very steep stairs and walk back through the Gruffalo trail itself. I admired the statues of the characters as I walked back to the start.

I thoroughly enjoyed this trek as it is visually stunning and not very difficult. It’s a great option for people with kids and dogs! Thanks to the many different trails it’s very easy to create a walk that best suits your own needs, which is something I really liked about it!

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2. Redburn Forest

Redburn country park is an extraordinary walk that will leave you feeling both accomplished and in awe of its beautiful views. It provides a multitude of trails at varying levels of difficulty. The forest is also home to some of Belfast’s rich history.

For this hike, I recommend starting at the Dunville car park as I started at Rory’s Glen Carpark and this path is very steep. However, if you would like an extra challenge this path winds through a gorgeous array of greenery. Please be sure to bring water as this section of the path doesn’t have much cover from the sun.

By the time the path had eased I needed a break, so I sat on one of the many benches scattered through this beautiful forest. This bench provided a breath-taking view of Belfast, which I didn’t think could be topped (however, as I later realised, I was wrong).

Following the path, I continued to the right, pushing myself to walk up the incline. This section is called Rory’s Glen and provides a nice area for a picnic, and towards the top of the clearing there is another bench. Going forward you will reach multiple forks in the path; I chose to follow the path to the right each time until I reached the hilltop clearing.

This is the main viewpoint for this walk and the view is one of the best. You can see all the major sights Belfast has to offer, such as Samson and Goliath and the Titanic Museum, not to mention stunning natural sights such as Cave Hill and the beauty that is the Irish Sea.

I was also lucky enough to meet a few dog walkers in the clearing and I was very happily overwhelmed by puppy cuddles and kisses. This trail is a fantastic walk for dogs, I took my partner’s dog Cosmo and he absolutely loved the walk, although he seemed tuckered out by the end. Thankfully this trek has plenty of bins throughout for cleaning up after your pet, so you won’t need to carry your rubbish around the whole way.

After finishing my lunch on a bench in the clearing I continued along the path. The trail quickly led back into the forest, so I continued to the left. This trail is also on a steep decline so I would recommend caution as this section of the path is made up of dirt and loose gravel. When I reached the bottom of the decline, I followed the trail to the right which led towards the “Bear Pit”. This has been said to have housed Robert Danville’s pet bear Bruno. Inside the small quarry there is a metal statue of Bruno which you can see Cosmo posing with in the photo below.

The path then leads towards the walled garden which was once home to the Dunville’s zoo. While I was there on March 23, they were completing renovations on the wall. However, I skirted along the construction and walked towards the “Men’s Shed”. This group of men and women specialise in woodworking and display much of their work outside, including a skilfully carved statue of Bruno. After admiring their work, I continued to the road, walked to the carpark and re-joined the path from there. I then followed the trail until I reached the other carpark.

I personally enjoyed this trek more in spring then I did in autumn, as with the leaves gone the stunning views could peak through the tree’s branches, creating a unique moment of beauty I hadn’t experienced before.

This hike took approximately an hour and a half, which included many stops.

3. Cregagh Glen

Cregagh Glen is a visually stunning walk. Tucked away on Upper Knockbreda Road, it offers a beautiful scenic route for people of all ages, and for dog walking! If you are driving to this spot there is a bit of on-street parking down the side streets, but there are no parking facilities specifically for Cregagh Glen.

Whilst this trail is tucked away there is a sign in front of the entrance if you can’t immediately spot the entry. Be aware that this is a looped walk so you will have to return the way you came.

This trail is a mixture of dirt, rock and wooden paths so I would highly recommend wearing appropriate shoes such as wellies or hiking boots – it can be extremely slippery at many points.

As you enter this trail you can at first see the surrounding homes nearby, but the further into the walk you go, the more they slip away. It was almost as if the glen itself was reclaiming the area. The trail has a certain overgrown feeling to it, which I loved. All the different hues of green mixed together in an array of different plant species creates an astonishingly beautiful getaway.

As the walk continues you will reach the wooden path section of the trail. This path weaves over the stream as it flows downwards, with bridges crossing it every so often. The first of these bridges will lead you to a lovely walk beside the stream. The water is very shallow here, and I noticed many kids and dogs splashing around in the stream when I was there. There is geocache around this area for anyone interested – the hint is trolls (I didn’t place this geocache, but I found it a few months ago).

After signing your name and potentially exchanging goods, you can continue on the trail. At the end of this section you will cross another bridge to the first set of many stairs in the glen. The stairs are constructed with wood planks and packed dirt, with wooden handrails. These were extremely mucky when I was there – many of the steps were actually just puddles of water. I wouldn’t recommend this trail for anyone with mobility issues or problems with stairs, as they are also quite steep.

At the top of the first set of stairs there are two options. You can go down the stairs to continue along the trail or you can take a quick diversion up the stairs to your right where there is a small but lovely viewpoint of the roaring waterfall ahead. Once you are back on the path you will have to climb the largest portion of stairs on the trail. Please be very careful as I almost slipped a few times!

The trees on this trail tower far above you, providing a cool shadow on a sunny day. I would recommend wearing warmer clothes as the chill coming off the stream combined with the tree shadows made me quite cold (although I’m Australian so I might be more affected by it than the locals!). The dirt path will then lead you along the narrower parts of the stream, with clear water flowing across the rocks to your right.

As you follow the water and path you will be about halfway through the trail. This is when you will reach another fork in the path – if you go to your left you can continue straight to the Lisnabreeny Military Cemetery; however, I choose to go right along the stream and visited the other section on the way back.

Following this path, the trees will eventually begin to pull away from each other, allowing the sun to shine down on the dirt and gravel trail. There are a few log benches along this section if you’d like a chance to sit down.

Eventually you will make it to another fork in the path, where going left will lead you to the road and another entrance to the Lisnabreeny Military Cemetery, or you can walk down a small and overgrown path to the entrance of Lisnabreeny itself. The entrance is a stone tunnel which will lead you to the open expanse of the Lisnabreeny area to walk through.

This area has a few small streams which the path to the right follows. This path eventually leads to the gravel road at the back of this section where there used to be a rope swing, but unfortunately when I recently visited the rope had snapped. This part of the walk would be perfect for a picnic.

At this point, I turned back to the Cregagh Glen portion of my walk, but if you continued you could walk to the Lisnabreeny lookout and then the Lisnabreeny Rath.

Once I looped back the only difference I made in returning through this trail was that I went up to the Lisnabreeny Military Cemetery. This spot has a beautiful view of the city and specifically of Samson and Goliath. Just be sure to keep your dog on a lead if you choose to go up to this section of the walk.

After admiring the view for a few minutes, I continued back through Cregagh Glen (the steps that were slippery on the way up were even more challenging on the way down). Overall, the trek took me about an hour, although that was at a leisurely pace. I hope this summary helps if you choose to explore the natural beauty of Cregagh Glen!

4. Carnmoney Hill

Carnmoney Hill is the perfect hike if you are looking for a trail with extraordinary views. The trail is also located close to Monkstown Forest so I would recommend doing them together if you can.

I started at the Carnmoney Hill entrance off Knockenagh Avenue, which of the few entrances available I would advise using as there is more on street parking. It is situated beside Rathfern Social Activity Centre and the entrance itself has a children’s play area. There is also a small pond for a local angling club, as well as a memorial to the soldiers that died in a plane crash in Carnmoney.

I began the hike by walking up the main path to the left of the entrance, a mixture of dirt and rock. This combined with the steepness of the path meant that the trail was quite slippery. I would not recommend this trail for anyone with mobility issues. I would also recommend wearing hiking shoes as this really helped me when I was making my way to the top.

Continuing along the trail, I reached a fork in the path. Referring to the map I continued to the right as the other path led down the hillside rather than up. Following along this path led to a small sitting area, which boasted a great view through the trees, as well as an artistic installation with a small waterfall.

After enjoying the view for a few minutes, I continued along the path. I really enjoyed this section of the walk as the trees hung low, only a little bit higher than my head (keep in mind I’m quite short so any taller hikers will probably need to duck down). The surroundings were a mixture of tall trees covered in moss which cast long shadows over the path, and large rocks.

This walk has a lot of viewpoints. The first of these great views is at the bench at the fork in the road, which is in a small clearing.

The next section of the walk is steeper and leads to my favourite viewpoint on this trek. This point had a wooden handrail leading to a small clearing which has a bench and a waist high stone wall.

We took in the view for a couple of minutes before heading along the rest of the path. Following the path to the left I reached a clearing which is perfect for picnics. When I’d taken in the view I followed the path back down the way I had come, although you could follow the path to the left from the clearing and go down the other trail. This will lead you through tall trees and eventually onto the road.

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5. Monkstown Forest

At this time of year Monkstown Forest provides a different sort of beauty than most of the other trails in this article. However, even with the stripped back branches and lack of greenery, the trail is still one I would recommend. This is for a multitude of reason, but first and foremost, the trail is a great walk for almost anyone, including dog walkers, families, casual walkers, and people that may experience mobility issues. This is thanks to the wide dirt paths that twist through the trees.

Now that all of the branches are left exposed to the elements, the forest feels like an entirely new experience from when I walked the area last year in spring. The sky no longer has to fight through the canopy of overlapping leaves – instead the sun shines down on you for almost all of the walk. Walking through the area took me approximately forty minutes which was at quite a slow pace, so I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking for a long walk.

Due to the multiple entrances/exits of Monkstown it really depends on the where you enter the forest as to which loop you will/can take. I started at the carpark and followed the path to my left, which led me towards the river.

Following this path, you will be led up a short flight of dirt stairs. These are the only set of stairs in the forest so if you struggle with them this portion of the forest is easily avoidable. However, if you do choose to go this route you will be led through a section of trees and a clear section of land.

At this point you will notice one of the many wooden statues throughout the area, as well as the ‘Butterfly Grove’ a memorial dedicated to those who have received hospice care and have since passed away.

Once you move on from this section of the trail, you will reach the larger of two bridges in the forest. Crossing this bridge leads you to one of the exits/entrances, so I chose to continue along the dirt path. Following this path will lead you to the large clearing in the middle of this forest area. There a few benches speckled along this section of the path.

Continuing along the path, you will reach the section of the trail that leads you in three different directions. There’s a bench here as well as two wooden statues. The left and middle path will lead you through the forest area and to one of the many exits as well as crossing a small river/stream. I chose to continue along the third path which led me back into the forest area before reaching a wider path which was a small gravel road. This leads two different ways – I followed the path to the right, heading back towards the carpark.

When I reached another fork in the path, I followed that to the right, back into the tree cover and continued forwards until I could see our car. This section of the path has quite a few benches and other wooden carvings, so it’s the perfect spot to sit and have a bite to eat!

I hope these summaries will help you decide where you will have your next adventure!

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