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Family Treking around Northern Ireland

21st August 2022 by Ana Thirlwell Share

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Looking for suitable child friendly walks in Northern Ireland? Want to get your children outside this summer and ditch the technology? Looking for new and exciting places to go with the kids without knowing what is nearby can be stressful. Well, here are some great walks around NI that are not only picturesque but have all the facilities needed, when you have wee ones in tow.

Why get outside walking?

Getting out in the great outdoors has so many benefits. Science shows that when outside our brains become relaxed, our blood pressure lowers and our immune system strengthens. It can help improve mood and self-esteem. It’s also a time to connect with family and friends. See my blog post “take a step outside” on my website on more of the advantages to being outside in nature.

Northern Ireland has some beautiful scenery. With mountains, forests, hills and lakes to choose from I have put together some of the best treks to do with kids around NI, and as an added bonus (or to bribe the kids on the way round), these treks feature some fantastic play parks!

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Davagh Forest

Davagh forest is in the heart of the Sperrin mountains, home to rolling hills, sweeping forests and stunning views. We took the black walking trail which is easy enough for the whole family. A circular walk, just under 2 miles and pram accessible, it begins in the upper car park, passing through woodlands, crossing the water over a footbridge and plenty of greenery.

We loved the play park here. It was refurbished not too long ago and features slides, swings, mounds to climb, tunnels, stepping pods and a basket swing. All surfaced with rubber safety flooring.

Parking is free and there are two car parks. The OM dark sky park observatory has some essential facilities, where you can find snacks, toilets (a need with children) coffee (a need for adults) or just take a rest and take in the view.

Tollymore Forest Park

Tollymore Forest Park is at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, with views of the sea at nearby Newcastle and home to impressive forests, captivating caves and the Shimna river. Your wee ones will love the stepping stones.

The forest has four walk trails signposted by different colours – the longest is 8 miles. We took the blue trail, a short walk and great for wee legs at just over half a mile. Look out for all kinds of wildlife in Tollymore – you may even see some kingfishers and woodpeckers.

The nature play space for kids is just brilliant, featuring impressive wooden structures of a deer, a castle with towers and bridges. With slides, balancing logs and climbing walls, your kids will be entertained for hours.

Tollymore National Outdoor Centre is located within the forest. Here you can take part in many outdoor sports such as canoeing and rock climbing. The centre also includes accommodation, a restaurant, meeting rooms, changing facilities and toilets. Car parking is £5 per car.

Hillsborough Forest Park

Hillsborough Forest Park is set within 150 acres of mixed woodlands. Lots of work has been put into this forest park. It now has upgraded pathways throughout, with a lake, viewpoints, a historical fort, sculpture trail and plenty of wildlife. A simple circular route just under 2.5 miles long takes you around the lake, with the play park halfway along.

This play park is fantastically designed and made using natural equipment that compliments the environment.  There are wide slides, tunnel slides, scramble nets, climbing walls, balance beams, stepping logs and so much more.

With plenty of free parking, a coffee and ice cream truck and toilets in the play park, Hillsborough Forest Park has everything to make a great family adventure.

Gosford Forest

Gosford forest is home to Gosford castle, an arboretum, a deer park, diverse woods and open parklands. There are lots of different walking trails to follow, all colour coded and ranging in different distances and difficulty and taking in the streams, waterfalls, ponds and grassland that Gosford forest has to offer.

We followed the Play Trail. This is a great one to follow to keep the wee ones moving: it features 4 different wooden superstructures to explore and, at just under 2 miles and suitable for prams, you can use it to weave your way through the forest and discover the ultimate adventure.

With two play parks, Little Explorers is suitable for up to 5 years old. It’s an open space with a sand area and wooden huts enclosed with a willow hedge. The larger park had lots to keep the kids busy with slides, monkey bars and swings.

Parking is plentiful and costs £5 per car. With toilets, catering facilities and picnic benches, this park has all you need for your next family trek!

Slieve Gullion

Slieve Gullion is Ireland’s Mountain of Mystery, rising some 576m above the surrounding countryside. The mountain itself lies at the centre of a ring of hills – the Ring of Gullion. The views of Croslieve, Slievebrack and Mullaghbane Mountains are just exceptional.

The Giant’s Lair trail is a magical living storybook. Follow the trail with miniature doorways, exciting dragons and fearsome giants and wicked witches, all inspired by legend and mythical folklore. The trail is short at just under a mile but takes you up some hills and into corners, so I recommend a good backpack carrier or baby sling. It starts and ends in the car park and is easily found.

The play park is just fabulous. It’s big and caters to all ages, with a huge tower and tube slide, a specialist toddler area, a zip line, and even features a maze and a wishing chair.

Car parking is free. Accessible toilets and baby changing facilities, picnic benches and a cafe are onsite if you don’t want to bring a picnic.

Oxford Island

Overlooking Lough Neagh, Oxford Island boasts panoramic views of this stunning setting. There are woodland trails to explore, wildflower meadows, wildlife ponds and bird watching. There are several trails to follow here designed for all abilities and you can extend your trek by venturing off to different tracks.

We took the loop around the shores of the lough at just over a mile long. The trail has gravel paths which are good but there can be muddy puddles in wet weather so wear walking shoes or boots.

The play park here has been recently refurbished using a bespoke and unique design featuring wooden beams, tunnels, stepping stones, trampolines and mounds to climb. It also has swings, slides and roundabouts.

Learn fascinating facts about the protection of the natural environment, including local history and heritage at the educational discovery centre. There is free parking, accessible toilets, baby changing facilities and a cafe to rest those wee legs.

Gortin Glen

Gortin Glen is nestled within the Sperrin mountains and features magnificent views of the surrounding area. There are 5 walking trails of various lengths. Each of the trails are colour coded and begin and end in the main car park.

We took the grey, Pollan trail. Just over a mile long and steep in some places, you get to enjoy the beautiful waterfall and the views of the Pollan burn. We also ventured onto the park trail which was great for young children and suitable for buggies. This is a pleasantly short walk at just under a mile. It takes you past a trim trail, over bridges and past a wildlife and deer enclosure.

The play parks here are huge and connected by a bridge, with high quality play equipment throughout. Children will be busy climbing, sliding, swinging and bouncing on the inground trampoline. The playpark also features, sensory panels, multi activity units, climbing nets and pod swings.

Here you will find a free car park, a great cafe, accessible toilets and baby changing facilities. They even have a forest school where they run activities throughout the year.

Lough Shore Park

Lough Shore park in Antrim is on the shores of Lough Neagh. With attractive surroundings you can trek the edge of the lough through Rea’s Wood check out some Game Of Thrones information and sit on the throne or take the River Path that leads to Antrim Castle Gardens with historic 400-year-old gardens. With both linear treks you can turn back anytime, making your walk as long or short as you need.

The nautical-themed play park is fabulous and suitable for all ages, with a tall tower tube slide, a large ship with bridges, climbing nets and slides. It’s also fenced in and uses rubber safety flooring. Your wee ones won’t want to leave!

There is plenty on offer here, with free parking, toilets, restaurants, ice cream, and street food. You can spend the whole day here and still not have time for everything.

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Kilbroney Forest Park

An inspiration for C. S. Lewis’s Narnia, Kilbroney Park offers a scenic wonderland where sea, mountains and valley meet. Overlooking Carlingford Lough, and set within the shadow of Slieve Martin and the Mournes, there are many miles of trails through the forest and over higher ground.

You have to check out the Cloughmore Stone. The views are just breathtaking. It’s accessible from the top car park using the forest drive. A forest lane which is short and steep will take you to the top. It is signposted but I recommend a baby carrier for the smaller ones.

Kilbroney offers good family trail options. We enjoyed the Narnia Trail which is a very short trail at under half a mile and meanders through the trees. It is wheelchair accessible, pram friendly and captivates young children. The trail starts through a ‘magical wardrobe door’. Kids can run around mini castles, sit on thrones and dander through fairy doors. Coming across characters like Mr Tumnus, the beavers and the White Queen, it will let their imaginations run wild.

The play park is well equipped and has plenty of space for kids to run around. You can even find tennis courts and an outdoor gym here. Parking is free, accessible toilets are onsite and there’s a great cafe.

Going on any adventure needs planning and organisation, especially with children. Always try to prep the night before you are going on a big trip. Get to know the place you’re off exploring before you head there, download any maps, walking trails, check the weather and get to know the route you want to take. Get all the gear ready: outdoor coats, wellies or boots, picnic, snacks, drinks. Check for any signs and abide by any warnings. You can never be over-prepared!

Going on a trek is a fantastic family adventure and if you need ideas, advice or tips check out my social media pages (wee.adventurers) on Facebook and Instagram. Get those rucksacks packed and get going on one of the many treks around Northern Ireland.

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