A visit to Glenariff Forest Park, County Antrim

by Jan

One of the best things to do on the Antrim Coast is a walk at the Glenariff Forest Park in County Antrim.  Known as “Queen of the Glens”, Glenariff covers over 1,000 hectares and is the biggest of the nine Antrim Glens.  It also forms part of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

This National Nature Reserve is a beautiful natural location with serene woodland walks, breathtaking waterfalls, and stunning views.

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about a visit to the Glenariff Forest Park.

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What is the Glenariff Forest Park?

iews from Glearrif Forest Park Viewpoint, Northern Ireland, UK

The Glenariff Forest Park is a beautiful nature reserve within the famous Nine Glens of Antrim.  It is one of many stunning natural places to visit in Northern Ireland.

Within the park you can enjoy a varied landscape, with woodland, tumbling waterfalls, and ornamental gardens.  Plus, you’ll find a choice of riverside walks to suit all abilities or can just go to enjoy the magnificent views.

We stopped at the Glenariff Forest Park on the second day of our Causeway Coastal Way road trip, after an overnight stay in Cushendall.  It made an invigorating start to the day, before heading up the Antrim Coast to Cushendun.

A Glen comes from the Irish Gaelic word “glean”, which refers to a particular type of mountain valley in Ireland.

Where is the Glenariff Forest Park?

The Glenariff Forest Park is a short drive from the coastal village of Waterfoot in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.  It is 10 minutes from Cushendall and 20 minutes from Ballymena.

The address is 98 Glenariff Road, Ballymena, Northern Ireland, BT44 0QX.

The nearest train station is Ballymena.

Walks at the Glenariff Forest Park

There are four Glenariff Forest Park walks, which start at the same place.  You’ll see maps of the routes dotted around the park.

  • Viewpoint Trail (1km/0.5 miles)
  • Waterfall Walk Trail (3km/2 miles)
  • Scenic Trail (8.9 km/5.5 miles)
  • Rainbow Trail (0.6km/0.4 miles)

Download the Glenariff Forest Park map here.

The four walks at Glenariff Forest Park

1. Viewpoint Trail

signs for the trails at Glenariff Forest Park

The first of the walks at Glenariff is the Viewpoint Trail, a short walk around the the top of the Forest Park.  It allows you to enjoy spectacular views over the Glen and the ornamental gardens.  Furthermore, it is more accessible and doesn’t involve any steep hills.

2. Rainbow Trail

The Rainbow Trail is an optional short extension to the Waterfall Walk, which includes crossing the Rainbow Bridge.

3. Scenic Trail

The Scenic Trail is the most challenging of all four walks at the Glenariff Forest Park.  The circular walk takes you along the River Inver to the Ess-na-Crub Waterfall before a steep ascent to the summit.

At the top, you will be rewarded with panoramic views over the Glen.  On a clear day, you’ll be able to see as far as Scotland.  Afterwards, you will descend back into the gorge to see the Ess-na-Laragh Waterfall before returning to the start.

4. Waterfalls Walk Trail

A full guide to the Waterfalls Walk in Glenariff Forest Park

The Waterfalls Walk is a stunning circular gorge walk that leads through the National Nature Reserve to three spectacular waterfalls.

The walk starts at the viewpoint by the car park.  From here, the trail leads downhill on a gravel path, before joining some timber boardwalks.  The walkway was first built about 100 years ago but has since been replaced to provide the spectacular walk today.  It is a lush, verdant landscape with lots of trees, ferns and moss.

Luckily, it is signposted all the way and impossible to get lost.  Remember to keep your eye peeled for wildlife, such as red squirrels and rare snails.

Ess-na-Laragh Waterfall (Fall of the Mare)

ferns in front of waterfall

Now, you’ll probably hear the gushing water of the rapids before you see the first of the waterfalls, Ess-na-Largh.  This is an impressive waterfall which gushes over the boulders to the River Glenariff below.

A bridge across the river at the bottom provides an excellent viewpoint.  You can then walk along the riverside until you get to the restaurant and another bridge.

Laragh Lodge Restaurant

Laragh Lodge Restaurant, Glenariff Forest Park, Northern Ireland, UK

At the mid-point of the Waterfalls Walk, you’ll come across the Laragh Lodge Restaurant.  Built in 1890 as a tea house, the Laragh Lodge has an excellent location overlooking the waterfront.  They offer a good choice of dinners or sandwiches at lunch.

You could stop at the restaurant for refreshments or continue over another bridge to the next waterfall.

Ess-na-Crub Waterfall (Fall of the Hoof)

Ess na Crub Waterfall, Glenariff Forest Park, Northern Ireland, UK

After a short walk, you’ll arrive at the next waterfall, Ess-na-Crab.  This waterfall, on the River Inver, is shorter and wider than the first.  It is also a lot calmer, as the water falls into the pool below.

A Woodland Walk

Path leading through the Woods at Glenariff Forest, Northern Ireland

After the Ess-na-Crub waterfall, retrace your steps to the main route, which leads up through the forest.

Here, the woodland walk offers a different landscape, with lots of tall trees, bluebells and wild garlic.

However, the last ascent is a steep one – so be warned!

Eventually, the Waterfall Walk takes you through the Ornamental Gardens to the end.  You’ll see several shelters where you can eat lunch if it is raining.

Places to eat at Glenariff Forest Park

There’s a choice of two places to eat in Glenariff Forest Park, the Laragh Lodge Restaurant and the Glenariff Tea House.

After the walk we headed to the Tea House, a friendly café serving light lunches and homemade cake.  I highly recommend the lemon meringue cheesecake – it was delicious!

Directions to Glenariff Forest Park

You can get to the Glenariff Forest Park by car on the A43 Glenariff Road.  If you are using public transport, take the Ulster Bus 150 which runs to and from Ballymena.

Parking at the Glenariff Forest Park

There is a large car park at the Glenariff Forest Park.  It is open from 8am until dusk and costs £5.

Touring vehicles can park overnight for a fee.

The nature reserve is open 24 hours and admission is free.

Is it worth visiting Glenariff Forest Park?

Yes, we loved our visit to the Glenariff Forest Park.

It’s perfect for nature-lovers, photographers, families or anyone looking to escape to a place of calm and serenity.

We went early morning and virtually had the park to ourselves.  It is a fantastic place just to lose yourself in nature and refresh your soul.  Plus it’s family-friendly, so ideal place for kids to stretch their legs.

Accommodation at Glenariff Forest Park

We stayed in the village of Cushendall, which is just a 10-minute drive from the nature reserve.

We rented a comfortable apartment, Antrim Coast Apartments, which was good value for money.  Another popular property on the beachfront of Carnlough is Neds Brae View.

Alternatively, if you are touring, you can stay on-site at the Glenariff Forest Caravan Park.

Other places to visit in Northern Ireland:

There are so many fantastic places to visit on the Causeway Coastal Way.  Two of Ireland’s most popular attractions, the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge are less than an hour away.  Other fantastic places to visit near the park are Carrickfergus Castle, Cushendun, and the Gobbins Cliff Walk.

Game of Thrones fans should include a visit to the picturesque Ballintoy Harbour and Cushendun.  Another of the best Game of Thrones filming locations in Country Antrim is the Dark Hedges (the Kingsroad).

We'd love to hear from you.

We hope you enjoyed our guide to Glenariff Nature Reserve?  We’d love to hear your questions or comments below.

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