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Climbing the Reek may be a bit challenging, but the hike is made better by being fully prepared before you set off towards the summit. This comprehensive guide tells you all you need to know before you climb Croagh Patrick, Irelands holiest mountain.
Towering above the town of Westport and the surrounding area, Croagh Patrick taunts you to climb it, never far from your sights as it looms over the landscape. Visible from miles away, it is a striking mountain with a unique, cone-shaped summit, where on a clear day, the little white chapel up top glimmers when it catches the sunlight. Climbing Croagh Patrick has become somewhat of a rite of passage for Irish people due to its links with St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, and for the revered pilgrims’ route to its peak that tens of thousands choose to undertake each year – some, even, in their bare feet.
Croagh Patrick is not only to be enjoyed by the Irish, however, nor is it reserved just for those who trudge its well worn, rocky trail in pilgrimage. If your fitness allows, I’d recommend climbing Croagh Patrick to anyone visiting the area of Westport, for both the sense of achievement and the unmatched views of a glistening Clew Bay and its assemblage of emerald drumlin islands that the climb offers.
Known to locals as simply ‘The Reek‘, there are a few things that you should know about Croagh Patrick before you set off to climb it. As I couldn’t find a complete overview in one place myself prior to the climb, I’ve set everything I think you should know out here so you are more than adequately prepared for this unforgettable hike in Ireland.
Table of Contents Hide
- Croagh Patrick hike essentials
- A brief Croagh Patrick history & some interesting Croagh Patrick facts
- Some common questions to have before you climb Croagh Patrick
- Where is Croagh Patrick?
- Croagh Patrick height – how high is Croagh Patrick?
- How many km is Croagh Patrick up and down?
- How long does it take to climb Croagh Patrick?
- How hard is it to climb Croagh Patrick?
- Is Croagh Patrick dangerous?
- Is climbing Croagh Patrick worth it?
- Is there parking at Croagh Patrick?
- Are there toilets at Croagh Patrick?
- How do I get there? Directions to Croagh Patrick
- Climbing Croagh Patrick – tips for a successful hike
- Where to stay when hiking Croagh Patrick
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A brief Croagh Patrick history & some interesting Croagh Patrick facts
Croagh Patrick is by no means the tallest mountain in Ireland, or even the tallest mountain in the the county of Mayo for that matter (that plaudit goes to nearby Mweelrea, at 816m). So why all this fuss, then?
Croagh Patrick and its association with St. Patrick
Croagh Patrick has long drawn associations with Ireland’s patron saint, the illustrious St. Patrick, and has become known as Ireland’s “Holiest Mountain” as a result. Patrick is said to have fasted on the Croagh Patrick summit for 40 days in 441AD to honour the period of Lent. Apart from this, Patrick is also responsible for converting the island of Ireland to Christianity and also, rather unusually, is said to have banished the snakes from Ireland.
Rumour has it that he did so from an area known as ‘Log na nDeamhan‘, or the Serpents Hollow, which is located right at the foot of Croagh Patrick mountain. While there is a perfectly reasonable geological explanation for this, in that the hollows were in fact caused by the encroachment of the sea which then eroded holes into the land, I personally prefer the ‘St. Patrick did it’ version – who doesn’t like a bit of magic (or some good, old-fashioned saintly powers)?!
Reek Sunday, Croagh Patrick
Croagh Patrick was thus named in the saint’s honour and over the years, the tradition of the famous Croagh Patrick pilgrimage on Reek Sunday developed. Each year, on the last Sunday of July, devoted souls numbering some 20-25,000 undertake the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick’s summit, with some even choosing to climb Croagh Patrick barefoot.
An event of extreme importance both to the locality and to pilgrims, in 1905 local men built the Croagh Patrick church on the summit of the mountain to provide a suitable place of worship. Each year on Reek Sunday, mass is run every hour from the small, white Croagh Patrick chapel.
Croagh Patrick pagan history
However, it wasn’t just St. Patrick that had scoped the mountain out as a particularly lofty spot. Like all good Irish mountains, Croagh Patrick was snapped up by Ireland’s earlier residents in the forms of the Fir Bolg, the Tuatha de Dannan, the Milesians and the Celts, to whom the Croagh Patrick climb held a slightly different ritualistic importance to.
The Croagh Patrick trail, in its earliest form, was instead made as an early, ancient, pagan trail that is thought to date back to 3,000 BC. There was even a discovery at Boheh, east of Croagh Patrick, of ancient art on a stone tablet that is thought to date as far back as 5,800 BC (ie the Stone Age!).
What is of particular interest, however, is that when viewed directly from the ‘Boheh Stone‘ (also known as ‘St. Patrick’s Chair), a rock that is covered in carvings of circular cup and ring marks, is that on the dates of April 18 and August 24 the setting sun seems to ‘roll’ down the northern edge of Croagh Patrick. These dates, along with the Winter Solstice, divide the year perfectly into three so this has to be more than a coincidence.
This article is a great read if you want to learn more about Croagh Patrick’s earlier, pagan history.
Some common questions to have before you climb Croagh Patrick
If you’re anything like me, then you’ll likely have a number of questions before you set off for the top of Croagh Patrick. Here are some of the most common queries.
Where is Croagh Patrick?
The closest town to Croagh Patrick is the seaside village of Murrisk, which is around 8km from the colourful town of Westport in Ireland’s County Mayo. For any non-Irish readers, Mayo is a beautiful county located in the west of Ireland. Its wildly beautiful coastline, which includes the town of Westport, forms part of Ireland’s popular Wild Atlantic Way route along the west coast. Murrisk is where most climbers access Croagh Patrick, as it is here that the visitor centre and car park is located.
Croagh Patrick height – how high is Croagh Patrick?
Croagh Patrick stands at a respectable 764m. While it’s not the tallest mountain going it’s still a height that is not to be sniffed at You literally start right at the bottom of the incline and then it’s straight uphill, with very little respite from an unrelentingly steep, scree-strewn trail once you begin your walk.
How many km is Croagh Patrick up and down?
I’ve struggled to find a consistent Croagh Patrick distance metric. OSI puts the Croagh Patrick climb distance at 6.8km in totality, with AllTrails giving it a total distance of 7.1km. I decided to track the walk for myself and it came in at 10.2km, so I guess it is also dependent on what path you follow up the mountain too, as you’ll find yourself zig-zagging a little bit. (It’s probably also down to what device was used to track the route, also!)
How long does it take to climb Croagh Patrick?
This is dependent on a wide range of factors, but the average time to climb Croagh Patrick is commonly stated as being 3 hours 30 minutes – typically 2 hours up and 1 hour 30 minutes down. We managed it in a bit less than this – 3 hours 15 minutes – and, strangely enough, it took us longer on the way down than it did up.
How long to climb Croagh Patrick will also be dependent on your fitness levels, how often you stop to take breaks and if you also stop for a packed lunch along the way! We fitted in a good few little breaks, photo ops and also some time to take in the view and have a snack at the top in our 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Whatever you do, I’d urge you to not endevour to set a record Croagh Patrick climb time on your first time up the Reek, as the path is full of loose stones that are particularly tricky on the way down. Please, please, take your time and watch your footing!
My best advice would be to allocate around 4 hours and to plan for the activity taking up at least half of your day (so a full morning, or afternoon etc depending on when you decide to climb).
How hard is it to climb Croagh Patrick?
Anyone who claims that climbing Croagh Patrick is easy is either an expert mountain climber, or is lying. Is climbing Croagh Patrick hard physically? Yes, it is! As someone who would consider themselves pretty fit, I found the climb quite challenging in places. Expect your calves to burn on the way up and your quads to burn on the way down, and you can expect a fair old bit of huffing and puffing on the ascent too.
What makes the climb difficult for most people is the layers and layers of scree that coat the trail. As a result, your footing is very unstable due to the loose rock shifting beneath you with almost every step and you need to stay mentally alert about where you are placing your feet.
Probably the most difficult part of the Croagh Patrick climb for me, however, was the mental aspect of it in spots along the route. I’m not great with heights and suffer from some mild vertigo sometimes, usually induced when I feel like I’m not very secure and that I could fall.
There was one point on the first part of the walk where the path almost stops for a few metres and you have to clamber over bare rocks that felt a bit close to the edge for my liking. The second hairy incident came when we were about halfway up the final ascent of the cone. It gets extremely steep at a point and the track is very poor, with copious amounts of unstable scree on the path.
I became aware at this point at how vertical it seemed and that I’d have to come back down this way too. I then made the mistake of looking back over my shoulder. Cue a spell of dizziness and a minor panic attack here but I sat down for a minute, took a few deep breaths and then got on with it.
I should add that this part was much less terrifying on the way down than it was on the way up, so if I can get passed this point as someone who has a fear of heights, then most people will be ok with this too!
Is Croagh Patrick dangerous?
The above probably leads us on then to this next question, in terms of how safe it is to climb Croagh Patrick.
Over 100,000 people climb Croagh Patrick every year and most of these manage without major incident. However, there are still some people who get injured every year undertaking the climb and Mayo Mountain Rescue do lift people off the mountain over the course of the year.
The most ‘dangerous’ aspect of the climb is due to the track being, in the majority of parts, rather degenerated and this erosion of the trail has worsened the amount of scree that is loose and that you must deal with.
There are ways to mitigate against this (see more in the ‘Climbing Croke Patrick – tips for a successful hike‘ section below) and some very simple ones are merely to have your wits about you, take your time and wear suitable clothing and footwear for climbing a mountain – this isn’t your average Sunday stroll.
Know your own limits – if you are unfit then you may find the hike very difficult and it is often during moments of tiredness where accidents happen so don’t be afraid to call it quits if you’re finding the going a little too tough.
Finally, climbing Croagh Patrick can be a risky endeavour during times of inclement weather, so watch out for heavy cloud cover, rain and/or high winds on the day of your climb. If there are official warnings in place about hiking Croagh Patrick, then pay attention to them.
Is climbing Croagh Patrick worth it?
In case the previous two sections have put you off climbing Croagh Patrick, please do not let them!
I have included them as I wish they were things that I had known before I climbed the Reek, so that I could mentally prepare for it a bit better, rather than be surprised by A) all of the scree and B) the couple of tough stretches on the route. So these have been included in the name of transparency and to give you the full picture before you climb too.
Climbing Croagh Patrick is 100% worth it. The scenery along the route is ruggedly beautiful and the panoramic views from the upper slopes of the mountain of Clew Bay and its hundreds of islands are positively mesmerising. Also, the feeling of accomplishment you get upon reaching the summit and also, the foot of the mountain when you finish, puts any nervy moments firmly to the back of your mind!
Is there parking at Croagh Patrick?
There is a fairly large carpark at the Croagh Patrick Visitor Centre in Murrisk, which is located just off the R335 road. Google Maps will have no difficulty in directing you there. There is a small charge for parking – remember to pay and display your ticket on the dashboard. I also spotted several bike parking racks too, should you wish to cycle to the visitor centre.
Are there toilets at Croagh Patrick?
An extremely valid question that I had before I climbed too! Yes, there are toilets at the Croagh Patrick Visitor Centre, along with facilities like a coffee shop, secure lockers and hot showers (available for an additional charge). I think previously that there were toilets on the flat part of the climb at the midway point known as ‘The Shelf’, however these looked to have been removed when I visited in June 2021. There were also no toilets in use at the church on the summit either.
The mountain is probably not a place that you’d want to be caught needing the loo, as there is little in the way of tree/bush coverage on the way up should the urge strike you, so make sure that you use the facilities before you commence your ascent, and while I encourage you to keep hydrated, try not to drink too much!
How do I get there? Directions to Croagh Patrick
From Westport | How to get to Croagh Patrick from Westport is completely dependent on whether you have a car at your disposal, with the easiest way of reaching Croagh Patrick being to drive yourself. Westport to Croagh Patrick is a less than 15 minute drive from the town centre. If you are without a car, then you can book a taxi or alternatively, Bus Eireann operates Route 450 to Louisburgh, although times are a bit infrequent.
From Galway | If you’re based in Galway, then Galway to Croagh Patrick is around 1.5 hours in a car. Otherwise, you’re looking at a bus to Westport and then making your way from Westport to Croagh Patrick.
From Dublin | Dublin to Croagh Patrick is a larger undertaking. You’ll need to get yourself to Westport first, which is 3+ hours in the car and similar by train from Heuston station, before making your way to Croagh Patrick.
Climbing Croagh Patrick – tips for a successful hike
Choose the time you climb Croagh Patrick wisely
The time you choose to undertake your Croagh Patrick hike can have a massive impact on your experience. If you were to conjure up the perfect hike, then the best time to climb Croagh Patrick will incorporate the following:
- a good, clear, sunny day with moderate temperatures (just like in Snow White, you’re looking for not too hot or not too cold!);
- a day that is not too windy;
- early in the day before the masses hit and also an off-peak, mid-week day rather than a weekend;
- a time of the year with long daylight hours should you end up starting your hike later in the day, so ideally, April through October would be best.
I’ll discuss each of these points separately below.
A good day | While this will be pretty evident to most, bad weather will really spoil your climb. While the average person will be able to put their heads down and get on with it in inclement conditions, many people will not be climbing Croagh Patrick in pilgrimage, but to undertake a rewarding hike – where the rewards are those far-reaching views of rugged slopes and the islands that dot a bright blue Clew Bay.
If you go on a day with rain and/or poor visibility, then you’ll miss all that. Keep an eye on the weather forecast in the days leading up to your hike. If you’re based in Westport for a few days the best weather forecast you’ll have is to simply keep an eye on the mountain itself. Croagh Patrick dominates the skyline from Westport and in the surrounding areas, so you’ll easily be able to see when the mountain is shrouded in clouds. Note that it’s not unusual for it to be sunny elsewhere, but for the peak of Croagh Patrick to be hidden behind a thick mask of grey cloud!
Not too windy | By nature, mountain tops are windy enough as it is, so don’t make it even more difficult for yourself by choosing to undertake the pilgrim paths of Croagh Patrick in particularly blustery weather conditions! Certain parts of Croagh Patrick mountain are more exposed than others and gusts of wind take you by surprise as you make your way towards the summit.
The cone, in particular, becomes additionally challenging when the wind hits, making it difficult to balance on the loose stone that coats the cone. The Shelf is also particularly exposed, making for a windy stretch of the hike and I wouldn’t fancy seeing what that’s like on a very windy day!
Early and off-peak | We climbed Croagh Patrick on a Monday morning in June and hit the mountain before 10.30am. There was a ‘nice’ number of other climbers at this time – lots of space between groups, but not so much that you felt you were climbing on your own. By the time we were coming down towards lunchtime, there were much denser streams coming up the mountain.
It’s worth noting that more people means more loose scree, more dust and more delays and bottlenecks. I for one feel uncomfortable knowing there are people on my heels, or also trying to circumnavigate slower groups, so do yourself a favour and avoid the majority of traffic by going before 10am or so and by avoiding the weekend.
If you can only hit Ireland’s Holy Mountain at the weekend, then I’d suggest an earlier start than 10am to avoid crowds – aim to be on the mountain for 8.30/9.00am and expect lots of people coming uphill as you are going down.
Long daylight hours | more hours in the day means more time to climb so here, the summer months are your friend! What end of the day you choose is up to you, but as I said above – early is better than late! If you do go later in the day, make sure to check sunset times and work backwards, as I would not recommend attempting to descend Croagh Patrick in the dark, or in poor light conditions.
Make sure you wear the right footwear
Due to its relatively short hiking distance and climb time and its fame as Ireland’s holiest mountain, Croagh Patrick attracts many Irish people (along with visitors from elsewhere each year). A lot of these are not regular hikers and so climb Croagh Patrick in runners (which are trainers, if you’re a US reader), as they do not own a pair of hiking boots.
While many seem to get up and down the mountain in one piece wearing runners, I’d highly recommend against this. If you have a pair of hiking boots then make sure to pack them and I’d also consider purchasing a pair for the climb if you can justify the cost.
I was so thankful on multiple occasions for the ankle-support offered by my boots, along with the comfort of its thicker sole and thicker toe to protect against any sharper rocks underfoot. With the way the rock shifts underfoot you are just asking for an ankle injury wearing runners and anyone I spotted having particular difficulty navigating the scree were wearing runners, not boots. In a slightly macabre way, I’d be interested to see the stats on those who suffer minor injuries and ankle trains and what sort of footwear they were wearing.
I’d also recommend that your boots are waterproof, as there is a section at the start of the walking route where you have to walk through a stream, so the last thing you need is wet feet for the rest of your hike.
If you’re in the market for a good pair of hiking boots, then I highly recommend my ON Cloudrock Waterproof boots. They are lightweight, super comfortable and supportive and look great too. Testament to their comfort, Andy had just purchased the male version and wore them for the first time on the climb. They didn’t need breaking in and he almost couldn’t believe just how comfy they were!
The ON boots are a bit of an investment, so if you’re looking for something a little more wallet friendly, then here are some other options.
Ensure you’re dressed for the weather conditions and come fully prepared
Similar to other mountains, various weather conditions blow in and off Croagh Patrick quite frequently, and often quite rapidly too. Here are some items that I’d recommend you not be caught without:
Layers | If you’re climbing on an alright day, then I’d suggest you wear a few layers that you can easily peel off as you get hot on the ascent, but that you can put back on once you hit the summit. It’s likely that you’ll stop a while to take in those glorious views and it can get chilly up top. You’ll also not be half as warm on the way down, either.
Sunglasses | The scree is very light coloured and I found it very glary as a result. My sunglasses rarely left my eyes, so I’d recommend bringing them if you don’t fancy squinting too much during the hike. Opt for polarised sunglasses if you’re looking for UV protection.
Sunscreen | With the exception of the SPF I’d put on my face that morning, this is one thing that myself and Andy forgot about and as a result, we picked up some rather interesting sunburn marks! Don’t be silly like we were, and remember to pack the sunscreen. Opt for a long wear sunscreen if you don’t fancy topping up all the time.
Water supply | I hate to buy plastic bottles of water (and I think we should try to minimise the use of single use plastics as much as possible), so make sure to top up your bottle of water before you head off. This one is a good choice.
Snacks | Keep those blood sugar levels up and stock up on some snacks to munch along the way, or for when you get to the top. You can also pack a little lunch for yourself, or a nice hot flask of tea or coffee. Remember to leave no trace and bring back with you what you brought up – ie don’t litter!!
Climbing Croagh Patrick is a bit of a slog, but you won’t notice the time going by. That being said, don’t set off and try to make the time go by as fast as possible, or you could be in for a rude awakening. Make sure to pace yourself and start off a little slower than you think you need to go, as it gets tougher the higher up the mountain you get.
There’s also no shame in taking short, regular breaks either – in fact I’d highly advise you do this, even to take in the views, as with the clouds coming in and out you may not get the same viewpoint you see at that point in time again, so take full advantage!
The climb can be split into three distinct parts, so use these to break the climb up mentally:
Part 1 | ‘The first bit‘ – I’m not sure if this actually has a name, but the initial slope from the car park to the shoulder of the mountain is a very distinct section, and the one that you gain the most altitude on. It’s the longest section of the walk with a continuous uphill track, and it offers outstanding views of Clew Bay. The path here is stony, often with loose scree and involves a little bit of scrambling in parts.
Part 2 | ‘The Shelf‘ – Next up is the shoulder of the mountain, which is relatively flat and even includes a slight downhill at one point. It’s very exposed on both sides so expect it to be windy but the views up here are absolutely spectacular. With a mainly rock-strewn surface, it’s somewhat akin to the surface of the moon and is a fantastic point to get your camera out. It also offers some welcome respite from the initial climb and allows you to take stock and prepare yourself for the last part of the ascent.
Part 3 | ‘The Cone‘ – the most dreaded and the most challenging part of climbing Croagh Patrick! Grit your teeth here and set off very steadily. Where there is scree, test each stone you place your foot on first and lean into the rock a bit if a gust of wind decides to join the party. Watch out for people coming down too – a lot of scree is dislodged and it’s usually easier for you to stand in than for them to stop if they have a bit of momentum coming down. If you stick to the right at this point, there’s a sort of ledge that goes the majority of the way up – it’s a little more secure than the loose rocks that form the middle of the path.
Be considerate towards others
This probably goes without saying, but watch out for your fellow climbers! As one of Ireland’s most popular mountains, you’ll be sharing Croagh Patrick with many other climbers of varying degrees of fitness and capabilities, so bear that in mind if you end up backed up behind someone who is moving a little slower than you are.
Give them the space to navigate their way at their own pace, then pass them when it is safe to do so. The same goes if you’re going a bit slower and know you’re holding a party up – it’s less stressful for you to stand in and let them get passed rather than having someone hot on your heels, making you nervous!
Everyone we met climbing Croagh Patrick was in great spirits and there was a wonderful sense of togetherness amongst all the climbers – there’s a lovely spirit of community on the way up and down so enjoy it and have a chat with your fellow climbers should the opportunity present itself.
Rent a stick from the kiosk
Probably my top tip to you in this whole article –
Rent a stick!
There’s a little kiosk before you head off at the end of the carpark. In it, you can rent a stick for €4 and receive €2 back if you return it. It’s easy walk by the kiosk and to throw caution to the wind, but a stick is a very useful tool to help balance yourself and to test your footing, both up and down. Trust me, when you’re skating along the scree you’ll be very grateful for one. So get the stick and thank me later!
Where to stay when hiking Croagh Patrick
The area of Westport and its surrounds are packed full of places to stay. Two hotels near Croagh Patrick that I have tried, tested and recommend I have included below.
OLD SCHOOL CHARM
Knockranny House Hotel
Knockranny House Hotel is a beautiful, 4 star, luxury hotel in Westport, set on a hill with fantastic views of Croagh Patrick. The service is absolutely impeccable, with a fabulous restaurant, La Fougere, onsite, as well as a spa for reviving yourself post hike. Would highly recommend staying in a Tower Suite.
The Mariner offers great value for money, with a fantastic location slap bang in the middle of town (but not quite on its busiest streets, which is good for noise levels). Rooms are pared back and spotlessly clean, while the service is extremely warm and welcoming.
If you’re searching for holiday rentals near Croagh Patrick, then I’d suggest the area around Louisburgh, for access to some incredible beaches and truly gorgeous, rugged surroundings. You’ll also be 15-20 minutes away from Westport by car from here.
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