When I think back to my childhood, I recall sunny summer evenings spent playing outside with my sisters, building forts and dens from random bits of wood, sticks and old sheets. I remember exploring the garden, looking for new and interesting types of flowers, leaves and funny shaped twigs, to add to my nature scrapbook, or to collect in a bucket to give to my mother as a ‘present’. I remember the excitement as we drove to the Forest Park on a weekend.
I remember driving through the entrance of the Forest and being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of trees, the height of them, the colours and of course, the possibility of spotting a deer or perhaps some other magical creature, living secretly in the deepest part of the forest. It was always an adventure, and you never knew what might happen next. A place where your imagination could truly run free amongst the beauty of nature.
So with a recent survey revealing that 1 in 10 Irish children have never visited a forest or wooded area, I felt compelled to pull together this list of beautiful forest parks, in celebration of ESB Tree Week, which runs from March 6th to the 13th. These forests are a must see for any family.
Up first, the forest which fuelled my imagination in childhood, and still does to this day:
1. Portumna Forest Park, Galway
This beautiful forest park in Portumna covers almost 450 hectares. Dominantly a coniferous woodland, the main tree species are Scots pine and Norway spruce. Keep an eye out for red squirrels which can frequently be spotted in this park. If you’re quiet enough, you might also spot some fallow deer, as the forest is largely populated with them. There are 4 looped trails in the park ranging from a multi-access trail suitable for all visitors of approx 1km length, to a long multi-use trail of over 10kms for walkers and cyclists. The variety of trails and lengths make it a perfect park for families to visit with little kids.
Find out more about Portumna Forest Park here.
2. Gougane Barra Forest Park, Cork
This gorgeous park is located in the townland of Coomroe. Gougane Barra was developed as a forest park in the early 60’s and was officially opened in 1966. It is unique in having a looped motor trail of almost 5 km with spectacular views of the deep valley and its walled sides. Walking in Gougane Barra is an energetic undertaking but one can be assured that it is a rewarding experience. There are 6 different trails to whet the appetite of the walking enthusiast. These are of varying distances and degrees of difficulty. Each one has its own story to tell and show off the spectacular panoramas of mountain, valley, stream and lake.
Find out more about Gougane Barra here.
3. Ards Forest Park, Donegal
This park has something for everyone and will certainly ignite imaginations! The park covers approximately 480 hectares and includes a variety of habitats, among them sand dunes, beaches, salt marshes, salt water lakes, rock face and, of course, coniferous and deciduous woodlands. Keep an eye out for blackberry and bramble in the oak forest, plus water lilies which thrive in a fen area near Lough Lilly. You could easily spend many hours exploring this wonderful park.
Find out more about Ards Forest Park here.
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4. Dun a Ri Forest Park, Cavan
This beautiful family friendly forest park is a must see for nature lovers. In the forest, you’ll find an abundance of animals, including fox, badger, stoat, red and grey squirrel, hedgehog and rabbit. The duck pond and lake have several visitors as well as resident populations of ducks and moorhens. A wide variety of birds including warblers, finches, tits, jays and pigeons inhabit the woods and open areas. In this forest, you’ll find mainly oak and ash, but you’ll also spot some hazel, holly and rhododendron. There are 4 walking trails in Dun a Ri, including the Nature Trail, Village Wall, River Walk and an Access for all Trail, perfect for families with buggies.
Find out more about Dun a Ri Forest Park here.
5. Avondale Forest Park, Wicklow
This charming forest park covers 505 acres of land and is situated on the west bank of the Avonmore river. The forest park provides an endless variety of walks with scenery ranging from the magnificent openness of the Great Ride to the towering impressiveness of the massed conifers on the banks of the river. The park has four walking trails and a family cycle trail.
Find out more about Avondale Forest Park here.
Find your local forest park or woodland here and start exploring!
Visit welovetrees.ie to find out about local events happening in your area during ESB Tree Week, and to find ways to get outside to learn, grow and enjoy trees.