Ross Castle is one of the most famous landmarks of Killarney National Park and it continues to attract thousands of visitors every year. Less than 2km from Ross Castle on the adjacent Ross Island is a spectacular panoramic viewing point known as the Governor’s Rock. Perched on a limestone cliff face on the shores of Lough Leane, the trail that leads to the Governor’s Rock is a delightful looped circuit around Ross Island.
Ross Castle and its environs are some of the most frequently visited parts of Killarney National Park and it’s easy to see why. The castle is situated at a beautiful location on the eastern shores of Lough Leane, the largest of Killarney’s three lakes. With the McGillycuddy Reeks rising in the background from the far shore of the lake, a visit to the castle grounds remains one of the most popular activities in Killarney for visitors and locals alike.
How Do I Get There?
Ross Castle is located approximately 2.5km or just over a mile from Killarney town centre. You are spoilt for choice when deciding how to get there. Some of the options are included in the table below:
|Walk||Town Centre Via Knockreer and Killarney National Park||3.5km through parkland, woodland, riverside paths and open meadows. Allow 45 minutes to an hour to stop at viewing points or observe wild deer|
|Walk||Town Centre Via Ross Road||2.5km along footpath of Ross Road. Allow 30-35 minutes|
|Run||Town Centre Via Knockreer and Killarney National Park||3.5 km flat paved surfaces throughout. Option to extend to 5km by including lakeshore loop.|
|Cycle||Town Centre Via Knockreer and Killarney National Park||3.5km through parkland, woodland, riverside paths and meadows. 15 -20 mins|
|Cycle||Town Centre Via Ross Road||2.5km on main Ross Road. On-road cycle lane all the way. 10-15 minutes|
|Car/Taxi/Bus||Town Centre Via Ross Road||5 minutes. Regular shuttle buses operate April to October. Taxis in town centre|
|Jaunting Car||Town Centre Via Ross Road||2.5km on main Ross Road. Allow 15-20 minutes|
|Jaunting Car||Town Centre Via Knockreer and Killarney National Park||3.5km through parkland, woodland, riverside paths and open meadows. Allow 30-45 minutes to an hour to stop at viewing points or observe wildlife|
There is ample parking at Ross Castle and plenty of places to securely lock your bicycle around the castle grounds. During the summer months a coffee shop serves refreshments at the house adjacent to the castle, Public toilets are located to the rear of the castle.
The adjacent Ross Island is packed with beautiful tracks and trails, viewing points, secluded bays and historical points of interest. Ross Island is separated from the ‘mainland’ by a small man-made channel that passes under the bridge that you cross to get to Ross Castle.
The paths on the island do not allow motor vehicles so it is an ideal place for a stroll, hike or jog. Bicycles and buggies are well suited to most of the paved paths. There are some minor hilly sections but none are too taxing. Parts of the island trails are woodland tracks in places so sturdy wheels will be required when leaving the paved paths. Take it easy going downhill as you could meet a walker, jogger or a four legged friend around the next bend.
Ross Island Trails
There are three main options for exploring Ross Island:
Each of these has a number of extensions and variations if you wish to explore a bit further. It is possible to combine all three as well. All trails are well signposted with distance markers and information panels at key points along the trails. An accompanying guide booklet is available at Ross Castle but the booklet is not essential so don’t worry if you don’t have a copy with you.
Governor’s Rock Circuit
The Governor’s Rock circuit is a loop of approximately 3km starting and finishing at Ross Castle and passing by the Copper Mines of Ross Island. The circuit can be combined with the Library Point trail to extend the length to over 5km.
|Ground||Paved paths, woodland trails|
|Accessibility||Paved paths except for spur to Governor’s Rock (steps/rough track)|
|Elevation||Rolling paths with some inclines|
|Environment||Woodland, lakeshore, exposed cliff face|
|Facilities||Toilets, Coffee shop & visitor centre (Ross Castle -seasonal), Boat trips (Ross & Reen piers)|
|Conditions||Sheltered mostly, exposed at Governor’s Rock and Copper Mines|
|Family/Kids||Suitable for buggies, scooters, kids bikes for most of route. Cliff areas require supervision|
|Dogs/Pets||Yes, keep dogs on leash especially near old mine shafts|
|Sights/Features||Mountains, Lakes, Red Deer, Castle, Copper Mines, café,|
|Options||Extend to Library Point, Extend to Knockreer; Boat to Innisfallen, Lake cruise, kayaking|
|Availability||Open All Year, Parts prone to flooding in winter|
Start the trail at Ross Castle near an old mining cart at the rear of the castle. Follow the path along and you will shortly see the derelict Ross Cottage on your left hand side. The poet Percy Shelley spent some time here in the 1860s.
The path rolls along and you will shortly pass a gap in the trees where you catch your first glimpse of Lough Leane. At the far side of the lake, Torc & Mangerton mountains rise up from the lakeshore.
You will soon reach a junction where the signpost points Governor’s Rock to the right. This is the most direct route but I would recommend continuing straight ahead towards the Copper Mines. This will make the route a looped circuit, adds some points of interest and does not increase the distance by any significant amount.
The Copper Mines
The Copper Mines are situated in a beautiful bay opening out to Lough Leane. A stony shoreline opens up on a spectacular vista of Torc and Mangerton mountains beyond the southern shores of the lake. This part of Ross Island has seen mining activity take place as far back as the Bronze Age right up until the 19th Century.
As we proceed past the Copper Mines, the pathway begins to turn back in the direction of Ross Castle. As the trail rises slowly, you will come to a junction where the path branches off to the left. Take this left turn to head towards Governor’s Rock. The trail continues through the woods along the southwestern tip of Ross Island. Soon you will reach the next junction where a signpost will tell you that the Governor’s Rock is 300m away. Shortly after this the path transitions into a forest trail and there is one section that is prone to flooding after heavy rains. At the edge of the peninsula, the trail rises up to the viewing point atop of the Governor’s Rock.
From the fenced in viewing point, there are marvellous panoramic views across Lough Leane to the McGillycuddy Reeks to the west and towards Muckross Lake via Brickeen Bridge to the south. The southern tip of Innisfallen Island sneaks out from behind the peninsula that contains Library Point on Ross Island.
If you are accompanied by children or pets, take care at the Rock. Although there is a fence, the area is quite exposed and is situated on a high point over a sheer drop. You will notice some of the local Arbutus trees here also. The Arbutus tree is also known as the Strawberry Tree due to similarity (in looks only!) of the fruits on the tree.
The most likely explanation for how the Governor’s Rock received its name is that it is probably a reference to the many governors that presided at the nearby Ross Castle. It is well documented that the Castle had many governors over the years. What is less certain is why this area was named for a governor. The rock is particularly prominent when viewed from a boat on the lake. This along with the spectacular views, may have made this spot a favourite location for a governor in times gone by.
Retrace your steps along the trail to the junction with the signpost and turn left, following the signs for Ross Castle. About 100m along this trail, there is an option to turn left for Library Point or continue on to return to Ross Castle. As we make our way back through the heart of Ross Island towards the castle, the woodland thickens and the path gently rises and falls along the way. Finally, take a left turn at the next signposted junction to head back to our starting point at Ross Castle.
Ross Island is a treasure trove of tracks and trails nestled away in the shadows of Ross Castle. The trail to Governor’s Rock will take you along the southern and western shores of the Island and back through the heart of the Island. Gently rolling pathways, scenic vistas and peaceful woodland tracks are all on the menu for this wonderful trail. Take some time to visit the Governor the next time you’re in the area, you won’t be disappointed.
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