Stairway to Heaven, located in County Fermanagh, is a boardwalk hike that shot to fame in recent years due to its incredible views and picturesque wooden walkway. The hike is actually called the Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail but is commonly referred to as Ireland’s Stairway to Heaven Hike.
Having recently hiked the Stairway to Heaven we wanted to give our first-hand experience of the hike and share our tips for anyone planning a visit to this incredible trail.
May 2021 Stairway to Heaven update: From May 2021, to manage demand for the Stairway to Heaven hike, hikers will have to pre-book parking in advance before visiting. Each booking covers 3 hours of parking and must be made in advance of your trip. Bookings can be made online at the boardwalk site here. Parking is reserved for pre-booked hikers only, so we highly recommend booking your spot in advance.
Stairway to Heaven
The now-famous Stairway to Heaven is situated in the beautiful Cuilcagh Mountain Park in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. The 9km trail crosses a large blanket bog and snakes up a boardwalk to the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain.
The hike goes by a few names: most refer to it as Ireland’s Stairway to Heaven, it is officially named the Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail. The hike forms part of the Cuilcagh Way, a 33-kilometre trail that takes in the most beautiful parks of County Fermanagh.
The Stairway to Heaven title arose from the final section of wooden steps that climb to the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain and its panoramic viewing deck. The views from the top are truly spectacular.
The park is part of the Marble Arch Caves Globe Geopark, with the Marble Arch Caves located a few kilometres from the car park at the start of the Cuilcagh Legnabrocky Trail. Many visitors make stops at both the hike and the caves while in the area.
Here are the main statistics of the Stairway to Heaven Hike
- Length: 9km from main (second) parking lot, 13 km from first parking lot
- Rating: Moderate, however the elevation gain (550-600 metres) and stair climb will be challenging for some
- Duration: 2.5 – 4 hours depending on ability
- Location: Cuilcagh Mountain Park, County Fermanagh
Stairway to Heaven: Where to Stay
To best experience the Stairway to Heaven hike and enjoy everything the area has to offer we recommend staying overnight in the area. This will avoid a very long day trip and allow you to avoid the busy periods at the hike and get started on the trail before the crowds arrive. An overnight stay will also allow time to see the famous Marble Arch caves located nearby. Here are some accommodation options located close to the Stairway to Heaven trail:
Tully Mill Cottages – These self catering cottages are a great option for an overnight or weekend stay. The cottages are perfect for families, groups or couples looking for a self catering option. These modern cottages have lots of room, are extremely cosy and are the perfect base for exploring the boardwalk and surrounding area with the trail less than 10 minutes drive from the cottages – check prices now!
Customs House Country Inn – a good option for those seeking a hotel stay. The Customs House Country Inn is located in the nearby town of Belcoo and has a great on-site restaurant – check prices now!
Arch House – Arch House is one of the best BnB’s and another great option for visitors seeking a BnB stay. The owners, Rosemary and Geoff, have been hosting people for almost 30 years so you know it’ll be a great stay – check prices now!
Stairway to Heaven: The Hike
Stairway to Heaven is a 9km trail (or 13km if you can’t get a spot in the second car park) that crosses a large blanket bog and snakes up a boardwalk to the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain. It’s a beautiful hike with a mostly gradual climb that finishes with some steeper wooden staircases. The hike is achievable for anyone of moderate fitness and we met people of all ages and fitness levels at the top of the boardwalk.
The trail begins when you reach the turnstile next to the second parking lot. The first 3 kilometres of the hike follows a wide gravel path that winds up the hillside towards the boardwalk section of the trail. The views of the surrounding countryside start to impress almost as soon as you leave the parking lot.
The gravel section of the trail is deceptively long as it winds up and over the hills. The best view along this section of the trail is from Cuilcagh Mountain Viewpoint. From here the Marbel Arch Caves and Lower Lough Macnean are clearly visible in the distance.
The Boardwalk Section
After 2.75 km hikers will reach the gate and turnstile which lead to the start of the boardwalk section of the hike. This section of the hike crosses the marshy bogland via a relatively narrow wooden walkway.
The views along the boardwalk section are really spectacular. The weather was fantastic the day we visited and the views were breathtaking from this section of the hike.
The hike was quiet when we were making our way up the boardwalk, however during busy times with two-way foot traffic there isn’t much space on the boardwalk to stop and take in the views.
The boardwalk winds up the mountain with a gradual incline and the occasional step until visitors reach the stairway section of the hike.
The Stairway to Heaven
This is the reason everyone comes to the Cuilcagh Mountain Park. You will reach the Stairway to Heaven section of the boardwalk.
The climb from the boardwalk up to the summit is relatively steep and very narrow in places, with only room for one way foot traffic – we visited on a relatively quiet day but, be aware, it can be quite difficult to social distance on this section of the trail.
Stairway to Heaven Tip: Many parts of the climbing section of the stairway are only wide enough for hikers to either climb up or down the steps. Due to this you’ll need to wait for hikers to finished a set of steps before you get a chance to climb up. During busy times this will add some time to your hike as there are a few sections like this.
At the very top of the boardwalk there is a raised wooden viewing deck that offers panoramic views of the Cuilcagh Mountain Park and the boardwalk as it’s snakes down the mountain.
The hike back to the parking lot
The hike back to the parking lot is much easier than the hike to the top! However it’s worth taking your time coming down the steps of the stairway as they can get slippy, especially when it’s raining.
How to get to the Stairway to Heaven
The Stairway to Heaven Hike is located in the Cuilcagh Mountain Park and close to the Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. The entrance to the Cuilcagh Mountain Park is around 2.5 hour drive from Dublin (just under 2 hours from Belfast) and the route is relatively straightforward.
The boardwalk is well signposted on the last few kilometres when the country roads get narrow and winding so it’s hard to miss it.
It’s possible to do the hike on a day trip, however we recommomend staying over if you want to avoid a super long day. This will also allow time to both the Stairway to Heaven and the Marble Arch Caves.
Map of the Stairway to Heaven Hike
We’ve included this map of how to get to the Cuilcagh Mountain Park and the location of the entrance and parking lots.
How to Use This Google Map: Click on the grey star at the top of the map and this map will be added to your Google Maps account. You can then view it on your phone or computer in Google Maps by clicking on the menu button, going to “Your Places” and selecting this map. We use these maps all the time as you can set out your itinerary ahead of time and quickly reference the saved maps.
Stairway to Heaven: Parking
Parking is the question we probably get asked the most about the Stairway to Heaven hike! Our answer is always: if the attendant waves you on to the second car park then go to it – the second parking lot is around 2.5km from the first and therefore saves an extra 5km hike. Unless, of course, you want the extra steps!
Stairway to Heaven tip: the second carpark (the closest to the trail head) fills up quickly, especially on busy mornings. We visited on a weekday morning and the second lot was full by 12 noon when we returned.
From May 2021 parking at the Stairway to Heaven should be reserved in advance by anyone wishing to hike the boardwalk. This change has been made to manage the crowds at the boardwalk and to ensure people are not disappointed. Parking can be reserved on-line at the boardwalk site here. Parking is reserved for bookings so if you turn up without a reservation you can only park if there are free slots!
How hard is the Stairway to Heaven hike?
The boardwalk trail is listed as a moderate intensity hike.
While the hike is relatively short (less than 7 km round trip) there is a significant amount of elevation gain (around 500 metres). If you’re moderately fit you should be fine: we hiked the boardwalk carrying our two young kids in carriers and it was a pretty good workout!
The Fermanagh weather, which can change pretty quickly, has a huge impact on the hike. High winds or rain would make the hike a lot more difficult and it’s less enjoyable without the views. For this reason we suggest checking the weather and scheduling the hike for a good day.
The boardwalk section of the trail has chickenwire firmly attached to the top so you shouldn’t have any issues with slipping in good weather. However when it’s raining the surface can get a little slick, especially if you’re not wearing hiking boots or shoes.
How long does the hike take?
The hike took us around 3-4 hours, however we were carrying our two young kids in hiking carriers. Most visitors could do the hike comfortably in 3 hours. This would include time taken for breaks and taking in the views.
If the boardwalk is busy when you visit then there will likely be delays at the Stairway to Heaven section where only one way food traffic is possible along some sections.
Tips for Visiting the Stairway to Heaven
After hiking the Stairway to Heaven in Ireland we have a few tips for planning your visit:
Arrive early: This is probably our best advice for visiting the Stairway to Heaven. Arriving early means you can enjoy the hike with relatively few other walkers and, most importantly, there will be parking space at the second parking lot. This will save you the extra 5km hike!
Check the weather forecast and plan according The weather on Cuilcagh mountain can change quickly at any time of the year so it’s worth checking the local forecast before you visit. Ideally you want a nice clear day with little wind to best experience the hike.
Hiking shoes or boots: While these are not essential we recommend taking some sturdy shoes or hiking boots for the hike. They’ll give you extra grip if it does rain and offer some protection if you have to step off the boardwalk for some reason.
No dogs: The trail is across land which is a working farm. Due to this, no dogs are allowed (with or without leads) to enter the trail area.
Toilets: there are no toilet facilities on the trail and but there are toilets located at the Marble Arch Caves Centre.
Pack layers: The route up to the stairway is relatively exposed and if the weather changes up the wind can get really rough and the temperatures can drop.
Leave no trace: as with any hike make sure to leave no trace.