Greg Callaghan regularly rides the GAP for his training
© Ross Bell

Greg Callaghan’s guide to the best MTB trails in Ireland

Itching to get away with friends this year? Allow the mountain bike enduro star to suggest the finest two-wheeled weekend breaks in the country.
Written by Joe Ellison
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Greg Callaghan

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"Bike trails are popping up all across Ireland at the moment. Nearly every corner of the country now has an official mountain bike trail centre — it’s crazy to think back 10 years when it wasn’t something really on the radar, and now it’s almost becoming a mainstream sport."
As Ireland's number one mountain-biker and a star of the Enduro World Series, Greg Callaghan would know. More to the point, after a year of uncertainty, of lockdowns, of ups and downs, the Red Bull athlete is here to help you and your friends find a domestic MTB getaway with a difference.

1. Ticknock

Where: Dublin Mountains
Greg Callaghan riding the GAP at sunrise
Greg Callaghan riding the GAP at sunrise
"Close to home in more ways than one, Ticknock is my local spot and where I’ve ridden my whole life. It'll always be special for me. Over the last decade it’s developed massively, going from a few unofficial trails on the hillsides south of Dublin to a whole network of official trails. The beauty of this place is that it’s so close to the city, so if you are there for a weekend then you’ve got the benefit of going off to see the sights of the bike, too.
"Riders will get a real mix of challenges here. The proper trails can be quite mellow, flowy, high speed, whereas the natural stuff is more raw, muddy, rocky, so you can really develop a lot of different skills on the one hill.
Greg Callaghan riding the GAP at sunrise
Greg Callaghan regularly rides the GAP for his training
"The main loop is fun for anyone, whether it's me turning up on my racing bike or a first-time rider renting a bike from the guys at Beginners can take it as slow or fast as they like. Once you’re rolling along, it’s manageable, and if you do pick up a bit of speed there are some fun jumps."
What else is on offer?
"It’s easy to make a day of it up there. There’s a really cool hangout called The Trails café to keep you fuelled. Once you’ve finished biking there’s the Blue Light pub in the foothills of the mountains, a really nice spot with outdoor seating and views overlooking the city.
View of Dublin from the Gap
The views overlooking Dublin and beyond cannot be beaten
"Here’s a tip: get up at sunrise-time to beat the crowds at Ticknock, as it gets pretty busy in summer. What's more, because you’re looking out to the east, you’ll get the sunrise over the Irish Sea as you ride."

2. The Gap

Where: Glencullen Adventure Park, Dublin Mountains
Greg Callaghan jumping the GAP at Glencullen Adventure Park
Mind the GAP
"If you are doing a weekend of it in Dublin, one day riding Ticknock and then another riding The Gap, which can be found on the other side of the same mountain, is a great way to do it.
"A former golf course turned into a mountain bike park, the popular thing about this course is that they provide an uplift service, so you can throw your bike on a trailer in the back of a van, hop in said van and save yourself some lung capacity as you get a lift to the top of the hill. They’ve got a lot of maintained, professionally built trails so you’ve everything from big jump lines, really technical tracks to total beginner trails; it really caters to everyone up there.
Greg Callaghan riding in Glencullen Adventure Park
Greg riding in Glencullen Adventure Park
"Every trail is different, with stuff there to suit every level of rider. With the whole range from blue trails to black, it’s a really great place for progression."
What else is on offer?
"There’s a great pub up there called Johnnie Fox’s, which is not only around 200 years old but apparently Ireland’s highest pub as well. Granted, there are several pubs which claim to be Ireland’s highest pub, but trust me, it’s really good. They do live music and good food, making it a great place to toast a day on the trails.
Greg Callaghan and friends at Johnnie Fox's pub, County Dublin
Greg and friends unwinding at 200-year-old pub Johnnie Fox's
"As well as good hiking trails in the area, any thrillseekers among your group may want to plot a course for Zipit. It's a zipline in Tibradden Wood where you can climb among the trees and fly across them at ridiculous speeds."

3. Rostrevor

Rostrevor mountain bike trail
Experience the sweeping majesty of Rostrevor
Where: County Down, Northern Ireland
"Rostrevor Mountain Bike Trails are located in a stunning part of the world. The course itself has a great setup, and like the GAP they run uplift as well. You'll find a wide variety of trail, from full-on downhill tracks that elite riders will train on, to a nice official loop which is fun but gentle enough for beginners.
The hill overlooks a large swathe of scenery, with incredible 360 view of all out to sea and then across to Carlingford Lough. On a good day, Kodak Corner is one of the best MTB spots in the country.
MTB rider Greg Callaghan takes a turn during Red Bull Foxhunt 2018 in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland.
Greg Callaghan sliding through the dirt
"It’s definitely rockier terrain here compared to what I train on in Dublin. Some of the trails are tucked away in beautiful forest while some of the trails are out in the open, hugging mountains and serious vistas. I've spent years visiting here to race. The downhill tracks are some of the best around. My best best experience here was Red Bull Foxhunt [above in 2018], when I got to be the fox — an experience that pretty much nobody gets. It was one of the most fun races I've ever had, and everyone involved came away with loads of stories of their own."
What else is on offer?
"If you’re staying for a weekend and want to go that bit extra, there is a nearby camping site complete with glamping pods. Book with East Coast Adventure and you can also try paddleboarding, rock climbing, kayaking, wet river bouldering, archery and even jet-skiing around the area.
"On the other side of the lough there is an incredible spot for food called Wildwood Café, offering gourmet food in a laidback setting, with some really good vegan options too."

4. Ballyhoura

Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trails
Ballyhoura has almost 100k of incredible mountain bike trails
Where: Ardpatrick, Co. Limerick, and Co. Cork.
"Ballyhoura Trail Centre, Ireland’s first trail centre now boasting almost 100k of trails, is another place you can make a real weekend of it."
"With such a massive network of trails there's plenty to explore, from tight, technical track to big ups and downs. You'll soon realise why the 2015 Irish Championships were held here.
Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trails
Uncover a woodland wonderland Ballyhoura Fáilte
"Whereas the likes of Rostrevor or Ticknock feel in touch with a city, around here it feels like you’re completely at one with nature — it’s such a vast area. You really get to explore the local hillsides which is really cool."
What else is on offer?
"Should the weather be looking favourable you'd be wise to tack on a trip to Ballyhass Lakes Adventure Centre, which run all types of water sports. It's here you'll also find Ireland’s largest cable wakeboarding park, positioned in a quarry and a great place to learn the ropes.
A wakeboarder at Ballyhass Wake Park
There is never a bad time to go wakeboarding
"There’s a camper park about 10-15 minutes away from the trails, although if you’re looking for a B&B there even a few mountain lodges in the area and loads of great finds elsewhere.
"There’s nothing better than going somewhere fresh, seeing fresh trails, fresh scenery, having a good day on the bike, racing your mates, and at the end of the day sitting down to some food having a bit of craic, telling stories of the day, and enjoying the holiday aspect."

5. Coolaney

Where: Sligo
"Coolaney's MTB Trails only opened last year. It was a place I’d happily load up the van and spend a weekend in anyway, even before the bike trails opened up officially here. Now there are some proper networks it just makes me more eager to have a getaway with friends here.
"As with any of these official trail centres it employs a kind of a gravel surface. This makes it good for all weather, so you’re not going to turn up and get buried in a muddy bog if it’s a wet weekend."
What else is on offer?
"Being so close to Strandhill, one of the country’s best surfing spots, you could go biking in the morning and then hit the waves later in the afternoon. What better way to finish a day?
Surfers at Strandhill
Strandhill Surfer Sligo.jpg
"In Strandhill you’ll also find really good food and Mammy Johnston’s ice cream, which is the best ice cream in Ireland. It’s along the Wild Atlantic Way, so it’s pretty easy to make a good weekend out of a visit."
Note: always check in with places first before you travel to ensure they're that they are open and not affected by Covid measures.
If you're looking for more things to do in Dublin this summer, check out Greg Callaghan and David O'Caoimh's ultimate action-packed adventure at The Gap and in Dublin Bay...
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Greg Callaghan

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