Hiking The Stairway to Heaven – Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail – All you Need to Know

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Introduction

Those interested in adventure, natural history, and experiencing Ireland’s rugged beauty firsthand can expect to be impressed with a trip to Northern Ireland’s very own ‘Stairway To Heaven.’ This is the hike that has been very much Instagrammed as the wooden staircase and boardwalk provide a dramatic backdrop, gently ascending across the blanket bog before zig-zagging up the mountain.

The land is privately owned by the Sheridan family who are keen to conserve the delicate environment while also giving access to the public.

Cuilcagh Boardwalk / the Stairway to Heaven - looking back
We climbed on a Sunday in summer so the walk was quite busy!

FAQ

Is the Cuilcagh walk the same as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’?

Yes – the walk is one and the same. Cuilcagh, meaning ‘chalky peak’ in Gaelic,is the name of the mountain, and since the boardwalk and steps were installed in 2015, it has been popularly known as The Stairway to Heaven.

How high is Cuilcagh?

At 2,182ft / 665m Cuilcagh,  is the highest mountain in the region, rewarding you with spectacular views when you reach the top viewing platform. The viewing platform itself is set just below the peak so if you really want to claim this mountain for your log book, you’ll need to hop over the platform railings and continue on to the very top, although this is discouraged because of damage to the fragile ecosystem.

However, because the viewing platform is quite small and can get crowded, many people do climb over the railings to sit and enjoy the views regardless of their mountaineering goals. Another notable geographic point is that the peak is just metres away from the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border.

How long will it take to do the walk?

Katie and Dave - Stairway to HeavenThe walk is a  6-mile (9km) round-trip and the trail takes between 2-3 hours depending on your pace. 

It the Cuilcagh Boardwalk difficult?

Generally the walk is considered to be not too tough thanks to the boardwalk making it that bit more accessible. Although the peak is 2,182ft / 665m, you do start the walk at about 650ft / 200m so you are getting a bit of a leg up.

We did the walk mid August, on a Sunday, which meant it was quite busy but it also allowed us to see that people of all ages and fitness levels were successfully completing the walk – at their own pace. If you are a more hardcore hiker, you could take on the 7-hour long Cuilcagh Way(WalkNI PDF).

Is the Cuilcagh Boardwalk worth it?

Having seen more than 26,000 visitors since 2016, the trail’s grown to become popular with both locals and tourists alike. With 95% of TripAdvisor reviews rating it is either ‘Very Good’ or ‘Excellent’ there’s overwhelming praise for the hike, though a sticking point for some is that dogs are not allowed (trail managers citing farmers’ concerns for their sheep in the fields which the route passes through). We definitely enjoyed the walk as part of our visit to Fermanagh, tied in with a visit to the Marble Arch Caves – see the tips below.

Is the Cuilcagh Boardwalk free and what are the opening hours?

Yes the walk is free but you would need to pay for parking which is £6 per car (checked March 2024). Pre-booking time slots (7am-9pm)  for the Cuilcagh Boardwalk trail car park is highly recommended as space is limited and although you can still show up and hope to get parking, you might find yourself being redirected to the Killykeegan Nature Reserve car park which is a little further along the road. The Killykeegan car park does have toilet facilities and a picnic area but adds an additional .7 miles/1 km to your hike. However, if you are not sure of your travel plans and it’s not a weekend in the summer, you will probably be safe enough to just show up.

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We definitely enjoyed the walk as part of our visit to Fermanagh, tied in with a visit to the Marble Arch Caves – see the tips below.

 

Our Top Tips

  1. Take a picnic to make the most of your time at the top.
  2. If you plan to visit Marble Arch Caves then consider doing both on the same day as the caves are just minutes from the Cuilcagh car park, yet a good 20 minutes outside of Enniskillen. If you have the energy!
  3. Even when setting out with a cloudless sky, it’s best to carry some waterproofs and windproofs on the hike as our weather can be very changeable. There is grip on the wooden boardwalk, so don’t worry about slipping after a little bit of shower.
  4. On sunny days (well, starting off anyway), people are understandably keen to make the most of it and Cuilcagh is a popular destination. Be sure to arrive early to avoid trouble finding a car parking space.
  5. There are no toilets between the car park and the end of the trail, so be sure to attend to such matters beforehand! 
  6. After a rain and when the air is still, gnats can sometimes come out to cause a bit of bother so be sure to carry some insect repellent just in case.


How to get there

Marlbank Rd, Florencecourt, Enniskillen BT92 1ER (12 miles/ 20 minutes from Eniskillin – well sign posted)

Cuilcagh Mountain SignpostEntering “Cuilcagh” into satnavs sometimes ends up with visitors on the other side of the mountain in a remote field, so be sure to put in ‘Marble Arch Caves’ (BT92 1EW) instead. The car park is clearly signed from there. Note that when we were there, we saw a car park before the March Arch Caves turn off, advertising itself as the Cuilcagh walk car park. This is not the one you want! Keep on driving.

There is a charge (£5 in August 2021) to use the car park. Although our car complained at the uneven surface, we took the car to the furthest end of the car park which is closest to the start of the boardwalk, so cutting off what would have been a very boring walk along the gravel road that joins the various car park sections.

Unfortunately there is no public transport to the start of the walk.


Authors: Ryan Harling, Katie McGregor


Walking Northern Ireland - bookWalking Northern Ireland

If you like walking / hiking  then this book is for you  – 36 unmissable hikes along the Causeway Coast, around Belfast, in the Mournes and in Fermanagh – including this one. The book includes maps, vertical profile images so you know how much puff you’ll need to put in, and descriptions of the hike together with little notes of interest. The book is on my bookshelf and has been an inspiration getting us out and about in Northern Ireland so I can recommend it personally! | Learn more / buy on Amazon |* *Affiliated link


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