I've hiked Slieve Bearnagh a few times now and each time it offers something new. Whether the views are clear at Hare's Gap or the clouds are hanging low, filled with snow and biting at the nose, it is never a climb that I regret.
The best place to park your car I've found is at Meelmore Lodge. While it does cost £4 to park your car there for the day, having your car somewhere off the road and secure, close to toilets with a café on hand (serving delicious hot chocolates), is something you'll be thankful for.
Meelmore Lodge is easy to find and if you follow the route I've drawn out on the map above, you should have no hassle finding the well-trodden path from the lodge towards Hare's Gap and on to the summit of Slieve Bearnagh.
The path from Meelmore Lodge is in the photo above. It's long and straight and you'll have a perfect view of Slieve Meelmore straight ahead of you. Once you climb over the wall you'll see worn grassy paths verging up to the left towards Hare's Gap. Follow this path until you come to the Trassey River where you'll be able to cross over on the rocks. Just be careful in winter! The rocks can freeze over and can be super slippy.
The easiest way to Hare's Gap is straight up the middle although it can be quite boggy in parts so be sure to bring your best hiking boots - runners won't last two minutes up here!
You'll see the Mourne Wall running the length of the gap and a gate that can take you through it. Once you're here, take a well-earned rest because you'll need plenty of energy for the next round!
The views from Hare's Gap offer a reward for the hiking completed so far. The dramatic pass has incredible views of the route already climbed and also out towards the rest of the range including Slieve Donard. It's hard to believe smugglers used this route back in the day on the backs of ponies, don't think I'd be too keen on that method of transport myself.
You'll notice Slieve Bearnagh looming to your right as you climb over the wall so rest at the gap and have a quick snack before tackling the steepest part of the climb.
If the visibility is good and you feel confident on the climb try to follow the path that curves to the left of the peak as this is less steep and offers the best views. If visibility is really poor and you find yourself in the snowy conditions we had on our latest hike, stay close to the wall to keep your bearing and eventually you'll be steered in the right direction.
If visibility isn't too bad you'll see the North Tor ahead of you and (gratefully) you'll reach a bit of a plateau - yay! The scenes you will see here will be like something from another planet, as if walking right on to a Star Wars film set.
Take the views in while you're not having to work so hard climbing but be safe doing so as the boulders can be slippy and steep in the winter.
After reaching the North Tor there is another steep but thankfully brief climb to the South Tor where even more views await. We couldn't see too much on our last hike due to the heavy snow but now and again the clouds cleared with gaps in the cloud framing different vistas that made it all worth it.
It's tempting to spend a long time up here because the views are almost hypnotising but in winter it's best to keep moving and the descent down the other side of the mountain is worth taking your time on.
To be honest I spent the majority of the descent on my arse since it was easier than side-stepping all the ice! It was very hairy on parts and I can see how people could get in to some bother if they're not too careful. We stuck to the wall for most of the way down (keeping on the left side) in case visibility got bad but thankfully the wind and clouds were on our side.
Eventually you'll reach the pass between Bearnagh and Meelmore and again, you have some pretty spectacular views as a treat for the rock climbing it took to get there.
There's a style that takes you over the other side of the wall and from there the route is on a visible path that's gentle - your thighs will be grateful for sure.
Once you're on that path for a while you'll notice that you're being taken back towards the path you used to climb from the Trassey River towards Hare's Gap.
You can easily follow the route you then took back to Meelmore Lodge where you can order some delicious hot chocolate for the road home. A well-deserved treat after one of the best hikes in Ireland!