Ireland is full of natural beauty and we are lucky enough to have most of this nature at our fingertips. The natural landscapes and wild spaces are accessible to everyone here and it doesn’t matter if you live in a rural village or the centre of Dublin, getting out into nature is easy. We are also blessed to have relaxed laws around wild camping and as long as a few simple rules are followed, camping in the wilderness is allowed in most of the country. This makes Ireland the perfect place for the outdoorsy type that wants to explore the landscape over multiple days.
Being an island nation that has some of the most stunning coastal paths and inland trails in Europe, it is easy to stay on dry ground when we look for outdoor leisure activities. However, you shouldn’t overlook our many inland waterways and coastal sea trails if you want to experience the landscape from a new, different, and exciting perspective! There are plenty of opportunities for the canoe or kayak camper in Ireland. In this article, we will be looking at the best canoe camping trips our beautiful island has on offer. If you are the type that loves long-distance multi-day hikes like the Ulster and Kerry Way, but want to take your passion to new places, then you’ll love the watery alternatives on our list…
A Few Words Before We Get to the Good Stuff…
[Covid-19 Disclaimer] At this moment in time travel for unessential purposes is restricted to help fight the spread of the Corona Virus. There is a current ban on unessential travel of over 5 kilometres, so unless you are lucky enough to live less than 5km from one of these beautiful waters unfortunately they are out of bounds. This certainly doesn’t stop you from planning your first post-Covid canoe camping trip to keep your mind off these unsettling times though! Make sure you stay up to date with the guidelines and respect the rules that the government has put in place.
[Some Safety Advice] Before you head out in a canoe or kayak on a waterway of any kind make sure you check your maps, plan your route, and speak to a local guide or kayaking club for advice if you are inexperienced on the water. Once your set, be sure to check on water levels, the weather, and make sure to let one or two people know where you are going and how long for. This goes for any of the canoe camping trips in this article! Poor planning only leads to disaster, so make sure to double-check everything especially if you are planning on being on the water for a week or more.
Now for the interesting bits…
1. The River BarrowDifficulty: Medium (intermediate to advanced)
Location: The River Barrow flows through Kilkenny, Waterford, Carlow, and Wexford
Route Length: The River Barrow stretches for 192 kilometres (120 miles)
The Barrow is the second longest river in Ireland (after the Shannon), and it is considered one of the most beautiful and scenic inland waterways in the country. We have mentioned the Barrow before as one of the best kayaking rivers in Ireland with good reason too. As it winds from its source at Glenbarrow the nature of the river changes as much as the landscape around it does. You will find wide slow stretches, narrow whitewater rapids, fast-flowing weirs, and shallow rippling stretches. This river is extremely diverse and if you are looking for an inland waterway that will keep you on your toes over a multi-day canoe camping trip this is the one.
You have many options if you want to head out on the Barrow for a multi-day canoe camping trip and depending on how ambitious you are you could see your trip lasting up to 10 days! There are plenty of routes for all skill levels on this river, being 192 kilometres long there is likely to be something to your taste whether that’s a slow cruise or a faster-paced trip. The beauty of the Barrow is how diverse it is, and you can use this to your advantage when planning your canoe or kayak camping excursion.
Although most of the Barrow’s 192 kilometre stretch can be navigated by canoe and kayak you don’t have to tackle the whole stretch at once. What we love about this river is the ability to take to the water one weekend for a camping trip and start off where you finished on the following weekend. There is always a new stretch of the Barrow to see and it doesn’t matter whether you row the entirety of its length in one ambitious sitting or tackle individual stretches on the weekends. However you decide to see the Barrow we guarantee you will love it.
2. The River FoyleDifficulty: Easy (beginner and up)
Location: The River Foyle flows through County Tyrone, Londonderry, and Donegal
Route Length: The River Foyle stretches for 129km (80 miles)
The River Foyle is a tidal river that has a 53 kilometre (32 mile) official trail that is perfectly suited for canoe camping. It flows through some beautiful Irish countryside as well as the stunning urban environment of Londonderry City. More of an inland sea than a river, this stretch of the Foyle is completely tidal with water levels changing 1 metre to 3.2 metres at high tide depending where you are. This factor means that you will have to be mindful of tide times and look out for revealing riverbed when the tide is going out! You should also note that the Foyle lies between Northern and Southern Ireland, so GBP is accepted on the eastern shore whereas the EUR is accepted on the western shore.
There are plenty of opportunities on the Foyle for canoe camping and both banks are full of wild camping opportunities as well as official campsites with and without facilities. The official River Foyle kayak and canoeing trail can be completed over the course of a weekend but if you really want to enjoy the surroundings and take things at a leisurely pace, we recommend setting 3 days aside. If you are an angler, it is important to note that the Foyle holds fantastic opportunities for Sea Trout and Brown Trout as well as Salmon at the right time of year.
Although we have rated the Foyle as an easy route for canoe camping you do need to be careful with the tides and high winds that the river is famous for. Expect to make less progress than anticipated, especially if the forces of nature are against you. You should also note that the River Foyle can get extremely choppy as you get closer to its mouth. Treat the Foyle more like an inland sea than a river and you will have a great experience. If the wind and weather are on your side you will have a brilliant time, and if you are familiar with kayak sails, you can harness the wind (if it is directed in your favour) to shave some miles off your trail time while having some fun with the forces of nature.
3. The Lower BannDifficulty: Easy to Medium (beginner to intermediate)
Location: The Lower Bann flows from Lough Neagh out to sea on the Antrim coast
Route Length: The Lower Bann stretches for 58 kilometres (36 miles)
The River Bann’s source is in the Mourne Mountains and the upper section runs from here down to Lough Neagh where the river turns to “the Lower Bann”. Although the Upper sections of the river can provide exciting whitewater for the kayaker, it is not ideal for canoe or kayak camping. On the other hand, the Lower Bann offers the paddler 58 kilometres of idyllic river to navigate at their own pace.
The Lower Bann offers both fast-flowing sections and slow-flowing tranquil stretches for you to enjoy over either 2 long days on the paddle or 3 leisurely days. There are 3 sluice gates and 5 weirs on the river with some that produce whitewater that is rated at grade 3. These features can be extremely dangerous for the beginner however depending on conditions, navigation channels can be used to avoid these entirely. If you are not a confident canoe camper and you would like to avoid these areas entirely you can take a section of grade 1 water from Toome to Hutchinson’s Quay.
Along this established canoe trail, you will find plenty of official and non-official campsites to stop off and rest at. Campsites are well spaced out, and even during the summer, you get the feeling of tranquillity without dozens of other campers around you. There are also bed and breakfasts located along the banks at certain intervals that have canoe and kayak storage if you desire a more luxurious canoe “camping” trip.
We love the accessibility and clear trail of this canoe camping river; it is perfect for people of all skill levels and ages. Whether you are the veteran paddler that is looking for a laid-back trip over 3 or 4 days with the luxury of B&B accommodation, or the beginner looking for your first canoe wild camping adventure, the Lower Bann is where it’s at.
4. The North Coast Sea Kayak TrailDifficulty: Medium – Difficult (intermediate to advanced)
Location: The North Coast Trail stretches from Magilligan Point, County Londonderry; to Waterfoot, Mouth of Glenariff
Route Length: The North Coast Sea Kayak Trail is around 70 nautical miles
The North Coast is famous for its outstanding beauty. The rugged cliff tops, dramatic faces, and deep inlets bring tourists from around the world to the area every year, and we haven’t even mentioned the Giant’s Causeway yet! Most people flock to the area for the miles of coastal trails that wind across the cliff tops, but we believe everyone is missing the trick! Seeing this beautiful coastline is amazing from the land don’t get me wrong, however, seeing it from the ocean gives you a whole different perspective. The towering cliffs and the Giant’s Causeway especially, are even more awe-inspiring when seen from sea level. There is so much more to explore from the sea kayak trail than there is from land and the experience is much more intimate than the hiking routes.
This kayaking trail can be completed over 2 long days or 3 more relaxed days. We definitely recommend taking this one slowly because there is plenty to see and experience. There are many beaches and hidden coves to camp on along the route and this is perfectly legal as long as you leave your pitch as you found it. Make sure you know your tides and ensure that you are camping out of the danger zone, no one likes to be woken up by the encroaching tide! There are other options for accommodation as well, and if you are willing to tow your sea kayak or canoe a bit further inland, you will find campsites and B&Bs dotted along the route.
We have rated the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail as medium – difficult because unlike the other canoe camping trips on our list, this one takes place in the ocean. This is not to say a beginner can’t head out and have some fun, but they must do so when conditions suit and with an experienced kayaker. If you are planning on tackling this trip, whether experienced or not, make sure you head out in pairs or more. Not only is it more fun to explore the coast with friends or family, but it is also much safer.