Croagh Patrick, also known as The Reek, is considered by many as the most iconic and sacred mountain in Ireland.
Located near the town of Westport in County Mayo, this majestic quartzite mountain rises 764 metres above sea level, towering over the surrounding landscape with its rugged and imposing presence.
From a distance, Croagh Patrick appears as a solitary cone-shaped peak, with a clearly visible path leading up to the summit. As we approach the mountain, we can see the jagged ridges and steep slopes that make up its rocky exterior.
The mountain is both beautiful and intimidating, offering an almost unrivaled view from its summit over the majestic and uniquely spectacular Clew Bay.
Should you be considering climbing Croagh Patrick, there is some essential information you should be aware of.
In this post, we will try our very best to make sure you are prepared in every way before you tackle the mighty Croagh Patrick.
As I have personally climbed Croagh Patrick over 15 times (lost count after 8 or 9!), the information shared here today is based on first-hand experience, and I hope I can set your mind at ease before you take on the hike.
Before we get into the ins and outs of climbing Croagh Patrick, we’d like to share some details about its location, parking and also some fascinating details about the mountain itself, its history and its cultural and religious significance.
So, let’s get into it…
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- 1 Location
- 2 How to Get There
- 3 Parking
- 4 The Name
- 5 History
- 6 Geology/Geography
- 7 Boheh Stone
- 8 Reek Sunday
- 9 The Church at the Summit
- 10 Croagh Patrick Quick Facts
- 11 Important info before you start the hike
- 12 What to wear/bring for the hike
- 13 The Climb
- 13.1 Map Showing All Sections of the Climb & Their Difficulty
- 13.2 Section 1: car park to statue of St. Patrick (5-10 minutes)
- 13.3 Section 2: St. Patrick’s statue to the shoulder (40 minutes -1 hour)
- 13.4 Section 3: from ‘the shoulder’ to the base of the final peak (10 -15 minutes)
- 13.5 New Path/Steps
- 13.6 Section 4: final ascent from base to summit (30 minutes to 1 hour)
- 13.7 Summit
- 14 The descent: a word of warning
- 15 Climb complete: you deserve a pint!
- 16 What to do after the climb
- 17 Where to stay near Croagh Patrick
- 18 Final Thoughts
Croagh Patrick is located approximately 8km west of the town of Westport, County Mayo, Ireland.
The mountain is located on the southern shores of Clew Bay, near the village of Murrisk.
Its summit offers commanding views of he Clew Bay area, as well as many distant geographical features such as the Nephin Beg mountains, the Connemara mountains and the islands of Clare Island and Achill, to name but a few.
How to Get There
The most popular way is by car.
From Westport town centre, it’s a good 30-40 minutes by bicycle, mostly flat and with the first section on a cycle lane (Greenway) along the main road.
Bus Eireann’s 450 service runs from the town of Westport to Croagh Patrick (stop: Murrisk). Check the timetable here.
The main car park is located at the base of the mountain. There is a small fee to pay and can accommodate hundreds of cars.
Parking along the main road leading to the main car park can get very busy during the summer, sometimes making access to the nearby famine memorial difficult.
We recommend arriving early to secure a parking spot and paying the small fee, especially during peak season or on weekends.
During the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage, the nearby farmers open their fields for parking, which is perfectly organised with stewards etc.
The word ‘croagh’ is the anglicized version of ‘cruach’, the Irish word for mountain.
‘Patrick’ relates to the patron saint of Ireland, who in 441 AD, climbed to the top of the mountain, where he set up ‘camp’ and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. We’ll get on to Patrick a little later.
Croagh Patrick is considered one of the most significant pilgrimage sites in Ireland, with a history of religious significance that dates back thousands of years.
The mountain has been a site of worship and pilgrimage since pre-Christian times, when it was believed to be the dwelling place of the Celtic god Lugh.
To mark the beginning of the harvest, the ancient festival of Lughanasadh, The Celts climbed the mountain in honour of the God.
They named the mountain ‘Cruachan Aigle’, which translates as ‘Eagle’s Mountain’.
The mountain’s prominence in Irish mythology continued through the Christian era. As alluded to, it is the site where St. Patrick fasted in 441 AD, following in the footsteps of Moses and Jesus Christ.
It is on top of Croagh Patrick where St. Patrick is said to have driven all snakes out of Ireland, after being confronted by a demonic serpent, which he banished to the nearby lake of Lough na Corra.
It is in fact claimed that Patrick was confronted by countless demonic creatures while fasting on the Reek, all of which were disguised in the form of animals or birds, such as ravens.
By overcoming these numerous tests of faith, an angel is said to have appeared to him.
As a reward for his immense faith and courage informed Patrick that the Irish would indeed be converted to Christinity before Judgement Day.
St. Patrick was therefore credited with converting Ireland to Christianity, and his association with the mountain has helped to establish Croagh Patrick as a place of great spiritual significance for Catholics and indeed anyone of Christian faith.
Croagh Patrick is composed of quartzite rock, which dates back to the Precambrian era, 750 million years ago. The rock is hard and resistant and the main bulk of the mountain itself is derived from one mass of quartzite.
On the lower slopes of the mountain, the predominant rock is peridotite, which when in contact with the elements turns green, becoming serpentine.
On the first part of your hike, keep your eyes peeled and you’ll notice this wonderful green mineral.
The mountain has a distinctive conical shape that was formed by glaciation during the last ice age, around 10,000 years ago.
The glaciers eroded the rocks on the mountain and left behind large boulders and loose debris, creating the steep sides that the mountain is known for today.
A large glacier would have existed on the colder northern side of the mountain, which tracked down into Clew Bay during the last ice age. The distinctive U-shaped valley marks the presice location.
To a lesser extent, there is still evidene today of freeze-thaw action along the steep northern slopes. Here you will notice ‘scree’, loose stones resulting from pressure-inducing shattering of larger rocks.
In the 1980s, seams of gold across 12 veins of quartzite were discoverd on the mountain. The value of such a quantity of gold (300,000 troy ounces) caused quite a stir in the area.
However, in order to extract the gold (which held a value of hundreds of millions) it meant that some serious excavating would have to take place, which included the use of toxic chemicals, such as cyanide.
This was met with massive objection locally, lead by the head of the Mayo Environmental Group, Paddy Hopkins. The effects of such an excavation would have had detremental effects on the local environment.
Also, the scared nature of the mountain was another huge deciding factor in the failure of this operation. The idea of Croagh Patrick becoming a goldmine quickly dissipated by the end of the decade.
The Boheh Stone is a prehistoric rock art panel located near the town of Westport, along the Tochar Phadraig, a pilgrimage which starts at Ballintubber and finishes at the summit of Croagh Patrick.
It is believed to date back to the Bronze Age, up to 5,000 years ago. The stone features a number of cup and ring markings.
These markings are thought to have had ritual or spiritual significance to the people who created them.
The stone is also known for its alignment with the setting sun on the dates of the ancient Celtic festival of Lughnasa, which occurs on August 1st each year.
What makes this stone extra special though, is the ‘rolling sun’ phenomena. Every year around the 19th April and 24th August, from this precise location, the sun appears to roll down the slopes of Croagh Patrick.
Reek Sunday is an annual pilgrimage to the summit of Croagh Patrick. The pilgrimage takes place on the last Sunday in July and has been a tradition for over 1,500 years.
The tradition is said to have started when Saint Patrick climbed the mountain and spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting there. Today, tens of thousands of people make the pilgrimage to the summit of Croagh Patrick, many of them barefoot or carrying stones as a sign of penance.
The pilgrimage is seen as an important act of devotion and spirituality for many. The day is also marked by a religious service in the chapel on top of the mountain.
The Church at the Summit
The church on Croagh Patrick, also known as St. Patrick’s Oratory, is a small chapel located at the summit.
The chapel was built in 1905 and serves as a place of worship and refuge for pilgrims who make the climb to the mountain’s peak.
The simple stone structure has a small altar, stained glass windows, and a statue of St. Patrick. It is open to visitors during the summer months.
Croagh Patrick Quick Facts
Elevation Gain: 742 metres (2,434 feet)
Hike Distance: 7.5 km
Hike Difficulty: Difficult
Hiking Time: 3.5-5 hours
Important info before you start the hike
Is climbing Croagh Patrick difficult?
We have divided the climb into 4 sections, the first being very short; just to the statue of Patrick.
The actual real climb to the summit is divided into 3 main sections. The first section is moderately difficult and in some sections needs a little care, as it’s quite steep.
The middle section, known as ‘the shoulder’ gives a nice respite and is mainly flat.
The final section is where things gets a lot steeper and extra care in needed here as the slope is full of scree (loose stones)
Overall, it is a difficult hike and it is imperative to come well-prepared and that you choose a good clear day for the hike.
All sections are covered in detail below.
The path to the the top is very direct with esentially no zig-zag pathways.
This is overall a very common feature on Irish mountains, and those used to the carefully planned pathways, for example in the Alps, may even find the ascent to Croagh Patrick tiring.
Choose a clear, dry day for the hike. The mountain is located right on the coast meaning weather can change in an instant.
A useful website is ‘accuweather.com’. Check here for the ‘cloud ceiling‘ for that given day and if it’s over 800 metres, you’re good to go.
We have climbed Croagh Patrick in every season, in fact one of the best experiences I had was at the end of March. It was a crystal clear day, about 10 dergrees and felt surprisingly warm at the top with no breeze.
Due to the very large crowds which visit in the busy summer months, if possible, we would recommend climbing during the spring (March, April, May) or autumn (September, October)
If you are already based in Westport, you’ll be able to make a good calculated bet on whether you should tackle Croagh Patrick or not. The mountain is clearly visible from everywhere in the town and beyond. The forecast for the next days is the following:MURRISK WEATHER
What to wear/bring for the hike
1) Waterproof hiking boots (a shoe that comes up over the ankle we highly recommend)
4) Waterproof hiking trousers
5) A light rucksack
8) Change of clothes if necessary
9) Warm gear depending on time of year/down jacket or similar lightweight warm jacket/cap
10) Walking Poles or a stick which is available for rent near the Visitor Centre (cost last time was 4€, you get 2 back on return)
We highly recommend using a stick/poles-underfoot is not stable on the last section and they are a godsend when descending!!
11) Sunscreen (don’t laugh-you’ll get sunburned on a warm day up here-no doubt!)
Are there toilets at Croagh Patrick?
Yes, there are toilets in the carpark and also on ‘the shoulder’, which is the middle, flat section of Croagh Patrick.
What level of fitness is needed for Croagh Patrick?
A general good level of health and fitness is required to climb Croagh Patrick. The last section will get the heart going no matter what level of fitness. Don’t forget water.
If you have a fear of heights, we don’t recommend completing the final section of the hike.
A stated, we have divided this hike into 4 sections. The first section can be completed by anybody and if you have limited time, it’s a nice way to get a feel for the place.
Map Showing All Sections of the Climb & Their Difficulty
The map below shows all 4 sections of the climb with different colours indicating the different levels of difficulty.
Light Blue: First Section – Easy
Red: Second Section – Moderate to Difficult
Dark Blue: Third Section – Easy to Moderate
Black: Fourth Section – Difficult
Section 1: car park to statue of St. Patrick (5-10 minutes)
Ok, while certainly not the most gruelling part of the hike, this short section is perfect for getting you in the mood for what’s ahead. Follow the beautiful little laneway from the carpark along the stream, past the visitor centre.
In the summer months you’ll see a very common plant found along the west coast of Ireland, the beautiful fuschia, growing along the hedgerows.
At the end of the lane, you’ll come across some steps. To the right before you climb these steps, there’s a nice little infoboard about Croagh Patrick.
Climb the steps and you’ll see the statue of St. Patrick. Go up to himself and turn around to see the majestic Clew Bay with its 365 islands.
The view over Clew Bay is a wonderful photo motive, along with Patrick holding the shamrock with Croagh Patrick’s peak in the background. Now, let’s get moving!
Section 2: St. Patrick’s statue to the shoulder (40 minutes -1 hour)
After passing through a small gate, the real hike starts. You’ll notice that in general the ground gets uneven, but the path is clear. As you look upwards, you’ll see how clearly defined the path is all the way to the top.
You’ll have the soothing sounds of a beautiful mountain stream to accompany you on the way up this section.
After a half an hour or so, you’ll encounter your first relatively steep section. Keep your eyes out for the serpentine minerals on some exposed rockfaces.
Take your time, get some water in and turn around every so often. The views are starting to get spectacular now. Clew Bay’s stunning contrast of blues and greens will keep you motivated.
After a bit of a slog, you’ll be looking forward to reaching the next section ‘the shoulder’.
When you have arrived at the start of this section, you have reached the halfway point of the hike. Once again have one quick look over Clew Bay. The next time you’ll see it will be from the summit.
Section 3: from ‘the shoulder’ to the base of the final peak (10 -15 minutes)
This is a grand section and seems almost strategically placed to help you catch your breath, rest your legs and get some water in.
There are toilets at this section and you’ll come across some wonderful rock art along with the ruins of a small stone oratory dating back 1,500 years.
At this section, it’s easy to think ‘sher, this hike is grand!’, but the hard part is yet to come…
Now that you’ve regained a bit of composure, you may notice some people climbing barefoot. This is actually quite a common sight on Croagh Patrick, with each person having their own individual reason for this act of pennance.
Right, it’s time to take a deep breath, check your shoelaces and get ready for the final ascent. But first, let’s talk about the new path/steps.
You may have noticed up to now that certain trickier sections are pathed with steps.
This is due to the incredible work of the Croagh Patrick Path Team, who in recent years have, by hand, painstakingly built natural steps along the path.
As this process is utilizing the natural stone available, it fits in perfectly with the natural mountain environment, while assisting in preventing any further erosion from the 1 million+ visitors who climb Croagh Patrick annually.
The work here has to be highly commended and you’ll see and feel the fruits of their labour on the final ascent. This genuinely has made the climb safer.
Section 4: final ascent from base to summit (30 minutes to 1 hour)
Take your time here and take small steps. You may be inclined to take good, big steps so that you get over this section and get to the top as quick as you can.
Smaller steps will save you a ton of energy, preventing your body from overworking. The stick may be useful in this section.
The path gets narrow too, so just take your time if somebody is on the way down, and wait wherever you feel you have a good grip till they pass. Always know exactly where your next step will land.
After a good bit of huffing and puffing, you’ll begin to see the summit.
The first time I climbed Croagh Patrick, I thought I had already made it upon first sight of the top, but there was still a little way to go. Keep going, your reward is just 10 minutes away.
When you initially reach the summit, you’ll probably be overcome with a sense of relief, pride and sore thighs.
Take the short walk over to the far side and just take in that view…possibly the best in all of Ireland.
This massive vista over the hundreds of islands of Clew Bay and beyond will leave you breathless (again)
You’ll see to your left Clare Island, almost guarding the entrance to the bay and to the northwest Achill Island.
Take a look to the northeast and you may catch a glimpse of Ben Bulben in County Sligo. You’ll also notice the vast wilderness of the Nephin Begs directly to your north.
Maybe, you’re lucky and the chapel, St. Parick’s Oratory, is open. Outside the chapel, you’ll see some welcoming little steps. Sit down, enjoy your sandwich and take in the views.
You’ll also notice St. Patrick’s bed, supposedly the spot where Patrick himself rested. Hard to believe the lengths he went to to test his faith…
Take as long as you need here, get some water in and when ready it’s time to make your way down again.
The descent: a word of warning
If your stick has been a nuisance on the way up, you’ll find it’s absolutely neccessary on your way down.
Most accidents on Croagh Patrick occur on the last steep section, during the descent. Take your time here, and do not rush.
When the narrow section of the path is over, zig-zag your way down to the bottom. Your knees will thank you for it later. Try to avoid any loose stones and plan each step carefully.
The middle section will once again give you a nice respite, but take care on the last section towards the statue of St. Patrick. Accidents happen here also, due to complacency.
Climb complete: you deserve a pint!
Well done you’ve conquered Croagh Patrick! Ready to do it barefoot the next time?!
Right next to the carpark, you’ll see Campbell’s, a lovely old pub with some mighty Guinness and some good hearty food to replenish your energy.
Have a look at their menu here. They also have a class beer garden out the back, making brilliant use of their shed in the summer months.
On the way back into town, along the main road you’ll find 2 excellent restaurants, namely The Sheebeen and The Tavern.
Both have an excellent menu and The Sheebeen in particular serve up some great seafood dishes, such as my own favourite: Clew Bay mussels.
What to do after the climb
National Famine Memorial
Right across the road from the carpark, you’ll notice a ship-like statue. This is the National Famine Memorial, a stark reminder of the deeply traumatic event known as The Great Famine.
Between the years 1845 and 1852, mass starvation in Ireland lead to the death of over 1 million, while a further 1 million emigrated.
The sculptue itself on closer inspection will reveal some haunting skeleton bodies, in the rigging of the ship.
They symbolize the ‘coffin ships’, so called due to the appaling conditions those who the left the country had to endure on the boats, many of whom never reached American shores.
Looking for some more peace and serenity after just climbing Croagh Patrick? Just to the right of this memorial, you’ll see a laneway which will take you to Murrisk Abbey.
This abbey was founded in 1457 and although now in ruins, still stands strong at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The abbey was founded by the Augustinian Friars and you can find more details here.
Soothe your feet in the waters of nearby beaches
Just down the road on the way to Louisburgh, you’ll find the glorious Bertra Beach. If the feet are feeling a bit swollen, what better place to get the blood going again.
You will also have a cracking view of Croagh Patrick from this strand.
You can glance up at the mountain you have just conquered and with great pride, officilally knock that hike off your Ireland bucket list… We actually have a full guide to Bertra Beach here, including tides and parking.
Old Head Beach
Is the tide fully in at Bertra? No worries, try Old Head beach down the road, near to Louisburgh.
This is another stunning beach with equally as impressive views of Croagh Patrick, albeit from a different persepective. You can try paddleboarding here as well if you are still in the mood for action!
As luck would have it, we have a comprehensive guide to Old Head beach here.
Take a cruise on Clew Bay
Last year, as part of an epic day in Westport, we followed up our hike of Croagh Patrick with a sunset cruise on Clew Bay.
This is something that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. We were blessed with the weather and it capped off one of the best days I can remember for a long time.
As far as I know the sunset cruise only takes place in the summer months. We booked it online a few days in advance in the middle of August.
Sunset or not, it’s a beautiful way to spend a few hours. The tour is very informative, you’ll pass by the island John Lennon owned and you’ll spot some seals, along with majestic views of all the islands, and of course Croagh Patrick.
Click here for more details and photos.
Where to stay near Croagh Patrick
The nearest main town is Westport. It’s colourful, vibrant, has some phenomenal restaurants and some equally brilliant pubs.
We have a detailed guide to Westport here.
We know this town like the back of our hands and we have also stayed in almost every hotel here! Click here for our choice of the 12 best hotels in Westport.
Although not exactly nearby (approx. 1 hour by car), Achill Island (which is joined to the mainland by a bridge) is a place we highly recommend visiting.
From the highest cliffs to beaches which have been recognised worldwide, it’s a must see.
We have a comprehensive guide to the island here, along with a detailed accommodation guide here.
Achill was also chosen as one of the principal filming locations for The Banshees of Inisherin. We have ever single one of those locations covered here.
What I have learned after climbing Croagh Patrick 15+ times
1) Croagh Patrick is not a mountain where you can just show up and decide to tackle with your jeans and runners! Although, you probably will see the odd person doing this, we do not recommend.
Wear shoes that come up above the ankle, have a good grip and are waterproof.
2) If you are not used to wearing those hiking boots any more, buy a couple of blister plasters in the pharmacy in Westport. They’ll save a lot of heartache.
3) Either bring your own hiking poles or buy that stick in the car park. The difference it makes to your knees coming down from the mountain is incredible.
4) I tackled the mountain once on a cloudy, showery day and although I enjoyed it immensely, I missed out on the epic view from the top. Choose a clear day with a high cloud ceiling.
5) Always pack an extra layer, a light down jacket or so. A hat to cover your ears is also highly recommended as it can get fierce windy up the top.
6) On a bright day, the sun can be quite blinding, especially during the last section. The rocks and stones are bright in colour and being that bit higher up, there is more glare, so don’t forget you sunglasses. And don’t forget the sunscreen!
7) And last and by no means least: Unless you are an ultra runner, take your time and take it all in. Croagh Patrick is a very special place.
The views, the challenging climb, the air of peace and calm…all of these things equate to a truly magical day and one you won’t forget for many’s a day.
As a Mayoman, I’m proud that we are blessed with such wonderful nature in our county and that this mountain was left in its natural state after all the hullaballoo in the 1980s.
It’s vital we keep these places intact and leaving no trace after your day on the mountain is crucial. Bring any litter home or dispose of properly in the carpark.
Mayo is full of incredible hikes and the possibilites for outdoor activities is phenomenal.
We hope you’ll get a chance to tackle the mighty Croagh Patrick and that our guide as helped you in some way. Please let us know below how you got on. Go n-éirí an bóthar libh!