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Looking for a short and sweet hike in Killarney, guaranteed to get your heart racing? Cardiac Hill is a great choice. As a bonus, there are some stunning views and you can also visit Torc Waterfall while you’re there.

What and where is Cardiac Hill?

Located approximately 10 minutes drive from the centre of Killarney, Cardiac Hill (or cardiac steps) is the name locals give to Huntsman’s Hill. It’s also known as the ‘red trail’ in Killarney National Park. It’s a 3.5km one-way loop walk which takes you across the west face of Torc Mountain.  You can’t get to the top of Torc Mountain via this route. That’s best accessed via the Old Kenmare Road. However, it’s a lovely, invigorating hike which takes you through beautiful woodland and has some incredible views of the surrounding area.
As the name suggests, it’s not for the faint-hearted. This route consists of hundreds of steps which will get your blood pumping and test your stamina. 
View of the Gap of Dunloe from the air. You can see either side of the mountains and 3 lakes in the middle

How long does it take to walk up Cardiac Hill?

Most people of average to good fitness would complete the loop in approximately 1.5 to 2 hours. It took us 1.5 and we’re pretty average. Sometimes the estimation is long as 2.5 hours but this seems a little generous. If you’re super fit and speedy, you could probably get around in an hour. Either way, it’s a great choice for anyone on a tight schedule who wants some vigorous exercise in a scenic location. 

Parking at Cardiac Hill.

There are a few car parking options for Cardiac Hill. From Killarney (travelling clockwise on the Ring of Kerry/N71) you’ll find the main Torc Waterfall car park on your left approximately 1km after the gates of Muckross House. Park here if you would like to see visit the waterfall as well. It adds an extra 10 to 15 minutes to your walk but it’s well worth it if you haven’t been there before. Once you’ve seen the falls follow the path under the bridge which will bring you to the other side of the road. Continue to follow the signs to the second car park and back across the N71 to the start of the trail.

Alternatively, you can drive directly to the second car park (400m on your right past the main Torc Waterfall car park). It’s closer to the start of the loop walk and saves time if you’re in a hurry. The red trail is well marked from here.

Finally, you could drive on to the Dinis Cottage car park (another few hundred meters down the road on your right) . Again, you’ll be directed to the start of the trail from here.

Is Cardiac Hill suitable for everyone?

Short answer? No!
 
It’s not a particularly dangerous trail in that you’re unlikely to fall off the side of any mountain. However, it is strenuous in parts.
 
The stepped sections of the trail are steep and uneven. Although there are ropes along the route for support it’s not suitable for young children (under 10). Anyone with below-average fitness or limited mobility would also find it challenging. If you’re an energetic parent of a baby or toddler you might be able to bring them on a suitable baby carrier on your back.
 
As the steps are narrow there’s a one-way system in place. Once you start climbing it’s not advisable to come back down the way you came. This is for your own safety and for those following behind.

A detailed description of the route.

 

The trail from the car park starts off easy enough but as soon as you reach the stepped section your endurance will be tested. We climbed on a chilly November morning and my fleece came off after 5 minutes. After 10 minutes I could feel my heart beating in my eyeballs and I cursed every fry-up I’d consumed over the summer. The steps continue up for around 30 to 40 minutes so pace yourself. Take a breather every few minutes if you need to and remember to take in those views, even if you’re purely doing this for the exercise. You’ll soon find yourself above the trees looking at the spectacular scenery of the mountains and lakes of Killarney. 
Mists rising from the water and against the sillouhette of the trees

Once you get to the top of the first section of steps you’ll have a brief reprieve. The ground flattens out a little and, although it’s still rocky, it undulates rather than heading straight up.

There’s a second stepped section a few minutes on but it’s much shorter.  After another five minutes the real hard work is over (well done you).
The road through the Gap of Dunloe on a cloudy and moody day. There are a number of sheep on the road.
View of a distant Muckross House surrounded by the lakes and woodlands.

You’ll continue along a relatively easy trail for about 15 minutes where you’ll come across an old stone hut and a well. You’ll then start your descent. There are a few stretches where you’re walking back down steps and the rocks can still be slippery. Watch your footing here. However, the path gradually opens out, the rocks disappear and it’s much more even underfoot. There are a few steep sections (the kind that, if you were jogging down them you might find it hard to stop) but nothing to be concerned about. Before you’ll know it you’ll be back in the car park and feeling pretty chuffed with your efforts.

What will you need to bring?

We recommend to pack light. It’s a sharp but short trek so you shouldn’t need to bring much. If the weather is warm you should bring water but you could probably leave any snacks in the car for when you get back. Wear light layers. You’re likely to warm-up very quickly once you start climbing but you’ll cool down on the flatter sections, especially in cold, damp weather.

There are some public toilets near Torc Waterfall but don’t rely on them always being open. Best to go to the bathroom before you head out on your hike.

So there you go. We hope you found this useful. Hopefully you’ll be conquering Cardiac Hill yourself at some point in the near future.

Looking for more walks in near Killarney? Why not explore the Gap of Dunloe or Tomies Wood?

About us

Inveraray Farm is a friendly and welcoming family-run B&B in Beaufort, County Kerry. We have spectacular views of the Gap of Dunloe and the MacGillycuddy Reeks. We’re also a 10-minute drive from Killarney town centre and 20-minutes from Torc Waterfall and Cardiac Hill.