The Great Sugar Loaf mountain dominates the landscape as you leave Dublin and head for the Wicklow countryside. The steep angles of the peak of the mountain provide a really distinctive physical feature in the skyline. On my many hikes in the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains, the Great Sugar Loaf has been a focal point when I stop to take in the breathtaking views. I’ve always wanted to summit this famous peak but never have managed to get the chance. Until recently that is, when I completed the Great Sugar Loaf loop on a warm October afternoon.
Why The Great Sugar Loaf Loop
The alternative to completing the Great Sugar Loaf loop is to do the out and back trail from the Great Sugar Loaf car park. From the car park, it should take about 20-30 minutes to reach the top of the Mountain. And even less time for the return journey.
While the trail from the Great Sugar Loaf car park is very popular, the shortness of the route didn’t really appeal to me. As such, I decided that the Great Sugar Loaf Loop would be a better option.
I mentioned to some friends my plan to complete the Great Sugar Loaf Loop and we arranged to complete the hike together. The plan involved the four of us meeting at the Kilmacanogue GAA grounds on a quiet Monday morning. Luckily for us, we just happened to choose the last warm day of the year for our hike. There was some grumbling at the start of the walk at my advice for everyone to wear long trousers for this hike (I had been warned about nettles). Despite it being the start of October this was definitely shorts weather. All in all, a beautiful day for mountain climbing.
The Great Sugar Loaf Loop is just over 7km in distance and should take you just under 3 hours to complete.
Unfortunately, I brought a map of a slightly different trail than the one above. While the variation we took offered a more direct route back to the Kilmacanogue GAA grounds, we quickly lost the trail in the thick vegetation on the route back and had to struggle through thick gorse and bushes for a few hundred metres.
My advice would be to definitely follow the route outlined in the map above and available through the following link on alltrails.com.
Another piece of advice is to park in the space outside the GAA grounds. While the gates of the sports complex were open on our arrival, they were locked when we returned a few hours later. Luckily, we had all parked outside though so didn’t encounter any issues.
We set off via the footpath heading uphill (with the football pitch on our right).
Initially, the path brought us through light woodland and we enjoyed the dappled sunlight through the trees as we moved steadily uphill. Every so often we would catch a glimpse of our target destination – the top of the Great Sugar Loaf.
The Mountain’s name comes from its resemblance to a pile of sugar. The existence of a Great Sugar Loaf implies there also being a smaller sugar loaf. This is actually the case with the Little Sugar Loaf (342m) located across the N11. There is also a Sugar Lump (323m) just to the north of the Great Sugar Loaf. I am not 100% convinced of the resemblance to be honest. The phenomenon of calling mountains after sweeteners is not just an Irish thing by the way. You can find alternative Sugar Loafs located in Brazil, America and many parts of France (“Le Pain de Sucre”).
The trees quickly thinned with the land around us now covered in gorse, bushes and scrub.
I found the going quite tough as the path is quite steep after leaving the wooded area. The sun shone brightly down on top of us and I started to sweat as we made our way upwards. I think my companions felt the effect of the heat too as there were a lot of comments of how they would have preferred to be wearing shorts. I had to keep reminding everyone that I read online about someone warning about nettles on this trail. As we made our way upwards, the path was well defined and we encountered no other issues for the journey to the summit.
Reaching the Top of the Great Sugar Loaf Loop
The trail effectively circles the mountain and after just under 3km, the loop intersects the shorter trail that goes from the Great Sugar Loaf car park directly to the top of the mountain.
The direct route is more popular and we saw other walkers for the first time. Given it was a Monday morning, we only encountered a steady trickle. I am led to believe that the route gets extremely busy at the weekends, especially when the weather is nice.
The section to the top of the mountain is very steep and you need a good level of fitness to make it to the top. I needed to use both my hands and feet to get through parts of it. Plus, you need to be very careful on the rocky surface underfoot.
As always, reaching the top was definitely worth it. The top of the Great Sugar Loaf gives fantastic views over the majestic Wicklow countryside and out as far as the Irish Sea.
We could make out the GAA pitch from the top and made our descent after about 10 minutes at the top of the mountain. Again, we needed to be extremely cautious on our descent.
We followed the path downhill, this time turning right and rejoining the Great Sugar Loaf Loop.
About 700m from the top of the Great Sugar Loaf, the path comes to a crossroads. The options to the left and right are similar to the gravelly track we had been following up to this point. The route straight ahead was less defined and cut through gorse and ferns.
I regret that we took the option to keep going straight (going left would have been more advisable). I quickly lost the track in the overgrown vegetation. Although we could clearly see the football pitch in front of us, the walk to get there was tough. Luckily we all were wearing long trousers so the scratchy gorse didn’t effect us too much. Plus we got to see a deer.
At one point, I led the group down a blind alley and we had to retrace our steps. Dave who had been at the back of the group, now took the lead. He quickly set us straight and found the track nearly straight away. Perhaps if we let Dave navigate from the start it would have been better.
Completing The Loop
From there on we found the going quite easy, we came back around the side of the football pitch and returned to the starting point.
Despite the difficulties at the end of the walk, completing the Great Sugar Loaf Loop was very enjoyable. We got lucky with the weather and the company was great for the few hours we were out hiking. I feel I need to go back and find a better trail for coming down the mountain. Once I do that, I will be able to give a much stronger recommendation for the Great Sugar Loaf Loop.