Boating on Lough Key and exploring Lough Key Forest Park

Where is the boating paradise of Lough Key?

You’ll find Lough Key in the northwest of the Irish County of Roscommon, just a hop, skip and a jump away from the town of Boyle. Covering an area of 2,085 acres, Lough Key is a huge body of water and an area of overwhelming natural beauty.

Named after the Irish mythological figure named Cé, the Lough key lake is an area that harbours a heady mix of Irish folklore, unchanging tradition and a slow-paced way of life that is synonymous with western Ireland. With the River Shannon winding up ever southwards and dividing the counties of County Roscommon and County Leitrim, Shannon boat hire allows you to travel to Lough Key with ease.

Boating northwards along the River Shannon, you won’t only finish your Irish boating adventure at Lough Key but you’ll also pass through a number of must-see sights as you do so. The best place to begin your Lough Key boating trip is in the town of Carrick-on-Shannon. Boat hire in Carrick-on-Shannon is simple thanks to Locaboat’s base in the town, only around six miles south of Lough Key itself.

Boating northwards from the Carrick-on-Shannon, you will soon arrive in Lough Drumharlow, a smaller lough and one that has a number of islands. After navigating this lake, you can then travel further northwest, through Oakport Lough and eventually arriving at Lough Key from its easternside. This eastern side is home to the perfect mooring sight near Lough Key Wood; one of many Lough Key marinas you’ll find scattered around the lake.


How do you get to Lough Key?

As noted above, the quickest and easiest way to get to Lough Key is to boat to Lough Key from Carrick-on-Shannon. This streamlined journey takes no time at all and will allow you to get out on the lake on the same day as you set out from town. Boat hire in Carrick-on-Shannon is run by Locaboat, and you can choose from a number of different canal and riverboats to enjoy on your journey. The lake’s easy connections to other loughs such as Lough Gara means you can start from here and use Lough Key as the middle, but main destination for your boating holidays in Ireland.

By starting on the lake’s eastern side, you can travel through Lough Key and then continue on through the whole length of the most famous river in Ireland. Using Lough Key as a base you are able to travel the length and breadth of the River Shannon, taking you through some of the most loved sights throughout Ireland.

You can also take your Lough Key boat westward, exiting the lake and then travelling down the Boyle River. This river crosses the county border and flows from County Sligo, allowing you to visit the nearby Lough Gara. Whichever route you choose to visit Lough Key will open up a wide variety of experiences, depending on the waterway you use – Lough Key to Carrick on Shannon is arguably the most popular route.

5 Unmissable Things to do at Lough Key


Keep a look out for local wildlife

As is the case with much of rural west Ireland, one of the biggest draws is the plethora of wildlife that can be seen here and Lough Key is no different. Besides the vast expanse of open water and woodland that surrounds the lake, the south of Lough Key is home to Lough Key Forest Park. This 19th-century parkland was designed by the famous landscape architect John Sutherland on the orders of the king and now creates the perfect habitat for local wildlife. Continuing to thrive for centuries, the park still does exactly what it was designed for and appears to blend in perfectly with the surrounding natural landscape.

The biggest group of animals to be found here are the hundreds of wild birds, creating the ideal setting for any keen bird watchers on their canal boat holidays. You can spot flocks of traditional water birds such as heron, swan, Mallard Duck and Tufted Duck, along with kingfishers fishing on the lough, pheasant roaming around the grasslands and numerous jays flying to and fro.

As well as birds, the park is also the ideal habitat for animals such as foxes, hares, stoats and badgers at night. One of the biggest draws for animal lovers is the fact that the park plays host to red squirrels, which are now a rare sight in northern Europe. Alongside these smaller to spot animals, Lough Key Forest Park is a stopping ground for a herd of fallow deer, which can be seen out in the open. Mixed in with this amazing variety of animals is an abundance of plant life, including scented Wild Garlic, Wood Anemone, Wood Sorrel, primrose and iris.

Explore the historic McDermott Castle

Aside from the wildlife and nature, Lough Key has a handful of historical landmarks, the most famous of all being McDermott Castle. McDermott Castle was built in the 12th century by the ruling Irish dynasty of Magh Luirg, and continues to stand on a half-acre island on the southeast region of the lough. Looming large over the island and the water, the castle can be seen from most positions out on the water and with the backdrop of rural County Roscommon around it, it’s a captivating sight.

Now a small ruin, complete with growing moss and crumbling stone, the castle is like something from a fantasy film. Boating to the island and exploring McDermott Castle is a great way to spend a sunny afternoon out on Lough Key and is a strong landmark in local Irish history.

Enjoy Zipit Adventure Park

For the thrill-seekers amongst you, a few hours spent at Lough Key Forest Park’s Zipit Adventure Park is a must. There are a number of thrilling activities to do in the park, all of which help you get close to nature and burn off a little steam in the process. You can climb high into the treetops that surround the park, swinging into cargo nets to keep you safe. Besides being a heart-pumping activity, climbing the tall trees here gives you fantastic aerial views of the lough and landscape below. For those who want an extra thrill, it is also possible to ride your BMX from one tree to another, all held by aerial bridges and safety wires of course!

The highlight of Zipit Adventure Park is given away in the name. Lough Key Forest Park is home to a collection of zip wires that allow you to zip wire down from the lofty heights at speed. This is a great pastime for both adults and children looking for something a little different when you secure a Lough Key boat hire.

Catch sight of Cloontykilla Castle

For those who don’t want to boat out onto Lough Key’s inner islands to visit a medieval castle, there is always Cloontykilla Castle. Cloontykilla Castle stands on the eastern shores of the lake and is preserved in all its former glory.

The castle once stood in ruin and disrepair, until it was taken into the hands of one Sean Simon who famously sought to restore Cloontykilla Castle to its pristine best. This restoration project was seen by many as it appeared on the television programme Grand Designs. After many setbacks, the full restoration was completed at the start of 2021 and now provides a fantastic place to visit along the shores of Lough Key.

Book a unique Segway experience

If you’re looking for something a little out there and different to do as a family, then Lough Key’s Segway experience is a must. Usually, you would expect to enjoy a walking or cycling tour around the pathways and trails of Lough Key. This has been taken to a whole new level with the Rockingham Roll.

The Rockingham Roll is a half an hour segway glide around woodland trails at Lough Key Forest and Activity Park. This allows you to explore the woodland trails, taking in the many sights and sounds, all while being perched on a segway. The segway experience is not only a great way of touring the area but it adds a little silliness and fun to your experience too and is certainly an activity to remember.


A quick summary of Lough Key

Lough Key in Ireland is one of the best places to see a real cross-section of rural western islands. First of all, you’ll travel through the heartland of Ireland’s waterway, the River Shannon, arriving at the vast lake that is Lough Key. The lough has a myriad of historical spots, including castles and abbeys, as well as ancient towns and settlements on its shores.

It’s fantastic plethora of flora and fauna, including some of the rarer species in Ireland, can be seen with ease around the lough. This is brought together with the adventure park, adding a slice of modern holiday activities for the whole family. In short, Lough Key has a little of everything, making up the perfect boating holiday in Ireland.

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