You can escape Killarney for the surrounding wilderness surprisingly quickly. Buses rumble up to Ross Castle and Muckross House, but it's possible to find your own refuge in the 10,236 hectares of Killarney National Park among Ireland's only wild herd of native red deer, the country's largest area of ancient oak woods and views of most of its major mountains.
The glacial Lough Leane (the Lower Lake or 'Lake of Learning'), Muckross Lake and the Upper Lake make up about a quarter of the park. Their peaty waters are as rich in wildlife as the surrounding soil: cormorants skim across the surface, deer swim out to graze on the islands, and salmon, trout and perch prosper in a pike-free environment. Lough Leane has vistas of reeds and swans.
Designated a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in 1982, the park extends to the southwest of town. There are pedestrian entrances opposite St Mary's Cathedral in Killarney, with other entrances for drivers off the N71.
Killarney's tourist office stocks walking guides and the map (Ordnance Survey Map Discovery Series No 78) for several mountains, including Carrantuohil (1039m), Ireland's highest peak, within the Macgillycuddy's Reeks range.