Best experiences in Scotland’s national parks
From stargazing in a designated dark sky preserve to long distance biking, hiking, fishing, birding and skiing, here are the top things to do in the parks nationals of Scotland.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is Scotland’s first national park, established in 2002. The park stretches over a vast area, from Balloch in the north to Tyndrum and Killin, and from Callander in the west to the forests of Cowal. The “bonnie banks” and “bonnie braes” of Loch Lomond – a picturesque region of rolling hills, lochs and clean fresh air – have long been Glasgow’s rural refuge. The picturesque Trossachs, with densely forested hills and romantic lochs, have also long been popular for their rugged Highland beauty.
There are walking and biking trails throughout the national park to suit all skill levels. Long-distance routes include the West Highland Way (154 km), which runs along the east shore of Loch Lomond, and the Rob Roy Way (128 km) runs from Drymen to Pitlochry via the Trossachs. The Three Lochs Way (55 km) loops west from Balloch to Helensburgh and Arrochar before returning to Loch Lomond in Inveruglas. The Great Trossachs trail (48 km) connects the lake to the Trossachs. Rowardennan is the starting point for the Ben Lomond (974m) climbs, a popular and relatively straightforward (although difficult) climb.
Visit Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: Loch Lomond is just 20 miles from Glasgow, easily accessible by train and bus, while the Trossachs can be reached from Edinburgh, often via Stirling. There is plenty of accommodation around Loch Lomond, from hotels for tour groups to traditional boutique inns and youth hostels for walkers on the West Highland Way. The Trossachs are well stocked with quality B&B choices, with Callander in particular offering a wide selection, and Aberfoyle and Killin make good stops as well. Campsites reserve quickly in summer; wild camping is allowed.
The length of Loch Lomond means that access between the western part of the park and the Trossachs to the east is either to the far north of the region via Crianlarich or to the far south via Drymen. Walkers and cyclists can connect the two more easily with the water buses that ply Loch Lomond.
The park encompasses Britain’s highest landmass – a broad mountain plateau, torn apart only by the deep valleys of Lairig Ghru and Loch Avon, with an average elevation of over 1,000m and comprising five of the six highest peaks from the United Kingdom. This rugged granite and heather mountain landscape has a subarctic climate and is home to rare alpine tundra vegetation and high altitude bird species, such as snow bunting, rock ptarmigan, and dotterel.
There are plenty of walking and cycling trails throughout the national park, with a bicycle rental service widely available. Cairngorm Mountain is Scotland’s most popular ski area and Grantown is a favorite with anglers. South-west of Aviemore, the Spey widens into Loch Insh, home to the Loch Insh Outdoor Center, which offers canoeing, windsurfing, sailing, mountain biking and fishing. Stargazing and astronomy events take place at least once a month from August through April in the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Cairngorms Dark Sky Park, a designated Dark Sky Preserve. The Royal Family’s vacation home, Balmoral Castle, is located in the National Park and is open to visitors from April to August.
Visit the Cairngorms: Major accommodation centers for the Cairngorms include Aviemore, Newtonmore and Kingussie, Grantown-on-Spey, Ballater and Braemar, but wild camping is the best way to experience the valleys and remote mountains of the national park.
The A9 Perth – Inverness main road and railway line run along the western and northern limits of the national park, while the A93 Aberdeen – Braemar road provides the main access to the eastern part. The Angus Glens to the south are accessible by secondary roads from the small towns of Kirriemuir and Brechin, north of Dundee. The nearest airport is at Inverness, an hour’s drive north of Aviemore.
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