Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park: The Complete Guide

Ben Lomond

TripSavvy / Ferne Arfin

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Loch Lomond

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Loch Lomond, United Kingdom

Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park covers 720 square miles in the Scottish heartland and is within an hour's drive for about 50 percent of Scotland's population. You'll find a wide variety of landscapes here from wild mountain glens to rolling hill country, rivers, woodlands, and lochs. Also within the park, there are two extensive forest parks—Argyll and Queen Elizabeth Forest Park—and several fjord-like sea lochs where humpback whales and basking sharks have been seen.

You can take the high road or the low road around the loch because the Highland Boundary Fault that separates the Scottish Highlands from the Lowlands slices right through it, from southwest to northeast. The fault line is visible across some of the islands in the middle of the loch. Scotland's most popular vacation destination is a great place for outdoor activities of all kinds—from peaceful angling to rigorous mountain biking and everything in between.

Things to Do

With so much space in the mountains and along the water to explore, there are endless ways to enjoy the beauty of the park, whether you're looking for a quiet retreat or a more active adventure. Beyond hiking, cycling, fishing, and paddling, there is much history to be explored and many inner islands to visit.

Some visitors choose to spend their days relaxing by the lakeside, enjoying the shopping and dining opportunities in the villages, but you could also take a more wild approach and pitch a tent in a remote section of the park. Even just driving around the park can be a huge adventure, as there are many different key areas worth exploring, from the biggest lakes to the smallest. Every return trip can offer something new in this huge national park.

Best Hikes & Trails

The park is crisscrossed with dozens of waymarked paths, long-distance hiking trails, and national cycle routes. They range from easy, family-friendly paved paths along the shores of Loch Lomond to challenging hikes up Ben Lomond and some of the park's other Munros. The park authorities have also mapped out a range of themed walking and cycling itineraries—history walks, village trails, wildlife and nature walks, literary trails, and art and sculpture trails. If it's a more traditional trek you're after, some trails offer more of a challenge and well-earned views.

  • Ben A'an: This 2.4-mile (4-kilometer) hike is one of the most popular in the park. It's a steep walk up a hill that offers views of Loch Katrine and Loch Achray.
  • Ben Lomond Mountain Path: Ben Lomond is the most southern mountain of the Munros with a summit of more than 3,000 feet high. This 7.7-mile (12.4-kilometer) trail is difficult, but the trail is beautiful with passes through many lovely vistas.
  • The Cobbler (Ben Arthur): This mountain has three summits and also has many areas popular with rock climbers. It's about 7 miles (11 kilometers) long and considered difficult.
  • Ben Ledi: This circular 6-mile (10-kilometer) route passes through the summit of Ben Ledi on the edge of the Scottish Highlands near Callander.
  • Bracklinn Falls: This loop trail is a moderate 3-mile (5.3-kilometer) hike that starts north of Callander that offers views of Ben Ledi, Ben Vorlich, and a waterfall.

Boating & Fishing

There are many different ways to get on the water at Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine. For something unique, the Sir Walter Scott is a famous, vintage steamship on Loch Katrine, which made her maiden voyage in 1900. Recently she's been converted so that her boilers run on bio-fuel instead of coal, so you can have an eco-friendly experience on an antique ship. Several of the cruise suppliers listed on the National Park website also offer wildlife cruises into the sea lochs, the Firth of Clyde, and beyond. Dayboat hire is also available on many of the lochs. And there are inexpensive, scheduled hop-on, hop-off waterbuses and ferries that will drop you off at various piers and pontoons around Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine. If you bring your own motorboat, you'll need to register it and then read up on the bylaws and safety information at the registration website.

Kayaks, canoes, and SUPs are available from many of the piers. Wakeboarding, waterskiing, windsurfing, and paddleboarding are easy to arrange on many of the lochs. Open water swimming is allowed in many of the lochs but before you jump in, make sure you check with local authorities and suppliers to make sure it's a safe area because most of the lochs are multi-use. You may also need a wetsuit because the water is very cold.

Sailboat hire is available on Loch Lomond and there are restricted speed areas for powerboats guaranteeing peaceful sailing. You'll find plenty of launch spots if you bring your own sailboat on Loch Lomond, Loch Long, Loch Goil, and the Holy Loch. Fly fishing, or angling as it's called in Britain, can be done in most of the lochs, but different rules apply from one loch to another and you usually need permission and fishing licenses so do check before you cast your line. Permits are available from newsagents and fishing tackle suppliers.

Key Areas

The park has a good variety of tourist services, boat rentals, shopping, accommodations, and restaurants. Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park is made up of four distinct zones, creating opportunities for a wide variety of activities. Each of the key areas offers different attractions and outdoor activities. The park is sparsely populated, with about 20 people per square mile and most settlements are small, lochside villages or hamlets at the base of mountains. The two biggest towns are Balloch at the southern end of Loch Lomond and Callander in the southeastern corner of the Trossachs.

  • Loch Lomond: The largest lake is surrounded by cycle and walking trails that range from gentle family-friendly walks to more rugged "high road" paths. Several conservation villages border the loch and are worth exploring. It is one of the UK's most popular holiday destinations.
  • Cowal: This area used to be called Argyll Forest because so much of this western side of the park is covered with the Argyll Forest Park. It is defined by the dark forests and deep glens. Separated from the rest of the park by the sea lochs, Loch Long and Loch Goil, its rugged and dramatic northeast section is an area of small but challenging crags and peaks known as the Arrochar Alps.
  • The Trossachs: This is the central area of the park and is known for having many lochs and long, deep glens. Two forest parks, Queen Elizabeth Forest Park and the Great Trossachs Forest are designated National Scenic Areas. Here, Scotland's Highland Boundary Fault divides highlands from lowlands leading some to call the region "the Highlands in miniature."
  • Breadalbane: In the northeast corner of the park, this is an ancient Celtic earldom studded with high peaks, including Ben Lui, Stob Binnein, Ben More, and the higher of two mountains both called Ben Vorlich—the other is near Loch Lomond. This is Rob Roy country and where the famous outlaw is buried in Balquihidder. It's also an area of dramatic waterfalls.

Lochs

As the park straddles the highlands and the lowlands of Scotland, is dotted with bodies of water and laced with rivers and streams that contribute to making it such a popular playground. There are many lochs, but some are more popular and developed than others.

  • Loch Lomond: The biggest and most famous of the lochs is also the most popular with vacationers because you can rent motorboats, canoes, and kayaks or take ferries to different points along the shores. Fishing and angling are available in different areas from the shore and on the water and open water swimming is gaining popularity (only for the hardiest as it is very cold). The west shore of the lake is skirted by the A82 and provides the most accessible way to see views of Ben Lomond. A narrow road lines the east shore Balmaha in the southeast to the mid-point at Rowardenan, where trails for Ben Lomond climbers begin. Above that, cycle and walking trails are part of the West Highland Way, one of Britain's famous, long-distance walking paths.
  • Loch Katrine: This loch inspired Sir Walter Scott's poem, The Lady of the Lake. It's eight miles long and there are regular cruises by steamship or cruiser. Visitors can also cross by ferry to a cycle path that runs along its north shore on a quiet, private road. Bikes can be hired at the Trossachs Pier on the loch. Walks around the loch are relatively flat but there's some good hill walking on family-friendly Ben A'an and slightly more challenging walks on Ben Venue.
  • Loch Chon: Tiny Loch Chon is just a little over a mile and a half long and about a third of a mile at its widest point. It's popular with anglers, with perch and pike year-round, and brown trout from March to October. The loch is near some very good cycle trails and has good locations for what the British call wild camping—off-piste tent camping without services.
  • Loch Long: This 20-mile long loch is often compared to a fjord. It extends from the Firth of Clyde north along the western side of the national park and is one of Scotland's major sea lochs. It's popular with wildlife watchers being rich in both freshwater and sea life. At the northern end, Benmore Botanic Garden is a mountainside garden with more than 300 varieties of rhododendrons and an avenue of 150 giant redwoods.
A person hiking down a trail towards mountains at sunset

TripSavvy / Linda Strauta

Where to Camp

There are over 30 campgrounds located all around the park, some of which are exclusive for tents and campervans, and others that can accommodate both. Wild camping is also allowed with the proper permits. The majority of campgrounds in the park are privately-owned and bookings need to be made directly.

  • Loch Chon: Visitors interested in a slightly more civilized version of wild camping can try these campsites that have filtered water, flushing toilets, and parking space—yet widely spaced tent sites with a real lost-in-the-woods feeling. Accessible pitches are available which are closer to the parking lot and facilities.
  • Cashel Campsite: On the eastern side of Loch Lomond, you can launch boats directly from this waterside campground. It is pet-friendly and has accessible shops, toilets, showers, a designated fishing spot, and even laundry facilities.
  • Cobleland Campsite: Inside Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, this campsite sits on the banks of the River Forth, surrounded by oak trees, and in a great location to further explore the Trossachs. Accessible bathrooms, showers, and laundry facilities are on site.
  • Loch Katrine Eco Camping: Campervans are welcome at this eco-lodge where visitors will have access to electrical hookups, bathrooms, and Wi-Fi. On-site there is a cafe, plus a place to rent bikes and organize a boat cruise.
  • Inchcailloch Campsite: The only campsite on this nature reserve island is accessible first by ferry and then by trail. Facilities are more basic than most other campsites with no water supply and only public composting toilets. On this island, you'll find the ruins of abandoned human occupation and perhaps the convent founded on the island by Saint Kentigern, an Irish hermit said to be buried on Inchcailloch.

Where to Stay Nearby

This national park may be a nature destination, but the numerous towns and villages also have many luxurious hotels with stunning views and historical significance—plus truly charming bed and breakfasts. There are also glamping hotels and cozy cabins if you want an experience that's more like camping, but a little more comfortable.

  • An Còrr Arrochar Bed and Breakfast: Originally built in 1842, and recently renovated, this charming bed and breakfast is in the village of Arroch. Each room has a king-sized bed and Wi-Fi, plus a lounge area with great views across Loch Long.
  • Cardross House: About 2 miles south of the Lake of Menteith, this home was originally built in 1598 and the estate offers both self-catered cottages and bed and breakfast rooms in the main house, which is full of historic portraits and features meals served in a formal Georgian-style dining room.
  • Loch Tay Highland Lodge: Alternative camping options abound at this lodge area that offers traditional cabins, glamping domes, and wigwams set on the banks of Loch Tay.
  • Lodge on Loch Lomond: This luxury hotel sits on the beach and has its own jetty on the lake, plus banquet halls and a restaurant. Rooms with loch views are available.

How to Get There

The park is best accessed from Glasgow, about 40 minutes from Balloch on the bottom of Loch Lomond, on the A82. By train, ScotRail services run two trains an hour from Glasgow to Balloch (approximately 50 minutes), and the ScotRail West Highland Route from Glasgow to Fort William has several stops near or inside the park at Helensburgh, Garelochhead, Arrochar & Tarbet, Ardlui, Crianlarich, and Tyndrum. Check the National Rail Enquiries website for schedules and prices.

A short on-demand ferry also takes passengers to the Inchcailloch Island Nature Reserve, year-round, from Balmaha on the southeast shore of Loch Lomond. The island can also be reached by waterbus services from Luss and Balloch. This is a peaceful woodland island in Loch Lomond where there are very few people to get between you and the natural world.

Accessibility

Throughout the park, on the many lakes, and in the many towns and visitors centers, you'll find efforts have been made to make things more accessible. From businesses offering wheelchair-accessible fishing boats to attractions like the Sir Walter Scott Steamship ensuring that the historic ship can be accessed by wheelchair, visitors with disabilities should be able to find much they can do in the park. Around many of the lochs, such as Loch Katrine, the terrain is flat and paths and piers are flat and paved. Campgrounds and hotels also offer accessible accommodation throughout the park. Educational materials in the National Park Visitor Center in Balmaha are available in braille and British Sign Language. To find out which paths can be accessed by wheelchair, you can sort the walks listed on the park's official website by "short to moderate walking routes," which will show you a variety of paths with different levels of accessibility.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Loch Lomond & the Trossachs is a year-round destination but the winter months are better suited for more weather-hardened outdoor adventure-lovers. In the summer there are many insects, which makes spring and early fall the best times to visit.
  • Loch Lomond hosts golf tournaments, music festivals, and other seasonal events and has the most developed shopping, dining, and accommodations in the park.
  • Unlike U.S. national parks, British national parks often include towns and villages, farms, and places where people live their day-to-day lives in a protected landscape.
  • Public toilets are available throughout the park.
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Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park: A Complete Guide