Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park: The Complete Guide

Ben Lomond
©Ferne Arfin

Loch Lomond, in Scotland, at 24 miles in length, is the largest freshwater body in the British Isles. The Trossachs and the Earldom of Breadalbane, nearby, are soaked in Scottish history and the romance of literature.

This is Rob Roy country, an inspiration for the novels and poems of Sir Walter Scott. The highland outlaw, romanticized in Scott's stories, rustled cattle in these parts but died peacefully of old age in his own bed. He's buried within the national park. Also within the park, two extensive National Forest Parks and several fjord-like sea lochs where humpback whale and basking shark have been seen.

Statistics and Superlatives

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park covers 720 sq. miles in the Scottish heartland, within an hour's drive for about 50 percent of Scotland's population. It takes in a wide variety of landscapes - wild mountain glens, towering giants, rolling hill country, rivers, woodlands and lochs.

Within the borders of the park there are:

  • 21 Munros (mountains higher than 3,000 ft.
  • 20 peaks between 2,500 and 3,000 ft.
  • 22 larger lochs, dozens of small lochs and lochans and Scotland's only lake (no reason for this and bizarrely, the Lake of Menteith was a loch in the 19th century
  • 50 rivers and large burns (streams)
  • Two Forest Parks - Queen Elizabeth and Argyll 
  • 15,168 people - unlike U.S.national parks, in Britain national parks often include towns and villages, farms and places where people live their day to day lives in a protected landscape.

Highlands or Lowlands

You've probably heard the song the Bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond. Well, 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 actually visible across some of the islands in the middle of the loch. Geographically, that makes the 750 square mile area of the park is incredibly varied. Ben Lomond, towers 3,196 feet over Loch Lomond's east bank. Further east, the Trossachs is an area of steep-sided glens, braes (Scottish for steep hills) and dozens of lochs, all covered in dense forest. This park, Scotland's most popular vacation destination, is a great place for outdoor activities of all kinds - from peaceful angling to strenuous mountain biking and everything in between.

Four Parks in One

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is made up of four distinct zones, creating opportunities for a wide variety of activities. It's almost like four separate parks in one. The key areas are:

  • Loch Lomond spreads beneath Ben Lomond (3,196ft.). It is surrounded by cycle and walking trails that range from gently family-friendly to more rugged "high road" paths. There are also several conservation villages that border the loch and are worth exploring. It is one of the UK's most popular holiday destinations.
  • Cowal used to be called Argyll Forest because so much of this western side of the park is covered with the Argyll Forest Park, an area of dark treescapes and deep glens. Separated from the rest of the park by the sea lochs, Loch Long and Loch Goil that reach up from The Firth of Clyde, it is popular with mountaineers. Its rugged and dramatic northeast section is an are of small but challenging crags and peaks known as the Arrochar Alps
  • The Trossachs, the central area of the park is known for its 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, is an ancient Celtic earldom studded with high peaks, including Ben Lui (3,703ft.), Stob Binnein (3,822), Ben More and the higher (at 3,232 ft) of two mountains both called Ben Vorlich (3,232 ft.) - 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.

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 mountaints. The two biggest towns are Balloch at the southern end of Loch Lomond and Callander in the southeastern corner of The Trossachs. Both have a good variety of tourist services, boat rentals, shopping, accommodations and restaurants.

The Lochs of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Cruise Boat Under Ben Lomond
© Ferne Arfin

The park, as it 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. These are some of the main lochs, but by no means all of them.

  • Loch Lomond The biggest and most famous of the lochs is also the most popular with vacationers because of the very wide variety of activities on and around its waters. It is possible to cruise is sightseeing boats, to hire motorboats, canoes and kayaks, to take ferries and a water bus 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). Loch Lomond hosts golf tournaments, music festivals and other seasonal events and has the most developed shopping, dining and accommodations in the park. The west shore of the lake is skirted by the A82 and provides the most accessible way to 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 8 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 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 all 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. Visitors interested in a slightly more civilized version of wild camping can try the new Loch Chon campsites that have filtered water, flushing toilets and parking spaces yet widely spaced tent sites with a real lost-in-the-woods feeling. This loch, by the way, is rumored to have a kelpie (a water sprite that snatches naughty children) and the more fairies than anywhere in the world.
  • 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.

Things to Do in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

  • Cruise the big lochs Cruises on steamships, vintage and modern cruisers are available on Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine. The Sir Walter Scott, the famous, vintage steamship on Loch Katrine, made her maiden voyage in 1900. Recently she's been converted so that her boilers run on bio-fuel instead of coal, for an eco-friendly experience on an antique ship. Several of the cruise suppliers listed in the National Park website also offer wildlife cruises into the sea lochs, the Firth of Clyde and beyond. Dayboat hire is 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 byelaws and safety information at the registration website.
  • Watersports Kayaks, canoes, and SUPs are available from many of the piers. Wakeboarding, waterskiing, windsurfing, paddle boarding 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. And plan on bringing your wetsuit - the water is very cold.
  • Go Sailing - 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.
  • Go Fishing - In Britain they call it "angling" (fly fishing) or coarse fishing (fishing with bait). You can do both 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.
  • Take a Walking or Cycling Tour 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, art and sculpture trails.
  • Visit Inchcailloch Inchailloch is a peaceful woodland island in Loch Lomond with three trails - ranging from an easy coastal path to a more challenging route to the top of the island. It's a place where very few people to get between you and the natural world. Hidden in the trees are the ruins of abandoned human occupation and perhaps the convent founded on the island by St Kentigerna. She was an Irish hermit said to be buried on Inchcailloch. The best part of a visit here is that you can get away from it all mere minutes from the mainland. A short on-demand ferry 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. And there's a small campsite on the island.

The Best Time to Go to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is a year-round destination but the winter months are really only for the most weather hardened outdoorsmen (unless, of course, you hole up in a country house hotel by a roaring fire). From November to February you are more likely to encounter grey, rainy weather than snow. Summer is great if you stay covered up and well lubricated with midge repellent. These pesky insects love warm, humid weather. Because of the midges, spring and early fall are the best times to visit.

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 National Rail Enquiries for schedules and prices.

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