Within the heart of Scotland’s picturesque Argyll and Bute region lies a breathtaking destination that often goes unnoticed by tourists: Ardmucknish Bay.
This unspoiled haven boasts a mix of golden beaches and pristine sheltered waters that are a popular destination for nature lovers and holidaymakers alike, from Ledaig Point on the bay’s southeast corner to the lovely Tralee Beach on the northernmost point of the bay.
In this article, we’ll explore the many facets of Ardmucknish Bay including sightseeing flights from Oban Airport, walking trails up nearby Beinn Lora, and sunbathing on the bay’s beautiful beaches.
|Opening Hours:||Ardmucknish Bay is accessible 24/7, 365 days a year.|
|Admission Price:||Free entry|
|Parking:||There is a free public car park in Benderloch.|
|Facilities:||Benderloch: Shop, cafe, car park.|
The western half of Argyll and Bute is famous for its rugged coastline that’s not only teeming with wildlife but is also one of the most picturesque areas of Scotland, especially around the historic harbour town of Oban.
Oban offers an easy sail to the beautiful Isle of Mull as well as less-visited islands like Kerrera, and it’s a great location to use as a base to explore the surrounding area thanks to the A85 which runs between Oban and Tyndrum past attractions like Cruachan Dam and Kilchurn Castle.
Thanks to its many bays and sea lochs, this part of Argyll and Bute is also home to a number of stunning beaches, the highlight of which (in my opinion) is the gorgeous stretch of golden sand that arcs its way from North Connel to Benderloch.
Ardmucknish Bay lies to the north of Oban across the seaward end of Loch Etive. It’s crescent-shaped with a 2-mile promontory on its northern side and is only open to the sea on its southwest side, meaning it’s very well protected from the fierce winds that often blow in off the Atlantic Ocean.
The 3-mile beach runs almost entirely uninterrupted around the eastern edge of the bay except for one small area in Benderloch which is broken by a promontory that has steep sides and is pretty much inaccessible.
Though not quite up to the standards of the legendary beaches in the Outer Hebrides, the sand at Ardmucknish Bay is soft and golden (albeit with a good sprinkling of shingle in places), and exceptionally clean, meaning it’s a great destination for families with children.
There are actually two main beaches on Ardmucknish Bay – Tralee and Ledaig – with the former being roughly 1/3 the size of the latter, yet that’s the one that sees the majority of visitors. The reason for its popularity is the facilities at Benderloch which include a free public car park, a shop, a petrol station, and a cafe.
Legaig Beach, meanwhile, is mostly used by caravanners from the North Ledaig Caravan Park which has direct access to the shoreline, although there are a few roadside parking spaces on the northern end of the beach – if you don’t mind climbing a fence to get down there.
As far as things to do goes, well, it’s a beach, so don’t expect much more than sunbathing and long walks, although the views across the water are absolutely stunning. Depending on which part of the bay you’re standing you’ll be able to make out the isles of Mull and Lismore as well as the coastline around Dunstaffnage and (if you have binoculars) the Isle of Kerrera.
If it’s a sunny day (yes, we do have them in Scotland) you’ll be able to enjoy a nice dip at Ardmucknish Bay, though it’s advisable to stay close to the shoreline where it’s shallow and the water is warmer.
Kayakers and paddle boarders, meanwhile, shouldn’t have any problems paddling around the bay as it’s so sheltered, especially in the northern half.
There are two main sites for caravan parks, one at Tralee and one at the already-mentioned North Lediag, but the latter is by far the largest and has the best facilities. If you decide to pitch up at Ledaig I recommend taking a walk along the beach to the end of Oban Airport which is a great spot to watch aircraft flying in and out.
This is a tiny airport that’s mostly used for sightseeing flights and private aircraft so you won’t be bothered by noisy jets, though it does have occasional charter and sightseeing flights to the islands of the Inner Hebrides.
Finally, if you’d like to embark on a wee adventure I recommend heading past Benderloch on the A828 and taking the minor road signposted for Tralee and South Shian.
This is a lovely quiet road that heads into the heart of Ardmucknish Bay’s northern promontory where you’ll find a small but secluded beach that I guarantee will be empty when you arrive.
A path winds its way into the woodlands that border the bay which eventually leads to Lady Margarets Tower – an enormous monument with a fantastic viewpoint overlooking the bay.
1: Ardmucknish Bay is a must-visit summertime destination as the beach is one of the best on the entire Argyll & Bute coastline. Tralee Beach on the northern end of the bay is particularly scenic with a wide stretch of golden, powder-soft sand.
The main beach runs from Ledaig in the middle of the bay to North Connel and is around 2 miles in length, which means there’s plenty of space to find a secluded spot even in the peak tourist season.
2: Oban Airport operates sightseeing flights from the southern end of Ardmuckinish Bay which fly along the coastline of the mainland and out to the islands of Lismore and Mull.
Sightseeing flights only last around 30 minutes but they offer stunning views of the area and are a must-do for tourists, although they’re very popular in summer and the plane only seats a maximum of 7 people so it’s advisable to book well in advance.
3: Because Ardmucknish Bay forms a natural harbour it’s well sheltered from the winds that blow in from the western isles, making it a great location for swimming and paddle boarding.
1: Visitors with a bike might like to cycle part of the Caledonia Way which runs from Campbeltown to Inverness along 234 miles of Scotland’s most picturesque scenery.
The section at Ardmucknish Bay finishes at Fort William and comprises 40 miles of traffic-free paths that are tarmacked. See the Sustrans website for more information.
2: There are several roadside parking spaces on the A828 which runs alongside Ardmucknish Bay beach, but the best place to leave the car is the village of Benderloch which has an off-road car park, a cafe, a garage, and a small grocery store.
3: Although you can pick up supplies in Benderloch, the shop is a wee bit pricey so I recommend heading to one of the supermarkets in Oban for your beach picnic or BBQ. Oban Tesco (Lochside Street, Oban PA34 4HP) to Benderloch is an 8-mile drive which will take approximately 20 minutes.
Before heading to the bay you might consider stopping at the Falls of Lora car park (Connel, Oban, PA37 1PJ) where you’ll be able to see the famous raging torrents of water caused by the narrow opening under the Connel Bridge.
There’s a footpath that crosses the bridge but the view is obscured by metalwork so I suggest watching the spectacle from the shoreline in Connel instead.
Once over the bridge you’ll find the A828 offers no parking spaces except for the layby near Ledaig, but the spaces are almost always full at the weekend so I recommend heading straight for the car park at Benderloch.
From there you’ll cross the Sustrans cycling route that leads to Fort William before taking a path that leads to the beach, which shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to walk.
Most of the path is tarmacked so is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs, except for the final section near the beach which crosses a grass area, though it’s quite compacted and firm underfoot.
There’s a long stretch of shingle at this point which opens up to sand on the remainder of Tralee Beach. This is one of the most-visited areas of the bay, but even so, it’s big enough that you’ll be able to find a quiet spot and there are plenty of dunes to hide away in if you really want to get away from it all.
If you have kids you’ll be pleased to know there’s a small children’s play area on the northern end of Tralee Beach as well as picnic benches and even a BBQ area along with a couple of bins.
It’s possible to access the play park from the beach but you’ll have to take a walk around a fence, or alternatively find somewhere to park near the Tralee Bay caravan park and walk down to it.
If you’re feeling active you’ll enjoy the walk up nearby Beinn Lora, a 368-metre hill with magnificent views at its summit. You’ll find the entrance to the footpath opposite the Benderloch car park so it’s a worthwhile addition to a day at the beach.
The footpath starts off quite firm but becomes rather boggy towards the top so I wouldn’t attempt it unless you have waterproof footwear, especially outside of summer when you’re pretty much guaranteed to get soggy socks.
Even so, the viewpoint is one of the best (if not the best) in the region and it shouldn’t take more than two hours to get to the top and back down even with photo stops.
Things to do
Bird Watching: Ardmucknish Bay is a renowned spot for bird watching. The bay hosts a myriad of bird species including oystercatchers, sandpipers, and curlews. With a pair of binoculars (link to binocular reviews) and a bit of patience, you can spend hours watching these fascinating animals in their natural habitat.
Beach Walks: The bay is home to a long stretch of clean golden sand that’s perfect for a leisurely stroll. Walking along the shore you’ll be able to enjoy stunning scenic views in peace and quiet – apart from the occasional small plane taking off from Oban Airport, of course.
Photography: For photography enthusiasts, Ardmucknish Bay offers spectacular landscapes. The contrast between the calm bay waters and surrounding rugged hills provides excellent opportunities for capturing unique shots. The ever-changing light conditions can also help produce truly breathtaking images, especially during the magical golden hour.
Sea Kayaking: If you’re an adventure seeker, sea kayaking on the bay is a must. If you take a kayak with you, you can spend your day paddling around and exploring the bay from a different perspective. If you’re lucky, you may even spot seals or dolphins swimming nearby.
Visit Tralee Beach: At the northernmost point of Ardmucknish Bay is Tralee Beach. Known for its pristine sand and clear waters, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic, sunbathing, or even taking a refreshing dip if the weather’s warm enough.
Things to do nearby
Dunstaffnage Castle. Address: Dunbeg, Oban, PA37 1PZ. Distance: 5.4 miles.
Dunstaffnage Castle is a historic fortress near Oban that overlooks Ardmucknish Bay. Known as one of Scotland’s oldest castles, its history traces back to the 13th century.
The castle is perched on a rock on a promontory positioned southwest of the entrance to Loch Etive where it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape.
Oban Airport sightseeing flight. Address: North Connel, Oban, PA37 1SW. Distance: 1.8 miles.
Hebridean Air Services operate sightseeing flights from Oban Airport near Connel on the southwest corner of Ardmucknish Bay.
Flights take around 30 minutes and fly over popular tourist sights including Dunstaffange Castle, Oban, Duart Castle, and the islands of Lismore and Eriska.
Ganavan Sands. Address: Oban, PA34 5TB. Distance: 9 miles.
Ganavan Sands, located just north of Oban, is a small sandy beach that offers a peaceful escape from the crowds that flock to Oban in the summer months.
The beach presents panoramic views of the islands of Mull and Lismore, making it a popular spot for family picnics, watersports, and simply relaxing by the shoreline.
Dunollie Musuem Castle. Address: Dunollie House, Oban, PA34 5TT. Distance: 8.2 miles.
Dunollie Museum, near Oban, is a treasure trove of historic artefacts and stunning scenery.
The museum is an internationally recognised centre for Scottish culture and heritage and is the home of the worldwide Clan MacDougall. The museum’s highlights include a rare collection of textiles, historical documents, and clan heirlooms.
Oban Distillery. Address: Oban, PA34 5NH. Distance: 7.4 miles.
Oban Distillery is one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Scotland. Founded in 1794, it’s renowned for producing unique spirits that fuse the robust, smoky character of Hebridean single malts with the lighter, fruitier undertones of Highland malts.
Visitors can tour the distillery to see the complete whisky-making process including a tour of the still house, the mill room, and the old filling store
Frequently asked questions
Where is Ardmucknish Bay?
Ardmucknish Bay is located on the west coast of Scotland to the north of the town of Oban in Argyll and Bute. The bay extends into the mainland to create a natural harbour so it’s a popular spot for sailing and other water activities.
From the city of Glasgow, it’s approximately a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Ardmucknish Bay.
What is Argyll and Bute known for?
Argyll and Bute is a council area in the west of Scotland that’s known for its remarkable natural beauty and rich history. Here are some of the region’s highlights:
Stunning Landscapes: With its mix of rugged Highland mountains, tranquil lochs, and sweeping coastlines, Argyll and Bute is a paradise for nature lovers. The area includes part of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park as well as the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park.
Historic Sites: The region is home to numerous historic sites including the ancient Dunstaffnage Castle, the 18th-century Bonawe Iron Furnace, and the stunning Inveraray Castle.
Islands: Argyll and Bute encompass 23 inhabited islands including Mull, Islay, and Tiree, meaning the region is home to more island people than any other local authority in Scotland.
Can you fly into Oban Scotland?
Yes, you can fly into Oban in Scotland, but indirectly. Oban doesn’t have a commercial airport for large passenger planes but it does have a small airport, Oban Airport (OBN), that is primarily used for small planes and air taxis.
For most travellers, the usual route involves flying into a larger nearby airport like Glasgow International Airport (GLA) and then taking a train, bus, or car to Oban.
Additionally, there are scenic charter flights available from Oban Airport that give you a bird’s eye view of the stunning Inner Hebridean islands. These flights are more for sightseeing purposes as opposed to standard travel.
How long does it take to climb Ben Lora?
Ben Lora, also known as Beinn Lora, is a small mountain located near Oban in Scotland. It’s a popular hill walk due to its proximity to the sea and the stunning views it offers.
The climb up Ben Lora is typically considered a moderate hike. The total walking distance is approximately 3.75 miles (6 km). For the average person, it generally takes about 2-3 hours to complete the return walk, depending on your pace and how many breaks you take.
Remember, these are only estimates – actual times can vary based on factors like your fitness level, weather conditions, and how often you stop to admire the view.