The Out About Scotland complete guide to walking to the Ben Cruachan dam in the Highlands
Category: Industrial, Landscape, Loch, Mountain, Walk or cycle route
Suitable for ages: 11 to 18 years, 18+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 7 out of 10
About Ben Cruachan dam
Ben Cruachan is an 1126-metre high mountain in the Scottish Highlands that has two claims to fame. Firstly, it has the distinction of being the highest point in the district of Argyll and Bute. And secondly, it’s home to the Scottish Power hydro-electric dam that generates energy for the power station hidden deep within its depths.
A visit to Ben Cruachan (which isn’t actually a mountain – it’s a Munro) rewards walkers with some of the finest views in the Southern Highlands, especially if they make it to the very top of its summit and gaze down at the multitude of rocky satellites below it.
As the highest point of a grand range of sharp peaks between Loch Awe and Loch Etive, Ben Cruachan is at the top of the list of Munros to ‘bag’ for many climbers and hikers, but a much gentler – and equally interesting – walk can be had by heading to the man-made dam part-way up it instead.
You’ll find the dam a strange sight once you get to the end of the track and it looks weirdly out of place with its precise man-made walls set against the totally wild and unkempt backdrop of Ben Cruachan, and with the sun shining it takes on a glassy sheen that reflects the mountain in a perfect mirror image.
It all looks incredibly inviting, but don’t be tempted to strip off and jump in because you’re absolutely not allowed. On this walk you’ll just have to be satisfied with the gorgeous views across the Highlands that Ben Cruachan offers at the top.
Things to do at the Ben Cruachan dam
The walk up the well-worn track to this remarkable feat of Scottish engineering is well worth the effort, if only to marvel at the dam which looks so out of place perched high up on the mountain.
The dam stores massive reserves of water which is piped down the mountainside into the power station, with the power behind this flow of water being used to power turbines that generate up to 440 megawatts of electricity.
The water is then pumped back up to the dam at night when the energy is cheaper and is released back down the mountain again during the day when the energy cost goes back up. Clever stuff!
Ben Cruachan is part of a ring of mountains known as the Cruachan horseshoe which overlooks Loch Awe and Loch Etive, and a gentle climb to the summit reveals both the loch and the surrounding peaks in all their glory.
Although car parking is limited there are a couple of laybys along the road beneath the Munro, and during the week there are usually only infrequent tourists joining in with the ascent.
You can take a steeper climb by following the path that leads out from the railway station a short distance from the visitor centre, although this route takes you through the muddy fields surrounding Ben Cruachan, so be sure to take a good pair of walking boots with you.
While a visit to the dam is interesting enough you really need to take a tour in the Ben Cruachan ‘Hollow Mountain’ centre to fully understand what makes it so special. The tour takes you deep underground into the maze of tunnels that have been bored deep into Ben Cruachan until they finally open up to a cathedral-sized room that houses the giant hydro-electric turbines.
The fact that there’s such a large body of water all the way up the side of the mountain that’s powering these machines is pretty incredible so if you’ve got any kind of interest in engineering it really is a must-see attraction in the Highlands.
What I liked about this attraction
- The walk up to the dam is really nice
- The views are amazing from the top as well
My top tips
- It gets really muddy in winter so wear appropriate clothing
- Combine a visit to Ben Cruachan Dam with The Hollow Mountain Experience
- The very pretty St. Conan’s Kirk is only a 20-minute drive away which is well worth a visit
Address and map
Ben Cruachan dam is not accessible by car but it’s a really nice walk and you can enjoy stunning views at the top. From the Scottish Power visitor centre, turn right and drive to Loch Awe village. After the 30 mph sign, take the first road on the left which is signposted St Conan’s Road.
You’ll then arrive at a padlocked gate which has access for walkers. Now simply follow the road up the mountain to the dam. The road is three miles long, has a good surface all the way, and climbs gradually across the hillside. It’s an easy walk and I’d say most people will manage it, no matter their fitness level.
Prices and opening times
Ben Cruachan Dam is free to visit and is usually open all year round, but check with Scottish Power visitor centre first.
- Telephone: 0141 614 9105
- email: [email protected] (Ben Cruachan visitor centre)
- Website: Visit Cruachan
Getting there: Car parking available on the roadside
Getting around: Easy-access paths (following the road); Uneven paths (following the hillside track)
On-site conveniences: None. Nearest conveniences are at the Hollow Mountain Experience visitor centre
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