The Ben Cruachan dam stores massive reserves of water that are used to power turbines that generate up to 440MW of electricity for Scotland’s homes.
Although the dam itself is off-limits to visitors you can walk to it along a tarmacked road which offers superb views of the Argyll countryside.
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.
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.
That being said, 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.
It all looks incredibly inviting, but don’t be tempted to strip off and jump in the waters of the dam 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.
Find more places to visit with my Scottish Tourist Attractions Map.
1: The walk to the dam is very scenic and quite easy-going. Pretty much anyone will be able to enjoy the stunning views across the Scottish Highlands from Ben Cruachan, no matter their level of fitness.
1: The lower section of Ben Cruachan is quite boggy so if you want to explore beyond the dam I suggest wearing waterproof hiking boots (link to my favourite boots on Amazon). If you stick to the road you shouldn’t need much more than a rainproof jacket.
2: Combine a visit to Ben Cruachan Dam with The Hollow Mountain Experience to discover how the mountain supplies energy to thousands of homes. The attraction features an exhibition and a tour deep inside the ‘hollow mountain’.
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 released back down the mountain 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 lay-bys 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 into Ben Cruachan until they finally open up to a cathedral-sized room that houses the giant hydroelectric 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.
*If you like the look of Loch Etive I recommend you drive north to visit the loch where it opens up onto the ridiculously scenic Glen Etive.
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.
Discover more mountains in Scotland with: The Best Munros in Scotland – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
Things to do
Mountain Hiking: Ben Cruachan is one of Scotland’s most beloved Munros, making it a perfect destination for hiking. With an elevation of 3,694 feet, the journey to the summit offers a challenging climb with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.
Ben Cruachan Power Station Tour: Visit the ‘Hollow Mountain Experience’, an underground power station where you can take a guided tour to explore the impressive hydroelectric power station. It’s a rare opportunity to learn about energy production while enjoying the awe-inspiring engineering marvel located deep within the heart of Ben Cruachan.
Bird Watching: Ben Cruachan is home to a variety of birds including golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and red grouses. Bring your binoculars (link to binocular reviews) and enjoy a day of bird-watching in the midst of one of Scotland’s prettiest landscapes.
Photography: Ben Cruachan provides endless opportunities for photography enthusiasts. Capture the sunrise or sunset over the mountains, the magnificent views from the summit of Ben Cruachan, or the serene beauty of nearby Loch Awe.
Wild Camping: Experience the true wilderness of Scotland by camping at Ben Cruachan. There are numerous spots where you can set up a tent and spend the night under the stars. If you don’t have a tent, check out these tent reviews.
World’s First Hydro Scheme: Ben Cruachan Dam, constructed between 1959 and 1965, was the world’s first high-head reversible pumped-storage hydro scheme. This means it can both generate electricity (by releasing water) and store electricity (by pumping water uphill).
The Hollow Mountain: The dam is often referred to as ‘The Hollow Mountain’ due to the power station that is located deep inside Ben Cruachan mountain.
Lengthy Construction Period: The dam took over six years to construct, with work commencing in 1959 and the dam becoming operational in 1965. It was a massive undertaking that involved an estimated 4,000 workers.
Impressive Specifications: The dam itself is 316 meters long and 91 meters high. The underground power station is situated almost 400 meters inside the mountain.
Turbine Capacity: The power station houses four turbines, each of which is capable of generating 100,000 kilowatts of electricity. The total output of the power station is a staggering 440 megawatts.
Dual Functionality: The dam serves a dual purpose. Not only does it generate electricity, but it also stores it. When demand for power is low, excess electricity from the grid is used to pump water back up to the reservoir.
Power Outages: If there’s a widespread power outage, the Ben Cruachan Dam can restart itself and the national grid using a process known as ‘black start’.
Things to do nearby
From St. Conan’s Road, Dalmally PA33 1AL.
Kilchurn Castle. 5-minute drive.
Built in the 1400s for clan Campbell, Kilchurn Castle is now roofless and in ruin. However, its picturesque location on a headland at the foot of Loch Awe makes it one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. There is a large car park with a snack van at the entrance. Entry is free.
Cruachan Visitor Centre. Cruachan Power Station Lochawe, Dalmally PA33 1AN. 12-minute drive.
This attraction takes visitors deep inside the ‘hollow mountain’ to marvel at the power station built underground. The visitor centre is set in a great location next to Loch Awe and it has a gift shop and a café with terrace seating.
Bonawe Historic Iron Furnace. Taynuilt, Argyll PA35 1JQ. 15-minute drive.
Historic ironworks founded in 1753. Bonawe Iron Furnace is located close to Loch Etive and within sight of Glencoe. Visitors can explore the original buildings and learn about Scotland’s iron-making history.
Loch Awe. 1-minute walk.
A large, mostly freshwater body of water that is over 25 miles in length. The loch is a popular fishing location with anglers in search of brown trout and salmon. Boats can be hired for sailing on the loch in the summer months.
St. Conan’s Kirk. Lochawe, Dalmally PA33 1AQ. 1-minute drive.
One of the most beautiful historic buildings in Scotland, in a similar vein to Rosslyn Chapel. This privately-run church is free to enter and welcomes people to view the ornate stone and woodwork carvings.
Frequently asked questions
How do I get to Ben Cruachan?
Address (Ben Cruachan visitor centre): Dalmally PA33 1AN
Directions map: Google Maps
What height is Ben Cruachan?
Ben Cruachan is a Munro in the Argyll and Bute region of Scotland. The mountain has a height of 3,694 feet (1,126 metres). The dam is situated on Ben Cruachan 1,299 feet (396 metres) above Loch Awe.
Can you drive up Ben Cruachan?
Visitors cannot drive up Ben Cruachan, though there is a road from the A85 to the dam. The road is private and only for use by the power station staff. However, visitors are allowed to walk and cycle on it.
Who built Cruachan Power Station?
Cruachan Power Station was designed by Sir Edward MacColl and built by a 4,000-strong workforce. It opened on 15th October 1965 and is still operational today.