Last updated on February 27th, 2021
There are six forest parks in Scotland: Glenmore, Argyll, Galloway, Tweed Valley, Queen Elizabeth, and Tay. Each park is a group of forests centred in a specific region, each of which is managed by the Forestry and Land Scotland organisation. Discover the best forests to visit in this guide.
The ultimate guide to forests in Scotland
If you’ve decided to visit Scotland for your next holiday you might have already planned an exciting itinerary of things to do while you’re here. No doubt our amazing cities will be right at the top of the list along with all the usual attractions of dramatic mountains, picturesque lochs, secluded islands and stunning coastlines.
But there’s something else you’ll find in Scotland that stretches across the length and breadth of the country which easily rivals those other sights. It’s the jewel in the crown of Scotland’s attractions yet it’s criminally under-visited by international tourists.
I am, of course, talking about Scotland’s forests and woodlands.
While the UK as a whole is well below the European average when it comes to the amount of land covered by forests we don’t do too badly here in Scotland, and currently over 18% of the land is covered with trees (compared to 43% in Europe).
These magnificent woodlands are mostly broadleaved in the south but as you move further north you’ll find it slowly transitions into firs – many of which are over 200 feet in height.
Unfortunately, Scotland’s ancient forests suffered a long period of decline as most of the country’s trees were lost to the timber industry in the 19th century, and by the First World War only 5% of the landscape was wooded. Thankfully an intense regeneration programme is slowly but surely replanting those lost trees.
You can still see some of Scotland’s ancient woodland in Perthshire (which is affectionately known as the ‘Big Tree Country’) and some trees there are thought to be at least 5,000 years old. However, the majority were planted after the Forestry Commission was set up in 1919 who decided to replant the countryside with mostly non-native specimens.
Of all the trees in Scotland only 31 species are native – including willow, whitebeam, birch, cherry, Scots pine, juniper and yew – with the remainder being foreign spruce, pine and larch, but at least those non-native trees are fast-growing and they offer a superb habitat for Scotland’s wildlife.
There’s so much to see and do in Scotland’s forests that it’s difficult to do them all justice in one article but I’ll try my best to show you the best ones with a selection from our six forest parks.
Before I continue, I probably need to explain that we don’t have just six forests here in Scotland but we do have six forest parks; Glenmore, Argyll, Galloway, Tweed Valley, Queen Elizabeth, and Tay. Each park is a group of forests centred in a specific region, each of which is managed by the Government-backed Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) organisation.
We have hundreds of forests in Scotland which can be found from the very southern-most tip of the Scottish Borders all the way to the north of the Cairngorms. While many of these green areas are privately owned the majority are managed by FLS who look after these landscapes for two very important reasons.
The first is tourism which is something FLS are absolutely committed to supporting – and I have to say they do a world-class job of it. Travel anywhere in the country where the trees are looked after by the agency and you’ll find a great collection of walking and biking trails, visitor centres, and wildlife watching facilities.
The other side of FLS’ work is the timber industry, but unlike private corporations they re-invest all their income back into the management of the forests so there’s always a steady stream of funding available to look after Scotland’s great outdoors.
The scale of Scotland’s timber industry is gob-smacking and you might be surprised to know it’s even bigger than our fishing industry, providing over 30,000 jobs in the production of wood for everything from house building to bio-fuel with an annual income of more than £1 billion.
Let’s just hope the desire for profits never outweighs the need for conservation.
Now we know a little bit about Scotland’s forests and who looks after them, let’s take a look at the parks that you can visit.
Forests in Scotland map
- Argyll Forest Park
- Galloway Forest Park
- Glenmore Forest Park
- Tay Forest Park
- Tweed Valley Forest Park
- Queen Elizabeth Forest Park
The best forest walks in Argyll Forest Park
Benmore Botanic Garden – Argyll Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode PA23 8QU. If you drive there you’ll find a free car park at the gardens which are located seven miles north of Dunoon, just off the A815. Alternatively, you can take one of the buses operated by West Coast Motors which runs to the garden from Dunoon. The bus ride takes approximately 20 minutes.
Facilities: Visitor centre with gifts and souvenirs. Cafe. Toilets. Car park. Guided tours on foot and in vehicles for the elderly.
Highlights: The Benmore Botanic Gardens are located in the heart of Argyll Forest Park. Unlike the other forests in this list, Benmore is a carefully managed mix of plants and trees from across the globe so you’ll be able to see a variety of species obtained from the Orient, the Himalayas and the Americas as well as a fine collection of native Scottish trees.
The gardens are absolutely enormous and cover over 120 acres of land so there’s more than enough to occupy families for an entire day, although unlike the other forests mentioned, Benmore Botanics has an entrance fee to get in. See the Benmore Botanics website for details.
Highlights include a Victorian cliff fernery, an avenue of towering redwoods, hilltop views of the surrounding forest and a tranquil pond. The paths are mostly tarmacked with some gravel and rough woodland sections, but all paths are in good condition and are easy to walk on.
Glenbranter – Argyll Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode PA27 8DJ. There’s a regular bus service from Dunoon which passes the entrance to the forest or you can drive there by following the A815 from Strachur.
Facilities: Car parking. Toilets. Picnic area. The Glenbranter forest office can be found near the car park which has toilets and maps if you want to venture deeper into the area. There’s also a hide where you can watch the forest’s wildlife.
Highlights: Located in one of the prettiest regions of Scotland, Glenbranter is full of waymarked trails that criss-cross the surrounding forests.
The trails are suitable for all ages and fitness levels and vary from short strolls to feet-smashing all-day hikes so take a look at the map in the car park to decide which route will be suitable for you.
If you’ve got children in tow you might like to check out the Broadleaves and Glen Eck trails which are one and two miles respectively across gravel surfaces that alternate between flat sections and long steep slopes.
The wildlife in this forest is abundant and you’re virtually guaranteed to see buzzards, red squirrels, roe deer and woodpeckers on any of the walks, but if you want the best chance to see the animals you might consider getting on a bike and cycling along the twenty-one mile Loch Eck loop.
Just be warned some parts of the trail are quite steep so you’ll need a reasonable level of fitness to complete it.
Kilmun Arboretum – Argyll Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode PA23 8SJ. From Dunoon village follow the A815 north for around four miles to reach Kilmun. The arboretum is located at the western end of the village. A regular bus service operates between Dunoon and Kilmun pier which is a ten-minute walk from the entrance.
Facilities: Car park. Picnic area. More facilities can be found in Dunoon.
Highlights: This arboretum was planted in the 1930s as a way to test how well various species of foreign trees would survive the changeable Scottish climate. At the time more than 260 different types of tree were planted and while not all of them have survived many have flourished – as you’ll see when you meander through the copices of sequoia, redwoods, maple, beech and firs.
This isn’t a particularly large forest and the longest walking trail shouldn’t take much more than an hour to complete, but it’s still worth visiting if only to see the collections of trees that you won’t find anywhere else in Scotland such as the grove of eucalyptus trees that normally only grow in Australia.
Most of the mile-long path around the arboretum is gravel but there are a few grassy sections to cross along with a couple of steep slopes and narrow bridges.
Pucks Glen – Argyll Forest park
How to get there: Postcode PA23 8QT. You can get to Pucks Glen either by walking one mile from Benmore Botanic Gardens, driving, or taking the bus from Dunoon which is five miles away.
Facilities: Car park. Toilets. The village of Dunoon is nearby which has several places to eat, or you could visit Benmore Botanic Gardens which has toilets and a cafe. The gardens are just over a mile away on the A815.
Highlights: This lovely woodland walk follows a deep gorge that’s renowned for being a magical place. The trail was originally created in Victorian times and has since become very well known so you’ll see it on almost all tourist maps of the area.
The path that follows the gorge is quite short at not-quite two miles in length but it’s relatively steep and some sections are difficult going when it’s wet, with some parts that become a muddy quagmire after a good rainfall.
The walk is well worth the effort though and you’ll find tumbling waterfalls, towering ferns, and secluded gulleys from start to finish and if you’ve got children it offers an amazing family adventure.
After you’ve visited the glen you can drive the scenic A880 which follows the Cowal peninsula that extends into the Firth of Clyde, or you can visit the nearby Benmore Botanic Garden which is one of the top-rated managed gardens in Scotland.
The best forest walks in Galloway Forest Park
Clatteringshaws Forest – Galloway Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode DG7 3SQ. Clatteringshaws forest is located between the villages of New Galloway and Newton Stewart on the A712. The visitor centre is next to the main entrance on the shore of Clatteringshaws loch.
Facilities: Paid car park. Toilets. Cafe. Visitor information centre.
Highlights: This stunning forest surrounds a tranquil loch that’s a haven for wildlife. Just like at Loch Morlich, Clatteringshaws features rolling mountainous peaks in the near distance and a walk in this forest wouldn’t be complete without venturing into the Galloway Hills afterwards.
There’s a designated waymarked trail along the shore of the loch which winds in and out of the forest before finishing at a site made famous by Robert the Bruce but it’s quite short (about one mile), so if you want to get a bit more active you should consider hopping on a bike to cycle the number 7 national cycle route which starts at Glasgow and passes through Clatteringshaws before finishing at Carlisle.
Due to the number of lochs and lochans in the area it’s a haven for wildlife and is a favourite nesting site for red kites, willow warblers and even the occasional osprey. And due to its remoteness the forest has also been designated as a dark sky park so if you want to see the stars unobscured by light pollution you might consider staying after the sun goes down.
Glentrool Forest – Galloway Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode DG8 6SZ. From Glentrool village follow the signposted minor road that leads to the Glentrool visitor centre where you’ll find the car park.
Facilities: Paid car park. Visitor centre. Toilets. Cafe.
Highlights: As one of Scotland’s premier mountain biking trails, Glentrool is incredibly popular with bikers who visit in their droves to experience the high-speed thrills that the 36-mile cycle route offers.
But it’s not all action when you bring your bike to this forest as there are several family-friendly trails to enjoy as well, with leisurely routes passing through the peaceful Palnagashel Glen. The more active might prefer the ‘big country route’ that circles the Galloway Forest Park for 36 miles along country tracks, forest paths and minor roads.
If you’d rather stick to two feet there are lots of walks in this part of the forest that range from one to six miles in length and while the majority are easy going there are some sections that are quite steep, so bear that in mind if you’ve got young children with you.
Glentrool is one of the best forests in Scotland to go wildlife watching and it’s absolutely buzzing with birdlife so while you’re enjoying the scenery make sure you keep your eyes open for great tits, crossbills and goldcrests as well as the occasional red squirrel and herd of roe deer.
The best forest walks in Glenmore Forest Park
Allt Mor – Glenmore Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode PH22 1RB. From the Highland town of Aviemore head towards the Cairngorms for 7 miles. You’ll see the entrance for Allt Mor a mile past Glenmore forest. There’s a bus that goes between Aviemore and the Cairngorm ski centre which stops near Allt Mor or you can cycle on a path between the forest and Aviemore.
Facilities: Paid car park. Picnic area. There aren’t any other facilities but it’s only a mile down the road to Loch Morlich which has a cafe and toilets.
Highlights: Just like nearby Glemore forest, Allt Mor is a stunning area that’s full of thick pines, tumbling waterfalls and an occasional loch.
There’s a forest trail on a wide gravel surface that runs for around two and a half miles in a circular route into the forest and back to the car park. It’s quite a gentle stroll although there are a couple of steep slopes, but they’re nothing that’ll get your heart pumping too much.
If you want a slightly longer walk you might like to follow the path that joins the Glenmore forest near Loch Morlich where you can relax next to the Green Lochan. This extra trail will add another mile and a half onto your walk (but it’s well worth doing).
Glenmore Forest – Glenmore Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode PH22 1QU. From Aviemore follow the signs for the Cairngorms heading towards Loch Morlich. The Glenmore Forest visitor centre is 6 miles from Aviemore and there’s a connecting path so you can either cycle or walk there as well as drive.
Facilities: Toilets. Paid car park. Partial disabled facilities. Cafe. Visitor centre.
Highlights: From the visitor centre follow the trail to the summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille with offers superb views from the 2,600-foot peak. You’ll be able to see across the Cairngorms in the distance with the glistening waters of Loch Morlich below.
Loch Morlich is a beautiful place that even has its own beach – which is the highest in Britain – and it’s surrounded by coniferous forests. There’s a visitor centre where you can grab a bite to eat and sports equipment can be hired out from the loch-side operators.
Another popular trail winds through the pine and birch forest to a small loch (An Lochan Uaine) which takes around two and a half hours to complete the three and a half mile route. It’s a favourite area for red squirrels so you might see the odd one scampering about on the lookout for tasty pine cones.
Hayfield – Glenmore Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode PH22 1RB (Cairngorm ski centre which is near Hayfield). From Aviemore head towards Cairngorm as you would Glenmore Forest Park. You’ll find the signs for Hayfield about half a mile past the Glenmore visitor centre turning.
Facilities: Paid car park. Picnic area. There are more facilities at Loch Morlich and Glemore Forest which is a 20-minute walk.
Highlights: Like the trails along Loch Morlich, Hayfield features firm gravel paths through a pine forest that’s mostly flat, with a couple of steep slopes thrown in for good measure. The waymarked trails in this region of the Glenmore Forest Park are quite short (not quite two miles) but are full of wildlife so it’s a great place to take the kids on a mini forest safari.
Expect to see lots of dragonflies as you make your way past the numerous pools of water and keep your eyes open for wood ants hard at work making their nests.
If you want to extend your walk or enjoy other activities the Cairngorm Ski Centre is just over three miles in one direction and Loch Morlich is half a mile in the opposite direction which has lots of watersports equipment to hire in the summer months.
The best forest walks in Tay Forest Park
Faskally Forest – Tay Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode PH16 5LB. From Pitlochry, follow the B8019 one mile north. If you’d prefer to use public transport there’s a bus service from Pitlochry.
Facilities: Car parking. Disabled access. Toilets. Picnic area.
Highlights: Faskally forest is perhaps best known for the annual Enchanted Forest light and sound show that takes place each year in October. The show uses the natural backdrop of the forest as the stage for a spectacular event that lights up the trees in a mesmerising display of colours that’s one of the highlights of Scotland’s events calendar.
For the rest of the year, Faskally offers pleasant walks through a woodland that was created in the 19th-century for the owners of Faskally House. It’s not what you’d call an ancient woodland by any means but it’s worth visiting nonetheless as it offers an easy walk on firm paths that can be accessed by all ages and abilities.
The forest centres around Loch Dunmore which is a haven for wildlife and you’re almost guaranteed to see kingfishers, herons, swans and ornamental ducks on and around the water which makes the one and a half-mile path a real pleasure to stroll along.
The quaint burgh of Pitlochry lies a couple of miles to the southeast which has a superb selection of cafes and restaurants while the village of Killiecrankie a few miles north marks the start of the Cairngorms national park.
Queen’s View Visitor Centre – Tay Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode PH16 5NR. From Pitlochry, follow the A9 towards Killiecrankie then take the B8019 towards Strath Tummel. The Queen’s View visitor centre is signposted from the start of Loch Tummel.
Facilities: Paid car park. Disabled access. Cafe. Visitor centre. Toilets. Shop.
Highlights: ThisThe iconic Queen’s View in Perthshire is famous for being one of Queen Victoria’s favourite places in Scotland – although it’s actually named after the wife of Robert the Bruce who lived five hundred years before Victoria.
The views across Loch Tummel and the forests beyond are certainly fit for a queen and a visit to the viewing platform is one of those ‘must-do’ moments for anyone in this part of Perthshire’s ancient woodland.
Tay Forest Park extends to the north of the loch and there are plenty of scenic paths to explore although it’s admittedly not as heavily wooded as the other forests in this list due to the broad sweeps of heather-covered hills that break up the terrain.
It’s a quiet region of Scotland though so if you’re looking to escape the world and lose yourself amongst the trees it comes highly recommended as you can walk for miles without seeing any other visitors, but if you prefer a slightly more ‘touristy’ forest you could always head south on the A9 to visit The Hermitage Forest instead.
The best forest walks in Tweed Valley Forest Park
Glenkinnon Forest – Tweed Valley Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode TD1 3LH. Glenkinnon is located midway between Selkirk and Innerleithen on the A707. Signs point to the forest car park from the main road near the village of Caddonfoot.
Facilities: Free car park. Picnic area.
Highlights: This is one of the smaller forests in Tweed valley but it makes a change from the busier forests that you’ll find to the north. Unlike the ever-popular Glentress, Glenkinnon has no waymarked mountain biking routes so it’s a quieter place to visit if you’d rather enjoy a peaceful walk through ancient ash, alder, and oak trees.
This is one of the oldest of Scotland’s original forests and while it’s not quite up there with the thousand-year-old forests of Perthshire it’s still an ancient woodland with some trees like the Glenkinnon Oak thought to be over five hundred years old.
Well-maintained paths circle this woodland across grassland and along the banks of the River Tweed on a route that’s approximately one mile in length, but you can easily extend this by joining the paths to the south that meet the Southern Upland Way which is Britain’s very first coast-to-coast long-distance footpath.
Glentress Forest – Tweed Valley Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode EH45 8NB. The Tweed Valley forest park is easy to get to from Edinburgh and it’s well-signposted between Peebles and Innerleithen off the A72. Several bus services stop at Glentress including some from Edinburgh but if you want to bring your bike it’s best to carry it on your car as the A703 from Edinburgh has quite a lot of traffic on it.
Facilities: Paid car park. Toilets. Cafe. Disabled access. Visitor/information centre. Bike hire. Shower. Bike cleaning. Picnic area.
Highlights: Glentress is well known amongst the mountain biking community for having some of the best trails in Scotland, with routes suitable for all ages and fitness levels. From two-mile beginner trails to advanced eleven-mile rides you’re bound to find an enjoyable cycling experience in this forest.
But it’s not all about the bikes at Glentress. If you’ve got children that need to burn off energy you could do a lot worse than take them to the Go-Ape tree-top adventure course where they can climb rope ladders and traverse treetop wires up to forty feet from the forest floor, and there’s even a 100-foot zip wire to zoom through the huge Douglas Fir trees.
Those who prefer the gentler pursuits of walking will find five waymarked trails to follow that are separate to the cycle routes with some like the Ponds Trail circling a wetland that’s home to herons and bats and others like the Tower Trail that offers a bit more of a challenge on a four-hour trek through mature woodlands and hills.
If you visit the forest with the intention of walking but end up wishing you’d brought your bike instead you can hire one from the visitor centre near the main car park, and there’s a new (very good) cafe nearby that serves refreshments so you can wind down with a coffee at the end of a long day of cycling.
Cardrona Forest – Tweed Valley Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode EH45 9HU. Cardrona lies midway between Innerleithen and Peebles in the Scottish Borders. From Peebles, follow the B7062 three and a half miles east where you’ll see signs directing you to the forest car park.
Facilities: Paid car park. Toilets. Picnic area.
Highlights: Cardrona lies three miles south of Glentress forest which makes it an ideal place to go for a walk if you’re looking for a quieter location than the mountain-biking mecca of Glentress. Although cyclists are allowed inside this forest it’s a much gentler affair and the majority of the trails are easy-going paths as opposed to hairpin twisty-turny adventure courses.
Cardrona isn’t a particularly big area but it’s exceptionally pretty with woodland that covers the southern hillsides of the Tweed Valley. It’s also full of history with a couple of ruined forts to discover – one of which is thought to be over two thousand years old and another which is protected as a home for bats.
Four walking trails have been laid out at Cardrona which are all easy enough to follow thanks to well-maintained paths that are level and mostly comprised of gravel and loose stone. The shortest is a mere 1/3 of a mile and the longest is four miles so it’s an ideal place to go for a forest walk if you’ve got children.
The best forest walks in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park
Aberfoyle Visitor Centre – Queen Elizabeth Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode FK8 3SX. The visitor centre is approximately one mile north of the village of Aberfoyle in the Trossachs National Park, just off the A821.
Facilities: Paid car park. Disabled accesss. Cafe. Toilets. Visitor information centre. Picnic area. Outdoor adventure course. Wildlife hides.
Highlights: The lodge in the Queen Elizabeth Park is considered by many to be one of the best forest park sites in Scotland, and with good reason. FLS have installed a lot of facilities at this location and in addition to the stunning walking and cycling trails there’s a treetop rope access adventure course, an excellent cafe, and live-action video feeds of the local wildlife.
A lot of effort has gone into making the forest accessible to all and while most people will be happy to walk the one to four-mile waymarked trails, visitors with disabilities can also enjoy the forest thanks to the trails that have level gravel surfaces.
Waterfalls and artworks can be seen all along the initial pathways through the forest and some of the trails climb steep hills to allow magnificent views across Ben Lomond and Ben Ledi which I’m sure will be enough to inspire you to visit the rest of the national park.
If you’ve got an interest in Scotland’s wildlife you’ll have a great time in the forest surrounding the visitor centre with red squirrels, water voles, ospreys and more to be seen and there are accessible hides to sit in if you want to see the woodland animals without disturbing them.
Loch Katrine – Queen Elizabeth Forest Park
How to get there: Postcode FK17 8HZ. Loch Katrine is easy to find as it’s well signposted from Aberfoyle and Kilmahog on the A821. You’ll find the car park six miles north of Aberfoyle and nine miles west of Kilmahog.
Facilities: Paid car park. Cafe. Bike hire. Shop. Picnic area. Toilets.
Highlights: You might not think a loch would be a good place to go for a woodland walk but Loch Katrine sits in the middle of the Trossachs National Park where it’s surrounded by thick and ancient forests.
Quieter than Loch Lomond, Katrine offers an equally enjoyable experience with excellent pathways running throughout the area surrounding the body of water on trails that extend deep into the heart of this spectacular setting.
If you’d rather not walk through the forest you can spend all day at the loch where there’s a cafe and steam boat rides to keep you occupied during your visit.
The highlight though, is the thirteen-mile path that follows the loch end-to-end and this picturesque route is practically begging to be explored on a bike. If you haven’t brought your two-wheeled friend with you there’s a bike hire shop near the Trossachs pier.
Wildlife in Scotland’s forests
Scotland’s woodlands and forests are buzzing with a riot of chirps, cheeps, squeaks and pips.
Delve into the undergrowth anywhere in the country and you’ll soon come face to face with one of our woodland friends, whether it’s a scampering squirrel or a cackling grouse and thanks to the efforts made by FLS you’ll find sturdy weatherproof hides in the majority of Scotland’s wooded areas.
A lot of these hides feature information panels to tell you all about the local wildlife and some even have local guides on hand to help you make the most of your time in the woods.
Although most wildlife hides are simple wooden sheds you’ll find a range of facilities in the larger forest parks such as the Queen Elizabeth forest park near Aberfoyle which has a cafe, toilets, information centre and picnic areas as well as live-feed video cameras to let you get up close to the birds and animals without disturbing them.
Here are a few favourites that you might be lucky enough to see on your next visit to Scotland’s forests.
The European beaver isn’t an animal that you’d expect to find in the UK but they’ve been reintroduced to the lochs of Barnluasgan in the heart of Argyll as part of a wildlife management scheme.
These newest of Scotland’s animal residents have spent the last decade constructing an array of dams that have formed a natural wetland in the area and you’ll see evidence of their busy gnawing across a large part of Knapsdale Forest in West Argyll.
Because they’re mostly active at dawn and dusk and they’re extremely shy it’s unlikely you’ll see any walking around, but keep a keen eye on the forest lochs and you might see their broad fat heads poking out of the water throughout the year (unlike many animals in the north of Scotland, beavers don’t hibernate during the winter).
Although they don’t live for very long (a couple of days to a couple of weeks depending on the species), Scotland’s beautiful butterflies are one of the country’s favourite wildlife sights.
There are 30 different types of butterfly in Scotland and they’re all extremely important to the environment as they pollinate plants just like our declining bee populations do, and they also keep aphid numbers down.
Unlike bees, butterflies don’t carry pollen all over their bodies and instead only carry it on their legs. But while they might not carry as much pollen as bees they cover much larger areas and pollinate a greater range of flowers so they’re vital to Britain’s ecosystem.
The best spots to keep a lookout for these gentle creatures are broadleaf and mixed leaf woods with open grassy areas, but some species prefer partially shaded woodland.
As far as the time of year goes you’ll see the majority of butterflies between April and September and they love warm sunny days (yes we do get the occasional sunny day in Scotland).
Golden and white-tailed eagles
The classic big birds of prey, golden and white-tailed (also known as sea eagles) can be seen gliding across much of Scotland’s wild areas, usually in remote regions that are rarely disturbed by people.
Golden eagles, in particular, are very sensitive to changes to the forests so FLS make sure they don’t cut down any trees near their nests while leaving enough open spaces for them to hunt their prey. Favourite meals are rabbits and other birds but they’ve been known to catch the occasional snake too.
You’ll often see them throughout the forests of Argyll and Galloway but perhaps the best places to see them are the Scottish isles of Mull and Skye, and having been to both islands I can definitely recommend Quinish on Mull and Glen Brittle on Skye as prime golden eagle spotting locations.
Sea eagles are even bigger than their cousins and fully grown adults have wingspans that are 8 feet across with bodies around 3 feet in length. They prefer sheltered lochs to hunt for food rather than exposed coastlines but you’ll sometimes see them in coastal forests like those you’ll find in Argyll and Tentsmuir in Fife.
These birds can be found all year in Scotland’s forests, especially those that are comprised of mature pines and young conifers but they also like heather moorland which is a rich source of food (grouse like to graze on plant shoots and berries).
They’re quite a small bird – about the same size as a domestic hen – but they’re very distinctive, not just for their unmistakable cackling cry but also for the bright red flashes above each eye.
A sub-species of grouse is the capercaillie which is around a third bigger and is also more aggressive (especially when they’re nesting) so keep an eye out for them in old coniferous forests which is their preferred habitat.
You’ll see grouse throughout the year but as their populations are sadly in decline it’s advisable not to disturb them between April and July which is their nesting time.
Britains largest deer are renowned for their raucous cries and battles during rutting season when the adult males lock antlers to compete for the herds of females.
The drama of these ruts is quite a spectacle so if you can visit Scotland between September and October there’s a good chance you’ll be able to see the action, though you’ll need to bear in mind they’re wild animals that are pumped up with testosterone and have huge spiky antlers on top of their heads.
Whatever you do, don’t walk up close to them when they’re in battle – no matter the temptation to capture that perfect selfie.
You can see red deer throughout the year but other than when they rut they’re very shy creatures and they’ll no doubt see you long before you see them. Favourite grazing sites are the edges of forests but due to the erosion of their habitats over the years they’re now equally at home on open hillsides and moorland.
The best time of day to catch sight of them is early morning and evening when it’s quiet but your best bet is to head to the forests where the biggest herds live which are Galloway Forest Park and Glen Affric (a remote region west of Loch Ness).
These impossibly cute animals have had a tough time of it in recent years due to a combination of their habitats being destroyed by humans and non-native grey squirrels taking over the remaining woodland and forest areas.
Thankfully though, the sharp decline in red squirrel numbers has been recognised and there are now several schemes in place to increase the population of Scotland’s favourite small mammal.
If you visit Glen Affric, Glenmore Forest Park, and the pine forests of Dumfries and Galloway you’ll almost certainly see a red squirrel or two, although they’re incredibly quick so I suggest finding a good spot and waiting quietly for them to come to you rather than traipse through the woods in the hopes of catching a brief glimpse of one zipping about the branches.
Less than 150,000 animals remain in Britain and the vast majority live in the Highland forests of Scotland where they’re surrounded by their favourite food source of pine, spruce and larch cone seeds.
They can be seen all year round if the weather is good but they tend to stay in their nests in bad weather (a bit like us) and they’re most active from January to April which is their mating season.
Why is walking good for your health?
It’s a well-known fact that walking is a great activity to maintain your overall health and not only is a brisk woodland walk excellent for your cardiovascular fitness but it’s also a great way to calm anxious minds.
Just 30 minutes of walking every day will strengthen your bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance. It can also reduce the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes and it’s known to help reduce the effects of high blood pressure.
While it’s never going to get your heart rate up like a run will, a brisk 30-minute walk is a great fat burner and you’ll use almost the same amount of energy when you walk a mile as you will when you run a mile.
Of course, you’ll burn more kilojoules per hour the faster you move but if you’re only in it for the pleasure it’s nice to know a side effect of a good walk is that you’re burning off a little extra fat.
Hillwalking will be harder work than walking on a flat forest path (…obviously) but one tip to get your heart beating a little faster is to pack extra weight into a backpack and carry it with you.
Always stretch your muscles before and after a long walk to get your body ready and start at a leisurely pace to give your muscles time to warm up before picking up speed.
As far as clothing goes it depends on when and where you’re walking but if you’re heading anywhere there might be midges I seriously recommend wearing convertible lightweight hiking trousers to protect your legs and a thin base layer shirt with long arms to protect your top half.
The trousers are great as they’re breathable so you don’t get too hot, and you can zip the legs off to convert them into shorts once the midges have died down later in the day. The tops meanwhile are thin enough to keep cool but cover everything apart from hands and neck, and the arms can be rolled away when it gets too hot.
If you want to learn why Scotland’s midges will make your life almost unbearable on a walk read my Guide to Midges in Scotland and if you want to find similar places to forests that avoid crowds read my article about The Best Non-Touristy Places to Go in Scotland.
Facts about Scotland’s forests
- As of 2020 around 19% of Scotland is covered by trees. That’s a big increase from 1919 when only 5% of the landscape was wooded.
- Approximately 1,800 square miles of Scotland’s forests and woodlands are publicly owned by the Scottish Government via Forestry and Land Scotland.
- Scotland’s forestry industry contributes over £1 billion to the nation’s economy.
- The industry currently employs around 25,000 people.
- The tallest tree in Scotland is a Douglas Fir near Inverness which is 218 feet high.
- The oldest tree in Scotland is the Fortingall Yew in Glen Lyon which is estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old.
- There are over one thousand different species of tree in Scotland.
- The native Scots Pine covers almost 12% of forest land in Scotland.
- Learn how to stop getting eaten alive by midges on a walk in Scotland with this guide – How to Avoid Midges in Scotland – The Complete Guide.
- One often overlooked forest region is the one on the Isle of Arran. You can read about it in my Guide to Arran Forest Walks.
- Discover Scotland’s forests with the official Forestry and Land Scotland website.
- Support the regeneration of Scotland’s forests with Trees For Life.
- Find forest paths and woodland walks with Ordnance Survey maps. Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
- Learn about Scotland’s wilderness areas with the Wild Guide Scotland book. Buy it on Amazon.
- Enjoy the incredible Enchanted Forest light and sound show at Faskally.
- Discover Scotland’s natural heritage at the nature.scot website.
Frequently Asked Questions
Although there are 307 individual forests in Scotland managed by Forestry and Land Scotland, there are 6 forest parks with each park being comprised of groups of forests. The parks are Glenmore, Argyll, Galloway, Tweed Valley, Queen Elizabeth and Tay Forest Park.
Galloway Forest Park in the west of Scotland covers 297 square miles or 770 square kilometres. The forest park is home to three forest visitor centres and two of the 7stanes mountain bike trails.
Golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, badgers, wildcats, red squirrels, roe deer, red deer, capercaillie, grouse, beaver, adders, buzzards, pine martens, red kite, osprey and stoats, amongst others.
Achnabreac, Balblair, Carron Valley, Contin, Dalbeattie, Deuchny Hill, Forest of Ae, Glentress, Innerleithen, Laggan Wolftrax, Learnie Red Rocks, Mabie, Newcastleton, Pifichie, Wauchope and Winding Walks.