The Best Forests in Scotland – Ultimate Visitor Guide

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Best Forests in Scotland

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There are six forest parks in Scotland: Glenmore, Argyll, Galloway, Tweed Valley, Queen Elizabeth, and Tay. Each park comprises a group of separate forests, all of which are free to access by the public.

Discover the best forests in Scotland, where they are, and what facilities they have in this complete visitor guide.

The Best Forests in Scotland - Ultimate Visitor Guide 6

The best forests to visit in Scotland – from the Lowlands to the Highlands

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 dramatic mountains, picturesque lochs, secluded islands and stunning coastlines.

One other attraction you should consider though, is Scotland’s forests.

While the UK as a whole is well below the European average when it comes to the amount of land covered by trees, we don’t do too badly here in Scotland, and currently over 18% of the land has woodland compared to 43% in the remotest parts of Europe.

These magnificent trees are mostly broadleaved in the south, but as you move further north they slowly transition into firs – many of which are over 200 feet in height.

Sadly, the majority of Scotland’s ancient woodland was lost to the timber industry in the 19th century and by the First World War only 5% of the landscape was wooded. However, times are now a-changing and an intense regeneration programme is slowly but surely replanting those lost trees.

You can still see remnants 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. The majority, though, were planted after the Forestry Commission was set up in 1919 who subsequently decided to replant the countryside with fast-growing non-native specimens.

Of all the trees in Scotland only 31 species are actually 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 offer a superb habitat for Scotland’s wildlife.

red squirrel

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) agency.

There are hundreds of forests in Scotland that can be found from the very southernmost 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 first-class job of it. Travel anywhere in the country where forests 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 continue the upkeep of Scotland’s woodlands.

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!

It’s fair to say then, that forests are an integral part of Scotland and they need to be cherished just as much as our lochs and mountains are.

Now that we know a wee bit about Scotland’s forests and who looks after them, let’s take a deeper look at some of the parks you can visit during your next tour of this amazing country.


Map of the best forests in Scotland

Click and drag to move and zoom in and out of this interactive map. Click the markers to visit each Out About Scotland attraction information page.

The best forests in Argyll Forest Park

Benmore Botanic Garden

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. Café. 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 upwards of 120 acres so there’s enough things to see to occupy families for an entire day, although unlike the other forests mentioned below, 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 very pretty landscaped 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

forest hills

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 trail.

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

forest trees

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 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 that normally only grows 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

How to get there: Postcode PA23 8QT. You can get to Pucks Glen either by walking one mile from Benmore Botanic Gardens, driving to Inverchapel forest car park on the A815 and walking, 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 café. 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 hard 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. If you have children, Pucks Glen offers a great family adventure.

After you’ve visited the glen I recommend driving the scenic A880 which follows the Cowal Peninsula alongside the Firth of Clyde, or you can visit the nearby Benmore Botanic Garden which is one of the highest-rated managed gardens in Scotland.


The best forests in Galloway Forest Park

Clatteringshaws

forest bridge

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. Café. 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 that 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, Clatteringshaws a haven for wildlife and it’s 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 Aurora Borealis unobscured by light pollution you might consider staying after the sun goes down.

Glentrool

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. Café.

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 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 scenic Palnagashel Glen. Alternatively, if you feel up to a bit more exertion you might prefer the ‘big country route’ that circles 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. 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.

Kirroughtree Visitor Centre

How to get there: Postcode DG8 7BE. Kirroughtree is well signposted on the A75 from the village of Palnure which lies 1 mile south of Newton Stewart.

Facilities: Toilets. Paid car park. Café. Visitor centre and information hub. Shop. Children’s play area. Bike hire. Showers. Picnic area.

Highlights: Of all the forests that make up Galloway Forest Park, the one at Kirroughtree is by far the most popular, primarily because of the wide selection of facilities on offer.

Having visited it myself on many occasions I can see why this forest attracts so many visitors as there’s something to do for all ages and abilities, whether that’s families looking for a short walk with their toddlers or adrenaline junkies searching for extreme downhill bike runs.

The mountain biking at Kirroughtree, in particular, is first class and there are a variety of trails that feature grades ranging from green to black so everyone will be able to test their skills on two wheels.

I have to make a particular point about the 6-mile Larg Hill mountain biking trail, which is a winding route with amazing views up the 176-metre Larg Hill on a track that’s easy cycled but offers enough twists and turn to give the kids a good work out. Alternatively, the cycle route through Bargaly Wood is ideal for younger children as the route is almost entirely flat and level farm tracks.

Visitors that aren’t in the mood for two-wheeled antics will have a great time on two feet thanks to a number of trails that range from easy to strenuous.

The Wild Watch Trail offers disabled access into the forest to feeders that are frequently visited by woodland birds, and the Little Bruntis Trail follows a slightly longer route amongst mixed woodland where the remains of old tin mines can be seen.

Both routes offer a good chance to watch Kirroughtree’s famed herds of roe deer and there’s every possibility of a sighting of a red squirrel or two as Galloway Forest Park is one of the few remaining British forests where red squirrel numbers are stable.

There’s lots of information about the wildlife in Galloway forest in the visitor centre so first-time visitors might like to take a look before heading out, and they’ll also be able to pick up maps that detail where all the biking and walking routes are.

Finally, the visitor centre has a superb café that features a terraced seating area as well as picnic benches that are perfect for a spot of al-fresco munching after a hard day of enjoying the forest.


The best forests in Glenmore Forest Park

Allt Mor

forest fog

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 café 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 but there are a couple of steep slopes, although 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 visit the Green Lochan. This extra trail will add another mile and a half onto your walk (but it’s well worth doing).

Glenmore Visitor Centre

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. Café. Visitor centre.

Highlights: From the visitor centre follow the trail to the summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille which 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 – 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

couple forest walk

How to get there: Postcode PH22 1RB (Cairngorm ski centre which is near Hayfield). From Aviemore head towards 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 away.

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 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.

Uath Lochans

Uath Lochan

How to get there: Postcode PH21 1NU. Getting to Uath Lochans is a wee bit tricky as the roads leading to it are rather remote, so the best option is to head to Loch Insh which lies directly east of the Highland Wildlife Park.

From the village of Kincraig, follow the road on the north edge of Loch Insh and join the B970 at Insh village. Next, take the single track road signposted to Glenfeshie and continue along it to the sign pointing to the Uath Lochan car park.

Facilities: Free parking. Picnic area.

Highlights: Uath Lochan is one of the most scenic woodland areas in the Highlands and it’s somewhere that I highly recommend visiting – if you manage to find it of course.

Inside the forest are four lochans within a few hundred yards of each other that are surrounded by trees except for an open area of grassland in the middle.

Visitors can explore the lochans on two waymarked trails that offer short but very enjoyable walks, with one trail that zigzags between the bodies of water before returning to the starting point in the car park, and another that diverts north up fairly strenuous slopes onto Farleitter Crag.

Both routes can be used by mountain bikes but be aware these trails are designated as footpaths, so cyclists will have to keep their speed to a minimum or risk flattening unsuspecting walkers at the multiple sharp bends on the trails.

The southernmost trail is by far the most scenic as it offers lovely views of the lochans, and if you can, I definitely recommend visiting in the summer. The lochans spring into life in the warmer months and children will have a great time watching the frogs and dragon flies at the water’s edge, as opposed to winter when there’s not much going on.

The slightly longer 2-mile route up Farleitter Crag doesn’t spend as long near the lochans but it does feature several viewpoints looking over the Spey valley which is very pretty indeed.

My advice if you really want to make the most of your time at this site is to combine both routes by starting at the car park, heading north through the forest, and then circling back south past Farleitter Crag. You can then join the waymarked path that follows the edges of the lochans before returning to the car park for a walk that will take around 3 hours in total.


The best forests in Tay Forest Park

Craigvinean

How to get there: Postcode PH8 0JR. This forest is very easy to find as it’s basically an extension of The Hermitage. The best option for visiting is to follow the A9 north of Dunkeld to The Hermitage car park, then take the Old Military Road into the forest which ends at a small car park.

Facilities: Free parking. Burger van at The Hermitage car park.

Highlights: Perthshire’s Big Tree Country is best known for The Hermitage – the outdoors playground of the Dukes of Atholl that features several Victorian follies – but another managed forest created by the Dukes of Atholl lies immediately north at Craigvinean.

Just like The Hermitage, Craigvinean forest takes visitors on trails that stop at a number of memorable viewpoints via footpaths that are well maintained and suitable for all ages and most abilities.

The two waymarked trails through Craigvinean are short at 1 and 3 miles but meet in the middle so can be combined into a single walk that will take around 2 1/2 hours to complete.

The 3-mile Pine Cone Point trail finishes at a bizarre pine cone-shaped structure with stunning views over the River Tay, while the 1-mile Torryvald Trail circles the area of forest from the car park to a Victorian Folly near the point where the two trails meet.

Both routes are suitable for slow rides on mountain bikes but the path is quite narrow in places so care should be taken when nearing bends in the path.

Walkers should have no problems on either path as they’re well-used and mostly compacted dirt, but they’re not suitable for wheelchairs and there are no facilities in Craigvinean at all except for the car park.

Faskally

The Enchanted Forest

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.

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Enchanted Forest

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 mesmerizing 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 burgh of Pitlochry lies a couple of miles to the southeast which has a good selection of cafés and restaurants, while the village of Killiecrankie a few miles north marks the start of the Cairngorms national park.

Queen’s View Visitor Centre

sunlight forest

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. Café. Visitor centre. Toilets. Shop.

Highlights: The 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 very 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 many 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.

Weem

How to get there: Postcode PH15 2JD. This woodland lies less than a mile west of the village of Weem near Aberfeldy. You’ll find the car park close to the signposted turn-off to Castle Menzies.

Facilities: Free car park.

Highlights: Weem Wood is probably the smallest woodland in this list, but it’s worth a visit for anyone that’s in the area to see the 16th-century Castle Menzies.

The wood lies behind the castle and extends in an easterly direction towards St. Davids Well which is the former home of a 15th-century hermit who was a member of the Menzies clan but renounced his heritage.

Getting to the cave of St. David’s Well involves a fairly arduous climb up a narrow winding track that passes through thick woodland where occasional glimpses of the River Tay can be seen.

Along the 1-mile route, visitors should keep their eyes open for sculptures hidden amongst the trees that were inspired by the story of St. David. There are also artworks that depict the woodland’s mythical use by ancient enchanters who imprisoned people inside the rocks that form the backdrop of Castle Menzies.

Folklore aside, Weem Wood is a very scenic place that offers a pleasant walk that shouldn’t take much more than an hour. There are no facilities other than the car park but Aberfeldy village is close by which has a number of cafés, and the famous Birks of Aberfeldy woodland is a few minutes drive away which often has a burger van in the car park.


The best forests in Tweed Valley Forest Park

Cademuir

Pressmennan Wood

How to get there: Postcode EH45 9HH. Cademuir forest is easy to get to if you follow a sat nav. The signposted car park entrance is located on Bonnington Road near Peebles High School, around 2 miles south of Peebles town centre.

Facilities: Free car parking.

Highlights: Cademuir Forest is one of the few forests that can be reached from Edinburgh in less than an hour, which makes it an ideal destination for city-dwellers looking to breathe in the fresh country air of the Scottish Borders.

Admittedly it’s rather lacking in facilities compared to nearby Glentress forest, but what it lacks in amenities it more than makes up for with its spectacular views across Peebles and the surrounding landscape from the top of Cademuir Hill.

It’s also one of the best wooded areas in the region for wildlife spotting due to the fact that most people head to the forests of Glentress and Cardrona, leaving Cademuir in relative peace and quiet.

Visitors will frequently catch sight of red deer nervously foraging at the edges of the woods while tawny owls can often be seen on the hunt for their next meal at dusk.

The forest is a favourite with birdwatchers thanks to its combination of woodland and open hill sides, so if you’re a twitcher I suggest taking your binoculars as there are warblers, crossbills, woodpeckers and many more birds to be seen during a walk along the trails that run through Cademuir.

If you don’t already have a pair in your backpack, check out my recommended budget birdwatching binoculars.

The two designated paths through the forest are both comprised of firm gravel and compacted dirt, but they offer very different experiences.

The first path is a 1-mile walk through the trees on an easy-going level surface, while the other is a strenuous 4-mile hike up Cademuir Hill which has steep slopes but fantastic views from the summit.

Expect the shorter walk to take 1 hour and the longer to take 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Note that there are no facilities other than the car park, but Peebles town centre is a mere 5-minute drive away.

Cardrona

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 Cardrona it’s a much gentler affair than Glentress 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 thanks to thick 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 that’s 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 of any age.

Glenkinnon

forest road

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 the 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 such as the Glenkinnon Oak that are 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

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 take your bike it’s best to carry it on your car as the A703 from Edinburgh is very busy.

Facilities: Paid car park. Toilets. Café. 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 bikes at Glentress. If you’ve got children that need to burn off energy you can take them to the Go-Ape tree-top adventure course where they can climb rope ladders and traverse treetop wires forty feet above the forest floor, and there’s even a 100-foot-long zip wire that zooms between the huge Douglas Firs.

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 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 you can hire one from the visitor centre near the main car park, and there’s a new (very good) café nearby that serves refreshments so you can wind down with a coffee at the end of a long day of tree-bound activities.


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Aberfoyle Visitor Centre

autumn forest

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 access. Café. Toilets. Visitor information centre. Picnic area. Outdoor adventure course. Wildlife hides.

Highlights: The lodge in Queen Elizabeth Park is considered by many to be one of the best forest park sites in Scotland. FLS have installed heaps 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 café, 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 trails that have level gravel surfaces.

Waterfalls and artworks can be seen along the pathways and some of the trails climb steep hills that lead to stunning views across Ben Lomond and Ben Ledi, which I’m sure will be enough to inspire you to explore the rest of the national park.

If you’ve any 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 photograph the woodland animals without disturbing them.


Loch Katrine

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. Café. 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 ancient woodland.

Quieter than Loch Lomond, Katrine offers an equally enjoyable experience with well-maintained paths running throughout the area on routes that run 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 café and steamboat rides as well as a few picnic spots.

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.

Rowardennan

How to get there: Postcode G63 0AR. Rowardennan is located on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, around 12 miles north of Drymen. From Drymen, follow the B837 to Balmaha and continue to its end point at the Loch Lomond car park.

Facilities: Paid car park. Toilets. Picnic area. Tourist information. Food and drink can be purchased from the Rowardennan Hotel.

Highlights: Rowardennan is a woodland situated on the banks of Loch Lomond in the Stirling district of Central Scotland.

As woodlands go it isn’t particularly big, but it’s a popular destination thanks to its location on the shore of the loch as well as the nearby footpath that ventures up to the summit of Ben Lomond mountain.

From the car park, visitors can enjoy a number of shingle beaches that overlook the crystal waters of Loch Lomond as well as follow the West Highland Way which runs alongside the loch to Inverarnan and beyond.

If you’re thinking of setting off on this famous walking trail from Rowardennan, you’ll find lots of useful information for your journey on the official West Highland Way website.

The hike up Ben Lomond, meanwhile, is far more arduous than the gentle incline of the starting point would have you believe, and adventurers should prepare themselves for an 8-mile round trip to the 974-metre summit that will take a good 5 hours for anyone with moderate fitness.

Sticking with Rowardennan, there is only one designated walking route which is really just a wander around a memorial trail on the water’s edge. Access is via the car park and as it’s only 1/4 mile in length it can be enjoyed by all ages and abilities.


Other forests and woodland in Scotland

Scotland is home to a dizzying number of small woodlands and forest areas outside of the main forest parks and it would be nigh-on impossible to include them all in a single article.

That being said, I’ll try to update this list with my favourites as I get out and about in Scotland.

Isle of Arran

Goatfell Arran

How to get there: Access to the Isle of Arran is via ferry from Lochranza and Brodick on the island, to Claonaig and Ardrossan on the mainland. See the Calmac website for details.

Facilities: Arran’s forests have few facilities other than parking spaces, though Brodick Castle forest has a pub near the Cladach car park.

Out About Scotland complete guide: Arran Forest Walks.

Highlights: The forests on Arran are: Dyemill, Glenrickard, King’s Cave, North Sannox, Glenashdale.

The Isle of Arran is also known as ‘Scotland in miniature’ thanks to its diverse landscape that sees visitors crossing rivers, mountains, open expanses of moorland, and lush green forests.

The majority of the island’s wooded areas lie to the south where the Highland Boundary Fault line separates the peaks of the Goatfell mountain range and the flat forest region, but there are also a couple of managed forests on the north-west part of the island that have been developed for commercial forestry.

Popular forests on Arran include Glenrickard near Brodick which is a favourite site for red squirrels, and North Sannox which offers nice walks on rough paths that can be combined with the Arran Coastal Way.

Most of Arran’s forests have managed footpaths that can be cycled on, but they’re generally quite narrow and best enjoyed by walkers.

That being said, there are vast swathes of commercial forest on the southern end of Arran that have fairly smooth gravel tracks installed for the logging companies, and these roads offer a great alternative to the footpaths you’ll find elsewhere.

If the thought of cycling through Arran’s forests interests you, I recommend heading to the village of Kilmory and parking next to the woodland at Kilmory Water.

From there, you can cycle for miles on very quiet roads that thread their way through acre after acre of pine forest. Just keep your eyes peeled overhead as there’s every chance you’ll see golden eagles on the hunt for their next meal.

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

How to get there: Postcode PH8 0JR. Getting to The Hermitage is a simple case of following the A9 and heading to the signposted car park located a couple of miles outside of Dunkeld in Perth & Kinross. From there, visitors can explore The Hermitage or continue north into Tay Forest Park.

Facilities: Paid car park. Occasional snack van in car park. Picnic area. Nearest toilets in Dunkeld.

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Hermitage

Highlights: Unlike most of the Scottish forests and woodlands in this list, The Hermitage is managed by the National Trust for Scotland rather than Forestry and Land Scotland.

That doesn’t mean the facilities are any different to other forests though, and visitors will find The Hermitage an ideal place for leisurely walks thanks to the well-maintained paths that thread their way throughout the site.

The majority of the trees in this forest are Douglas Firs which are famed for their height and many of them are amongst the tallest in the UK.

The highlight of a visit to The Hermitage has to be the River Braan which thunders through the centre of it. The Braan is well known as one of the best spots in Scotland to watch salmon leaping upstream as they battle against the currents to get to their spawning grounds, and the annual migration in autumn is one of the most-watched wildlife experiences of the year.

There are lots of places to view the river, including a number of natural viewing platforms formed by the river as it meanders its way to Loch Freuchie, but the best place by far – in my opinion – is the man-made balcony at Ossian’s Hall.

This is a restored Victorian Folly that features a small decorative inner chamber and a terrace that looks over the Black Linns waterfall.

After a downpour the waterfall absolutely smashes its way over the rocks and it’s quite an exciting thing to see, if rather loud.

One thing to be aware of is that the River Braan has fast flowing currents even when it looks still on the surface, so swimming is prohibited and children and dogs are best kept close at hand near the water’s edge.

Muir of Dinnet

Muir of Dinnet

How to get there: Postcode AB34 5NB. The Muir of Dinnet is located in the middle of the eastern edge of the Cairngorms National Park.

To get to it, follow the A93 from the village of Aboyne and then take the B9119 to the Burn O’ Vat car park where the visitor centre is located.

Facilities: Visitor Centre. Toilets. Car Park.

Out About Scotland complete guide: Muir of Dinnet

Highlights: The Muir of Dinnet isn’t actually a forest, and instead the area is designated as a national nature reserve. However, I’m including it in this list because it’s almost entirely composed of mixed woodland and following any of the paths is basically a woodland walk just like you’ll experience in any of the other forests listed in this article.

There are a couple of points of interest though, that make a visit to the Muir of Dinnet a bit of a must-do if you’re ever in that part of the Cairngorms.

The first is a huge pothole called ‘the vat’ that was carved out of the rocks by an enormous meltwater stream during the last ice age. From the car park, there’s a signposted path leading to the vat which passes through dense woodland before rising midway to a spectacular hillside viewpoint looking over the nature reserve.

The granite cauldron is a fascinating place, and it makes the short length of this first trail (less than one mile) more than worth the effort.

A much longer trail (4 miles) leads through the woodlands around the Muir of Dinnet’s second point of interest, which is the wildlife paradise of Loch Kinord.

This isn’t exactly the biggest loch in Scotland but it’s certainly one of the prettiest, with large thickets of reed beds offering a home to dozens of different types of water fowl and the stunning mountain ranges of the Cairngorms providing a photogenic backdrop to the loch.

I’ve visited Loch Kinnord in winter and summer and both times I was blown away by how scenic it is. In fact, I’d say I even preferred visiting it in winter, with the snow-capped peaks of the Cairngorms rising into the sky in the distance and the sky filled with flocks of birds that have migrated their way from the north.

Summer is an altogether different experience at the Muir of Dinnet, and there can’t be many nicer places to have a family picnic than at the visitor centre.

During the warmer months, visitors can walk all four waymarked trails that run through reserve, each of which crosses different habitats from heather-covered moorland to woodland and raised bogs.

Expect to take around 5 hours to complete all the trails in the reserve or 1 – 2 hours to walk around each one individually.

Pressmennan Wood

Pressmennan Wood

How to get there: Postcode EH4 1TF. From Edinburgh, head east on the A1 and continue over two roundabouts, through East Linton. At the third roundabout, take the fourth exit onto the B6370. Continue onto Stenton Loan.

Facilities: Free car park.

Out About Scotland complete guide: Pressmennan Wood

Highlights: Pressmennan Wood near Dunbar in East Lothian is home to one of the few designated lakes (not a loch) in Scotland.

This small but pretty woodland was at one time one of the main resources for wood for Edinburgh’s long-lost shipbuilding industry, but it slowly transitioned into a pleasure woodland during the Victorian era.

Sadly, those Victorians thought it would be a good idea to introduce invasive rhododendrons to Pressmannan Wood, which grew out of control until The Woodland Trust took ownership in the 1980s who subsequently restored the woodland back to its original condition.

Today, there are more than 200 acres to explore in Pressmennan Wood, although only a small portion of it features footpaths. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the site at their leisure, but they’re also encouraged to stay on the paths to prevent any further damage to this rich, but fragile ecosystem.

During a walk through Pressmennan Wood, children can keep their eyes open for the homes of woodland characters that have been installed by the trust and adults can forest bathe in this green oasis which is easily accessible from Edinburgh, yet is extraordinarily peaceful.

Pressmennan Lake is very picturesque and though it’s not exactly the largest body of water in the country it attracts a variety of water fowl. There are also resident herds of wild deer that frequently visit the lake from the outlying Lammermuir Hills, and otters and bats are often seen at dawn and dusk.

As far as facilities go there are basically none, save for a small car park at the entrance. That being said, Dunbar is only a ten-minute drive away and it’s possible to reach Edinburgh in under half an hour via the A1.


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 of FLS you’ll find sturdy weatherproof hides in the majority of Scotland’s wooded areas.

Many 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 café, 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.


Beaver

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 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).


Butterflies

owl butterfly

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 Scotland’s ecosystem.

The best spots to keep a lookout for these gentle creatures are broadleaf and mixed leaf woodlands that have 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. 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 golden 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 Tentsmuir in Fife.


Grouse

grouse

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 quite 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.


Red deer

deer stag

Britain’s largest deer are renowned for their raucous cries and battles during rutting season when adult males lock antlers to compete for 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 get 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, so head to the forests where the biggest herds live at dawn and dusk, such as Galloway Forest Park and Glen Affric (a remote region west of Loch Ness).


Red squirrel

Out About Scotland complete guide: Red squirrels in Scotland

red squirrel

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 their woodlands.

Thankfully though, the sharp decline in red squirrel numbers has been recognized 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 overhead.

There are less than 150,000 red squirrels in Britain, with the vast majority living 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. They are most active from January to April which is their mating season.


Owls

owl tree

There are several owl species in Britain, but the most prevalent in Scotland’s forests is the secretive long-eared owl.

These animals are rarely seen by humans as their camouflage hides them incredibly well inside their favourite habitats of coniferous forests, and coupled with the fact they are the UK’s most nocturnal owl they are almost never seen during daylight hours.

Long-eared owls are quite small at just over a foot in body length but they’re unmistakable thanks to their tufty feathers on either side of their head which they raise up like ears when alarmed (hence the name).

You’re more likely to hear them rather than see them as they have a distinctive call which is a single, long and low ‘hoo’ sound that’s repeated every few seconds. This call is quite low pitched so the sound carries a long way and can usually be heard over half a mile from where the animal is sitting.

The best place to catch a glimpse of these expert nighttime hunters is wooded areas near open countryside as they like to glide overhead looking for mice and voles scurrying across fields, although they’re not shy of eating snakes, insects, and even small birds.

Here in Scotland their numbers are strong throughout the country, but they’re most likely to be found in the south, east, and the north-east.


Why are forest walks good for your health?

couple forest walk

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 good for your cardiovascular fitness but it also helps to calm anxious minds.

Just 30 minutes of walking every day will strengthen 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 that 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 such as additional water bottles.

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.

Resources


Frequently Asked Questions

What are the forest parks in Scotland?

Although there are 307 individual forests in Scotland managed by Forestry and Land Scotland, there are 6 forest parks with each park comprised of groups of forests. The parks are; Glenmore, Argyll, Galloway, Tweed Valley, Queen Elizabeth and Tay Forest Park.

What is the largest forest in Scotland?

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.

What wildlife can I see in Scotland’s forests?

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.

Which Scottish forests are good for mountain biking?

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.

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Best Forests in Scotland

By Craig Neil

Scotland travel writer and specialist 360° photographer. Founder of the Out About Scotland travel website and Vartour virtual tours.