Last updated on March 14th, 2020
The Out About Scotland complete guide to Glen Etive in the Scottish Highlands
Category: Landscape, Mountain, Nature
Suitable for ages: 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Solo travellers
I rate it: 10 out of 10
About Glen Etive
Stop for a minute and think about what the Scottish Highlands means to you. Vast snowcapped mountains? Crystal-clear lochs? Thundering rivers? Verdant forests? Those are the highlights for most people and they certainly sum up the Highlands for me, but visiting them all is only possible if you’re prepared to take lots of separate journies into Scotland’s wilderness.
Or is it? What if I told you there’s a 12-mile stretch of road where you can see those mountains, rivers and forests in a single relatively small area, where gob-smackingly beautiful vistas open up around every corner on a secluded, frequently tourist-free single-track road?
The road in question runs through Glen Etive, and to my mind it’s one of the most beautiful places in Scotland.
You’ll find Glen Etive by following the A82 between Glencoe and Bridge of Orchy in the north of Argyll, not far from the Glencoe Mountain Resort where a signpost points southwest onto a minor road that seemingly runs into the wilds of Scotland for absolutely no reason.
This meandering road was actually built to service the tiny hamlets of Dalness and Gualachulain and thankfully for us nature-loving tourists that means we get easy access into this remarkable off-grid region of Scotland.
The road is narrow and winding with lots of up-down, twisty-turny sections so you’ll need to keep your wits about you as you follow it, but at least there are plenty of passing spaces where you can stop the car to gaze at the landscape.
The first highlights are the ‘Herdsmen of Etive’ – two enormous mountains that totally dominate the landscape and which are among the most-photographed mountains in Scotland.
Known as Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag, these vast peaks stand guard at the northern end of the glen and look out over the banks of the River Etive which the road follows all the way to its final destination at Loch Etive.
While the herdsmen are possibly the most impressive peaks you’ll get the opportunity to view several others as you make your way to the car park at the tip of Loch Etive, but in my opinion the countryside at the foot of the mountains is just as impressive as the monumental ridges that line the glen.
Things to do at Glen Etive
The scenery is the main draw for tourists willing to explore this part of Scotland but there are plenty of sporting opportunities in the area if you’re more into adrenaline sports than wildlife-watching.
In addition to the nearby Glencoe Mountain Resort with its wild assortment of skiing and snowboarding runs, the River Etive is a favourite with whitewater kayakers thanks to the torrents that flood down it off Rannoch Moor after a good rainfall.
The waters of the river are exceptionally clear and I had no problem drinking from it on my last visit, especially at the thundering Etive Mor Waterfall which you’ll find around four miles from the initial A82 turning point.
This is a great spot to get out of the car and absorb the mist-covered moorland, but don’t be surprised to suddenly find you’re not alone.
Herds of wild red deer call the majority of Glen Etive their home and I can confirm that this particular spot near the waterfall is a firm favourite with them as no sooner had I approached than a group of startled heads suddenly popped up out of the cover of the moorland, wide-eyed and staring with a mix of curiosity and caution.
After a few minutes the deer lost interest in my clumsy stumbling about in the rough grass and they allowed me to get quite close, which I’m guessing means they’re accustomed to visits from nosy tourists.
However, it’s worth remembering that these are wild animals and you’re invading on their turf, so it’s probably not a good idea to get too close. And besides, there’s still mile after mile of this beautiful glen to explore.
As you continue your journey keep your eyes on the road a few miles past the waterfall and you’ll see the place featured in the James Bond movie Skyfall where Bond and M make a quick stop on their way to Skyfall Lodge.
It’s no more spectacular than any other part of Glen Etive to be honest but it’s very, very atmospheric and certainly makes a good photo opportunity.
I suggest you take care as the moorland is very boggy around that bit which makes parking off the road a little tricky, and of course you shouldn’t stop at the passing spaces as you’ll potentially block the road for other users. But even so, a James Bond-style selfie is a bit of a must if you’re driving down this road.
Continuing further takes you past the Dalness Estate and into thick forest, at which point the road also gets a little narrower. Dalness was formerly owned by the family of James Bond author Ian Fleming and you can stay overnight in the lodge if you like – but be mindful that it’s ferociously expensive.
Apparently it’s very well furnished and hire of the lodge even includes the services of a house manager and a chef, but unfortunately it’s £3,600 (ouch!) for a 3-night stay (as of 2020) which is out of reach of most people, so I guess only the wealthy need apply. Still, I bet it’s an out-of-this-world experience that would be utterly unforgettable. You can check out the Dalness Estate website for further details if you’re interested.
The landscape continues onwards unchanged for the remaining few miles to the tip of Loch Etive with the River Etive gently winding its way south-west and the occasional lochan (a small loch) breaking cover amongst the impenetrable gloom of Scottish pines.
Eventually the road comes to an abrupt end at a small car park where you can get out of the car and marvel at the watery expanse of Loch Etive. The loch is vast – 30km long, 1.5km wide and 150m deep – and has a calm, glassy sheen that pretty much begs you to go for a swim in it (Scottish weather dependent of course…).
It’s a great spot to clamber aboard a kayak and if you were uber-active you could make your way to the Sound of Mull and back as this inland loch is open to the sea at its far end.
If you do get the chance to kayak that far check out Dunstaffnage Castle and Bonawe Iron Furnace on your way back – two Historic Environment Scotland attractions that I’ve previously visited and really enjoyed.
So there you have it, mountains, lochs, rivers, forests and sports activities all in one small area of Scotland. If you’re looking to experience the best of the Highlands I reckon Glen Etive has to be right at the top of your ‘must-do’ list.
What I liked about this attraction
- It’s possibly the most scenic road in Scotland. Absolutely stunning.
- Glen Etive is a great place for wildlife watching and Loch Etive offers a superb kayaking experience.
- Mountains? Check. Loch? Check. River? Check. Forest? Check. Glen Etive is all the best bits of Scotland in one location.
My top tips
- Be aware that the road into Glen Etive might be inaccessible in winter. Check the Traffic Scotland website for details.
- There are no facilities for miles in any direction so take food/water before heading into the glen.
- Going for a summer hike? Better pack the Smidge…
Photos and video
Address and map
Click the map for directions
Tickets and opening times
There is no fee to visit Glen Etive.
Glen Etive is open 24/7 365 days a year. The entrance road from the A82 may be closed in winter.
Getting there: Car park on-site
Getting around: Uneven paths off the road
On-site conveniences: No conveniences nearby