Glen Etive is located in the Scottish Highlands between Loch Etive and the A82. The valley is surrounded by mountains and offers one of the most scenic walks in Scotland thanks to the combination of snow-capped peaks and the River Etive which runs alongside a single-track road for 12 miles.
Discover the stunning landscape of Glen Etive with this guide which features an overview and useful visiting advice.
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 one 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 Glen Etive 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 dominate the landscape and which are among the most photographed mountains in Scotland. These vast peaks – Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag – stand guard at the northern end of the glen and look out over the banks of the River Etive which the road follows 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.
Whether tackling Glen Etive on foot, bicycle, or car, it’s undeniable that the glen is absolutely beautiful whichever way you look at it.
1: This is possibly the most scenic road in Scotland. Absolutely stunning. Keep your eyes open for deer!
2: Glen Etive is a great place for wildlife watching and Loch Etive offers a superb kayaking experience.
3: Mountains? Check. Loch? Check. River? Check. Forest? Check. Glen Etive is all the best bits of Scotland in one location.
1: Be aware that the road into Glen Etive might be inaccessible in winter. Check the Traffic Scotland website for details.
2: There are no facilities in Glen Etive so take food/water before heading into the glen. The nearest place that serves hot food is the Glencoe Mountain Resort located 13 miles south off a turning from the A82.
3: Going for a summer hike in Glen Etive? Better pack the Smidge…
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.
The highlight in the area has to be the Glencoe Ski Resort Centre which has good facilities and is also one of the best campsites near Glen Etive with campervan hookups and camping pitches.
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 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. 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 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 area 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 the Glen Etive 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 £11,000 for a 7-night stay (as of 2023) 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 southwest 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 are 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.
If you’re taking a car you’ll have the best experience with a good quality Glen Etive road map, and the most detailed maps by far are the ones produced by OS Maps. These maps are also the best option for visitors searching for Glen Etive walks. See below for details.
Things to Do
Wildlife Spotting: Glen Etive is a paradise for wildlife lovers, offering sightings of red deer, golden eagles and even wild mountain goats. Don’t forget your binoculars (link to binocular reviews) for the best views, and try to get there early in the morning for the best chance of seeing these animals in their natural habitat.
Stargazing: As Glen Etive is relatively secluded and far away from towns and villages, it’s an excellent spot for stargazing. On a clear night, you can marvel at countless stars, the Milky Way, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Hiking Buachaille Etive Mor: This iconic mountain provides a challenging hike that rewards climbers with panoramic views of Rannoch Moor and Bidean Nam Bian. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but the breathtaking views from the top are well worth the effort. Pack a sturdy pair of hiking boots (link to boot reviews) and prepare for an exhilarating day out.
Photography: Glen Etive’s stunning landscapes, from the serene River Etive to the dramatic mountains that line the glen, are a must-visit for any photographer. Capture the beauty of Scotland in all its raw and untamed glory and enjoy the spectacle of red deer roaming in one of Scotland’s most picturesque areas.
Wild Camping: Experience the beauty of Glen Etive by spending a night under the stars. There are several spots along the river where you can set up camp, but remember to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code: leave no trace and respect the wildlife and the environment.
Things to Do Nearby
Bidean Nam Bian. Ballachulish PH49 4LA. A 30-minute drive, 2-hour walk. Stunning 3,770-foot mountain in Glencoe that is part of the ‘three sisters’ ridge. Easily accessed from Loch Achtriochtan on the A82. The climb to the summit is steep but there are multiple level sections along the trail.
Glencoe Valley Viewpoint/Buchaille Etive Mor. A82, Ballachulish PH49 4HY. 34-minute drive.
A stunning viewpoint that offers unparalleled views of Rannoch Moor. The view of the lone whitewashed house under the mountain is one of the most recognizable in the Highlands.
Glas Bheinn Mhor. Taynuilt PH49 4JA. 2-hour walk.
A 3,271-foot mountain that forms part of the Ben Starav range. Usually accessed from Glen Etive via the southernmost car park at the northern end of Loch Etive. Rough paths give way to an unmarked mountainside so it’s not really suitable for mountain-hiking novices.
Beinn Sgulaird. Appin PA35 1JT. 2-hour walk.
A lesser-visited mountain (Munro) between Loch Creran and Glen Etive. The paths are in good condition but the section towards the summit is a rocky scramble. Offers panoramic views of Mull on a good day.
Glencoe Mountain Resort. Glencoe PH49 4HZ. 36-minute drive. Winter sports resort located in Rannoch moor with chairlift rides, mountain bike slaloms and some of the best ski slopes in Scotland. Has superb views of Buachaille Etive Mor. The resort features a campsite and log cabin café.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you drive down Glen Etive?
The Glen Etive drive involves taking the single-track road off the A82, located 1.5 miles northwest of the turning to the Glencoe Mountain Resort. The road is 11.5 miles long and ends at the head of Loch Etive.
Where in Glen Etive was Skyfall filmed?
Skyfall was filmed on the Dalness Estate (Glen Etive postcode: Ballachulish PH49 4HY). The location of the viewpoint is marked on Google Maps.
Do you need a permit to fish Loch Etive?
No permit is required to fish in Loch Etive as it is a sea loch.
Some of the fish in Loch Etive are; cod, pollack, mackerel, whiting, pouting, skate, thornback rays, and hake.
What visitor facilities are there at Glen Etive?
There are no visitor facilities at Glen Etive. The nearest visitor facilities are located at the NTS Glencoe Visitor Centre.