Last updated on January 6th, 2021
Loch Leven in Kinross
Loch Leven is a large expanse of water situated in the rural Scottish county of Perth and Kinross. The National Nature Reserve is renowned for the number of wildfowl that live there and in fact, it’s home to more breeding ducks than anywhere else in Europe.
Amongst the mixture of grassland and reed beds you’ll be able to spot otters, kingfishers and ospreys – and even the occasional white-tailed eagle – while the 13-mile Loch Leven Heritage Trail that rings the loch allows walkers and cyclists to enjoy the area on a well-maintained gravel path.
Category: Animals, Loch, Nature, Walk or cycle route
Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18 to 65 years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Tour groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 9 out of 10
About Loch Leven
If you’re in Central Scotland and looking for a place to blow away the cobwebs there can’t be many places nicer than Loch Leven. This vast expanse of shallow water can be found on the eastern side of the M90 near Kinross, roughly 20 minutes north of Dunfermline.
You’ll no doubt see it from the motorway if you have to drive that stretch of road for the Edinburgh commute, but if you’ve never taken a detour to see what it’s like up close I seriously recommend you take a day off work to visit it.
From the motorway the loch appears a reasonable size but it’s not until you get there that you realize just how big it actually is.
As the largest body of shallow water in lowland Britain, Loch Leven offers a wide range of activities from swimming to kayaking but to be honest the highlight (at least in my opinion) is the 13-mile Loch Leven Heritage Trail that circles the loch in a wide, sweeping arc.
This man-made path is perfect for walking and cycling and it’s wide enough for cyclists to pass each other with room to spare, and as the gravel surface is so well maintained it’s also totally accessible for wheelchair users and mobility scooters. High praise goes out to NatureScot (Scotland’s nature agency) for looking after it.
The heritage trail offers a very enjoyable day out if you’ve got a family in tow and it’s a great place to go cycling thanks to it being nice and level so even the tiniest legs will have no problems peddling along it.
The entire Loch Leven area has been designated as a national nature reserve due to the vast flocks of wild birds that live there throughout the year and you’ll find an RSPB centre on the southern edge a few miles east along the B9097.
There are good facilities at the RSPB Vane Farm visitor centre and they’ve thoughtfully installed an underpass so you’ll be able to cycle under the B9097 to get to the loch, which is also one of the best places to whip out the binoculars and watch the myriad bird species.
Seeing as it’s home to more breeding ducks than anywhere else in Europe you’re more or less guaranteed to see Britain’s most popular feathered friends, but make sure you also keep an eye out for more unusual birds like lapwings, osprey and kingfishers, and if you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of our biggest bird – the white-tailed sea eagle (also known as the flying door. When you see one you’ll understand why).
Surrounding Loch Leven is a varied habitat of thick grasses, willow beds and marsh land so there’s every possibility you’ll also see otters on the hunt while Vane Farm itself is a popular haunt for herds of roe deer.
Basically, I’d have to sum up Loch Leven as a total wildlife-lovers paradise and even if you’re not much of a twitcher I still recommend taking a pair of binoculars with you as you never know what you’ll see in the distance as you make your way around the heritage trail.
Things to do at Loch Leven
There are two main entrances to the nature reserve with one being found on the southern end of Kinross and the other at the already-mentioned Vane Farm.
The Kinross entrance is the larger of the two and it’s the location of the reserve office and also the boat jetty where you can take a trip over to the Historic Environment Scotland-managed Lochleven Castle.
The castle isn’t exactly the biggest historic attraction in the world but it sits in a stunning location on a small island almost in the middle of the loch and it’s definitely worth visiting to soak up the peaceful setting.
There’s actually quite a bit of history associated with the ruined tower house in the island’s centre and apparently it was visited by both Robert the Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots, with Queen Mary visiting it first as a guest and later as a prisoner before she escaped and was exiled to England in 1568.
The passenger boat leaves the pier throughout the day and takes just 10-minutes to sail to the island so although it fills up easily in the peak summer season it’s frequent enough that you won’t be left hanging around for ages before it returns.
If you’re not interested in the castle the Kinross entrance is a good gateway to the heritage trail with entrances leading in both directions from the car park.
There’s another car park on the edge of Kirkgate Park a hundred yards or so to the north which is probably the best place to head to if you’re intending to go into the water as the edge of the loch is just a short distance from the road.
Be warned though, that this particular section of the loch is unbelievably popular and in summer there are crowds of people all along the water’s edge (can’t really blame them) so if you want to reserve your space you’d best be prepared to get there early.
Alternatively, head to the slightly quieter RSPB visitor centre which has very good facilities including a gift shop, cafe and toilets and there’s also a kiosk to hire binoculars if you want to go wildlife spotting.
From the centre you can cross through the underpass and be on the heritage trail almost immediately with both directions offering stunning views.
If you’re short of time I recommend heading left in the direction of the large viewing point which offers unparalleled views of the surrounding countryside, but if you prefer to get straight onto the trail I suggest turning right as the scenery is a bit more varied with copices of thick woodland, gently flowing rivers and rolling fields along the trail.
Mid-way through the wooded areas you’ll find some RSPB hides that look out across the wetlands though it will depend on the time of year as to which bird species you’ll be able to get a good look at. Check out the RSPB Loch Leven website for an overview of the visiting wildlife during each season.
As for food and drinks the main places to stop off at are the Kinross and Vane Farm entrances so I’d head to either depending on which one you start at but as a wee tip you’ll find a surprisingly good farm shop – Loch Leven’s Larder – on the north-east side.
Failing that the bistro at the Kinross entrance is superb and the courtyard is a wonderful place to relax with a coffee while looking out across the water.
- Both the Kinross and RSPB entrances offer a superb place to sit back and relax with a cuppa in hand.
- The loch is absolutely stunning and the 13-mile cycle path offers a good few hours of pleasure for literally no cost. If you manage to get there on one of Scotland’s rare sunny days I guarantee you’ll have an absolute blast.
- If you’re a twitcher, Loch eleven is the place to be. The number of birds you’ll see flying in and out is spectacular and the RSPB facilities are excellent.
- Don’t forget your binoculars, but if you do you can always hire a pair from the Vane Farm visitor centre. Turn left to get to the wooden viewing shelter which offers arguably the best views in lowland Scotland.
- If you’re heading to Kirkgate Park with the intention of going out on the water take heed of the notices. You can’t go out there when it’s bird breeding season or at times when there’s blue-green algae in the water.
- If you’re not intending to go back you really should take the boat trip out to the island. It’s a great way to pass a couple of hours and although it’s a bit pricey for basically a 10-minute boat ride you’ll get there for free with a Historic Environment Scotland membership (details further down this page).
Photos and video
Address and map
Loch Leven National Nature Reserve,
The Pier, Kinross,
Click the map for directions
Tickets and opening times
Special offer! Click this affiliate link to purchase a Historic Environment Scotland Explorer Pass from Viator. Your 5-day or 14-day pass allows free entry to more than 77 castles, cathedrals, distilleries and more throughout Scotland.
Loch Leven is free to visit and is open 24/7, 365 days a year.
Lochleven Castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland and there is an entrance fee.
1 April to 30 September:
Daily, 10am to 4.15pm (last outward sailing).
1 to 31 October: Daily, 10am to 3.15pm (last outward sailing).
1 November to 31 March
Telephone: 01738 458609
email: [email protected]
Getting there: Car park on-site.
Getting around: Disabled access, Easy-access paths, Pushchair access.
On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Hot drinks, Picnic area, Restaurant/cafe, Snacks, Toilets.