Loch Leven is a large expanse of freshwater in Perth and Kinross. The National Nature Reserve is renowned for the number of wildfowl that live there and 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.
|Address:||Loch Leven National Nature Reserve,
The Pier, Kinross,
|Parking:||Free on-site car parks|
|Contact:||RSPB Loch Leven -
|Facilities:||RSPB Loch Leven -
Visitor centre, toilets, accessible toilets, baby changing, pushchair friendly, refreshments, picnic area, binocular hire, viewing point, nature trails, shop, educational facilities, play area
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 the loch up close I seriously recommend you take a day off work to visit it.
From the motorway, the loch appears a reasonable size and 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 the highlight is the 13-mile Loch Leven Heritage Trail that circles the water 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.
Click here to download the RSPB Loch Leven trail map.
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 road to get to the loch, which is also one of the best places to whip out the binoculars and watch the flocks of waterfowl.
See my guide to recommended binoculars to use in Scotland.
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.
You’ll also see more unusual birds like lapwings, osprey and kingfishers, and if you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of Britain’s 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 marshland so there’s every possibility you’ll also see otters on the hunt and Vane Farm is a popular spot for herds of roe deer.
Basically, I’d have to sum up Loch Leven as a wildlife-lovers paradise and even if you’re not much of a twitcher I still recommend taking binoculars (see my recommended binoculars) with you as you never know what you’ll see in the distance as you make your way around the heritage trail.
If you would like to join a guided tour of Scotland’s lochs take a look at this selection from Get Your Guide.
1: Both the Kinross and RSPB centres offer a nice place to sit back and relax with a cuppa in hand.
2: 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.
3: If you’re a twitcher, Loch Leven is the place to be. The number of birds you’ll see flying in and out is spectacular and the RSPB facilities cater for all ages.
1: 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.
2: 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.
3: Consider taking the boat trip out to Lochleven Castle. It’s a great way to pass a couple of hours and though it’s a bit pricey for basically a 10-minute boat ride you’ll get there for free with a Historic Environment Scotland membership.
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 Loch Leven visitor centre at 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.
Discover more Scottish castles in my guide to the 12 Best Castles to Visit in Scotland.
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 intend to go into the water as the edge of the loch is just a short distance from the road.
Be aware that this particular section of the loch is very 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 it’s best to get there early.
Alternatively, head to the slightly quieter RSPB visitor centre which has superb facilities including a gift shop, café 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 Loch Leven heritage cycle trail almost immediately, with both directions offering stunning views.
If you’re short on time I recommend heading left in the direction of the large viewing platform which offers unparalleled views of the surrounding countryside.
If you prefer to get straight onto the trail I suggest turning right as the scenery is a bit more varied with coppices of thick woodland, gently flowing rivers and rolling fields. Midway 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 go are the Kinross and Vane Farm centres so I’d head to either depending on where you are on the trail, but as a wee tip you’ll also find a surprisingly good farm shop – Loch Leven’s Larder – on the north-east side.
Failing that the bistro at the Kinross entrance is excellent and the courtyard is a wonderful place to relax with a coffee while looking out across the water.
Things to Do
Loch Leven Heritage Trail: Discover the beauty of nature by walking or cycling along this 13-mile trail which offers spectacular views of the loch and surrounding hills. The trail is wide, level, and almost entirely tarmacked, making it an ideal cycling destination for all abilities.
Lochleven Castle: Explore the historic Lochleven Castle, accessible only by boat from the jetty at Kinross Pier. Immerse yourself in the history of the castle where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in 1567. The castle, set on an island, offers a unique insight into Scottish history.
Birdwatching: Loch Leven is a National Nature Reserve and is home to a vast array of bird species, especially during the migration season. Visit RSPB Vane Farm for an extraordinary birdwatching experience, complete with hideouts and observation decks.
Fishing: Try your hand at fishing at Loch Leven. The loch is renowned for its brown trout and it has an angling history stretching back to Victorian times. Bank fishing is not permitted, only fly fishing from a boat, but Loch Leven Fisheries at Kinross Pier offers boat rentals for day and evening sessions during the summer months.
Loch Leven’s Larder: After a day of exploring, settle down for a delicious meal at Loch Leven’s Larder. This award-winning farm shop and restaurant has a menu featuring locally sourced produce as well as a farm shop and an artisan bakery.
Things to Do Nearby
RSPB Loch Leven. 8-minute drive from Kirkgate Park.
Café, shop and visitor centre for the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve. One of the main places for Loch Leven parking, it features educational displays and an underpass allowing foot access from the B9097.
Loch Leven Heritage Trail. Loch Leven National Nature Reserve Kinross.
Accessible from all entrances. The 13-mile Loch Leven walk and cycle trail circles the loch from Kinross in the west towards the Lomond Hills Regional Park to the east. The route is a level gravel surface that’s ideal for prams and pushchairs. Offers views across Loch Leven and Portmoak Moss nature reserve.
Lochleven Castle. Located in Loch Leven. A 15-minute boat ride from Kirkgate Park.
14th-century tower house built on an island in Loch Leven. Was a prison for Mary Queen of Scots. Managed by Historic Environment Scotland which runs ferry trips to the island from the jetty in Kirkgate Park.
Burleigh Castle. Burleigh Rd, Milnathort, Kinross KY13 9GG. 8-minute drive from Kirkgate Park.
500-year-old 3-storey tower house managed by Historic Environment Scotland. Roofless, so the interior is open in summer only.
Portmoak Moss Nature Reserve. Kinross KY13 9WF. A 15-minute drive from Kirkgate Park.
Community-managed raised bog and woodland walk that is open to the public. Flat but rough trails so not suitable for cyclists or buggies.
Loch Leven Brewery. The Muirs, Kinross, KY13 8AS. A 4-minute drive from the Loch Leven jetty.
The Loch Leven Brewery specialises in quality craft beers that are brewed in-house at their plant in Kinross. Visitors can purchase beer from the on-site shop as well as sample specialist beers in the tap room.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you walk around Loch Leven?
It is possible to walk and cycle around Loch Leven on the 13-mile Heritage Trail that entirely circles the loch. The trail is composed of flat and level compacted gravel and dirt, with some sections of tarmac.
Is Loch Leven safe to swim in?
It is safe to swim in Loch Leven. However, visitors must observe any warning notices that may be in effect as there are occasional blooms of toxic blue-green algae.
Who was imprisoned in Loch Leven?
Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle on June 17, 1567, following the Battle of Carberry Hill near Edinburgh.
She escaped a year later with help from the son of her captor, after which she fled to England, never to return to Scotland again.
What visitor facilities are there at Loch Leven?
There are facilities at the Loch Leven pier entrance and RSPB Loch Leven. Both sites have toilets and food stalls. For the RSPB visitor centre, visit the RSPB facilities page for updated information.