By Craig Neil
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Table of Contents
- About lochs in Scotland
- Map of lochs in Scotland
- The best lochs to visit in Scotland
- The biggest lochs in Scotland
- The benefits of water wellness
- Frequently Asked Questions
- More outdoors and nature articles
There are more than 30,000 lochs located across Scotland from the Borders to the Highlands, including the tourist favourites of Ness, Lomond and Shiel.
Many of these lochs are set in stunning landscapes and they offer superb walks around them, but they’re also great places to get active with water sports such as fishing, swimming, and canoeing.
Discover a collection of the best lochs to visit in Scotland plus loads of useful visiting tips and advice in this ultimate guide.
About lochs in Scotland
If you’re planning a holiday in Scotland there are more than likely five big attractions sitting at the top of your ‘must-do’ itinerary.
First has to be Edinburgh with its atmospheric castle, second the majestic mountain scenery of the Highlands, third the Isle of Skye with its beautiful… well, everything, fourth the insanely pretty west coast islands, and fifth the spectacular lochs that pepper every region of the country.
The word ‘loch’ stems from the Scottish Gaelic word for a lake or a sea inlet, so if you’re wondering if there’s any difference between a body of water in Scotland and any other country, basically, there isn’t.
Scotland does differ from many countries in the number of these bodies of water though, and in total there are over 30,000 freshwater lochs and lochans (a lochan is a small loch) in Scotland, with the majority located in the area known as the Highlands.
This is the part of Scotland that lies to the west of the Highland Boundary Fault line which runs from the Isle of Arran on the west coast all the way to Stonehaven on the northeast and back up to Inverness in the north.
The Highland region is frequently cited as the most scenic part of Scotland due to its wild mountainous landscapes, but it also has a beautiful coastline with lots of sea inlets and it’s the region that contains the majority of lochs.
The lochs of Scotland really are beautiful places to visit and many of them are easy to combine with other attractions, as you’ll see when you visit places like Loch Ness which has a fascinating castle nestled on its bank, boat cruises galore, and enough walking trails to keep visitors occupied for hours on end
There are too many wonderful lochs to include in a single article so instead I’ll show you my personal favourites which include both sea and freshwater lochs. The following list will be updated as I get to visit new places in Scotland, so please check back often or bookmark this page for future reference.
Map of lochs in Scotland
This Google map shows the best lochs in Scotland to visit as a tourist.
Click and drag to move and zoom in and out. Click the markers to view more information.
The best lochs to visit in Scotland
Address: (Kilchurn Castle) Lochawe, Dalmally, PA33 1AF
There’s a lot to like about Loch Awe. Not only is it easy to get to thanks to the A85 to the north and the A816 to the south, but there are several very good tourist attractions nearby and it’s located in one of the best regions in Scotland for anyone that loves the great outdoors.
As far as the attractions at the northern end go, visitors can explore Kilchurn Castle, St. Conan’s Kirk, and the Ben Cruachan Visitor Centre within a 10-minute drive of each other, while the Trossachs National Nature Reserve and Oban are within a 30-minute drive east and west respectively.
The southern end doesn’t have quite as many attractions in the vicinity, but it’s situated in a drop-dead gorgeous area that offers easy access to Loch Fyne to the east and the west coast to the, erm… west.
There are lots of castles in the area too, so if you like exploring dusty old ruins the southern tip of Loch Awe won’t leave you disappointed.
This is one of the largest lochs in Scotland (the third-largest freshwater loch) and it’s also one of the longest, measuring an incredible 25 miles from end to end and averaging half a mile in width.
It’s completely enclosed by land except for its northwest corner where it narrows into the River Awe which ultimately joins Loch Etive and the Atlantic Ocean, and while it’s theoretically possible to sail into the loch from the west coast, anyone adventurous enough to try it will have to contend with several areas of white water rapids along the way.
The best option to explore this magnificent loch is to drive to it, but sadly there aren’t too many places to park up as the minor roads on either side are mostly single track with very few verges.
If there are any negatives to Loch Awe, I would have to put the lack of available parking spaces in first place.
That being said, most people will visit Loch Awe to see Kilchurn Castle at the far north where there’s a large car park and a well-maintained path leading to the castle and the water’s edge.
This location is (from my own experience) the easiest place to get onto the open water with a canoe as the car park to the Awe Viaduct is only a couple of hundred feet at which point it’s possible to scramble down to an inlet which circles around Kilchurn Castle before opening up onto the mighty loch.
This northern end of Loch Awe is home to a number of islands which I highly recommend canoeing around if you ever get the chance as they’re the former clan homes of Clan Campbell and have a number of remarkable ruins including a castle on Innis Chonnell and a church on Inishail.
If sitting in a canoe doesn’t float your boat (there’s a joke in there somewhere) I recommend taking the A819 on the northeast side of the loch and driving to the Kilchurn Castle panorama viewpoint which has a lay-by and a footpath leading down to the water.
This is, without doubt, the best place to photograph the castle but it gets horrendously busy in summer and especially at the weekend, so get there early in order to secure a space.
- Address: Glen Etive, Ballachulish, PH49 4JA
- Out About Scotland complete guide: Glen Etive
One of my favourite Scottish lochs – and one that seems to go unnoticed by the majority of tourists – is Loch Etive.
Loch Etive is a seawater loch on Scotland’s west coast that’s quite difficult to get to as it only has a narrow single-track road to the south and an equally narrow and winding road to the north.
It’s surrounded on both sides by steep hills that were carved by glaciers during the last ice age and getting to it either involves an arduous cross-country hike or a very slow drive, which makes a visit to Loch Etive a true off-grid experience.
While it’s possible to visit the head of the loch at its southern end near the village of Taynuilt, it’s impossible to walk further north as the River Awe blocks the way.
An alternative route is to follow the (very) minor road off the A85 to Inverawe, but it’s a twisty-turny road that is closed to vehicles halfway along.
The best option, therefore, is to follow the drop-dead gorgeous B road that leads to the loch through Glen Etive. You’ll find this road at a junction on the A82 a few miles west of the turning to the Glencoe Mountain Resort on Rannoch Moor.
The single-track road runs for 12 miles across a picturesque Highland landscape full of rivers, forests, and mountains to its final destination at Loch Etive on a route that has to be one of the most scenic in Scotland.
Even if you don’t spend much time at the loch I thoroughly recommend you drive (or better still, cycle) this road as it’s utterly breathtaking.
The car park at the end has space for around twenty vehicles and once you’re past it you can follow the loch on its northern side on foot as there’s a rough trail that follows the shoreline, but as there is no way to cross over the water you’ll have to return to your car on the same path.
Loch Etive stretches 19 miles south to the sea at Connel where it exits into Ardmucknish Bay and the Sound of Mull, while the northern end joins the River Etive which runs deep into the heart of the Glen Coe National Scenic Area.
If you hike the route heading south make sure you’ve got your camera with you because the views are stunning at every step of the way, especially with so many mountains in view like the 3,690-foot Ben Cruachan to the south-east and the 3,070-foot Beinn Sgulaird looming over Loch Etive to the west.
If you have a penchant for Munro-bagging you could do a lot worse than using Loch Etive as a base for mountain hikes.
If mountain climbing isn’t your thing you could always stick to the footpath with a pair of binoculars as the undisturbed landscape is a haven for wildlife and you’re almost guaranteed to see herds of red deer roaming about on the slopes as well as seals at the water’s edge.
- Address: Visitor Centre, Callander, FK17 8HZ
- Out About Scotland complete guide: Loch Katrine
Loch Katrine lies to the east of Loch Lomond where it’s surrounded on all sides by steep hills and verdant forests, crisscrossed by a number of walking trails that stretch deep into the Trossachs in all directions.
Personally, I much prefer Katrine to Lomond. Not only is it quieter, but it has a very easy-going cycle route on its northeast side that offers stunning views along its entire length.
It’s also much smaller than Loch Lomond at just 8 miles in length and around half a mile in width, but in my opinion that makes the freshwater loch far easier to explore and you’ll be able to see everything it has to offer during a single visit.
There’s a lot of history associated with this loch, most notably Scottish folklore hero Rob Roy who was born on the loch’s northern shore.
Its natural beauty also inspired the great Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott to pen his poem ‘Lady of the Lake’ and it was the inspiration for several works from Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth.
You’ll find the main car park by following the A821 and heading towards the north of Loch Achray. The road to Loch Katrine spurs off a junction at that point which then leads to a visitor centre that has facilities including a café, toilets, cycle hire, and boat cruises.
If you’re going to cycle along the loch you have the option of doing the entire there-and-back route on two wheels, but bear in mind it’s 13 miles each way.
An easier option to cycle the loch is to book a boat cruise when you get to the visitor centre, cycle the 13 miles to Stronlachar Lodge, and then take the ferry back. That way you get to experience the shoreline on the way up as well as the lovely views from the boat on the way back.
The cruises run every hour between 10.30 am and 3.30 pm so you might be lucky enough to get on by just turning up at the pier, but the boat – The Lady of the Lake – isn’t exactly the world’s biggest and places fill up quickly during the peak-season summer months.
Take my advice and pre-book your cruise tickets to guarantee a seat.
In addition to cycling, Loch Katrine is famed for its wildlife which makes it a wonderful spot for photographers. Along the length of the water there’s every chance you’ll see red and roe deer, eagles, red kites, foxes, red squirrels, and (very occasionally) wildcats.
These animals are most likely to be seen at the southwest end of Katrine where it borders Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, but you might also spot them near Loch Achray. Either way, a good pair of binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens are a must-have when you visit.
If you want to see my recommendations for budget wildlife-watching binoculars, check out this post.
- Address: The Pier, Kinross, Kinross Shire, KY13 8UF
- Out About Scotland complete guide: Loch Leven
Ah, Loch Leven. I love, love, love this loch because not only is it one of the largest near Edinburgh, it’s also a haven for wildlife and has one of the best (possibly the best) loch-side cycle routes in Scotland.
Anyone commuting into the capital from Perth and Kinross on the M90 will know Loch Leven all too well as it can be clearly seen from the roadside at Kinross.
There are a number of access points but the two main ones are located at the Loch Leven pier at the southern end of Kinross and the RSPB visitor centre on the east side of the loch just off the B9097.
Both entrance points have their pros and cons, with the Kinross side having a larger car park that’s quite busy and the RSPB centre having less parking spaces but fewer visitors.
Personally, I always head to RSPB Loch Leven as there’s an underpass which leads directly onto the cycle route as well as a great path that zigzags its way up into the hills to the south.
So what’s special about Loch Leven? Well, not only is it enormous (it’s the largest body of shallow water in Lowland Britain) but it’s extraordinarily pretty, with a diverse range of habitats that range from grassland, woodland and open fields, to moorland and even a couple of wee beaches.
Surrounding the lot is a wide tarmac and gravel path that’s perfect for cycling and is one of the most disabled-friendly paths I’ve found to date that offers access to a loch of this size.
The Loch Leven Heritage Trail circles the body of water on a 13-mile path that’s almost entirely level and offers bird-watching opportunities galore along its entire length.
If you enjoy birdwatching I would have to say a visit to Loch Leven is an absolute must-do as you’re guaranteed to see a number of different species throughout the year including lapwings, ospreys, kingfishers and even (very occasionally) white-tailed sea eagles.
There are more breeding pairs of ducks at Loch Leven than anywhere else in Europe and it has one of the largest resident flocks of wading birds in the southeast of Scotland.
There are several bird hides located throughout the loch but the majority are near RSPB Vane Farm on the eastern end, which incidentally has a very good café, a nice shop, and even has facilities where you can hire birdwatching binoculars.
If you’re thinking of heading to Loch Leven and don’t already own binoculars check out my guide to birdwatching binoculars where I go over a few tips about what to look for when you purchase a pair.
If you intend to cycle the entire 13-mile loop you’ll eventually pass along the edge of Kinross where there’s a beach at Burleigh Sands and a children’s play park at Kirkgate Park.
This is a superb family area as there’s another beach at the park, open areas for the kids to run around, and it’s close to the pier where visitors can take a ferry ride to a small island that’s home to Lochleven Castle.
The castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland who operates the ferry boats so if you’d like to know more about it take a look at the HES Lochleven Castle page which explains the castle’s opening times and prices.
Address: Loch Lomond Shores, Balloch, Alexandria, G83 8QP
Although Loch Lomond doesn’t hold as much water as Loch Ness it manages to draw more visitors, primarily due to its location which offers easy access from Glasgow.
It’s a mere 17 miles from the centre of the city to the edge of the loch so it’s not really surprising that many Glaswegians head there on their downtime, especially as the majority of the route is dual-carriageway meaning a journey from Glasgow to the edge of the loch takes just 40 minutes.
The downside to that is the fact that Lomond gets excruciatingly busy at the weekends in summer, so if you’re after a bit of peace and quiet you might consider setting your sights further afield instead.
Each year around 4 million people visit Loch Lomond, though unlike Ness, Lomond attracts as many water sports enthusiasts as it does sightseeing tourists.
The southern half is by far the busiest as the majority of visitor facilities are located in the crescent-shaped bay at Balloch which includes the superb Sea Life aquarium, the Loch Lomond Bird of Prey Centre, the Loch Lomond Shores shopping centre, and the ever-popular Maid of the Loch – one of the few remaining paddle boats in Scotland.
The facilities continue further along the shoreline on either side where you’ll find hire shops that will let you try thrilling activities like water skiing and jet skiing and there are even Segway tours of the area if you fancy exploring more of the Trossachs National Park.
If you’ve not spent much time in the Trossachs I highly recommend combining a ramble through its picturesque forests and hills in addition to your visit to Loch Lomond.
It’s a phenomenal place for walking but you’ll also find some of the best mountain biking trails in the country, plus there are lots of other lochs in the park that are far quieter than Lomond, though none are as big.
If you’d rather concentrate your activities on the loch you’ll find it’s very popular for swimming and perhaps even more so for kayakers thanks to the small islands in the southern half that are ideal for paddling around.
The pick of the bunch has to be Inchcailloch located in the southeast corner of Lomond near the village of Balmaha.
This island is famed for its carpets of bluebells which seem to cover every inch of the forest floor in spring. A path has been created that cuts across the island from the north to the south and there are small jetties at either end if you need somewhere to moor up.
Heading back to Balloch you’ll find you really are spoilt for choice for things to do and I’ve got two recommendations that will keep you busy for a full weekend if you’re pitching a tent in one of the many campsites near Loch Lomond.
First is Balloch Castle and Country Park which is (in my opinion) one of the nicest public spaces in the west of Scotland. The park features a network of paths that are easily accessible for all abilities and there’s a nice wee beach and a causeway on the edge of the loch that’s perfect for family picnics.
My second recommendation is to walk the first section of the John Muir Way which runs across low hills and open grass plains from Balloch to Helensburgh.
This section of the cross-country route is exceptionally pretty but rarely undertaken by visitors to Loch Lomond, so if you find yourself itching to get away from the crowds I’d definitely add it to your itinerary.
Address: (west shore car park) Callander, FK17 8HF
We’re not quite finished with the Trossachs yet because there’s also Loch Lubnaig to visit, which is one of the most underrated lochs in Scotland but one that totally deserves its place on this list.
Lubnaig lies on the eastern edge of the Trossachs around 4 miles north of the village of Callander on the A84.
Its proximity to the road means it’s extremely easy to get to and parking is almost guaranteed at one of the two car parks on its south-east shoreline, but if you do happen to find them full there’s another car park just off the A84 if you follow the sign to Strathyre forest lodges.
Lubnaig is one of the smaller lochs in this list at around 4 miles in length but the two car parks on the east shore offer perfect launch points so it’s very a popular location for water sports, and it also serves as the starting point for an excellent mountain hike up Ben Ledi.
You’ll find the start of the Ben Ledi path at the Strathyre forest lodge car park so you could feasibly explore the loch and hike the mountain in one day, with the bonus being you can relax with a cuppa at the Strathyre lodge café afterwards.
If you want to know more about hiking this mountain, I’ve created a Complete Guide to Ben Ledi.
If hiking mountains doesn’t float your boat you’ll find a fantastic path that runs alongside Loch Lubnaig on its western edge which starts at Callander and finishes near Loch Tay at Killin.
The section at Lubnaig is very scenic and is also flat and level so if you’ve got young children it’s a great place to take them for a walk or a cycle.
This is part of the immense 540-mile Sustrans National Cycle Network Route 7 that starts in Sunderland and finishes in Inverness on what is widely recognized as one of the best cycle routes in Scotland.
Obviously, you’re not going to be able to complete the whole thing in one day, but you’ll have a very enjoyable ride if you start on the path south of Loch Lubnaig, cycle north to Strathyre, take the spur to Loch Voil to see Rob Roy’s grave, and then head north to Loch Earn for a well-deserved coffee at Lochearnhead.
It’s a 32-mile return route so it’s only really suitable for adults, but I thoroughly recommend it having cycled it myself on several occasions.
Sticking with Loch Lubnaig, there are lots of activities to enjoy including wild swimming and fishing and it’s a very popular place for wild camping, although you have to obtain a permit between March and September as Lubnaig is in a Camping Management Zone.
Much of the loch is quite shallow at under 50 feet but there are a few places where it sinks to over 100 feet close to the shore and it’s also prone to waves caused by winds blowing in from the north and south (Lubnaig is one of the few north-south lochs in Scotland).
These winds can make small sailboats difficult to handle so if you’re thinking of using a powered craft be aware it is not permitted to take any vessel on the loch with an outboard engine over 10hp, and jet skis are forbidden as the loch is also used by anglers.
If you’re a keen fisherman you’ll enjoy casting off at this loch as it’s a prime site for migrating salmon as they make their way to their spawning grounds. Fishing permits are available from The Cabin which is located in the second car park heading north along the A84.
- Address: (Bracorina car park) Mallaig, PH40 4PE
- Out About Scotland Complete Guide: Loch Morar
If you’ve ever been on The Jacobite steam train you’ll know it puffs its way from the Highland town of Fort William all the way to the picturesque fishing village of Mallaig.
The area around Mallaig is a wonderful place for tourists as there are umpteen places to visit, from the golden beaches of Camusdarach and the Silver Sands to the windswept hills behind Bracara that are pockmarked with dozens of secluded lochans.
Between them lies Loch Morar, the fifth-largest loch by surface area and the deepest freshwater loch in Scotland (and the entire UK).
This loch is almost 12 miles in length and has a maximum depth of over 1,000 feet and in many ways it feels as vast as Loch Ness, which is perhaps why it’s the home of Scotland’s second most-famous monster, Morag.
Thankfully, sightings of the beast are few and far between so you shouldn’t let her put you off a visit to Loch Morar as you’d miss out on what is one of my highest-rated Scottish lochs.
Admittedly it’s not the easiest loch to actually get to, not because it’s far from roads (there’s a road joining it directly from Morar village) but because there is very little in the way of car parking, save for the occasional space on the side of the single-track road that runs partway along the northern edge.
Surrounding the loch to the north, south and east are mountainous ridges, while the lower areas are comprised of mixed woodland, cattle pastures and shingle beaches. There are very few houses on the shore and it feels totally off-grid, which is no bad thing in my book.
There is absolutely no road access at the east end of Loch Morar so you’ll have no option but to approach it from the east, which is the best part of it anyway as there are several heavily wooded islands just off the shore that are practically begging to be canoed out to.
On my last visit I was lucky enough to spend a week in the area around Mallaig with wall-to-wall sunshine and I can say with certainty that exploring the islands on Loch Morar was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in Scotland.
The water is crystal clear and the islands are blissfully deserted and there are even a couple of hidden-away sandy beaches if you look hard enough.
With the sun glinting off the loch and the surrounding mountains keeping the wind at bay, a visit to Loch Morar can feel a wee bit like being on a deserted tropical island.
A later visit that week saw my canoe replaced by foot power as I walked the rough track from the northwest edge of the loch near Bracorina to an inlet in the middle of Loch Nevis.
This is a highly recommended walking route as it’s absolutely beautiful the entire way, but note it’s quite treacherous in places so good quality walking boots are a must. You’ll find a selection of top-rated waterproof hiking boots in this article.
As always, Walk Highlands has a detailed guide to walking the Loch Morar trail so click this link to view it, or purchase an Ordnance Survey map which shows the locations of all the footpaths in the area.
- Address: Glenmore Forest Park, Aviemore, Inverness, PH22 1QY
- Out About Scotland complete guide: Loch Morlich
The Cairngorms National Park covers a vast 1,748 square miles of the Scottish Highlands and it’s officially the largest national park in Britain.
The park is famed for its stunning mountain ranges, pretty villages, and lush forests, but it’s also the location of one of Scotland’s most surprising lochs.
You’ll understand what I mean by ‘surprising’ when you visit it yourself.
Getting there is easy if you follow the A9 and take the junction to Aviemore, then follow the signs to Glenmore Forest Park.
The loch is set amongst the thick pine forest of Glenmore which surrounds it on all sides, while the mighty snow-capped peaks of the Cairngorm mountain range are clearly visible in the distance. As far as Highland landscapes go, it really doesn’t get any better.
However, the best feature of the loch is evident as soon as you step foot out of the car.
Ahead, you’ll see a wide sweeping arc of soft golden sand that wouldn’t look out of place on a tropical desert island, but what you’re looking at is, in fact, the highest beach in the United Kingdom.
Having visited it many times I have to rate Loch Morlich alongside Loch Lomond as one of Scotland’s most family-friendly spots for a day out.
Kids can safely play in the water while mums and dads chill out on the beach, and there’s a water sports centre on the northern edge where you can hire sailing, paddleboarding and kayaking equipment if you’re in an adventurous mood.
Circling the loch are a number of paths that head into the forest so if you have a mountain bike you’ll have lots of opportunities to go for a ride, and there are even more trails across the road in Glenmore Forest.
If all that activity gets bellies rumbling you’ll find cafés at the watersports centre as well as the forest visitor centre and there’s also a designated picnic area if you’d rather take a packed lunch.
The only negative is that you’re not allowed barbecues, but then that’s understandable with so many trees nearby.
If you’re feeling particularly brave you can swim in the freshwater loch perfectly safely as it’s completely enclosed save for the minor River Luineag on its northwest corner, though it won’t take you long to get around it as it’s just one mile in length – far smaller than the other lochs in this list.
What it loses in size it makes up for with the area it’s located in though, and I have to give two big shout-outs to a couple of other attractions that are worth including in a visit to Loch Morlich.
The first is the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre which you’ll find over the road near the forest visitor centre.
At the reindeer centre you’ll be able to get close to Britain’s only wild reindeer herd on guided hill trips that take you to see them on the mountainside, but if you’re unable to climb up there the centre keeps a few animals in their own paddocks.
The second attraction is Cairngorm Mountain where you can go for a walk up the mountain, each lunch in the mountainside café, and even make a call from the UK’s highest phone box!
- Address: (Urquhart Castle) Drumnadrochit, Inverness, IV63 6XJ
- Out About Scotland complete guide: Loch Ness
I couldn’t really create this list of Scottish lochs without talking about Loch Ness, the vast body of water that lies between the Highland city of Inverness and the town of Fort Augustus.
Even if the loch didn’t have the legend of the monster it would undoubtedly still be one of the biggest attractions in Scotland due to its size.
Ness is an incredible 23 miles in length with troughs that have been measured at over 800 feet in depth, and at its widest point it measures nearly 2 miles from shore to shore. In total, it holds an estimated 263 billion cubic feet of water – more than all the lakes of England and Wales combined.
Coupled with its peat-stained water which is almost completely black it’s no wonder that tales of a mythical creature living in its secretive depths are so popular, but there’s much more to the loch than Nessie.
First and foremost amongst the attractions on Loch Ness has to be the 17th-century Urquhart Castle which at one time was one of the most important fortifications in Scotland.
Although it’s now a shadow of its former glory due to the English soldiers who partly demolished it in the 1600s, it remains one of the most iconic historic sites in the country and the views across the loch from the castle’s battlements have to be seen to be believed.
Another top-rated attraction located nearby is the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition which tells the story of the loch and the monster with the help of displays and exhibits collected from the surrounding area.
This is a great place to take the kids if the weather closes in, and the centre manages to be both interesting and fun while weaving in an educational element about the history and geology of Loch Ness.
If you’re hoping to take a boat tour on the loch you’ll find several tour operators at Fort Augustus, though bear in mind that due to its popularity you really need to book in advance to secure a seat.
Most of these boat tours start at the Loch Ness viewpoint which is also the opening to the Caledonian Canal where you’ll find the historic Fort Augustus locks.
The locks join Ness to the canal and there are footpaths on either side, with the northern-most path joining Loch Oich for a superb cross-country ramble (wee tip for you).
Address: (Glenfinnan) Lochaber, PH37 4LT
Of all Scotland’s lochs, I would have to say the most scenic viewpoint – by far – is the northern tip of Loch Shiel at Glenfinnan.
You’ll immediately recognize Glenfinnan if you’ve seen the Harry Potter films as it’s the place where the Hogwarts Express puffs its way across a multi-arched viaduct.
The Hogwarts Express and Glenfinnan are two of the most popular attractions in the Highlands, so if you want to know more about them read my guides to the Jacobite Steam Train and the Glenfinnan Monument.
Loch Shiel meanwhile, is another tourist-favourite, running north to south for just over 17 miles which makes it the 4th-longest freshwater loch in Scotland.
It narrows at its southern point into the River Shiel which flows into Loch Moidart, but its northern end is completely landlocked and access is only possible via the A830.
At this point you’ll find a National Trust for Scotland car park next to a visitor centre that has lots of information about the Glenfinnan Monument and the Jacobite soldiers that it’s dedicated to.
It’s a genuinely interesting attraction and if you’ve got even the vaguest interest in Scotland’s history you’ll enjoy a visit, but it’s also a good place to stop for a coffee and a light bite as there aren’t many other visitor facilities in the area.
Loch Shiel is a designated Special Protected Area and also a National Scenic Area due to the wildlife that lives along its steep banks, and there’s a good chance you’ll see golden eagles, falcons, kestrels, ospreys, harriers and even Britain’s largest bird – the white-tailed sea eagle – during your visit.
Because the loch mainly attracts coach tours who tend to just spend an hour there, you’ll find it’s relatively tourist-free away from the NTS visitor centre so if you want to explore one of the most scenic parts of the Highlands without any crowds for miles around, Loch Shiel is highly recommended.
The western side is fairly inaccessible as there are no roads and only a few very rough paths but the east side has an excellent track that follows the loch its entire length.
It’s very quiet and there are no houses for miles around which makes it ideal for cycling along so if you have your bike with you I recommend joining it by taking a small signposted walkway that spurs away from the monument over a wooden footbridge.
The track runs very close to Loch Shiel’s shoreline for the majority of its length and it’s flat and level enough for younger children to enjoy, but be aware there is no return route around the other side so once you reach the end of the loch you’ll have to double back on the same route.
Address: (Queen’s View Visitor Centre) Pitlochry, PH16 5NR
Tay Forest Park in Perth and Kinross is a firm favourite with many visitors to Scotland due to the number of attractions within easy driving distance of each other. Highlights include the River Tay, the Hermitage Forest, Schiehallion Mountain, Blair Castle, and of course, Loch Tummel.
This narrow loch lies 6 miles west of the pretty town of Pitlochry in the heart of Perthshire’s Big Tree Country, surrounded on all sides by Tay Forest Park.
The main claim to fame for Loch Tummel is the Queen’s View, a viewpoint named after Queen Victoria who visited the site in 1866 and declared the scene over Loch Tummel as one of the finest in Britain (although some stories suggest it was actually named after Mary Queen of Scots).
Whatever the real reason for the name it’s certainly a view fit for royalty, and today it is one of the most photographed locations in Scotland.
There’s a visitor centre at the Queen’s View that has displays and exhibits about the people that lived in this part of Perthshire over the years as well as information about the forests, lochs and animals that can be seen in the area.
The centre also includes a café, toilets and a shop, so it’s certainly worth visiting if you’re near Loch Tummel.
The 7-mile-long loch isn’t quite as popular for extended visits as Loch Lomond but it’s a great destination for camping and there are a couple of campsites on either shore if you fancy pitching a tent for a day or two, whether it’s for trout fishing or exploring the countryside.
Just like at Loch Shiel, Loch Tummel is situated in a National Scenic Area and wildlife lovers will be in for a treat with the loch and the nearby River Tay providing a home to salmon, otters, black grouse, red squirrel, and capercaillie (an infamous and very territorial type of grouse).
If you’re a keen mountain biker you’ll be in your element with a spiders-web of excellent biking trails running throughout Tay Forest Park that offer lots of action for adrenaline junkies.
Meanwhile, those that prefer a more sedate ride will enjoy the scenic south shore road which closely follows the shoreline from the hydroelectric dam at the east end to the start of the River Tummel on the western side.
One area where Loch Tummel falls behind others in this list is sailing as there are no public car parks along its length and therefore it’s difficult to park up and carry your canoe or kayak to the water’s edge.
That being said, if you prefer cycling and forest walks to getting out on the open water, basing yourself at Loch Tummel will give you ample opportunities to explore this truly stunning part of Scotland.
The biggest lochs in Scotland
The benefits of water wellness
Whether it’s learning a new water sport with a skilled instructor or watching local marine wildlife settle in their homes on Scotland’s coasts, participating in water-based activities and being near water can improve our overall wellbeing in a number of ways.
It’s not just the physical exercise aspect of being in water that makes us feel good, as you’ll no doubt know if you’ve ever sat and looked across the serene waters of Scotland’s magnificent lochs.
Stressful day at work? You’ll instantly find those worries drift away as soon as you gaze out across the water.
There are lots of water wellness experiences to try when travelling around Scotland, so here are three tips to help you with your planning.
Enjoy a peaceful waterfall walk
Ever wanted to see a glittering waterfall? Fortunately, there are lots of quiet locations where you can take a walk along a route towards one, where you can stop and listen to the soothing sounds of water rushing down the hills and mountains that define Scotland’s extraordinary landscape.
Waterfalls are mesmerizing year-round, but seeing them after a heavy rainfall will guarantee a spectacle of cascading water thanks to the higher water levels. Just be prepared to have your ears battered as even the smallest waterfalls are surprisingly loud up close.
Fish and chips shops and seafood shacks
If there’s one thing we’ve perfected here in Scotland, it’s creating delicious food using the fresh produce that’s readily available from our lochs and coastlines – the king of which has to be fish and chips.
Chippy or chip shop, whatever you call it, Scotland has no shortage of them. Fish and chips is one of Britain’s best-loved meals, so why not stop by one of Scotland’s many welcoming fish and chip shops to sit in or take away a tasty supper?
If you prefer a fine dining experience there are a wide variety of places to eat close to many of Scotland’s lochs, including Michelin star restaurants that serve great seafood sourced within Scotland.
When out on the road it’s also worth stopping at a seafood shack to try some locally caught oysters (Loch Fyne is one of the best places for oysters in Scotland), crabs, and scallops. I guarantee you’ll never find tastier seafood than at one of Scotland’s loch-side eateries.
Top up your water bottle
Scotland is known to have some of the cleanest drinking water in the world.
If you ever need to quench your thirst when out and about exploring the country, there are lots of top-up taps provided by Scottish Water to keep you hydrated while exploring.
As a handy tip, you can do your bit to save the planet by foregoing plastic bottles of water from the supermarket and instead getting a reusable metal water bottle.
Virtually all Scottish pubs and bars have drinking stations in their premises so if you need to quench your thirst you’ll be able to refill your bottle at no extra cost.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many lochs are there in Scotland?
There are an estimated 31,460 freshwater lochs and lochans in Scotland, mostly located in the Scottish Highlands, plus 7,500 located in the Western Isles.
Only 350 of these lochs are notable for their size. Some are actually reservoirs, but they are classified as lochs if they originated from natural bodies of water.
Why does Scotland have so many lochs?
The Highlands of Scotland is the region to the west of the Highland Boundary Fault line – an area of intense prehistoric geological activity.
During the last ice age, monumental ice sheets carved their way across Scotland which left behind great depressions in the earth that filled with water to form Scotland’s lochs.
Smaller lochans have also formed in the soft peaty areas of Scotland where people have altered the land for farming and where the peat has been eroded by weather.
What is the deepest loch in Scotland?
Loch Morar is officially the deepest loch in Scotland with a maximum depth of 1,017 feet. This freshwater loch is located in Lochaber in the Highlands, 13 miles south of the fishing town of Mallaig.
The loch is landlocked and has a surface elevation of 30 feet above sea level. The second-deepest loch is Loch Ness at 745 feet.
What is the biggest loch in Scotland?
The biggest loch in Scotland is Loch Ness which has a total volume of 1.79 cubic miles. The loch with the biggest surface area is Loch Lomond at 27 square miles.
What is the longest freshwater loch in Scotland?
The longest freshwater loch in Scotland is Loch Awe in the Scottish Highlands which is 25 miles long. The second-longest is Loch Ness at 22.5 miles, followed closely by Loch Lomond at 22 miles.
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