John Muir Country Park, dedicated to the 19th-century conservationist John Muir, is located close to the town of Dunbar in East Lothian. The park is one of the top visitor attractions in the county and features grassland, pine woodland, and a wide golden-sand beach. Discover what it’s like to visit this popular outdoor attraction in this guide which includes an overview, tourist information, and visiting advice.
|Parking:||Paid car park £2.50 per day|
|Facilities:||Toilets, BBQ area|
John Muir Country Park is located on one of the most beautiful stretches of East Lothian’s coastline where it offers a range of wildlife habitats that people of all ages will enjoy exploring.
The park is dedicated to John Muir, the Scottish-born 19th-century naturalist and conservationist who founded many of the national parks in the United States – including Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park – after developing a fascination with East Lothian’s countryside as a child.
Although the John Muir Country Park wasn’t designated as a preservation area until 1976, it has since become one of the most-loved outdoor areas in the east of Scotland and is particularly popular with bird watchers. Kittiwakes, eider ducks, skylarks, and lapwings live in park, feeding on the insects that thrive in the great swathes of wild grasses and flowers, so if you visit it’s a good idea to take a pair of binoculars (link to binocular reviews) with you.
The park is always popular when the sun is shining, but you’ll need to wrap up on windy days because the North Sea winds whip across the exposed beach at Belhaven. This beach extends from Belhaven all the way to the north of the River Tyne where it presents stunning views from the clifftops looking towards Dunbar.
If you decide to head into the town after visiting the park, keep a lookout for the John Muir Birthplace Building which is a museum dedicated to the life and work of one of the world’s first true environmentalists.
1: John Muir Country Park is renowned for its diverse landscapes and wildlife and it’s a haven for bird watchers and nature lovers, with numerous species inhabiting the area including skylarks, warblers, and kestrels. The sand dunes and salt marshes add to the unique biodiversity of the park.
2: The park offers a wealth of outdoor activities for visitors of all ages. From cycling and horse riding through the forest trails to walking along the beautiful coastline, there’s no shortage of ways to explore the park. The beach is ideal for picnics and kite flying, while the woodlands and grasslands present perfect spots for nature photography.
1: East Links Family Park is next door, so take a look if the weather turns while you’re on the beach, or if you’d prefer to explore inland, I recommend Pressmennan Wood which is located just a few miles to the south of John Muir Country Park.
2: Although visitors are not allowed to light BBQs in the nature reserve, there’s a dedicated BBQ area at the Linkfield car park. Other facilities at the car park include a toilet block, showers, and a children’s play park.
3: If you’re a bird spotter, I recommend you take binoculars (recommended pairs from Amazon) and a camera with a telephoto lens because there are a huge number of birds that live in the dunes and grassland of John Muir Country Park.
John Muir Country Park is highly regarded for the number of plants that grow there, and to date, over 400 different varieties have been recorded. The park is also a prime site for birdwatchers thanks to its varied habitats. Across the sand dunes, salt marsh, beach, and woodland, you can see kittiwakes, eider ducks, shelducks, skylarks, meadow pipits, ringed plovers, gannets, and terns foraging for food and flitting about in the skies.
A good walking route starts at the salt marsh before moving on to the beach, through the sand dunes, back across the salt marsh, and finishing off with a ramble through the pine woodland. While some sections of the path aren’t suitable for people with impaired mobility, there are enough accessible areas that anyone can enjoy a visit to the site.
In addition, the John Muir Trust has installed wooden boards down to the beach so that most people with disabilities can get down there to enjoy it.
Other highlights for families are the large children’s play park at Linkfield Car Park which has a BBQ area nearby, and the East Links Family Park attraction that’s located on the edge of the woodland. You can see some of the animals in East Links Family Park as you make your way back to Linkfield Car Park, so don’t be surprised if you suddenly find an emu or a llama staring at you through the fence!
The facilities on offer at John Muir Country Park are pretty good and there are plenty of car parking spaces near the kid’s play park, along with a BBQ area and public toilets. The public toilets are great as they have showers to freshen up after a swim, but unfortunately they’re cold water only, so you might want to leave the loofah at home unless it’s the middle of summer.
Things to Do
Explore the Wildlife Haven: The John Muir Country Park is an excellent place for wildlife enthusiasts. The park is home to a diverse range of birds, insects, and mammals so you can spend the day bird-watching or looking for red squirrels and roe deer.
Experience the Coastal Walks: The park is situated along the beautiful East Lothian coastline near Dunbar. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the sandy beaches, taking in the views of the North Sea and the waves that crash into Belhaven Bay.
Engage in Watersports: Dunbar Beach, located within the park, is a hotspot for watersports. From surfing to paddle boarding there’s an activity for everyone, regardless of experience level. Surfing lessons are available from the Coast to Coast Surf School (address: 36 Back Road, Dunbar, EH42 1NX).
Enjoy a Picnic with a View: The park has several dedicated picnic areas where you can enjoy a family lunch, including the Linkfield car park (address: West Barns, Dunbar, EH42 1TY) which has picnic tables, a BBQ area, toilets, and a play park next to it.
Visit the John Muir Birthplace Museum: Just a short drive from the park is the John Muir Birthplace Museum in Dunbar. The museum offers an insight into the life and work of John Muir who is known as the ‘Father of National Parks’ in America.
Things to Do Nearby
Dunbar Harbour. Dunbar EH42 1HW 8-minute drive.
A historic fishing harbour that is still in use by Dunbar fishermen. The harbour is famous for Dunbar Battery, which is a historic landmark that has been converted into an outdoor amphitheatre. The ruins of Dunbar Castle overlook the harbour, though access to it has been closed off.
Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot. Preston Road, East Linton EH40 3DS. 11-minute drive.
An attractive historic mill and a 16th-century dovecot that was used to house over 500 pigeons. The mill is open for viewing but the main attraction is often considered the nearby River Tyne which is a haven for otters, kingfishers and herons. There are footpaths that follow the river for several miles.
East Links Family Park. East Links Family Park, Dunbar, EH42 1XF, is a 2-minute drive.
A family-oriented theme park that has a go-kart track, animal enclosures, a petting zoo, play parks, a café, a shop, and much more The park is located on the edge of John Muir Country Park.
Tyninghame Beach. 14-minute drive.
A very clean and less-visited sandy beach that is separated from Seacliff beach by a lengthy section of shingle. There is a rough path that follows the coast south past Whitberry Point and St. Baldred’s Cradle local nature reserve. Tyninghame beach has a paid parking area.
Dunbar Townhouse Museum and Gallery. High St, Dunbar EH42 1ER. 8-minute walk.
A small council-run museum that displays historical artefacts and art exhibitions centred around Dunbar’s local history. The museum is located in a traditional 16th-century townhouse.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where does the John Muir Way start and finish?
The John Muir Way is a long-distance walking and cycling route in Scotland that spans across the country from coast to coast. The trail officially starts in the west at Helensburgh, a town located on the north shore of the Clyde Estuary. It then winds its way across Scotland’s heartland, passing through a diverse range of landscapes and several significant historical sites.
The route finishes in the east, in the town of Dunbar, the birthplace of the trail’s namesake, John Muir.
How big is John Muir Country Park?
John Muir Country Park covers an area of 1,763 acres (713.5 hectares) which includes 8 miles of coastline.
Where are the toilets at John Muir Country Park?
Male and female and disabled toilets are located in Linkfield car park (address: Dunbar, EH42 1TX).
What visitor facilities are there at John Muir Country Park?
John Muir Country Park has a car park, public toilets (male, female, disabled) and BBQ area. The nearest location for food is Dunbar or East Links Family Park (paid entry).