John Muir Way, Helensburgh

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Last Updated: by Craig Neil.

The John Muir Way between Helensburgh and Balloch is a perfect opportunity to appreciate Helensburgh with its lovely beach and numerous cafés, as well as the countryside that extends across this stunning area of Argyll and Bute. Discover everything you need to know about this beautiful region of Scotland in this complete visitor guide.

mountains loch

Overview

If you’re looking for a relaxing walk that takes in some of the nicest countryside in Scotland’s central belt, you won’t go far wrong with the John Muir Way. Of all the sections on this cross-country trail, the section from the pretty coastal village of Helensburgh to the enchanting village of Balloch on the southwest shores of Loch Lomond has to be one of the most scenic parts of the 134-mile trail.

The starting point at Helensburgh is indicated by a circular stone plinth with engraved footprints alongside a John Muir quote, but after that it’s slightly unclear where to go so I recommend keeping the John Muir Way website loaded on your phone. The walk takes a little while to get going as it heads through the town, but at least you’ll get the chance to view Hill House, built in 1904 by renowned architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

After following the A818 you finally get to immerse yourself in the beauty of The Trossachs, with the majority of the route giving superb views of Loch Lomond and the surrounding mountains.

Your final destination at Balloch is equally rewarding with the pier at Loch Lomond allowing you to view the famous Maid of The Loch, the steamship that has sailed the loch since 1953 followed by a meal at Loch Lomond Shores.

Lochan Balloch - Strathclyde

The Highlights

1: This is a lovely walk which is one of the highlights of the John Muir Way. Spend a little time in Helensburgh and grab an ice cream near the harbour before you set off.

2: The views are great once you get deep into the countryside and the route offers lots of bird-spotting opportunities. This is a prime area for watching buzzards so you might like to pack a pair of binoculars in your backpack. Check out these binoculars if you don’t own a pair yet.

3: The start and end points of this walk are worth visiting in their own right. Helensburgh is a nice wee coastal town with a scenic promenade and Balloch has a superb aquarium on the banks of Loch Lomond. You can start this walk at either end as both villages have ample car parking spaces.

Visiting Tips

1: There’s a great shopping centre at Balloch called Loch Lomond Shores that has several cafés if you fancy a cuppa after your walk. There’s also a bird of prey centre, a tree adventure course, and a children’s play park.

2: Although a large part of the John Muir Way is easygoing, there are a few sections that are quite rough. You really need to take those flip-flops off and pull the hiking boots on. See my guide to the best hiking boots to wear in Scotland before setting off.

3: If you’d like to find other walks in the area I recommend either purchasing an OS paper map or subscribing to their mobile app which has every map of Britain for around £30 a year. Buy OS Explorer Maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

Walking in Scotland

Tourist Information

John Muir was a naturalist and conservationist who was born in Scotland in the 19th century. After moving to the United States he dedicated his life to preserving many of the wilderness areas in the US after developing a love of the great outdoors thanks to his early days in the East Lothian countryside.

The John Muir Way is a beautiful trail created in his honour that runs through Central Scotland on a path that takes walkers across some of the most beautiful parts of the country. Across mile after mile of scenic countryside you’ll discover rivers, beaches, canals, lochs and hills between Helensburgh on the west coast and Dunbar on the east coast.

The trail is well maintained but some sections are unsuitable for buggies and wheelchairs, but even so, many sections feature accessible paths that allow anyone to get outside and enjoy this lovely part of Scotland’s lowland countryside.

The entire route can be walked or cycled end to end in one go, but it’s easiest to break it down into separate sections and complete each one over several days. Rather handily, the John Muir Way website has taken care of this for you with downloadable maps so you can follow each route at your leisure.

Although this particular section starts and finishes in urban areas, the walk between them can be quite demanding. As always with long-distance hikes in Scotland, make sure you take wet weather gear, wear good quality boots, and pack plenty of food and water.

Scotland Hiker

Walking Route

Time

This 9-mile section of the John Muir Way takes around 4 hours to walk for someone of average fitness.

Difficulty

Easy-medium. This first section of the John Muir Way follows pavements, grass paths and quiet roads. The section that runs through the national park can be very muddy in places, especially in winter.

Route

From the route marker on the seafront at Helensburgh, head north along the roadside path until you reach the junction of Kennedy Drive. You can head a little way further north if you like to take a look at Hill House before heading back to Kennedy Drive and on to the A818.

As you approach the signs for The Trossachs National Park, turn east onto the John Muir Way (signposted) and follow the track to Balloch. As long as you don’t deviate from the worn pathway it’s simply a case of following the track. The trail finishes in the centre of Balloch, close to the Loch Lomond Shores centre.

fields

Things to Do in Helensburgh

From John Muir Way West End:

John Muir Way West End. 27 W Clyde St, Helensburgh G84 8AR.
The John Muir Way is a coast-to-coast walking and cycling route that stretches east to west from Dunbar to Helensburgh. The start/end point at Helensburgh Esplanade is marked with a circular stone plinth. There are several pubs on the seafront for celebratory post-walk drinks.

The Hill House. Upper Colquhoun St, Helensburgh G84 9AJ. 6-minute drive.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was one of the most influential designers in Britain and his house has been restored by the National Trust for Scotland to allow visitors to view a unique collection of Mackintosh furniture and interiors. The house is now covered in a remarkable steel frame that allows visitors to walk up and over the top of the building.

Glenarn Gardens. Glenarn Rd, Rhu, Helensburgh G84 8LL. 6-minute drive.
A private garden that is open to the public. The garden was created by the Gibson family over 75 years ago and is famous locally for its impressive collection of rhododendron flowering shrubs and trees.

Ardardan Estate. Cardross, Dumbarton G82 5HD. 7-minute drive.
Ardardan is a magnificent walled garden on the banks of the River Clyde. This very popular attraction boasts a number of woodland walks, a garden nursery, a tearoom and a farm shop.

Geilston Garden. Cardross, Dumbarton G82 5HD. 7-minute drive.
200-year-old walled garden managed by the NTS. The garden is ablaze with colour in the warmer months and visitors of all ages will enjoy the floral mini-maze and the walks through nearby bluebell woods.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to do the John Muir Way?

The John Muir Way stretches 134 miles or 215 kilometres across Scotland’s heartland, running from Helensburgh in the west through to Dunbar on the east coast. The time it takes to complete the route can vary depending on your pace, but typically, if you’re walking, it can be done in 9-11 days. If you’re cycling, it can be completed in 3-5 days.

What is Helensburgh famous for?

Helensburgh is a tourist-favourite coastal town situated at a meeting point of Gare Loch and the River Clyde.

The town is famous for being the start and end point of the cross-country John Muir Way trail as well as being the location of many grand Victorian houses including Hill House, the home of revered architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

What is there to do in Helensburgh today?

Top attractions in Helensburgh include:

The Hill House.
Scottish Submarine Centre.
Townhead Farm.
Helensburgh West Bay Esplanade.
Kilcreggan Pier.
Linn Botanic Gardens.
Helensburgh Golf Club.
Rhu Point.
Gare Loch.

Is Helensburgh worth visiting?

Helensburgh is definitely worth visiting. It is an attractive coastal town that offers pleasant walks along the shore of Gare Loch, as well as the first section of the John Muir Way.

The town was once a premier Victorian holiday resort and it still delights visitors today with its long promenade and attractive gardens. Helensburgh is also an ideal base for walking, cycling and kayaking, and it is just 45 minutes by train from Glasgow.

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Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.