Discover the Cowal Peninsula
Say hello to Scotland’s ‘secret coast’ – the Cowal Peninsula. Forming part of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and sitting on the spectacular Loch Fyne, the Cowal Peninsula stretches from the pretty town of Inveraray to the stunning Ostel Bay – and right out to sea.
Whilst the western bank of Loch Fyne is much visited by those travelling to the popular Kintyre Peninsula and Islay and the southern Hebrides, the eastern bank of the loch is still mostly untouched by tourism. Here is how to explore the Cowal Peninsula.
5 best things to do on the Cowal Peninsula
If you are short on time, here are my top five recommendations of things to do on Cowal.
- Explore Puck’s Glen – find this spooky walk through a deep glen
- Visit Ostel Bay – arguably Cowal (and Argyll’s) best beach with a view of Arran
- Explore Benmore Botanic Garden – a huge mountain garden filled with redwoods
- Hike the Kyles of Bute – follow the coastal path from Tighnabruaich
- Climb the Cobbler – famous for its distinctive shape and rocky crags
Read more: things to do in Argyll and Bute.
Things to do on the Cowal Peninsula
Spend a week or a long weekend, for such a ‘secret’ place, Cowal has loads of things to do!
- Explore Puck’s Glen – dare you to enter the dark and spooky Puck’s Glen, home to a mischievous sprite? Go on – the stroll through Puck’s Glen is one of the best wee walks in Scotland following a path laid down by the Victorians in the 1800s (they loved a gothic walk!) through a waterfall-filled spectacularly-deep gorge filled with tropical plants and an otherworldly atmosphere. There is free parking at Puck’s Glen car park.
- Walk the Gruffalo Trail – explore the Ardkinglas Woodland Garden to find the wee mouse pointing towards Scotland’s Gruffalo Trail – great for kids. Price £5 per adult, £3 per child (4-16yrs) 3 & under free. £15 per family.
- Visit Ostel Bay – arguably Cowal (and Argyll’s) best beach, Ostel Bay looks over to the Isle of Arran and is a huge sweep of sand reached by a stroll through the dunes. The walk to the beach starts at a parking lay-by just past Kilbride Farm, 10 minutes drive from the Portavadie Hotel and Spa.
- Hike the Kyles of Bute – follow the coastal path from Tighnabruaich along the edge of the pretty Kyles of Bute (sea channels) to Caladh Lighthouse and Eilean Dubh (the black island) sitting at the mouth of Loch Riddon returning by the same route. The walk will take about 2 hours, but you can walk as far as you’d like – you are following the the Loch Lomond and Cowal Way.
- Walk the Loch Lomond and Cowal Way – stretching the length of the Cowal Peninsula, the 57-mile Loch Lomond and Cowal Way takes you from Portavadie on Loch Fyne to Inveruglas on the banks of Loch Lomond. One for those who love a long distance walk!
- Explore Glenbranter and the Allt Robuic Waterfalls – once owned by music hall star Sir Harry Lauder, Glenbranter has woodland walks and the stunning Allt Robuic gorge. The walk is around 2¼ miles – allow 1½ hours.
- Mountain bike the Ardgartan Cycle Routes – close to Arrochar on Loch Long is Argyll Forest Park where the Forestry Commission has installed a series of cycle trails suitable for all abilities. Explore the woodlands and waterfalls along with lochside views.
- Get up high – Aspiring Munro bagger? Beinn Mhor is the highest peak on Cowal with views over the Kyles of Bute and Benmore Botanic Garden.
- The Arrochar Alps –To the north end of the peninsula are the Arrochar Alps – The Cobbler is famous for its distinctive shape and rocky crags – and the challenge of ‘threading the needle’. Or tackle Beinn Narnain and Ben Ime – Beinn Narnain is a tough little hill and Ben Ime is a boggy slog, but boy, are the views of the surrounding hills, including the Cobbler are worth it. To climb Beinn Narnain and Ben Ime park at Arrochar – £7-8.
Places to visit on Cowal
- Hunt for red squirrels in Ardentinny Forest – on the banks of loch long sits Ardentinny with its woodland, beach and lochside campsite. Explore the woodlands and spot red squirrels – keep an eye out on the loch too, there is a submarine base across the way…. visit Ardentinny Forest.
- Benmore Botanic Garden – at the foot of Beinn Mhòr, on the Cowal peninsula is the Benmore Botanic Garden. Filled with massive conifers, including 150 year old redwoods, rhododendrons from Asia, and traditional Bhutanese and Chilean pavilions. There is a cafe on site. Admission is £7.00 for adults, children under 15 are free.
- Fyne Ales Brewery Tap – Like real ale? The Fyne Ales Brewery has a lovely tap room on the banks of Loch Fyne. Take a tour around this farm brewery, meet the Highland coos and try their range of beers – Jarl is one of my favourite beers in Scotland. They even have an annual beer and music festival – Fyne Festival.
Things to do further afield from Cowal
- Discover Inveraray – visit Inveraray Castle and Inveraray Jail and grab fish and chips to eat on the loch side. The George Hotel is famous for food and drink and a great atmosphere.
- Catch a ferry across the loch – cross Loch Fyne from Portavadie to Tarbert on the Kintyre Peninsula for lunch, the journey takes 40 minutes. At Tarbert make sure you climb up the hill to the castle for the best view of the town.
- Visit the Isle of Bute – the ferry from Weymss Bay takes 35 minutes and the ferry from Colintraive to Isle of Bute only takes 5 minutes to cross to the island. Mount Stuart is well worth a visit.
Map of things to do in Cowal
Where to stay on the Cowal Peninsula
Portavadie Marina and Spa – opened in 2010, Portavadie* offers up a hotel and apartment complex all set around a 260-berth yachting marina. Choose from luxury townhouses complete with saunas, lodge-style hotel rooms, cute family cottages or two couples retreats. With two restaurants and a cafe on site, Portavadie also has a £10m spa and leisure complex with utterly incredible views.
Where to eat on the Cowal Peninsula
Read more about our visit to Inver restaurant and bothies
Getting to the Cowal Peninsula
By Road – the drive to Cowal is rather beautiful – drive along the banks of Loch Lomond to Arrochar before tackling one of Scotland’s most famous roads, the Rest and be Thankful. At the hamlet of Cairndow head down the Cowal Peninsula via Tighnabruaich and the Kyles of Bute. Drive time – Glasgow to Portavadie – 2 hours, Edinburgh to Portavadie – 3 hours.
By Public Transport – It is easy to get to Cowal via public transport. Catch the train from Glasgow Central to Gourock and then catch an Argyll Ferry from McInroy’s Point to Hunters Quay at Dunoon. The no. 478 West Coast Motors bus will take you into Cowal. Book your train tickets with trainline.com*.
More things to do in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
Love, from Scotland x
I’m Kate – a travel writer and photographer living in Scotland. Love, From Scotland is the Scotland travel guide that shows you where to stay and how to get outside in Scotland.