Scotland’s two national parks offer up some of Scotland’s best landscapes to explore by foot. Here are the best hikes in Scotland’s national parks.
Scotland has two national parks – the Cairngorms National Park and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
The Cairngorms National Park
A seemingly endless Arctic tundra where the temperature can drop as low as -27 degrees in the depths of winter, and home to ospreys, reindeer, pine martens and red squirrels, the Cairngorms National Park is one of Scotland’s true wildernesses.
Explore forests pepper-potted with deep green lochans, and climb up to the plateau to bag one of the Cairngorms 55 Munros – Scottish mountains over 3000ft – here are the best walks in the Cairngorms National Park.
Read more: my complete guide to the Cairngorms National Park
An Lochan Uaine (The Green Lochan)
Deep in the heart of the ancient Glenmore Forest and surrounded by huge Caledonian pines is the beautiful An Lochan Uaine – where it is said the waters get their green hue from the local fairies washing their clothes. The 3.7 miles / 6 km walk up to Lochan Uaine is on a well made path and is one the best hikes in Scotland’s National Parks for families.
The Loch Morlich Circular Trail
Did you know the UK’s highest beach is in the Cairngorms National Park? Whilst Loch Morlich is a popular spot for water sports and paddleboarding, you can also walk around the whole loch on a 4 mile trail loop. There are fantastic views of the water and surrounding northern Cairngorm mountains – snow capped in winter.
To the east of Aviemore is the beautiful Rothiemurchus Estate and 10,000 hectares of Caledonian Forest. In the heart of the forest is Loch an Eilein (Loch of the Island). There is a gorgeous 4.5-mile circular walk or cycle around the loch – look out for Ospreys and red squirrels.
Farleitter Crag and Uath Lochans
Hidden away in Glenfeshie are the Uath Lochans and above the lochs is one of the best hikes in Scotland’s National Parks with a great view. Wind your way around the lochs before climbing up to Farleitter Crag for an incredible view across to the Monadhliath Munros – the grey mountains.
Loch Muick Circuit
This 8 mile circuit on the Balmoral Estate (home to the King!) takes you around Loch Muick and offers beautiful views of Lochnagar, one of Scotland’s iconic mountains. The walk starts in Glen Muick and is also the starting point for climbing Lochnagar, so be prepared for a busy car park (paid) on good hillwalking days.
The Cairnwell Munros
Over in Glenshee, you can quickly climb three Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) in one day: Carn Aosda, Carn a’Gheoidh, and The Cairnwell. The walk up The Cairnwell Munros starts from the Glenshee Ski Centre (£) and heads up the steep front of Carn Aosda (917m), before heading out to the wilder Càrn a’ Ghèoidh (975m) before finishing on The Cairnwell (933m).
Cairn Gorm Mountain
The most popular of all the Munros (a Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet) in the Cairngorms, Cairn Gorm is a quick climb by Munro standards – you start from the Cairngorm Ski centre car park at 600m! There is a mountain railway to the top of Cairn Gorm, but you cannot access the summit from the train station at the top – or catch the train back down, so be prepared to walk the whole hike.
For those looking for a one of best hikes in Scotland’s National Parks for a challenge, try the 14 mile hike up from Glenmore, via the Green Lochan to the Ryvoan Bothy, a traditional mountain shelter, up to the magnificent peak of Bynack More. The distance can be cut by bike, but this is still a challenging hike and one for those prepared for mountain walking.
The second highest peak in the UK, Ben Macgui can be climbed from Cairn Gorm or from the Linn of Dee. It’s a challenging hike but the views are worth the effort. You will need navigation skills to access Ben Macdui – the weather up on the Cairngorms plateau can change in a second, especially in winter.
The Lochnagar Circuit
One of the most iconic peaks in the Cairngorms, 12 mile circuit hike up Lochnagar from Loch Muick is one of Scotland’s best walks tracking in the dramatic cliffs of Lochnagar.
The Lairig Ghru
This very challenging 19 mile (day or multi day) hike traverses through the heart of the Cairngorms, taking in some of Scotland’s wildest and most dramatic mountain scenery through the most remote parts of the Cairngorms, passing through glens, valleys, and the high mountain pass – the Lairig Ghru – this definitely one of the best hikes in Scotland’s National Parks!
The best hikes in Scotland’s National Parks – Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park covers 720 stunning square miles, and contains two forest parks, 22 large lochs, 40 hills over 2000ft, and one of the UK’s largest nature reserves. Here are the best hikes in Scotland’s National Parks – Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.
Arklet Falls at Inversnaid
This walk takes you through woodland to reach the picturesque Arklet Falls at Inversnaid on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. Nearby is RSPB Inversaid.
Queen Elizabeth Forest Park
The 20,000 hectare Queen Elizabeth Forest covers the east side of Loch Lomond and stretches up to Strathyre, making up most of the Trossachs (the wooded valleys) region. Start at The Lodge visitor centre, explore the footpaths around pretty Loch Ard, walk the Millennium Forest Path, or visit Aberfoyle. Read more: Queen Elizabeth Forest Park Guide
Described by many hillwalkers as the perfect hill, Ben A’an is a ‘mountain in miniature’ with amazing views over Loch Katrine – and you only have to climb 454m (1500ft) to do it. To climb Ben A’An, park at the Ben A’An Car Park.
One of Loch Lomond’s iconic viewpoints, Conic Hill sits on the Highland Boundary Fault which marks the boundary between the lowlands and the highlands of Scotland. The climb will take you about an hour on part of the West Highland Way, past a herd of docile Highland Coos, for an incredible view back over the loch. Try hiking Conic Hill at sunset for a truly incredible view across the loch…
Whilst Ben A’an might be the most popular of all the Trossachs hills, the view from Ben Venue is actually even better. The walk starts just along from the Ben A’an car park and will take you around 4 hours. It is a bit of a slog up through the woods but the view across Loch Katrine, Loch Achray and Loch Venachar is so worth it.
The Cobbler (Ben Arthur)
This iconic peak in the Arrochar Alps offers a challenging climb and spectacular views of the surrounding area. The Cobbler is famous mostly for its distinctive shape and rocky crags – and the challenge of ‘threading the needle’ – jumping across and then scrambling up the pinnacle to stand on the rocky peak which is actually the very top of the hill.
Ben Lomond is one of the most popular hill walks in Scotland, with over 30,00ft people climbing to the top each year. The route is a fairly simple one in spring, summer and autumn with a path to follow to the top. Depending on your fitness the climb will take 4 – 6 hours. To make the route a circular one, follow the Ptarmigan ridge back to the car park. Warning – Ben Lomond can get extremely busy in summer – the Rowardennan car park can be full from 9am. You will also need £3 to pay for a full day’s car parking.
The West Highland Way
Arguably the most famous of all Scotland’s Great Trails, the 96-mile West Highland Way takes you from Glasgow north to Fort William right through the heart of the National Park. Not got a week to walk the full route? Instead, one of the best walks in Scotland’s national parks in the walk from Drymen to Inverarnan, along the length of Loch Lomond. Its 14 miles one way but you can do as little or as much as you like.
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.