‘By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonny braes…..’ goes the song and this is indeed a beautiful, bonny area well worth exploring and only a 35 min or so drive from Glasgow. ‘Loch Lomond and The Trossachs’ is one of Scotland’s National Parks but there’s so much to see and do that I’ve split it up into the two distinct areas, separated as they are by a mountain range. It’s somewhere I know well and still love travelling to on a day out from home, all year round. Autumn – late Sept through to early Nov – sees it at its most colourful with the ancient oak and birch woodland clothing the lower slopes of the mountains dark amber, copper and sparkling gold.
This is what I would prioritise with a day or two to spend:
BOAT TRIP FROM TARBET TO INVERSNAID
This is the best way to see the loch at its most rugged and impressive. Sticking to the A82 trunk road that snakes its way up the western shore can be frustrating – albeit with some good views at times – but there are only limited places to stop and get out and breath in the air, stroll by the water and in summer , so much of the loch is hidden by trees.
There is easy parking at Tarbert, halfway up the loch on the A82, but I’d recommend booking boat tickets in advance during peak season. It may be possible to turn up and go but I don’t like risking these things so always book.
It’s a gorgeous sail across to the remote -feeling and much quieter eastern side of the loch. Now, it’s possible to see the rugged mountains which rise above the western shore and Tarbert, largely hidden from the road because they are so steep. They make a lovely backdrop. This northern end of the loch is also the most rugged, more so than at the softer, Balloch or southern end. It’s also so relaxing to leave the car behind – this is a passenger only boat. Golden eagles can be seen from the boat too, as they frequent the eastern mountain range.
In 20 mins or so, the little boat arrives at Inversnaid, a haven of peace after the traffic and visitors at Tarbet.It’s a tiny place – a small jetty, one hotel , lots of waterfalls and some lovely short walks await. Or just sit at one of the tables and enjoy a picnic or order something from the hotel, the only building here.This is also the end of the single track road from Aberfoyle in The Trossachs, to Loch Lomond, a beautiful drive.
My favourite walk is to go over the bridge and follow a small (sometimes damp!) path for 20 mins or so which climbs up through the birch woods ( a minor slog) to a wonderful viewpoint over the loch. It gives grand views of Ben Vane and Ben Vorlich, two Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) which dominate the view west.There may be one or two others up here but often, nobody at all.In May/June the Rhododendrons are in flower and while I know they are a weed, they do make a gorgeous foreground!
Inversnaid is on the West Highland Way Long Distance route so it is also possible to walk a little way along it, either direction. Heading north, there is a very short Nature Walk but it involves quite steep pull up. I think my option is by far the best.
The boat trip, if alighting at Inversnaid, gives around 2 hours here before returning once more to Tarbet.It’s also possible to simply do the trip as a return, without getting off here and enjoy the scenery.
A lovely Conservation village on the loch, this tiny place gets very busy most days but is well worth a stop. It’s full of ‘roses round the door’ pretty cottages.I never miss a chance to have tea and cake or good soup at The Coachhouse Café, just along from the church. There is a very large coach and car park (charge) and also a petrol station and a couple of small shops.
The church itself is beautiful and it’s easy to spend 15 mins just walking the loop round Luss. It has a pebbly shore much loved by children with lots of ducks to feed and good views of Ben Lomond.
BEINN DUBH (675m)
6km return; 642m ascent; 3hrs return approx
The hill behind Luss is Beinn Dubh (the Black or Dark Hill) and it makes for an excellent short hill walk, giving wonderful vistas to the Arrochar Alps and over the loch. If you are up for a 75 minute or so relentless slog uphill and equipped with decent hiking boots and waterproof gear – the usual – I’d highly recommend it. Some people only go up as far as the small transmitter unit at the treeline, which is also worth it for great views over the village. This would only be a 15 min or so hike up.
At the summit cairn, walking 10 mins or so beyond gives the best views of all. It is possible to continue round the Glen Striddle Horseshoe, descending the slopes of Mid Hill and walking back to Luss via the minor single track road through Glen Luss.The glen is beautiful but this final section can feel quite long and hard on the feet given it’s all tarmac.
Good parking gives easy access to the loch shore with Ben Lomond opposite, its lower slopes thick with ancient forests of oak and birch – in autumn the colours are unbelievable.
The old Loch Lomond road makes for good flat walking on tarmac, along the loch shore with its pebbly beaches. I usually only walk for 20 mins(south) or so until the A82 traffic noise becomes intrusive as the old road begins to get closer to today’s busy trunk route, but it makes for a lovely stretch of the legs.
4km return, 350m of ascent. 2-3 hours.
On the eastern Balmaha side of Loch Lomond, rises this little gem of a hill with beautiful views over the loch. It’s a popular family walk, a short slog, much easier than Beinn Dubh, on a good if sometimes wet track. The final stony steep section to the summit is a bit eroded given so many people make their way up here and can be a bit slithery (like Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh)
It’s possible to descend a different way too by keeping right and following a well worn footpath over a series of small knolls (Druim nam Buraich) which leads to the road, a short distance from the Balmaha Car Park which is the start of the walk. To avoid road walking, carrying on over a field will allow the picking up of the West Highland Way, leading back to Balmaha over a small hump of a hill, Craigie Fort, a 5 min climb with fine views too.
There is a National Park Visitor Centre at the car park and toilets.
The Oak Tree Inn is a welcome stop for lunch or coffee and cake, opposite the car park. In peak season, very busy.
There is another large National Park Centre in Balloch. The Park is a lovely place and has extensive paths for strolling giving wonderful views of the loch and mountains. There is a ruined castle in the grounds too.
DUCK BAY MARINA
Coffee House and Restaurant with some good views from the softer southern end of the loch. There’s parking and a chance to walk along by the loch too. Gets very busy.
12km/7.5miles return; 990m or 3248 feet of ascent. 4 – 6hrs return.
A beautiful mountain, a Munro (mountain over 3,000 feet or 914m) and with a very good path – this is Scotland’s most hiked biggie, given it is only a 75-90 min drive from Glasgow.
The loch below and endless layers of mountains from the top. I’ve been up Ben Lomond at least 3 times taking around 2 hrs at a good pace to the top. It’s unlikely you’ll be at the summit without many others there too, a deservedly popular hill walk in a lovely area. But it needs the usual hill walking gear and map as, similar to any Scottish mountain, weather conditions can change very quickly. The excellent walkhighlands website, used by Scottish hillwalkers, has a good description of the route: Ben Lomond (Walkhighlands)
There is parking, toilets and a small jetty and viewing area over the loch.This is also the start of the tough hike up Ben Vane.
Never done it, always meant to, will do one day – various options of a tour over to the west coast via the Southern Highlands. The plane is moored at lovely Cameron House, a luxury 5 star hotel that is due to reopen, after fire damage, in Spring 2021.
If it really has to be the shops, then there’s a great mix here with some very upmarket ones too, at this large complex on the outskirts of Balloch. Plenty parking.
There’s also an aerial tree top course, and an Aquarium. A wider range of outdoor activities can also be booked – kayaking etc.
THE DROVER’S INN
A famous 300 year old coaching inn with an interior that is ‘eclectic’ to say the least! Rumoured to be the most haunted hotel in Scotland and that’s saying something. Gets booked up for years in advance for Hogmanay parties (pre Covid.) Serving staff wear kilts and although it is set right on the A82 with a constant stream of cars racing past, the Beer Garden is always busy. Roaring fires and a great waterfall in the hills behind the hotel, accessible via a steep often boggy track. A section of the West Highland Way long distance route passes close by at Beinn Ghlas Farm too. Never fancied eating here but it’s popular.
FALLS OF FALLOCH
A beautiful stop to see a stunning waterfall that plunges into Rob Roy’s Bathtub, an icy cold, dark pool. There’s an nicely built viewing platform to admire the gushing water and various paths which lead to the whisky coloured river as it tumbles down to Loch Lomond.
A short drive beyond Balloch with parking (though it says ‘private’) a short walk leads down to the shore for lovely loch views.
DUNCRYNE HILL (465 feet/88m)
Less than a mile return; 88m of ascent. 40 mins
Visible above Gartocharn village, there is parking at the start of the walk but not much. It’s possible to park at the village instead and walk from there. I’ve always found this quite a boggy track but the views at the top are wonderful for such little effort. I once saw the world renowned landscape photographer Colin Prior up here early one New Year; if it’s good enough for him…Ahead, Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond, Beinn Dubh and the mountains of the Southern Highlands.
THE HILL HOUSE
With a car, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s finest creation is only a 10 minute drive from the southern end of Loch Lomond. A must see for fans of the great man’s style (which even 100 years later looks avant garde), it’s a beauty of a place, sitting grandly amongst equally grand detached villas in a very posh part of Helensburgh.
THE A82 NORTH
From the Balloch roundabout, the road north winds up the west shore of Loch Lomond, good and fast until Tarbert, when it becomes a narrow, ultra-winding, awkward drive – I don’t think twice about it , the car almost being able to drive itself, I’ve been driven it so many times. But for those unfamiliar, it can be a bit of a nightmare with frequent stops as large articulated lorry or coaches meet each other going different directions – usually on a hard bend – and everything comes to a halt until each can creep past the other. A few minute of reversing, manoeuvring and the like and it’s full steam ahead until the next time. That section only lasts 20 mins , until the Drover’s Inn at Inverarnan, so it’s not forever!