Explore the mysterious lochs, leafy trails and breathtaking views of Scotland's first National Park, only half an hour's drive from Glasgow, writes Richard Franks.
Although most Kiwis visiting Scotland gravitate towards Edinburgh's old cobbled streets and historic castle, or dart north in search of that infamous Loch Ness monster, there's plenty to be said about this proud country's very first National Park: Loch Lomond & The Trossachs.
This is a nature-filled haven of expansive lochs (Gaelic for "lakes"), hike-worthy hills, mystical forests and wooded islands that charm and woo all who traverse its mighty land – and this year the park celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Just a 30-minute drive from Glasgow Airport, its boundaries begin at the charming entry-point village of Balloch in the south, and sprawl to Tyndrum in the north, Callander in the east, and patter along the Cowal peninsula to the west. This diverse landscape checks in at a vast 1865sq km and entices visitors in their millions, making it Scotland's most popular rural destination.
And with such a calming environment on Glasgow's thronging doorstep, it's easy to see why so many flock here. However, understanding where to begin in a national park of this size can be daunting; here's what you need to know.
What to do
By land or lake, there's something for everyone in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs. Its jewel is undoubtedly the loch for which the national park takes its name, Lomond, which is Great Britain's largest lake by surface area.
Its calming waters are flanked by hills of varying ascension, including Scotland's most southerly munro (a Scottish mountain higher than 3000 feet - 914m ) Ben Lomond, on the east of the loch. Keen hillwalkers can "bag" this munro in about five hours there and back. To the west, the Arrochar Alps are another good starting point for hillwalkers, with climbs for all abilities.
Kayaks, paddleboards and canoes are available to rent from Loch Lomond Leisure, which operates from picturesque Luss Beach during the main season (March-October; weather dependent). One of the more idyllic water routes is The Narrows, a calm strait that snakes its way around a cluster of mysterious islands, and can sometimes be a suntrap. One of the islands is home to a small wallaby population too. Yes, wallabies.
In the Trossachs to the east of the national park, the Three Lochs Forest Drive offers an epic 11.2km journey through woodland teeming with wild deer. This is suitable for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, and provides sweeping views of three lochs – Achray, Drunkie, and Reoidhte.
Further north of the Drive is Loch Katrine, a picturesque loch with a largely flat walking route around its edge. Cruises on the century-old Sir Walter Scott Steamship – Scotland's only surviving operational screw steamer – depart from here, for trips on a lake whose fresh Highland water helps to brew Scotland's favourite lager, Tennent's.
The Cowal Peninsula, to the west, is often overlooked in favour of the rest of the park but is spectacular in its own right. Puck's Glen, a deep fairy glen named after Puck from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, with its wooden bridges, deep gorges and gushing waterfalls is a magical way to spend a couple of hours with the family. As is Benmore Botanic Garden, one of the most serene spots in this part of Scotland.
Where to stay
First-time visitors to the national park should look no further than Cameron House. This luxury resort just 20 minutes north of Glasgow Airport offers elegance and convenience in abundance with a leisure club, spa and even a cinema, alongside a handful of delectable restaurants and four relaxed bars.
Cameron House is lavish as-is, but those looking to enhance their experience can do so in an Auld House suite, with a king-size bed, roll-top bath and TV featuring movie and live sports channels. Suite stays also include a complimentary mini bar, pre-dinner canapes served to your room, and posh Hunter wellies to wear around the grounds during your stay. Chauffeur transfers are inclusive.
Resort excursions are bookable through your dedicated guest experience contact, and include a one-hour champagne cruise, falconry, off-road 4x4 experiences, and a ride on the famous Loch Lomond seaplane.
For those looking to go off-the-beaten-track, wild camping is permitted across Scotland. Camping bylaws are in operation throughout the national park between March-September and permits are required in busier spots. Whether camping in a permit area or not, the Scottish Outdoor Access Code applies.
Extend your trip
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs is well placed for city breaks to nearby Glasgow and Edinburgh – both of whose airports serve domestic and international destinations – but the best of Scotland is in its countryside.
Take the A82 road north from Tyndrum for one of Europe's most awe-inspiring road trips through the dramatic, and often brooding, scenery surrounding Glencoe, marvel at Ben Nevis as you pass by Fort William, and drive alongside the world-famous Loch Ness on the way to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands.
CHECKLIST: LOCH LOMOND
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