Encompassing the upper-most stretches of the United Kingdom, Scotland is a fairytale land of mountains, glacial glens, lochs, and a gloriously serpentine coastline—all ripe for weeks of outdoor exploration. And while the area only has two official national parks, the entire wilderness of Scotland is open to anyone, provided it’s accessed via non-motorized means.
Thanks to the Land Reform Act of 2003, any land—public or private—can be explored by foot, bike, or horseback, provided you follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which basically dictates that you care for the environment by leaving no trace, respecting the rights of others and taking responsibility for your own actions. That means an intrepid backpacker could spent weeks on the trails, partnered with a few overnight stays in top cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as a few hop-scotch stops in the countless scenic towns scattered throughout the land
To help orient you, here’s a quick hit on Scotland’s two national parks.
This 1,748-square-mile park encompasses all things Scotland: mountains, forest paths, rivers, lochs, wildlife hotspots, friendly villages for an overnight’s stay, and—yes—lots of distilleries. Five the UK’s highest peaks reside in the park, as well as 55 “munros” (mountains taller than 3,000 feet) that host everything from mountain biking and day hiking to downhill and cross-country skiing.
Five the UK’s highest peaks reside in the park.
Base yourself in the village of Aviemore, and you can target the park in a series of day trips—windsurfing on Loch Morlich, picnicing with a view of a castle on an island in Loch an Eilein, or wandering the miles of trails that weave throughout the forests and mountains of the Cairngorms. Local outfitters can also arrange horseback outings, multi-day mountain biking excursions, golf or sport shooting, or overnight backpacking trips.
The famed aquatic creature may reside in Loch Ness, but the “bonny bonny banks” of Loch Lomond and the woodland glen of Trossachs provides loads more allure and mystery—as well as wild scenery, history, and stellar cuisine in its relatively small 720-square-mile footprint. Loch Lomond anchors the park, framed by Ben Lomond (the country’s southernmost peak) and the ragged shoulders of the Arrochar Alps, It ranks as s the UK’s largest lake, open to canoeing, kayaking, and cruising.
And while the area only has two official national parks, the entire wilderness of Scotland is open to anyone, provided it’s accessed via non-motorized means.
East of the water, you’ll find the maze of crumpled hills, waterfalls, sparkling lochs, and sleepy forests that comprise Trossachs, a landscape that inspired Sir Walter Scott to pen “The Lady of the Lake” and lured folks like Wordsworth and Coleridge with its sheer natural beauty. Hiking—or camping—through the highlands makes for a quintessential Scotland experience, and the proximity of small towns throughout the park make it easy to rough it a bit, and then recline in some cozy village, plied with fresh seafood and whisky.