Outdoor Activities in Scotland
Outdoor Activities in Scotland
Scotland's landscapes are best experienced by leaving the car behind and getting out there to truly enjoy the great outdoors. This is a fantastic destination for those who love an active holiday experience.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to experience Scotland's breathtaking scenery – a huge selection of active adventures from which to choose. Below you will find ten of the most popular outdoor activities, to help you choose the option best suited to you.
Scotland's walks are varied and offer something for every age, ability and fitness level, from gentle strolls right through to challenging mountain hikes.
So, whether you are looking for a casual walk with your children or your dog, or are an experienced hill walker bagging those peaks, Scotland is a wonderful place for a hiking holiday.
A great place to start when planning a hiking holiday in Scotland is with the Forestry Commission Trails that string numerous forests throughout the country. Coastal paths also offer a wealth of options for a delightful stroll.
If, however, you are looking for something a little more challenging, Scotland's mountains offer some of the best hiking in Europe. Hikers from all over come here each year to 'bag' Munros, Scotland's peaks over 3,000 feet.
In the summer months, independent hikes on many of Scotland's hills and mountains can be undertaken even by relative novices. In winter, however, many hikes are best not attempted alone by anyone without mountaineering experience.
Throughout the year, beginners or inexperienced hikers may benefit from the auspices of an experienced mountain guide. Fortunately, there are many such guides offering guided hikes around the country.
Experienced hiking guides can not only help keep you safe, but can also often enhance your hiking experience – sharing their intimate knowledge of the beautiful mountains that they call home.
Whether you hike independently, or take up a local guide on their expert services, Scotland's numerous short and long-distance trails offer some of the very best ways to experience the great outdoors. With the 'right to roam' – there is no shortage of byways, tracks and footpaths to explore.
Should you wish, you could also choose to take a themed guided hike. Examples include a star-gazing night hike, a photography themed hike, or a foraging and wild food adventure. There are plenty of ways to combine a little hiking with another of your hobbies or interests.
Another wonderful way to roam in Scotland is on two wheels. If you have the need for speed, what could be better than whizzing down steep mountain slopes, through rugged glens and along the banks of lovely lochs.
A mountain bike is designed to cope with Scotland's rugged landscape. It is one, wonderful way to explore the roads less travelled, and even to leave the roads behind all together.
Whether you wish to hire a bike, or bring your own, Scotland offers plenty of places to enjoy a cycling adventure. The Right to Roam Act applies to bicycles too, so you will find few barriers to your explorations.
From short, downhill cycle tracks and circular cycle routes, to long distance trails for camping and biking adventures – you will find plenty of new places to explore on a mountain bike in Scotland.
If you would prefer to have a guide, there are plenty of options for that too. Local experts will often help you navigate their favourite trails, or spur you to take on new mountain biking challenges.
Those on horseback also have excellent rights of access across the country. There are plenty of back roads, tracks and trails that can be explored on treks and horse rides in many parts of Scotland.
Whether you are an expert horseman or horsewoman, or a complete novice, you are sure to be able to find a horse riding experience to suit you.
Ride along the shining sand next to the roaring waves or the softly lapping tide, trek along craggy clifftops, through rolling farmland, glorious woodland or ancient forest. Return to a world before motor vehicles as you make your way through gorgeous glens or between quaint villages lost in the mists of time.
Form a bond with a majestic creature as you make your way together through the stunning Scotland landscapes.
Horse riding experiences and guided horse riding treks are available in many places across Scotland. This is an activity that allows you to fully appreciate the tranquillity of a scene without having to expend too much of your own energy.
If there is a place that you feel you may not able able to reach under your own steam, horse riding could provide a way to get there.
Kayaking or Canoeing
Kayaking round a shimmering coastline, paddling down a tranquil river or across some great mill-pond of a loch can be one of the most magical adventures you could ever have, whether you are experiencing the song of the paddle for an hour, a day or a week or more.
Moments of wonder abound as you make your way through territory free of tarmac – all too rare an experience in today's world to be so free of roads. Kayaking and canoeing are excellent ways to experience Scotland's hidden beauty spots.
The 'right to roam' legislation means that, as long as you follow the Outdoor Access Code, there are few waterways or bodies of water that you cannot explore.
When on the water, wildlife seems to view you not as an encroaching outsider but as a natural part of life. You can begin to feel as though you are indeed becoming a gentle part of the embracing ecosystem. Imagine an otter slipping sleekly through the water just feet from your paddle, or a vole darting down to his home on the riverbank, schools of fish in the water around you, or nesting water birds watching you go by.
Wherever you are in the Scotland, on a kayaking or canoeing adventure you will find yourself surrounded with natural wonders in abundance.
If you are tempted by kayaking but have never tried it before, you might be worried that it could all be beyond your capabilities.
You might think that it is difficult or technical, but nothing could be further from the truth. Paddling a kayak or canoe is deceptively simple. With a few simple steps you can learn the basic techniques needed to make sure that you can enjoy a safe and enjoyably relaxing time on the water.
Scotland's coasts, rivers and lochs offer plenty of opportunities to enjoy a paddle-powered adventure.
One of the joys of truly getting to know the great outdoors is gaining an appreciation and understanding of the awesome power of nature's elemental forces.
Water defines much of Scotland, powering hydroelectricity plants, carving the landscape from mountains to sea, and creating the lush forests and abundant farmland found across much of the country. Scotland is famous for its rain... that is not always viewed as a good thing.
But where there is an abundance of water, there is also an abundance of outdoors adventure.
One of the most exhilarating adventures that can be enjoyed on Scotland's rivers is white-water rafting. River rafting is an activity that speeds the heart rate – an exciting journey on white-crested waterways. Scotland's fast-flowing rivers are river rafting destinations that are hard to beat.
River rafting can be enjoyed in Scotland all year round, and there are experiences to suit all ages, inclinations and abilities. There are suitable experiences for complete novices, as well as for hardened adrenaline junkies.
Those looking for a gentler experience, summer is the best time to try river rafting. At this time of year, rivers are graded 2 and 3, with slower flow and lower water level.
Thrill seekers could attempt a rafting trip in the spring, just after the snow melts, when rivers offer challenging grade 4 and grade 5 white-water rafting options. As you barrel down a river, you will have the perfect opportunity to learn how to, quite literally, go with the flow.
Gorge Walking & Canyoning
Gorge walking and canyoning experiences in Scotland literally give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural landscape. You can scramble up rapids, jump into pools, swim below waterfalls, and careen down slick rocks through tumbling white waters.
If looking is not enough and you like to be in the landscape rather than just a passive observer passing through, then a gorge walking or canyoning adventure could be the perfect choice for you.
This is a step up from a wild swimming adventure. While there are plenty of places in Scotland to take a chilly if exhilarating dip, gorge walking or canyoning allows you to take things to the next level and really get that adrenaline pumping. This is a fun and adventurous outdoors activity that the whole family can enjoy.
There are plenty of outfits across Scotland that can get you fully kitted out and guide you on a gorge walking or canyoning expedition. Scotland's wild waters and rugged landscape mean that there are plenty of excellent places where you can undertake this activity, solo, with your partner, or with family or friends.
Climbing & Abseiling
Hiking is only one way to experience Scotland's ancient mountains. Should you wish to get even more up close and personal with these perfect peaks, a climbing and abseiling adventure could be an ideal way to do so.
Scotland is famous around the globe for the quality of its rock climbing, and people come from far and wide to climb and scramble on the craggy landscape.
There are plenty of climbing and abseiling opportunities across the country, from easy ascents and beginner sessions, to advanced ice-climbing expeditions and the challenging of ascents. Scotland's ever-changing weather conditions mean that the experience can change dramatically from one moment to the next, and you never really know quite what to expect.
Whether you are an experienced climber or have never tried it before, you will find expert guides around the country willing to guide you to new heights.
When climbing in Scotland, you can reach places few have ever ventured before, or tread in the footsteps of generations of climbers. You can rappel down dramatic cliffs, or scale near-inaccessible pinnacles. Many adventures await if you have a head for heights and are willing to take things to the next level.
Skiing & Snowboarding
In winter, many of Scotland's snow-clad peaks become a Mecca for winter sports enthusiasts. There are five ski resorts scattered over the mountains of the Highlands of Scotland, all of which have a lot to offer skiers of a range of abilities.
Glenshee ski centre is the most southerly in Scotland. It covers a large area, and offers a wide variety of skiing and snowboarding. Glencoe Mountain Resort has some of the best steep pistes in the country, and skiers are treated to some absolutely stunning views out over Rannoch Moor and surrounding mountains. As well as a range of pleasing pistes, here you can also find some of the best off-piste skiing in Scotland.
Nevis Range Mountain Resort is good for heading off into the back country and skiing in peace far from crowds. The back corries offer particularly good runs for intermediate to advanced skiers.
The Lecht is a tiny ski centre with short runs, but it is perhaps one of the best for families with younger children, or novice skiers.
The queues are shorter than at the bigger resorts and so you will have more time on the slopes, and the manageable size means that you will not feel overwhelmed or daunted if this is your first time on snow, or if you are nervous about the kids.
Cairngorm Mountain Ski resort is, perhaps, the best ski centre Scotland has to offer. It has more snow, which lasts for longer than anywhere else in the country. There is a funicular railway to take you up the mountain, and the pistes are particularly well maintained.
Go later in the season for best conditions, and to avoid the crowds of the February half-term. Excellent on and off piste skiing is available for beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers.
Guided or independent cross country skiing adventures can also be enjoyed. These are offered by a range of outfits across the country. What is more, if you love the snow, there are other winter activities to try – including husky dog sled rides – which will allow you to experience the wintry wonderland in a different way.
Clay Pigeon Shooting & Archery
Clay pigeon shooting and archery are both activities which allow you to get in touch with the sport hunter inside and to practice your aim without actually going so far as to aim for a living target.
Both of these traditional outdoors activities allow you to get in touch with the past and enjoy activities which once sustained our ancestors.
Whether or not you would ever be inclined to head out and hunt for real, enjoying clay pigeon shooting or archery can allow you to learn these age-old skills and have a lot of fun into the bargain.
Clay pigeon shooting is a common activity on and around Scotland's many traditional grouse estates, and can also be enjoyed at a number of other locations around the country. This activity involves firing a gun at a clay disc fired into the air. If guns are your thing, there are also a number of rifle ranges across the country.
Archery is also an activity offered on many estates and at other locales around Scotland. The country has a long history of archery, both in a hunting, military and sporting context.
If you or a member of your family fancies yourself as a Merida from the Disney film 'Brave', as Robin Hood or (the Scottish Robin Hood, William Wallace), then this could be the perfect outdoors activity for you.
Quad-biking and Segways
If you prefer to enjoy a somewhat more high-octane experience then you could consider quad biking, or an off-roading experience in a 4x4. Quad biking can allow you to quickly reach places that you cannot get to by car. It is a way to travel off the beaten track without having to forgo the convenience of a motor. For something a little bit different, you could even choose to explore on a Segway.
Scotland's landscapes can be enjoyed in a different way on a range of special off-road tracks and trails. You can enjoy driving or being driven, in sessions which range in length from an hour or two to a whole day.
You could also enjoy a motorised adventure by allowing someone else to do the driving for you on a safari or wildlife tour. There are a wide range of specialised guided day tours available which allow you to see the landscape from a motorised vehicle without necessarily having to take the wheel.
These are just some of the wonderful outdoor activities in Scotland that can allow you to really make the most of your time in this amazing country.