A land of unimaginable beauty, the sprawling highlands of Scotland are delightfully wild and free and as such any nature lover will surely depart having fallen in love with all of the amazing sights on offer. Foreboding mountains punctuate the hills and valleys while deep lochs lie amidst the heather and, nestled among all this desolate wilderness, the lively cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow are yet other delights just waiting to be explored.
The stunning landscapes make for incredible viewing and visitors to Scotland will find a whole range of activities that will help them to discover new parts of the untouched and pristine habitats that cover the country.
Map of national parks in Scotland
To help you on your way, here are the ten most beautiful national parks and nature reserves in Scotland. Step off the beaten path and throw yourself headlong into the wilds of Scotland; you won’t regret it!
The expansive sprawling moorlands that comprise the majority of Cairnsmore of Fleet National Nature Reserve are the perfect place for hikers looking to immerse themselves in the loneliness and secluded beauty of the area. The huge granite massif of Cairnsmore of Fleet rises above its low-lying surroundings and from the top there are panoramic views of the nature reserve around it. Off in the distance, Snowdonia and the Lake District can be seen glinting on the horizon; these beautiful views are just one of the reasons why the hike to its summit is among the most popular routes with visitors. The reserve is also popular with rock climbers who descend on the craggy peaks and cliff faces that can be found within its boundaries. Visitors should keep an eye out for the plethora of beautiful birds that call the area their home and interspersed amongst the scenery, sculptures from local artists can be found hidden away from view, at one with the environments around them.
A multitude of beautiful landscapes greet any lucky visitor to this lovely nature reserve that is home to so many stunning views and panoramas. The first national nature reserve to be established in the UK, the incredible sights on offer make it easy to see why it was the first area to be protected for future generations to enjoy. The craggy mountains that tear up the rugged terrain are amazing to behold and their peaks, pinnacles and plateaus slowly turn into roving slopes covered in pine forests. Lochs too punctuate this wild and wonderful land and Loch Maree is particularly stupendous to gaze out upon. Over sixty islands are scattered across its waters and the views on offer are simply marvelous.
With woodlands galore, Clyde Valley Woodlands National Nature Reserve is an adorable park full of charming forests and weaving paths that is just waiting to be explored. With six separate sites dispersed around Clyde Valley, visitors have an abundant array of attractions to choose from, each more beautiful than the last. Bluebells quaintly cover the forest floor and their peaceful swaying in the wind contrasts stunningly with the tumultuous waterfalls at the Falls of Clyde. The latter dominate their surroundings with their crescendo of sound and are all the more beautiful due to the lovely forests that coat the riverbanks on either side of them. Near to the falls are the dilapidated ruins of Corra Castle which are also well worth visiting.
Located right in the far north of Scotland, this remote national nature reserve takes its name from the spectacular cliffs around which the park is centred. The dramatic cliffs are stupendous to behold and from up high amongst them, visitors are greeted with sweeping panoramic views of the sprawling hills and water below. Mesmerising in their beauty, the area has numerous trails and paths for visitors to enjoy and amongst all the special geological formations rock art is hidden away, seamlessly merging with its surroundings. The most distinctive of these is ‘The Globe’; a spherical rock perched precariously on the hillside, overlooking yet another perfect view.
Never-ending hills and vales form the bulk of the landscapes on offer in Glen Roy National Nature Reserve and, located in the Scottish Highlands, the main draw of the reserve is the ‘Parallel Roads’ that are so impressive to behold. These natural wonders which, due to their features appear to be man-made, were actually formed during the last ice-age by an ice sheet of a long-forgotten loch scarring up the scenery and in doing so creating these distinctive landmarks. While the Parallel Roads are the main attraction, the reserve’s natural charm is well worth a visit in itself. Oak trees and wildflowers coat the glen and red deer can be spotted making their way about the reserve from time to time.
The desolate wilderness of Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve will astound visitors such is the stunning scenery on show. The mountain massif which gives the reserve its name is breathtakingly beautiful to behold and from its summit there are lovely panoramas of the loch and ambling slopes of the vales below. The ragged cliffs of Coire Ardair make for some amazing views and brave climbers will delight in scaling the rocky cliff face. With Loch Laggan lying at the foot of the reserve, the terrain on offer varies seamlessly before your eyes and this is in part what makes Creag Meagaidh so memorable to explore. A haven for a wide array of bird species that call the area home, the diverse fauna and flora that line the pathways only add to the natural delights of Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve.
Located in the awe-inspiring Outer Hebrides, the remoteness of St Kilda National Nature Reserve has only served to protect and preserve the unique environment that can be found here. The archipelago of islands looks stunning surrounded by the dark blue waters of the sea and the grassy knolls that protrude from the deep make for memorable viewing. The incredible natural beauty on show is bewitching and the domineering cliff faces that line the islands never cease to amaze visitors to the reserve. The secluded wilderness of St Kilda will leave you feeling fresh and unencumbered as the strong winds pulverize the rocks around you and the seabirds dramatically swirl in the sky above. Prehistoric buildings dot the islands and the ancient ruins are all the most stunning to behold when taking into account the secluded nature of it all. The grey of the old rock buildings contrasts beautifully with the lush green grasses that coat the hills and islands.
One of the most beautiful places in the whole of Scotland, Glen Affric National Nature Reserve is definitely well worth a visit as the rivers, mountains and forests make for some stunning scenery. A number of lovely trails snake their way along the banks of the River Affric that runs through the glen and adventurous hikers can follow them as they delve into the depths of the mountains that line the glen. Verdant forests cover the reserve and coupled with the scenic mountains that abound on all sides; they certainly paint a pretty picture. Loch Attric is also beautiful to look out upon as is the expansive Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin which is so stunningly surrounded by the pine forests that are a characteristic of the area. Here you can find all the diversity of Scotland’s wonderful nature in just one reserve.
Covering the mountain range that gives the national park its name, Cairngorms is remarkably the largest protected area in the whole of the British Isles. The mountains themselves are exceptionally beautiful and the trails and paths that weave their way amidst the peaks and plateaus are a delight to explore as there are so many amazing views to be found on either side of you. With a number of settlements contained within its boundaries, the wild and untamed feel of the Cairngorms belies the fact that the pristine habitats are carefully managed so that future generations may enjoy the same sense of serenity in its presence. Whether it’s skiing, hiking, bird watching or mountain biking that you’re after; Cairngorms National Park will certainly deliver up a memorable time.
When you imagine Scotland, this national park is essentially what springs to mind. With the crystal clear waters of the lochs shining in the sun and the craggy peaks of indomitable mountains on either side; Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park paints a quintessential picture of this astoundingly beautiful country. The wilderness contained within the park is divine and nature lovers will find it hard to tear themselves away from the stunning scenery that proliferates from every nook and cranny. Whether it is the tranquil waters of Loch Lomond that beckon you to its shores or the forest-filled realms of the Trossachs that entice you along their tree-lined paths; this national park is a magical experience just waiting to be discovered.