Exploring Scotland’s Secret Places: A Journey of Discovery
From remote peninsulas, secluded beaches and spectacular coastlines to the ancient pinewood forests and rugged peaks of the Highlands, the most beautiful places in Scotland are often tucked away and not necessarily the ones signposted. Why not join us on one of our small group tour adventures exploring versatile and dramatic landscapes and hiking in some of our favourite spots in Scotland off the beaten path.
Nature is inarguably what pulls people to Scotland year-in, year-out. Peaceful lochs, fjord-like coasts, tumbling waterfalls and roaring rivers meet the wilderness of rolling green hills, vast moorlands and tall mountain ranges. Nestled among these seemingly untouched landscapes are bustling small villages and thriving island communities. Wildlife roams land, water and the skies in abundance.
Venturing off the beaten track in Scotland rewards you with discovering places above and beyond the more famous sites where you are more likely to find the idyllic scenery, real adventure and the pure tranquillity these amazing landscapes promise. Take the unexpected turn, slow down and find your eyes open and appreciate more intensely nature’s diversity, grandeur and beauty. These are special places to relax, reflect and reconnect.
Here we would like to share some of our favourite hidden gems in Scotland which we think all nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts and wilderness explorers would treasure, indeed any traveller with a taste for wild landscapes, slow travel and authentic cultural experiences. Many of these secret places are in fact regular locations on our small group walking holidays (8 persons or less!) throughout the year.
Scottish National Parks
Exploring Scotland’s national parks has always been at the heart of Walk Wild Scotland. Did you know that we started our tour company as Scotland’s first national park was established?
Read up on the Walk Wild journey here!
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
In the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, water is as integral a part of the landscape as are the rugged mountain peaks and magical woodlands. No trip to the national park in the southern Highlands is complete without one or two boat rides. Small cruise boats connect the villages along the shores of Loch Lomond and sail to many of the islands in the loch. A few miles east, the historic steamship ‘Sir Walter Scott’ explores the tranquil Loch Katrine.
Our Southern Highlands walking tour lets you spend 6 days in the national park. Together, we explore some of the easier trails this landscape has to offer, experience the mountain views from the water and hike along one of Scotland’s most famous trails – the West Highland Way. There are also more challenging walks around Loch Lomond, though, and over 20 Munros to choose from.
Even though most people drive through the national park and along the loch, slowing down for a deeper experience in nature makes Loch Lomond one of our favourite hidden gems in Scotland.
Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorms National Park is the largest park in the UK and has been extended twice since it was first established in 2003. It covers parts of Aberdeenshire, Moray, Perthshire, Angus and Kinross, and holds more than half of all surviving ancient Caledonian pinewood forest.
Its mountain ranges, plateaus, woodlands and wetlands offer versatile habitat for many rare species of plants, birds and animals, and are a true playground for adventurers.
The Cairngorms are home to four of the five highest mountains in the UK and where you find the longest linear walk uninterrupted by roads. The national park is known as one of the best ecotourism destinations in Europe and is leading the way for sustainable tourism in Scotland.
Experienced hikers, in particular, will find that the Cairngorms National Park provides one of the best areas for walking holidays in Scotland.
Scotland’s Unesco Biospheres
Unesco Biospheres are designated environments that incorporate their focus on enhanced biodiversity and landscape conservation with the needs of the people who live in and nearby the area.
Their approaches unite people with nature, rather than keeping them apart for separate development and protection.
There are two Unesco Biospheres in Scotland:
Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere
There are few places that offer a better experience hiking in Scotland off the beaten track than the south-west. Even though the region has recently launched the South West Coast 300 road trip (SWC300), Galloway & Ayrshire remain by far still little explored places to visit in Scotland.
The Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere covers a huge part of this area. It reaches from its protected core zones in the Galloway Hills to the coastal communities, such as Wigtown, Kirkcudbright and Girvan, and inland towards Cumnock and Thornhill.
Rich history and cultural heritage meets remote hills, tumbling rivers and an abundance of wildlife. The biosphere has supported the development of sustainable tourism initiatives and visitors can book many nature-based activities offered by locals, from guided hillwalking and hire bikes to canoeing, river-kayaking and coasteering.
The biosphere is also home to the first Dark Sky Park in the UK. The incredibly dark nights are best experienced through a walk and stargazing picnic with a local Dark Sky Ranger in Glentrool or by visiting the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory near Dalmellington.
Walk Wild Scotland offer customised private tours to literally any area in Scotland – so do get in touch to discuss your destination and activities wish list with us!
Wester Ross Biosphere
Arguably less off the beaten path, the Wester Ross Biosphere spans from Ullapool and the Summer Isles in the north to Kintail and the Glenelg peninsula in the south.
Huge numbers of visitors come through the biosphere on their way to the Isle of Skye or tackling the famous North Coast 500 route through the north-west of Scotland.
However, the biosphere also offers beautiful hidden places of untouched nature, spectacular coastal views and rugged mountain ranges.
Our Western Highlands & Skye walking tour spends several days in Shiel Bridge, a small community nestled among the Kintail mountains, in the southern part of the Biosphere. The fjord-like sea views always by our side, we explore some of the most beautiful places in Scotland. We climb to the top of the wide river valley Glen Licht, discover the remote Glenelg peninsula and hike towards Scotland’s most beautiful valley: Glen Affric.
We keep our eyes peeled for otters, seals, eagles and other seabirds, and take plenty of time to stop & smell the yellow gorse in May or purple heather in August.
Small Scottish Islands
Touring the Scottish islands is a fantastic way to discover hidden gems in Scotland.
The Small Isles
The Small Isles are the perfect place for off the beaten path holidays in the Scottish islands.
Just south of the Isle of Skye and easy to reach by ferry from Mallaig, the archipelago is a great remote getaway off the beaten track.
It is made up of the Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna and Sanday. The latter two are connected via road and causeway at low tide and well known for their high basalt cliffs and puffin colonies.
While Rum is the largest island, Eigg is the most vibrant and populous of the group, where visitors are able to experience a thriving and welcoming island community.
Our brand new Sail + Hike tour of the Scottish islands visits two of the Small Isles. Together, we visit Eigg to discover early Christian monuments, hear about Vikings and Clans and listen to more stories than you could have imagined for such a small island.
At night we anchor near Muck and will hopefully have time to explore this very different island, its sandy beaches and rocky shores.
Isle of Colonsay
Nestled between Islay, Mull and Jura, the Isle of Colonsay is a unique island getaway in Scotland. Despite its modest size, there is surprisingly a lot to do and see on Colonsay.
As visitors make their way off the ferry, they are greeted by locals and handed a welcome pack with information about local businesses to visit, activities to join and other things to do on Colonsay.
Browse a well assorted bookshop with books about the local area and history, visit the local brewery or learn about the gin making process at one of the two gin distilleries on the island. Choose a sandy beach for a picnic or enjoy a sundowner at one of the west coast’s secluded bays.
Bag a MacPhie – one of Colonsay’s hills over 300 ft – or walk from Kiloran Bay to Balnahard Bay and see two of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches in one day.
The nearby tidal island Oronsay can be reached from Colonsay during low-tide. Visit the ruins of Oronsay Priory, which is often associated with St Columba, and look out for seals and other marine wildlife off the coast.
Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will find Colonsay to be one of the best Scottish islands to visit – and yet have it all to yourself.
Famous for being one of the best places to see puffins in Scotland, the Treshnish Isles off the west coast of Mull are a must see in Scotland during the summer.
After a scenic boat ride from Tobermory or Fionnphort, visitors land on the Isle of Lunga, the largest island in the archipelago. After a short walk to the top of the cliffs, it barely takes a minute until the first puffins arrive on land. Humans tend to keep the much larger seagulls at a distance – an opportunity the delicate puffins love to use to work on their burrows and feed their young.
Soon you will be surrounded by puffins from all sides. While shy, they will happily pose for photos. Here it is easy to connect with nature and develop a deeper understanding of the kind of environment these birds need to thrive.
Our Hebridean Journey walking tour to Mull and Iona includes a day trip to take in the magic of these beautiful remote Scottish islands and spend time on Lunga and also Staffa, home of the famous Fingal’s Cave.
Scotland’s remote places
The best chance to experience Scotland off the beaten path is by choosing the road less travelled – or rather, a longer journey than most are willing to take.
The Outer Hebrides
For true wilderness and a taste of warm Scottish hospitality, look no further than the Outer Hebrides. This island group sits quite literally on the edge of Europe. Apart from a few rocky outcrops like St Kilda, there is nothing but ocean between here and North America.
The Outer Hebrides, also called the Western Isles, are as different from the mainland as they are different from each other. The varied landscapes of Lewis and Harris, the Uists and Barra offer a glimpse into island life at a gentle pace. Traditions play an integral role in the local culture – whether you visit crofting farms, tweed weavers or peat-cutters.
Each island has its own speciality – from the moorlands of Lewis and the rocky hills of Harris to the scattered islands and endless sandy beaches of the Uists to the rugged outposts of Barra and Vatersay.
The Gaelic language and culture are alive and thriving in the Outer Hebrides, giving visitors an opportunity to experience this part of Scottish identity in a meaningful way.
Our Outer Hebrides walking tour combines several days of island hopping in Scotland. Together we hike across these islands, discover ancient historic monuments and immerse ourselves in the vibrant island communities.
In a world in which natural habitats are increasingly threatened by climate change, over-tourism and other human activities, it is incredibly important to take care of the biggest asset Scotland has to offer – it’s natural environment.
At Walk Wild Scotland we strive to offer a sustainable and responsible way to explore Scotland. On our tours you will meet locals to hear their stories and have meaningful cultural experiences while connecting with nature, reconnecting with yourself and discovering hidden gems in Scotland.
Take a look at our walking holidays and cultural tours and join us on a journey around an off the beaten path Scotland.
Kathi Kamleitner is a travel writer and adventurer. When she is not working on inspiring travel guides for her Scotland travel blog Watch Me See, you can find her on a long-distance trail or on top of a Scottish Munro.