Experiencing the Stunning Scottish Highlands by Car

Self-Drive Tour of the Scottish Highlands

Most people opt for an organized tour of the Scottish Highlands, a day trip or a coach tour where the driver takes you to the scenery, you snap a few pictures and then you head back to Edinburgh. However, that’s not really my travelling style and after finding out my boyfriend and I scored a rental car for $100 for the week (!), we decided to drive it ourselves. Driving is the best way to go, so if you can drive a manual car on the opposite side of the road (automatic is available for a higher rate), you’ll be better off. Tours are so overrated, anyway.

We set out from Glasgow at about 10am with one destination: Highlands. (Fun Fact: Anything north of Loch Lomond National Park is considered “Highlands.”) Getting through and just north of Glasgow is a generally smooth ride on the highway. Once out of Glasgow, though, the road starts winding and taking sharp turns and getting narrower and narrower; it’s barely enough to fit two cars around the corner! There’s no room for error.

About 40 minutes north of Glasgow, prepare to lose cell phone service by loading your GPS instructions before you leave (just don’t exit the app, and you’ll always have directions!). Inside Loch Lomond National Park, there’s an elusive waterfall called Falloch Falls nested at the end of an easy hike.  You can get all the way to the bottom of the river if you’re feeling adventurous. And yes, it is free.

falloch falls

Two hours later, we entered Glencoe. Safety note: The distance to the Scottish Highlands doesn’t look like much, but you can run out of gas very quickly. If you find yourself at less than half a tank and you’re approaching a gas station, stop and fill up. We were running on E for about 15 miles in the middle of this scenery.  Not a lot of options here.

DSC_0504 sm

There will inevitably be a time when you will think about pulling  off onto the shoulder of the road and taking pictures because there’s a terrible shortage of pull-offs. I do not  recommend doing this. When we pulled off onto the  shoulder, the rocky terrain grabbed the tires and cut them to the  left. The car sank into the mud. The entire left side of the car was  in the mud and we were stuck. Thirty minutes later, with the help  of a Scottish tow-truck, we were back on the road. Lesson learned. STAY on the pavement.

Another couple of hours later, we arrived into Fort William. The drive into town is nothing short of spectacular: one side of the road is a row of bed and breakfasts, and the other is a beautiful lake and mountains.

There will inevitably be a time when you will think about pulling  off onto the shoulder of the road and taking pictures because there’s a terrible shortage of pull-offs. I do not  recommend doing this.

I found the tourist information center (you’ll have to park and pay a small fee) and the woman there recommended a park called Glen Nevis, which had some waterfalls and a few nice hikes. Best part? It’s free!

Glen Nevis really is like walking into the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands. It’s a one-way dirt road, with pullouts to let the other cars pass by. We drove seven miles to the end, put the DSLR under the jacket, and headed to the trail. It starts out pretty easy but gets rather treacherous; hiking boots or sturdy hiking shoes are strongly recommended as the trail goes over and under various streams.

The trail opens up into a field, where you’re in the valley of the Highlands with  panoramic views. It’s encouraged to do some impromptu rock climbing in this area.  I  recommend you bring a few snacks to sit on the rocks and enjoy picnic time and the  view. Bring your North Face rain jacket, as the weather can change from clear skies to  sopping wet in a matter of minutes.

Valley of the hike
Valley of the hike

The end of the trail rewards you with a swimming area and a waterfall. Keep in mind this is a national park of sorts, so there’s no trash or rubbish bins. There’s a rope bridge, which looks a lot like a tightrope, you can cross, if you dare. The first few steps are a bit scary, but as long as no one else is on it, shaking it or moving it about wildly, it’s an exhilarating experience. It’s also a lot higher up than it looks from the underside of it. I found my boyfriend hanging on it, as the Scottish say, “like a monkey.”

mark climbing sm

However, once you get to the other side, there isn’t much to see. There’s a house, but not much after it. We thought we could get closer to the waterfall and wound up stepping into a bog and getting covered in mud up to our knees. There are plenty more things in the park to explore. It’s worth at least two full days, as there are waterfalls in nearly every corner and everywhere you look.

That’s the beauty of the Scottish Highlands: glaciers really do make the best scenery – and the best waterfalls.

Fancy a quick swim in the Highlands before your return to the city? There's a rough trail to the bottom.
Fancy a quick swim in the Highlands before your return to the city? There’s a rough trail to the bottom.

About Melody Smith

Melody SmithMelody is a 25 year old who is slowly achieving her and her boyfriend’s lifelong goal of visiting every country in the world. They are photographing, writing, and volunteering their way across the European continent first, and then headed east. Melody’s favorite adventure destination has been Costa Rica, and she experienced the most culture shock in Finland. Melody lived in an office cubicle for over two years and couldn’t take it anymore, so this is her revolt.

4 thoughts on “Experiencing the Stunning Scottish Highlands by Car

  1. Avatar
    Evelyn Johansen
    August 27, 2015
    Reply

    Hi Melody
    What an adventure you are having. How Doc would have enjoyed
    the tales you will be able to tell, over a good glass of wine of course.
    Love the detail and the great pictures.
    Randy & your mom are getting so excited. Take good care of them
    they are not the seasoned traveler you are!
    enjoy
    Love Gramma Evelyn

  2. Avatar
    Lori Battaglia
    August 27, 2015
    Reply

    Melody and Mark loved the adventure you took to the Scottish Highlands I felt I was there with you and for those who may never get there thanks for not only describing what you experienced but providing these beautiful pictures.
    For those that will follow in you footsteps helpful hints and safety information that new travelers will now be aware of is so beneficial when you are not familiar with the terrain or gas stations availability just to name a few in your article.
    I hope you continue to share with us your travels I will be looking for them so keep us posted

  3. Avatar
    Randy Marshall
    August 26, 2015
    Reply

    Good job kid cant what to see you guys in Itly!

  4. Avatar
    Karen Smith
    August 24, 2015
    Reply

    What a beautiful storyline. I am in awe of your life. You two are creating some of the most magnificent memories to share with your family. You are truly blessed to be able to experience So many different cultures. I love you both!
    Peace?
    Love ?
    Happiness ?

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