Scottish Highlands with Kids

Our two week holiday in the Scottish Highlands might be our favorite trip since we moved to Europe. We loved the lush landscapes, dramatic coastline, and the relative isolation compared to more popular summer destinations. While many hikes in this area can be quite challenging, we found a good number of hikes suitable for families. We loved our time there and hope to go back soon!

Where did we go

The Scottish Highlands is a very big area. You can’t see it all in one trip. We flew into Inverness, drove to the west coast, and stayed one week in Morar, and one week north of Ullapool. We were very happy with these locations, which were both lovely on their own and within a reasonable driving distance of many great beaches and hiking areas. Here is a map of all the places we visited. Click on the map to explore it in more detail.

The Highlands are a little difficult to traverse as most roads are small and winding, many only one lane. So although a destination may seem not far distance-wise, the driving can be stressful and take longer than you think.

The most popular tourist area is the Isle of Skye, but it deserves a vacation all to itself. We took the ferry to Skye one day hoping to do a driving tour but the weather didn’t cooperate. Plus once we got on the island, it was obvious we need to be on the trail to really enjoy the charms of Skye. So we’ll just have to go back.

When did we go

We went for two weeks in the middle of July. We were so worried that the weather would be horrible and the midges would eat us alive. But we got lucky and only had two full days of rain during our 14 day stay. Of course, summer has the least rain and warmest temperatures. However, Scottland is always quite rainy, wet and cold so plan accordingly. Definitely bring good rain gear, including waterproof shoes. Happily the midges never bothered us (see midge forecast), though we did bring bug net hats just in case.

The ocean water was not warm enough for swimming while we were there, but swimsuits were usually for when the kids waded in the water so they didn’t get their regular clothes wet. Water shoes were helpful when exploring tidepools, but not absolutely necessary.

Hiking with Kids

There are hundreds of hiking options and beaches to visit in the Highlands, so this is not a definite list. These are just the activities we enjoyed with our family. All of these are marked on the above map. I’ve included directions for each below.

Camusdarach Beach

This was my favorite beach of the trip, maybe because the skies were so dramatic when we was there. This beach is the filming location for the old movie, Local Hero, where the locals try to save the beach from oil drilling. It’s a short walk through the grassy headlands to the beach, which has both lots of sand for running and lounging as well as lots of nooks and crannies and tide pools to explore.

The parking for this beach is located at B8008 Mallaig, GPS 56°57’26.2″N 5°50’32.4″W.

Glencoe

Glencoe is often considered the most dramatically beautiful part of Scotland and is a designated National Scenic Area. It is also Scotland’s most famous glen, the site of the 1692 Glencoe Massacre. There is a visitor center at the entrance to this area, with lots of maps and suggestions for hikes. Most of the easy family hikes are in the valley and we really wanted to be up near the peaks. So we chose a trail that hiked up a high valley between the peaks and went as far as our 5 year would go, which wasn’t very far. But what we saw was wonderfully beautiful and I’d love to go back now that my kids are older and can hike farther. Visitor center: Glencoe PH49 4HX, GPS: 56°40’16.6″N 5°04’57.6″W

Isle of Eigg & Singing Sands Beach

We took a ferry from Malaig to reach the Isle of Eigg. There are a variety of walks on the island. We took a shuttle to the west side at Cleadale, then walked down to the Singing Sands beach, about 1.5 km each way. It’s called Singing Sands because the sand makes a squeaking noise as you walk across it, which it really did. You can see across the ocean to Isle of Rum. Not for swimming but plenty to explore. It was a beautiful spot and very isolated. More info about this hike and trail maps on www.walkhighlands.co.uk.

We took the all terrain stroller. It was bumpy in spots and we had to carry it over at least one fence, but it was manageable. On the way back, the small shuttle was too full to carry our folded up stroller. Since it only ran once an hour and the ferry was coming soon, I just walked the stroller back on the road, about 5km, about 1 hour walking fast.

Click on the map to get a full sized version.

Bourblach Beach

This was our local beach which staying in Morar, south of the port town Malaig. It’s an 800m walk along the headlands to reach a couple quiet white sand beaches. We had a great time digging in the sand and playing soccer across the long beaches.

Here’s a map of how to reach this beach from Morar.

Silver Sands

This beach is on the south side of Morar bay, opposite of the beach shown above. At high tide, the beaches are thin and the bay full. But at low tide, the bay empties out and you can walk all over the bay on muddy sand. Parking is at the south end of the beach GPS: 56°57’33.9″N 5°49’11.9″W. Just walk out to the beach and walk along the coastline.

Here we are in the middle of the bay. The mud is really sticky and our shoes sometimes got stuck. Expect to get a little dirty.

There were lots of rocks to explore as well.

Rhumach beach hike

I saw this beach promoted in some tourist brochure, but there wasn’t a map or trail info. We got totally lost getting there and almost gave up. But I’m so glad we didn’t. The beach was so beautiful and we were totally on our own out there. I’ve made a map so you can get there too. Once we figured out the trail, it was obvious so you won’t get lost. Parking GPS: 56°53’51.8″N 5°53’42.8″W

Here’s a map of the trail. It’s about 2 km each way, took us about 1 hour each way. We took a stroller but it was difficult in parts, lumpy and rocky.

Drive as far as you can on this road. You’ll park on the side of the road when the road turns to dirt. Then continue walking on the dirt road until it ends.

The trail continues to your left along the farm fence, following that little red arrow.

 

Glenfinnen Viaduct

You may recognize this famous bridge and steam train from the Harry Potter films and several other movies. There’s not much to do here. We just parked nearby and walked up the river to have our picnic and watch the train go by. There is a visitor center and monument if you fancy a little history. GPS: 56°52’33.5″N 5°25’54.6″W More info: www.visitscotland.com

Eilean Donan Castle

Before we left Malaig, we had to visit this iconic castle. It was a bit out of our way. We took a ferry from Malaig to Isle of Skye, then drove back to the mainland to reach this castle on the water. We had a nice tour of the insides. We’re glad we saw it but nothing particular special to report. More info: www.eileandonancastle.com


Achnahaird Beach

For week two, we moved our home base to Achiltibuie, north of Ullapool. Our favorite beach in this area was Achnahaird shown below. I think the pictures tell you everything you need to know. We loved this beach so much that my husband bought me a painting of this beach as a present. You can park above the beach, then follow a trail down to the sand. We walked over the rocks to get to the beach. But if you are bringing a stroller, you can stay on the trail around the rocks, staying on the grassy parts all the way to the beach. Parking GPS: 58°04’14.5″N 5°21’57.9″W

Here’s an aerial view of the beach. The parking is at the northwest as shown below. A trail leads to the sand. There are no services at the beach.

Stac Pollaidh

This was our hardest hike of the trip. It was only 1.7 km each way, but it ascended 450 m to reach the top. No strollers on this hike, it’s all stairs and switchbacks. We carried our two year old. We were very proud of our 5 year old for toughing it out. The views were amazing and probably the best of the whole trip. So glad we did this hike. Parking and trailhead GPS: 58°02’04.3″N 5°12’26.3″W  More info: www.walkhighlands.co.uk

Old Man Stoer

This unique tower is the biggest tourist attraction in this sparsely populated area. You can drive out to the lighthouse, then walk 3 km along the headlands for a closer look at “Old Man Stoer.” The path is loosely defined, rambling over the fields. We took our all-terrain stroller, which managed fine. There are no fences on the cliffs, so keep your little ones well away from the edge. Parking GPS: 58°14’16.6″N 5°24’02.8″W  More info: www.walkhighlands.co.uk

Here we are hiking out to land’s end.

Our picnic spot overlooking the tower. You can get closer but our 5 year old tired so we stopped here and called it good.

Looking back at the lighthouse were we started walking.

The full hike on this map. Click for details.

Achmelvich Beach

This bay has a lovely white sand beach surrounded by rocky headlands that you can explore. You can drive to the beach and park in the big lot next to the campground, which was packed full of campers when we were there. It was much too cold to swim, even in July, but a nice area to explore.

The beach is located northwest of Lochinver on an unnamed road. GPS 58°10’07.9″N 5°18’15.7″W

Camas a’ Ghlais lean Beach

We found this beach simply by studying the map, looking for little coves near where we were staying. We drove to the end of the road and luckily there was a path leading out to this gorgeous little beach. It’s about 1 km each way, on a lumpy path full of sheep poop. The beach was so beautiful, such a hidden gem. A couple other hikers passed through but we had it mostly to ourselves. Our boys were delighted to find a crab in one of the tide pools. Parking GPS: 58°04’19.6″N 5°27’08.7″W

The map below shows the parking spot in Reiff. Parking GPS 58°04’19.8″N 5°27’09.3″W. The trail follows the east side of Loch Reiff up to the beach, about 1 km.

Little Assynt

This 3000 acre nature estate is full of rolling moors and glens with a variety of walking paths. We did the short obstacle-free path accessed from Leitir Easaidh. Parking near GPS: 58°11’11.1″N 5°06’34.2″W   More info: new.culagwoods.org.uk

Here’s my map of the All Abilities trail that we did, 2.5 km round trip. Very smooth wide path, perfect for strollers.

Here’s the official map.

Culag Woods

This little nature park has a theme trail through the dense forest, a little rocky beach and a high lookout point in the center. Here’s a map of the area. It’s close to Lochinver, a bigger town in the area, if you need supplies as well. Parking GPS: 58°08’26.2″N 5°14’27.7″W   More info: www.culagwoods.org.uk

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10 comments

  1. Wow, this is just jam-packed with so much great information and gorgeous photos. I will be saving this post. I’ve never been to Scotland and sometimes can’t believe I live in Europe now and rarely travel unless it’s to see my family back in the States. But maybe one day. How did the little one deal with the fly net over his face? I had to hike like that a bit in California from time to time and wow, it’s a life saver but also kind of annoying! ha ha.

  2. So informative and I love the pictures! I can’t help but wonder were you a geography teacher?? Would love to visit the camusdarach beach one day!

  3. Love this post about my homeland!!! I am from the other side of the country though and am embarrassed to say that I haven’t visited most of the places you mention. I can’t wait to take my boys exploring when they are a bit older. As ever, your blog is an inspiration to just get out and do it. Thank you!

  4. Another travel post with absolutely gorgeous pictures! Love all the beaches, the viaduct and the double rainbow!
    I’ve never been to Scotland, but if we do, I’ll make sure to come back here for recommendations!

  5. Oh I love this gorgeous post! The pictures make me want to go right now and leave this rainy Zurich behind. We have Scotland on our bucket list and would love to wander around the Highlands in the summer. I’ve heard the overnight train from London to the Highlands is long but absolutely gorgeous. Thanks for all these great ideas. I’m going to Pin it for when we finally get there.

  6. Woow! What a great post for a family traveler like we are! The landscapes are amazing! Just a few month ago I was actually looking up Scotland for our summer vacation 2017. Ive been reading blogs and forums and most of the people had rain…so I just “naee no Scotland!”😂 But if we are not going there next summer we will one day for sure! How expensiv is Scotland btw?

    1. Glad I could help! We got really lucky on the weather. Over two weeks, we only got 2 full days of of rain and a couple half days. Since we weren’t near any big cities with indoor attractions, rainy days were just spent in our apartment playing games and reading. One time we found a local indoor pool which was great. We didn’t find Scotland very expensive coming from Switzerland but we didn’t have to buy much since we were mostly hiking every day and eating at home or picnicking. Groceries were higher than the US, but not outrageous. The ferry rides were the most expensive part. We rented holiday homes, which was more affordable than hotels. We rented a car, which wasn’t particularly more than anywhere else. I hope you find your way to Scotland soon!

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