Walks In Galloway Forest Park: The Highlands Of The Lowlands

View-of-Galloway-Forest-Park-from-the-Merrick

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Looking for the best walks in Galloway Forest Park?

Often overlooked by visitors who head straight up to the Highlands and Islands, Galloway Forest Park is a real hidden gem.  Sometimes described as “the Highlands of the Lowlands”, the park offers spectacular scenery and ​​some of the most beautiful, untouched wilderness in the UK.

Walking-in-Glentrool
There are many fantastic walks in Galloway Forest Park

The park itself spans over 300 square miles (770 square kilometres), and includes the largest forest in the UK and a large section of the Galloway Hills.  You’ll find many well-marked hiking trails here, passing through a range of stunning scenery: rugged uplands, remote glens, ancient woodland, tranquil lochs, and sparkling mountain streams.  

There are walks for all ages and abilities, from easy family-friendly strolls to strenuous multi-day hikes in the mountains.

This post sets out some of the best walks in Galloway Forest Park.  For further information on the various trails, local weather conditions, wildlife and more, visit one of the three visitor centres, located at Glen Trool, Clatteringshaws, and Kirroughtree.

(Interested in camping in Galloway Forest Park?  See here for more information.)

Glentrool & Loch Trool

Located in the heart of Galloway Forest Park, the remote and beautiful valley of Glentrool is a forested wilderness containing several excellent hiking trails.

Glen-Trool-and-Loch-Trool-hiking
Glentrool - rugged and beautiful

For a relatively short and easy hike, check out the Water of Trool Trail which takes in a scenic section of the Water of Trool (a mountain river), plus a great view of Spout Head waterfall.

A slightly longer, moderate intensity hike is the Loch Trool Loop.  This circular route takes in a lap of the loch, passing through lush woodland.  The views out over the loch and up into the Merrick foothills are sublime.  Keep an eye out for red squirrels, deer, mountain goats and ospreys.

History trivia:  Robert the Bruce – the great warrior and King of Scotland – took refuge here in 1306-07 during the First War of Scottish Independence.  A large engraved stone (“Bruce’s Stone”) stands overlooking a beautiful view of the valley and commemorates Bruce’s victory over the English at the Battle of Glentrool.

Climb The Merrick (One Of The Best Walks In Galloway Forest Park)

If you’re looking for a more strenuous day hike, consider tackling the Merrick.  As well as being the highest point in the (fantastically named) Range of the Awful Hand, the Merrick is also the highest mountain in both the Southern Uplands and southern Scotland.

It’s not actually that tall, standing at 843 m (2,766 ft).  However, the trail is rocky and steep in places, so a decent level of fitness is advised.  The total length of the trail to the summit and back is about 9 miles (14 km).  

In my view this is definitely one of the best walks in Galloway Forest Park.  It’s possible to complete the hike in around 5 hours.  However, you’ll probably want to take longer and be able to stop, enjoy the stunning scenery and not be rushed.

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A beautiful day on the Merrick

From the car park to the north of Loch Trool (near Bruce’s Stone), the path climbs steeply out of Glentrool and into the mountains.  Before you leave the tree line, look out for the Kilsharg bothy.

(Bothies - basic huts providing shelter in the wilderness - are found all over the remote, mountainous areas of Scotland.)

Once you clear the forest zone, there’s a marker on the path announcing the start of the montane zone.  From here, the views start to open up and become spectacular:  vast stretches of wild and untouched natural beauty, ancient forests, lochs and rugged peaks.

On a clear day you can see all the way across to Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Climbing-the-Merrick-in-the-clouds
On a cloudy day, you can't

As you reach the first (false) summit (called Kilsharg), you’ll finally see your ultimate destination, connected by a ridge known as the Neive of the Spit.  The summit of the Merrick itself is marked by a large cairn and a white triangulation tower.

Most people choose to retrace their steps from the summit back down into Glentrool to the car park.  

There is an alternative route, via Loch Valley, which can turn this hike into a circular route.  However, be warned that this alternative route is poorly marked (it’s not marked at all in places – bring a good map) and can be very boggy.

Cloud-and-sheep-on-the-Merrick-Scotland

Cornish Hill

A shorter and less strenuous alternative to the Merrick, the Cornish Hill trail follows a well-marked path and offers excellent views out over the northern stretch of Galloway Forest Park and the Ayrshire countryside.

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The Cornish Hill trail is much easier than the Merrick

The trail starts from the car park at Stinchar Bridge, about 7 miles south of the village of Straiton.  

After hiking for about a mile through a pretty stretch of woodland, the trail starts to climb.  Once you clear the trees, keep following the track all the way up to the top of the hill.  

The summit of Cornish Hill offers good views of several other peaks in the ares.  On a clear day you can see Shalloch-on-Minnoch, the Merrick, and the Isle of Arran in the far distance.

Otter Pool & The Raiders’ Road

The Raiders’ Road is a 10 mile (16 km) unpaved forest drive which runs between Clatteringshaws and Loch Ken.  It’s open to vehicles between May and the end of October, although hikers can use the route year-round.

As well as the main track, there are many other hiking trails through the forest.  These are mostly well-marked and fairly flat.  Red kites, buzzards and ospreys are common sights among the pines and the wildflowers.

About half way along the Raiders’ Road is a tranquil spot called the Otter Pool.  Here, a little river called the Black Water of Dee forms a series of pools and mini waterfalls.  It’s very picturesque and a perfect place for a picnic and/or a dip.

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Sunset at the Otter Pool - a magical place

If you have the right gear – and the inclination – this is also a fantastic place to wild camp.  As an added bonus, at dawn and dusk, otters sometimes come out to play here.  If you’re quiet, still (and lucky), you might just spot one.

(See here for more information on wild camping in Scotland.)

Loch Doon & Loch Riecawr

Loch Doon is one of the largest freshwater lakes in southern Scotland and lies in the northern part of Galloway Forest Park.

There are several hiking trails along the shores of Loch Doon and in the surrounding woodland.  The southern end of the lake, past the ruined Loch Doon Castle, is particularly picturesque.

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Loch Doon

One excellent hike runs from the car park at Craigmalloch along the woodland trails to the tranquil and remote Loch Riecawr, passing through the dense Carrick Forest.  To extend this hike, you can continue all the way to Loch Bradan.

This is a very quiet, peaceful area and you probably won’t see many other people up here.  It’s a perfect place to tune out and unwind in nature.

Other Activities In Galloway Forest Park

As well as hiking and hillwalking, Galloway Forest Park is home to some excellent mountain biking trails (including two of the famous “7stanes” mountain bike trail centres).  It’s also a popular place for rock climbing, and ice climbing in the wintertime.

There are loads of great spots for fishing within the park.  Most (though not all) of these require you to obtain a permit in advance from Forestry and Land Scotland.  Ask in one of the visitor centres for more information.

Galloway Forest Park is also a fantastic place for spotting local wildlife.  Keep an eye out for otters, mountain goats, red deer, red squirrels, kites, nightjars, black grouse, ospreys, and golden eagles.  

The park’s Red Deer Range has a viewing area and hide, which you can visit for free and is a great way to get close to Britain’s largest native land mammal.

If you want to see more of Scotland, I’d recommend this excellent road trip itinerary on whatdoyousea.com *

** Check out some of my other hiking-related posts, including:

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