Loch Garten

Written by Chris Thornton | 6th of December 2022
Loch Garten

Loch Garten (also named Loch a' Ghartain in Gaelic) is a large freshwater loch not far from Boat of Garten and Nethy Bridge in the Highlands of Scotland. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty located within ancient Abernethy Forest, where tall pine trees line the banks of the loch.

I have only been to Loch Garten twice, but it has been such a lovely experience each time. The first time I visited the Loch was completely frozen over; it was quite a magical experience. This ice was so thick it couldn't be broken; stones just skipped over the surface.

The forest around Loch Garten is actually part of the ancient Caledonian pine forest and comprises the largest remaining area of the "Great Wood of Caledon", which once spanned across most of the highlands. Sadly only 1% of this once great forest remains due to deforestation and overgrazing.

We visited in late November 2022, the Loch looked absolutely stunning, with low morning cloud on the horizon. We had a walk down to the sandy shore and then a short walk in the woods afterwards. Loch Garten is a very special place.

Loch Garten in late November 2022.
Loch Garten in late November 2022.
 
Loch Garten with beach.
Loch Garten beach on the north shore.

What species can be found at Loch Garten?

The main bird star species of the Loch are:

  • Osprey

  • Crested tits

  • Goldeneye

  • Scottish crossbill

  • Capercaillie

  • Great spotted woodpeckers

Loch Garten woodpecker.
Woodpecker at Loch Garten.

Loch Garten is most famous for its nesting Ospreys, which can often be seen hunting over its expansive waters. This led to Boat of Garten earning its nickname of "The Osprey Village".

Other species include:

Why did Ospreys go extinct in Scotland?

Ospreys are impressive-looking birds and were highly valued by taxidermists in the 1800s. In addition to hunting, collectors often stole eggs, too, leading to the total extinction of Ospreys by the early 1900s.

Osprey hunting in the waters of Loch Garten near Boat of Garten.
An osprey hunting at Loch Garten.

Loch Garten Nature Centre / Loch Garten Osprey Centre

On the north side of the Loch exists Loch Garten Nature Centre, a fantastic tourist attraction where you can learn about the forest and the animals within it, with a particular focus on the ospreys. The centre offers:

  • CCTV Screens of bird feeders and sometimes osprey nests.

  • Binoculars and telescopes.

  • Exhibitions.

  • Daily talks.

  • Family activities.

  • Viewing hides.

  • A gift shop selling gifts, books, sandwiches and hot drinks.

The visitor centre closes for the winter but is a must-visit in the spring and summer months while visiting Loch Garten.

How much does it cost to visit Loch Garten Nature Centre?

£5 for adults, £2.50 for children, but the first child is free. Under fives are free. Student entry is £3.50. Wildlife explorer members can enter for free. There is no charge to use the car park.

Loch Garten Nature Reserve (RSPB Abernethy reserve)

Abernethy is a very special nature reserve as it is home to many rare species and contains part of the remaining area of the ancient Caledonian pine forest. It's such a joy to walk in the forest here and see the variety of fauna and flora.

Loch Garten trees. Cairngorm National Park.
Loch Garten is a place of stunning natural beauty.
 
Loch Garten fallen tree.
Fallen trees are left in place for biodiversity.

Walking at Loch Garten

There are two main walks near Loch Garten, the Two Lochs Trail and the Big Pines Trail.

  • The Two Lochs Trail (1.7-mile circular route) - this starts at the main car park at the north west side of the loch. You will walk southwest along the shore of Loch Garten, eventually arriving at Loch Mallachie viewpoint. You return via the circular route, not by backtracking.

  • Big Pines Trail (0.5 miles) - this also begins at the loch car park but follows the road and shore of the north side of the Loch. This walk ends at the Nature Centre mentioned above. Backtrack from the centre to return to the starting point.

Both of these walks are absolutely lovely and highly recommended. If you're walking the Speyside Way, the route comes very close to Loch Garten, and with a short detour to the east, you can visit the loch before heading on to Boat of Garten.

Walking at Loch Garten. Narrow but clear path.
Walking at Loch Garten.
 
Trail to the nature centre at Loch Garten. Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
Following at a trail to the nature centre.

Loch Mallachie

One of the lesser known Speyside lochs, the bogs around here create rare habitats. Like Loch Garten, this is a very pretty loch surrounded by forest and worth completing the Two Lochs Trail to visit. A small island with trees exists near the centre of the loch.

Loch Mallachie
Loch Mallachie, south west of Loch Garten.

Loch Garten FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about Loch Garten.

How do I get to Loch Garten?

Here are the directions to Loch Garten.

From the North:

  1. While travelling on the A95, follow the signs for Nethy Bridge on your left.

  2. Follow Station Road, crossing Broomhill Bridge.

  3. Enter Nethy Bridge and take a right onto B970.

  4. Take a left fork following the sign for Loch Garten.

  5. You will see Loch Garten Nature Centre car park on your right.

  6. You can park here or continue on to park here or here.

Car parking at north shore. RSPB Loch Garten.
A little parking area near the north shore.

From the South:

  1. From the A95, take this right turn to the Boat of Garten.

  2. Take a left here following the signs for Nethy Bridge.

  3. Turn left onto the B970; the sign reads, "2 miles to Loch Garten".

  4. Leave the B970 by taking a right turn here.

  5. Follow this road until you reach Loch Garten.

Frozen Loch Garten. Have your lunch on the forest decking.
Frozen water at Loch Garten.
 
Cairngorm Mountains near Loch Garten. Why not stay at a forest lodge?
Loch Garten with Cairngorm Mountains.
 
Loch Garten. An amazing forest.
Winter at Loch Garten.

Are there ospreys at Loch Garten?

Yes, ospreys have nested at Loch Garten since the 1950s when a random mating pair recolonised Scotland from Scandinavia.

Is Boat of Garten worth visiting?

Yes, it's a lovely wee village full of the Highland community spirit. The main points of interest are:

  • The village shop and post office.

  • The Strathspey Railway.

  • Loch Garten Osprey Centre.

  • Loch Garten.

  • A six-mile section of the Speyside Way.

Strathspey Railway.
Strathspey Railway.

Are dogs allowed at Loch Garten?

Only assistance dogs are allowed at the nature centre. At the loch itself, dogs are allowed but should be kept on a lead between April and August to protect the ground nesting birds, such as the capercaillie.

Can you kayak on Loch Garten?

It's possible, but April to August is the season the breeding birds and much of the wildlife on and around the loch, so it's recommended these times are avoided. If you do go in the breeding season, try to stay on the north side of the loch.

Loch An Eilein to the south is an excellent place to kayak as you can get close to the island castle.

Signage at Loch Garten. Nature reserve.
Sign about kayaking or canoeing at Loch Garten.

Can you wild camp at Loch Garten?

Yes, but only one night is permitted. Be sure to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code as set out by the Cairngorms National Park Authority. Also, refer to my midge survival guide if staying in high midge season!

Is there anywhere near Loch Garten also worth visiting?

Castle Roy is a short distance north of Nethy Bridge and is well worth visiting before or after going to Loch Garten. The castle is amongst the oldest in Scotland and has just opened after a massive refurbishment... there is also a friendly highland cow just outside!

Castle Roy.
Castle Roy, only a short distance from Loch Garten.

When is the best time of year to visit Loch Garten?

If you're planning a visit, May would be a great time before the midgey hordes spawn, and hopefully, you will get to see some Osprey chicks in the centre's TV displays.

Famnily at Loch Garten.
My girls at Loch Garten.

Key takeaways

  • Loch Garten is near Boat of Garten and Nethy Bridge.

  • A 20-minute drive from Aviemore.

  • It's a haven for wildlife, in particular Ospreys.

  • The loch is about 1km long by 750m wide.

  • RSPB Scotland Loch Garten Nature Centre exists on the northeast side of the loch.

  • Castle Roy is a short distance to the north, just past Nethy Bridge.

Loch Garten.
Stunning scenery near Boat of Garten.
 
Loch Garten.
Loch Garten is beautiful.

Conclusion

Words can't convey how beautiful this area of Scotland is; you should add Loch Garten to your visit list while staying in south Moray or the east Highlands. Only a 20-minute drive from Aviemore and with walks, the nature centre, the loch itself, and the chance to see Osprey hunt in an exceptional nature reserve, it makes for a brilliant day out.

Loch Garten location map

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