National Parks Scotland

Written by Chris Thornton | 30th of August 2023
National Parks Scotland

Scotland is a beautiful country and blessed with two Scottish national parks: Cairngorms National Park and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. I have visited both of these parks and they are absolutely stunning with their beautiful landscapes, breathtaking views, ancient forests and wildlife hotspots. The parks are rich in Scottish history with many attractions including castles, rivers, lochs and friendly villages within their limits.

These parks are areas of outstanding natural beauty and have special restrictions placed on them to protect and preserve the landscape as well as the conservation of specialised habitats for wildlife.

Scotland's National Parks

In other countries, national parks are normally owned by the state, but in Scotland, the vast majority of the land is under private ownership. However, these private lands are still accessible to the public through the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which grants a right of responsible access to most areas. This differs from England, where private means private and there is strictly no access. I think this is great as it would be so sad to live in such a stunning country but not be allowed to explore the more wild areas! This means as long as we act responsibly most areas can be walked to, camped on, cycled through and enjoyed by everyone.

Loch Garten
A frozen Loch Garten.

Creation of Scotland's National Parks

Although 10 parks were designated in England and Wales between 1951 and 1957, it wasn't until 1999 when Scotland's brand new parliament created the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 and the current two parks were formed. There have been no new parks since with a claim for Isle of Harris being rejected as a park in 2011.

In 2013, seven areas/future sites were suggested for national park status:

  • Cheviot Hills
  • Galloway
  • Ben Nevis, Glen Coe and the Black Mount
  • Mull and the Small Isles (the first marine park)
  • Glen Affric
  • Wester Ross
  • Isle of Harris

No progress has been made yet with the creation of these parks.

Marine National Parks in Scotland

In 2005 a marine national park was suggested for one of the following locations:

  • North Uist, Sound of Harris, Harris and South Lewis
  • Solway Firth
  • Argyll Islands and Coast
  • North Skye Coast and Wester Ross
  • Ardnamurchan, Small Isles and South Skye Coast

Unfortunately again, minimal progress has been made on the establishment of Scotland's first marine national park.

The next national park in Scotland?

In 2021 after the parliamentary election, the Scottish National Party decided to create a power-sharing agreement at the top levels of government with the Scottish Greens. The establishment of two new parks was part of the Greens election manifesto - this has opened the door again to the creation of a brand new national park in Scotland.

Location of National Parks in Scotland

National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000

One of the firsts Acts of the Scottish Parliament, there are four main parts:

  • to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area.
  • to promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area.
  • to promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public.
  • to promote sustainable economic and social development of the area's communities.

What are national parks?

The United States of America were the first country to begin the concept of national parks in the 1860s. Areas such as Yosemite National Park and Yellowstone National Park are good examples.

It was actually a Scot named John Muir who first proposed the idea of parks to preserve the wilderness in the USA. Born in Dunbar, East Lothian he was known as "John of the Mountains" and "The father of national parks" his legacy continues with countries all over the world creating their own parks. What a great thing to be remembered for!

National Park Authorities

Both parks in Scotland have their own dedicated authority, these are currently "Trossachs National Park Authority" and "Cairngorms National Park Authority". These authorities are executive non-departmental public bodies of the Scottish Government with responsibilities such as :

  • Planning authority/consent
  • Managing access to the countryside
  • Providing Grants
  • Creation of Byelaws
  • Management agreements
  • Advice and research

Cairngorms National Park Authority currently has 19 board members, while Trossachs National Park Authority has 17. The board consists of members elected by the communities, nominated by local authorities and appointed by the Scottish Government.

Trossachs National Park

Loch Lomand and The Trossachs National Park

Established in 2002, Loch Lomand and the glens of the Trossachs are the main areas of this park covering the west and southern Highlands of Scotland. With a total area of over 720 square miles, it contains many mountains and lochs within its boundary, including 21 Munros such as Ben Lomond and Ben Lui.

Loch Lomond is the biggest attraction for tourists in the park and has the largest surface area of any lake in Great Britain.

The Great Trossachs Forest National Nature Reserve is part of this national park and is part of a mass woodland restoration project with 2 million trees planted to date.

Some of the best attractions at the Trossachs park are:

  • Loch Cruises / Waterbus on Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine
  • Find out more about Rob Roy and visit his grave at Balquhidder Parish Church
  • Climbing on the Arrochar Alps and Glen Croe
  • Water activities
  • Waterfalls
  • Angling
  • Golf


Loch Morlich area, near Aviemore, Glenmore Forest

Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms National Park encompasses a large section of the eastern Highlands and western Aberdeenshire. It spans 5 counties in Scotland, Moray, Highland, Aberdeenshire, Angus and Perth & Kinross - 1738 square miles of landscape. It is the largest national park in the UK.

Here are just a few of the top attractions at Cairngorm National Park:

In 2010 the Cairngorms National Park was extended to include the Highland areas of Perthshire.

The Grey Seal colony at Loch Fleet, Sutherland, near Castle Skelbo
The Seal colony at Loch Fleet NNR, Sutherland.

National Nature Reserves & Geoparks in Scotland

National Nature Reserves or NNRs are titles award to areas with special natural significance. All of the NNRs in Scotland are home to species and habitats of national and worldwide importance. There are currently 43 NNRs in Scotland the largest at Mar Lodge Estate NNR and the smallest at Corrieshalloch Gorge NNR.

National Nature Reserves were established to conserve these important habitats and species as well as to give people the opportunity to enjoy nature.

Geoparks are similar to NNRs but have been set up to protect areas of international geological significance

Scottish Campaign for National Parks (SCNP)

SCNP are a dedicated group looking to further the cause of Scotland's existing parks and the creation of new protected landscapes in Scotland. Check out the SCNP website for more information. The group have run a campaign for national parks in Scottish Borders and Galloway.

How many national parks are there in Scotland?

Just two at the moment:

  • Cairngorms National Park and Loch Lomond
  • The Trossachs National Park.
Villas at Scandinavian Village
Villas at Scandinavian Village

Where is the best place to stay while visiting the Cairngorm National Park?

We really love Scandinavian Village in Aviemore. It is the ideal location to see different areas of this fantastic national park.


Scotland's two national parks are must-see areas on your trip to Scotland and offer so much to see, do and experience.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

Claim Your Free 6 Day Travel Itinerary:

Simply enter your email and we'll send it your way!

Free Scotland travel itinerary

Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?