We were guests of the Outdoor Capital of the UK and the Lochaber Chamber of Commerce during our visit. We are grateful for their hospitality and for the opportunity to explore their beautiful home. All opinions are our own.
For well over a decade, the Scottish Highlands have been at the top of my travel bucket list. Since we were already on our way to Paris to meet my parents for a few days, we figured we should visit the UK before Brexit potentially made traveling with a dog to the UK more of a challenge.
For an outdoor enthusiast like me, the region is truly the adventure capital of the UK, with the abundant trails, ski areas, and waterways that just beg to be explored. And don’t forget the opportunity to try and find the Loch Ness Monster!
The Highlands encompass the rugged and little-populated north and northwestern part of Scotland. In our short visit, we only touched on a small portion of the region and I’m already plotting our next visit to explore the places we missed like the Outer Hebrides, Isle of Skye, and the Orkney Islands.
We loved all the dog-friendly trails and pubs and especially appreciated the Scottish Rights of Way laws. Also called the ScotWays, these rights allow all human-powered (and dog-powered, too in many-cases) users to access land and waterways, even on private properties, provided they act in a responsible manner.
Outdoor Activities in the Scottish Highlands
We happened to be visiting Fort William a few days before the Mountain Bike World Cup at Glencoe Mountain Resort. One of the premiere mountain biking events in the world, the city’s population swells from 10,000 inhabitants to some 30,000.
This region of Scotland features some of the best mountain biking in the world. The endless trails, forest roads, and rugged mountain terrain should put this country at the top of any avid mountain biker’s list of dream destinations. You can drool over all the trails as you plan your trip with this trail map from the tourism board.
Fortunately, for us newbies, there are trails for all levels. We stuck to something more casual for our outing. We picked up our rides from Off Beat Bikes a great shop that rents a variety of bikes to suit all abilities and types of recreation.
The knowledgeable staff helped us pick from several routes, gave us a map, fitted us to the bikes, and sent us on our way. Since this was Laila’s first time riding and one of our first, we stuck to an easy gravel path called the Gairlochy Loop. I wouldn’t call it mountain biking, but it gave us a taste of what Laila can handle (she did great, by the way!).
The main attraction for me in this beautiful part of Scotland is the trail running. I have wanted to take on the trail here for ages. Unfortunately, time and weather did not allow me to get out as I would have liked, but we did manage to get in a one good run.
The tourism board kindly connected us with Sara Bellshaw, who showed us a snippet of the local trails. She is an accomplished mountain runner and founder of Rannsaich, an adventure running company that combines sailing and trail running, mindfulness, and healthy food. Sara knows the area very well and talked on and on about all the paths we could have taken. It made me vow to return for a proper trail running adventure, ideally with Rannsaich!
After paddling around the world, owners Rob Kingslad and Keren Smail of Rugged Paddle Board returned home to the UK in order to show off Glencoe from the water.
We donned wetsuits and booties and headed to tranquil Glencoe Lochen, a small lake surrounded by mountains. Depending on your level of paddling experience, Rugged Paddle gives lessons, offers short outing of 1-2 hours, or a longer full day tour exploring the region by SUP. Alternatively, you can hire your own board and go where you like.
As a bonus for anyone traveling with their dogs, the Signal Rock Cottage where Rugged Paddle makes their home is dog-friendly for a very reasonable fee of £2.50 per day.
There is a reason that the Scottish Highlands have taken claim as the Outdoor Capital of the UK. Throughout the highlands, miles upon miles of trails intersect. Hiking enthusiasts can choose to summit Ben Nevis, tackle a long distance trail such as the popular Great Glen Way (117km), or go on a waterfall hunt to Steall Falls or Eas Chia-aig Waterfall. The opportunities are endless.
Don’t be scared off by the crowds you’ll see taking photos on the side of the main road going into town. All you have to do is drive a little way down a side road and you’ll find empty trails.
An hour and a half from Fort William will bring you to Cairngorms National Park, the largest in the UK. We met up with Instafriends @roman.around.scotland who showed us around a wee bit of the park (I picked up “wee” in Scotland!).
Hit the Beach
The beaches in Scotland reminded me a bit of those in the Pacific Northwest. They’re rugged and rocky with expansive sand for the dogs to play as hard as they want. Since the water is so cold, we practically had the entire space to ourselves.
If you’re staying in the Highlands, definitely plan a day trip to the beach. On the rare clear June day we were granted, we drove along the scenic Road to the Isles to Arisaig and played fetch, ran down sand dunes, and trekked along the short trail nearby.
The beach was simply exquisite and had we the time to explore more, we would have ventured just a bit farther to Camusdarach Beach in Morar with turquoise waters that would make you think you’re in the tropics.
Dog-friendly Restaurants & Pubs in the Scottish Highlands
One of the most wonderful parts about visiting the Highlands with your dog is that many pubs welcome your pup inside the pub. This was actually fairly common throughout the UK and we took full advantage. The other bonus for us veg eaters is that the UK is very much aware of veganism and we were hard-pressed to find a place that didn’t have vegan options.
While this isn’t a bar, restaurant, or pub, it is a brewery and we are never ones to pass on craft beer. Opened in 2018, Glen Spean Brewery brews out of an 18th century converted barn behind the house of owners Ian Peter “Peeps” MacDonald, Lucy Hicks, and James Leggatt.
Peep’s family has lived in a short radius of the location of the brewery over the past several generations. All of the beers are named for a story from the history of the region (of which Peeps can tell you all about, he is incredibly knowledgeable of the history of his land).
All four beers we sampled more than satisfied our snobby PNW palates and since they only sell locally, I guess we’ll have to return one day to enjoy them another time.
Serving as a refuge for weary hikers since the 1750’s, the Kingshouse Bar was the first bar in Glencoe. With cozy seats, a fireplace, delicious meals, oh, and floor to ceiling windows unveiling a spectacular view, this bar feels fancy, but caters to both high-end visitors and muddy sodden hikers alike. Everyone is welcome, including the dogs.
Special Mention: The Wildcat
While The Wildcast does not allow dogs inside, unfortunately (as is the case with all cafes in Scotland), they will bring you food to the public benches just outside if you come with your pup. As the only specifically vegan place in town, we frequented the cafe every day during our stay. The food was phenomenal (especially the cakes), there’s a small shop selling food and plastic-free products, and the coffee out of this world.
A few other pubs and restaurants that allow dogs:
Dog-friendly Accommodation in the Scottish Highlands
I’m not sure if there is a single spot in this hotel that does not have an amazing view. Situated on the shores of Loch Leven, I couldn’t stop staring out our window at the scenery. Even with the terrible rain during our visit, a constant string of clouds danced over the lake putting on a stunning show. Our room was super cozy with tons of space and a door that opened practically onto the lake.
Situated right on the shores of Loch Linnhe, this holiday resort offers luxury camping options, including cabins, pitches, chalets, and lodges. The private beach has amazing views of the surrounding mountains, and lovely walking paths.
Check Booking.com for rates.
Use the map below to find other dog-friendly accommodation in the Scottish Highlands
A Glossary of Scottish Terms to Know
I found myself wondering nearly daily whether the Scots are truly speaking English. Their accent is so thick and they roll their R’s making the words sound completely different from how I am used to hearing them. They also have some Gaelic words they incorporate into the language, so here’s a little cheat sheet to help you during your visit.
You’ll notice that nearly every trail refers to a “glen” of some sort. Simply put, glens refer to valleys, however if we are getting specific, they are the “Scottish term for a deep valley in the Highlands that is narrower than a strath.”
Munros are Scottish mountains over 3,000 ft named after Sir Hugh T Munro, who surveyed and catalogued all 282 peaks. Attempting to summit all 282 peaks is known as “Munro bagging,” a feat accomplished by just 6,000 people called “compleatists.” The FKT (fastest known time) for bagging every single peak is set by Stephen Pyke, who finished in 39 days, 9 hours, and 6 minutes. Think you have what it takes to surpass him?
Bothies are basic mountain huts located along the many trails throughout the country. There are no facilities, some have sleeping platforms and fireplaces, but you must bring your own equipment.
Loch is nothing more than the Gaelic word for lake or sea inlet.