Scotland has many nature reserves to discover. This post lists the best National Nature Reserves in the Highlands of Scotland that are worth exploring.
From geo parks in the Highlands, to RSPB reserves in the Outer Hebrides, there is plenty of reasons to plan an outdoor getaway in Scotland. National Nature Reserves are an excellent place to go to escape the hustle and bustle of the cities. Also, it is a great opportunity to connect with nature and view some wildlife.
The Highlands of Scotland are home to some of Scotland’s finest nature reserves. This part of the country has some of the best landscapes in the world.
The nature reserves, parks and woods are so varied with glistening lochs, high mountains and lovely greenery. Every step leads to a new view which will take your breath away. Some nature reserves are located on the coasts of Scotland and have the most beautiful beaches.
Noss National Nature Reserve
Location: Isle of Noss, Shetland
Isle of Noss is one of the islands on the east coast of Shetland. There is an incredible population of gannets, (about 13,700 pairs) along with other birds in this part of Shetland.
Also, there are great views out to see and for a large part of Shetland. On the island of Noss, four hours is the recommended time for walking and exploring, if you are able to spend six hours on the island, that is even better.
As the Isle of Noss is in such a remote part of the country is it one of the harder National Nature Reserves to get too. In addition, the weather can change extremely quickly in this part of Scotland, thus come prepared with waterproofs and plenty of things to eat and drink.
Forsinard Flow National Nature Reserve
There is a visitor centre that you can stop by to learn about peatlands, and the important role they play in Scotland’s landscape. The nature reserve is home to many well-maintained nature trails. One of the easier more gentler walks is the Dubh Lochan Trail.
Head up Flows Lookout Tower which will give you a different perspective on the pool system as well as great views out over the surrounding landscape. For a longer route, try the Forsinain Trail. There is a variety of wildlife on this trail, with different species making their appearance depending on the season.
The RSPB visitor centre at Forsinard is located in one of the former station buildings and is open from Monday to Friday in the spring and summer months. The nearest towns to Forsinard Flows are Thurso and Wick.
Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve
Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve is the most northerly estuary on Scotland’s east coast, with a large tidal basin surrounded by dunes, salt marsh and pine woods.
Along the sand dune paths, visitors can spot wildflowers, bumblebees, butterflies and moths. At the estuary, you may be able to spot osprey, seals or otters. Also, walk through the old woodland path of rare pinewood plants.
There is a lovely beach at Littleferry, which is a great place to sit and relax. In addition, the views from Skelbo Castle are beautiful.
There are car parks at Littleferry and Balblair Woods. Information panels regarding the wildlife are placed around the reserve.
Balranald Hebridean Nature Reserve
Location: North Uist
On the Scottish Island of North Uist, you can escape to Balranald Hebridean Nature Reserve. There is a wildlife-rich grassland, sweeping sandy beaches, sculpted sand dunes and rocky shores.
Balranald Hebridean Nature Reserve is one of the most remote nature reserves in the UK. An information centre explains the importance of traditional crofting agriculture for corncrakes and other wildlife.
There is a three-mile circular nature trail through wildflower-rich machair and around a bird-rich headland. A wide selection of wildlife can be seen, from wading birds to the elusive otter.
Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve
Location: North West Highlands
Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve is part of the first UNESCO Global Geopark in Scotland. There are so many things to uncover as you dive deep into the Scottish geological past.
Millions of years ago, two continents crashed together to form the Moine Thrust. Also, there is an important poem by Norman MacCaig carved into the stone.
There are three trails to choose from, suitable for all abilities and all provide a fantastic views of the rugged mountains and glistening lochs. Follow the Rock Route where you can witness amazing rocks and landscapes. There are so many photography opportunities so make sure to have your cameras ready.
Beinn Eighe & Loch Maree Islands National Nature Reserve
Location: Achnasheen, Highlands
This nature reserve is an absolutely stunning place in the Scottish Highlands. There is no surprise with why Beinn Eighe was chosen as Britain’s first National Nature Reserve. The mountains, sea and lochs in this part of Scotland are some of the finest in the world.
It has incredible scenery with some good walks and hiking trails. There are two main trails with information guides, both are quite steep but have rewarding views of Loch Maree. Outside Kinlochewe, there is a visitor centre which is open during the summer months.
The car park is located by the loch side, and it is an excellent place to stop for a loch-side picnic. Beinn Eighe stands tall above the coastal village called Torridon.
The nearest city to Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree is Inverness. Inverness is over an hour’s drive away.
Ben Wyvis National Nature Reserve
Location: North West Highlands
Ben Wyvis dominates the Easter Ross landscape. Very popular during the summer months as Munro baggers take on the challenge. The routes have the perfect blend between wildlife and scenery.
At the summit, you will be rewarded with panoramic views across the Highlands. On a clear day, the whole of the Moray Firth will be stretched out beneath you.
The average time to complete the summit is six hours. Alternatively, for those who do not like heights, there are other paths to follow.
Try the woodland walk where you can admire many different species of trees including birch and rowan. Ben Wyvis is located thirty miles northwest of Inverness, a car journey takes forty-five minutes from the Highland Capital.
Glen Affric National Nature Reserve
Location: Beauly, North West Highlands
Glen Affric is a mix of native pinewoods, rugged hills, shimmering lochs and haunting moorland. You will be able to find some of the largest Caledonian pine woods in Scotland. Wander through the pine trees and encounter ospreys, otters or red- and black-throated divers.
One of the most picturesque spots for a picnic is the Loch Beinn a’Mhradhain. Also, Glen Affric is a hot spot for bagging Munros. It may be worth booking some accommodation and spending a weekend in the Highland utopia.
Abernethy National Nature Resere
Location: Nethy Bridge, Cairngorms National Park
A dramatic and awe-inspiring place. Abernethy stretches from the top of Ben Macdui to River Nethy. The nature reserves encompass woodland, moorland, wetlands and mountains.
Abernethy offers plenty of short walks or somewhere to watch wildlife. Head to RSPB’s Loch Garten reserve to watch some ospreys nesting high in the tree tops.
Or, spot the roe deer, pine marten and Scottish wildcats in the forests. Head to Nethy Bridge to explore the visitor centre or feel the magic in the Hidden Fairy Forest.
Forvie National Nature Reserve
Forvie National Nature Reserve is a great nature reserve which is partly on sand dunes near the beach. One of my favourite places to visit, especially when the sun is out. Try walking the path to Newburgh Beach from the car park, or walk to another great spot – Hackley Bay. Also, Ythan Estuary prodides a good pit stop for passing birds and seals.
There are a few interesting places along the way including the ruins of the 12th-century kirk. In addition, there are plenty of information boards dotted around informing visitors of habitats and wildlife. If you are lucky you might get to see seals, herons and other numerous birds. The nearest city to Forvie National Nature Reserve is Aberdeen. Aberdeen is a twenty-five minute drive south of Forvie National Nature Reserve.
Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve
Location: Ballater, Aberdeenshire
The Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve is located in the stunning Cairngorms National Park. It is a mosaic of wetlands, woods and moors. It is the ideal habitat for a range of wildlife, and has a wealth of connections to Scotland’s past too.
There is a very popular geological formation called the Burn O’Vat. Discover the waterfall which is hidden behind a massive boulder. Also, you can admire the cauldron-shaped pothole that was shaped by rocks tumbling along in a stream beneath a glacier thousands of years ago.
Once you have viewed the Burn O’Vat continue the walk to get to a lovely viewpoint which overlooks the lovely loch. Moreover, keep an eye out for birds, animals and delicate woodland wildflowers as you stroll through the trails of this nature reserve.
Craigellachie National Nature Reserve
Location: Aviemore, Cairngorms National Park
The reserve has a birch woodland, open glades, tree-fringed loch and slopes rising to a craggy summit. From the summit, there are magnificent views across Spey Valley over the Cairngorm Mountains.
There is a wide range of Scottish flora and fauna, during the warmer months you might be lucky enough to spot rare butterflies and moths. There are four routes to choose from, one of which is suitable for all abilities.
The nature reserve is a perfect stroll from Aviemore. The youth hostel acts as a visitor hub where you can read the information boards and watch the live streaming of a peregrine falcon on the top of the crags at the reserve.
Invereshie & Inshriach National Nature Reserve
Location: Kingussie, Cairngorms National Park
Invereshie & Inshriach is one of the eight National Nature Reserves in the Cairngorms. There are lovely walks through the forest, make sure to keep an eye out for the iconic red squirrel.
If you are feeling adventurous you can bag a couple of Munros – Sgor Gaoith or Carn ban Mor. Invereshie & Inshraich is an hour drive from Inverness, located in the Cairngorms National Park. Car parking is free, the nearest place for amenities is in Kincraig village.
Rum National Nature Reserve
Location: Isle of Rum
Located on the largest small isle in the Inner Hebrides. The Isle of Rum is a truly amazing place to stay and visit. From extinct volcanoes, beautiful beaches, breathtaking scenery and a castle, there is so much to discover. This island is truly overrun by nature. Visitors can embark on good walks, watch nature, do some hiking or learn bout the history and geology.
Expert climbers head to Rum to tackle one of the finest ridges in Scotland, the Cuillin Peaks. Other option include exploring the deserted village of Kilmory or exploring the holiday home of an Edwardian millionaire. Taking a short walk up the Coire Dubh Trail is a good way to get a flavour of the reserve if you have limited time on the island.
To get to Rum, you can get a ferry from Mallaig, or by tour boat. Facilities on the island include a ranger service, visitor centre, seasonal tea room, general store, hotel and a craft shop. Also, visitors can take part in ranger-guided trails, illustrated talks and guided tours of Kinloch Castle.
Ariundle Oakwood National Nature Reserve
Location: Acharacle, North Western Highlands
A beautiful woodland and riverside walk located on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula through the rare oak woods. It is a great place to visit at anytime of year, there is a treasure of plants, magnificent wildlife and stunning scenery.
Mosses, lichens and liverworts flourishes in this green haven. A wide range of wildlife is located here, you might be lucky enough to spot pine martens, otters and wildcats.
There is a woodland trail and nature trail with information boards explaining the history, culture and wildlife of the area. The Aruindle Centre is well placed for lunch or coffee and a cake for before or after your walk. Aruindle Oakwood is a very remote nature reserve, located one hour drive from Fort William, the outdoor capital of Scotland.
Moine Mhor National Nature Reserve
Location: Kilmartin Glen, Argyll
A massive blanket of bog covers most of the west coast of Argyll near Crinan and Kilmichael. Spend hours admiring the natural beauty of Moire Mhor, one of Scotland’s oldest landscapes. It is a wild landscape of hummocks, hollows and pools, in the heartland of Kilmartin Glen.
There is so much awesome wildlife to spot including dragonflies, coastal birds and otters. The nature reserve features tidal flats, salt marsh and woodland. Also, you can go fishing by the river.
There are several things to do at this site. Visitors can climb the ancient hill fort at Dunadd to get a birds-eye view. Follow the circular boardwalk, a trail which is suitable for most abilities. Explore the wooded Tileworks Trail and look out for lovely models of houses and tile work on the trail path.
Taynish National Nature Reserve
Location: Argyll and Bute
A very peaceful and beautiful place to visit located at the end of a hidden peninsula. The nature reserves features woodlands, grasslands, heath, salt marsh and shorelines which is teeming with wildlife.
The area is home to roe deer, red squirrels, otters, butterflies and dragonflies. Also, there is a chance to spot otters and seals.
So much effort has been put in to maintain this lovely part of the world, the information signs are brilliant. There are a choice of trails which will take you through the oak forest, along the shore, or take the path to the top of Barr Mor for panoramic views. In addition, the art installation is a special treat. The whole place has a mystical feel to it.
There is a small car park which can accommodate ten cars, and there is a cycle rack at the south end of the reserve track. Toilets are not located in the nature receive and the nearest facilities are in the Tayvallich village.
The Highlands of Scotland are home to some of the most magnificent landscapes in the world. National Nature Reserves in the Highlands of Scotland are a perfect place to unwind and connect with nature.
There are plenty of hiking trails up a selection of Munros. Also, there are boardwalks through the best sand dunes and marshes in the country. In addition, you will get the opportunity to witness the best and most rare wildlife in the country.