Scotland has long been a draw for hard-core adrenaline junkies, but for the average traveler, trying to spot the Loch Ness Monster was about as adventurous as a trip here would get. Not anymore. This small island country has exploded in popularity among a wide range of adventure travelers, with more than $1.4 billion spent annually on trips there. Forecasters are also predicting a 70 percent jump in visitors over the next three years, according to figures from the Adventure Travel Trade Association.
If you haven’t yet been, why not add Scotland to your 2011 travel calendar? Here, some popular excursions in what is fast becoming the newest go-to destination for outdoor adventures.
Hiking: Scotland is a world-class hiking destination, with day hikes to month-long sojourns through the famous Scottish Highlands that draw thousands of repeat visitors. Its four most popular hikes are the West Highland Way (www.west-highland-way.co.uk), the Southern Upland Way, the Speyside Way and the Great Glen Way, which are dotted with hotels and inns and ideal for trekking excursions (photo above courtesy of Flickr/Jenny Mealing). Even the cosmopolitan environs of Edinburgh offer an impressive hiking area: Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat, which encompass a dormant volcano, a 16th-century ruin, meadows, sea views, and an actual summit.
Wherever you hike, pack for Scotland’s predictably unpredictable weather, with a waterproof shell and hiking boots. Make sure to abide by the country’s rules for hikers, both legislated and traditional: close all gates, leave livestock alone, don’t pollute water sources, and be careful with fire. And keep in mind that spring and fall are the high seasons for hiking, so make reservations for your accommodations in advance.
Climbing: Scotland is home to Britain’s tallest peak, the 4406-foot Ben Nevis. “The Ben,” as it’s known by locals, draws more than 225,000 climbers every year, from avid alpinists to casual hikers. The most moderate route to the top is the Achintee, which takes about four hours, according to the Scottish Mountaineering Club. The summit offers more than spectacular views of the Scottish countryside – there’s also the ruins of an observatory built in 1893 and an emergency shelter, unusual features considering the harsh weather conditions.
Serious climbers will also delight in the 2000-foot cliffs on the northeast side of the mountain (pictured at left, photo courtesy of Flickr/Masa Sakano). And if you really want to be humbled, consider this: The record for the annual race up the mountain every September (www.bennevisrace.co.uk) is 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Mountain Biking: Just one indicator of the explosive rise in popularity of mountain biking in Scotland: the country held its first-ever national conference on mountain biking this fall. Indeed, the secret is out about this mountain biking paradise, which offers varied terrain, spectacular scenery and world-class riders and facilities. New outfitters are popping up all over the place, but Scotland Mountain Biking (www.scotlandmountainbiking.com) is one of the best. They provide a variety of guided and self-guided tours that offer the superlatives of Scotland: stunning landscapes bursting with craggy cliffs, sheep, and lochs; whiskey tastings; and quaint inns and pubs.
For general trip-planning information, see our Scotland Travel Guide.