Great Glen Canoe Trail Blog
This Great Glen Canoe Trail is a paddling trip is a unique and special way to explore Scotland, taking in some of its finest scenery from the viewpoint of the river. A holiday without traffic and queues, an adventure on the water can be stress free as well as exciting, challenging and rewarding. The Great Glen Canoe Trail is one of Scotland’s most popular expeditions, and for good reason. With majestic views of Ben Nevis, the historic canal systems and iconic Loch Ness, there are so many reasons to choose this as your adventure holiday.
The Great Glen Canoe Trail follows Scotland’s longest fault that stretches the whole length of the country, from Loch Linnhe in Fort William to the Moray Firth in Inverness. In effect, the Great Glen joins the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea. The Caledonian Canal makes paddling this great journey possible- with 22 miles of man-made canal systems and 38 miles over three Lochs.
The Great Glen Canoe Trail starts at Neptune’s Staircase in Fort William within sight of Ben Nevis, an impressive flight of eight locks, the longest in the UK. After a quick coffee or an ice cream next to the lock gates, it is time to load the boats and get on the water. Entering your boat is made easy with floating pontoons at either end of every lock. A cruisy start along the canal offers the chance to either learn some new paddling skills or refresh your memory. After a few kilometres of practice, you enter the first of the big Lochs along the way- Loch Lochy. It is a stunning Loch with a breath-taking backdrop of Ben Nevis. It is upon this Loch with this impressive view that the first night is spent. Wild camping is a liberating way to travel Scotland, giving you access to some memorable spots. With tents set up along the forest-lined beach, a refreshing dip at sunset is too tempting to miss. Meals cooked together on camping stoves and the chance to swap stories over a campfire are quality moments that give the holiday that true sense of adventures in the wild.
The next morning, you will unzip your tent door to the crystal-clear reflection of great mountains on the water. A morning paddle is the best way to shake off sleep and by early afternoon, you will find yourself at the opposite end of the Loch, where a hidden little gem awaits you. After a short portage (carrying canoes and kit past the lock gates) you are rewarded with a refreshing cold drink on the sunlit deck of the ‘Eagle Barge’. You can relax and enjoy the activity around you with a pint of local ale or a hearty pub lunch. After a well-deserved pit stop, you follow the canal a short distance to Loch Oich, the smallest of the three Lochs along the way. Halfway along this Loch is your next camp spot for the evening, with fire pits and another opportunity to go for a swim.
Day three follows the meandering canals to Fort Augustus, a very popular town set around a striking staircase of lock gates, and the gateway to the impressive Loch Ness. With the camp spot just a short walk from town, you have a bit of time to visit some local attractions in town and stop for a loch-side chippy and a pint. It is also home to some award-winning gelato.
On day four of the Great Glen Canoe Trail you will embark on the quest to sight Nessie whilst paddling the first section of Loch Ness. Loch Ness is an impressive feature of the Great Glen way, with a length spanning 23 miles and an average depth of 130m. It holds more water than all the lakes and reservoirs in England and Wales put together. Sometimes it can give the impression of paddling at sea. It can often be one of the most challenging sections of the trip and split over two days with a stop in Drumnadrochit. As you paddle toward Urquhart Bay, you are rewarded with a spectacular view of Urquhart Castle. An incredibly popular tourist attraction, the ruins have one of the most majestic situations of any castle in Scotland, and what better way to approach it than by the Loch itself. Drumnadrochit offers another little gem of a wild camp spot with loch-side views and a maze of forest tracks to explore. If you fancy a wander into town, it is just a short stroll to a number of pubs and restaurants.
Day five sees you to the end of your trip, with a morning paddle to complete Loch Ness. With the satisfying success of paddling the entire length of this remarkable Loch under your belt, the remainder of the journey meanders through the canals toward Inverness.
The Great Glen Canoe Trail encompasses everything that a holiday in the Highlands should. The excitement of embarking on an adventure through the wild, the challenge of learning new skills, the rewarding sense of achievement that comes from paddling through the environment, the peace and tranquillity of the Lochs, the sense of freedom that wild camping gives you, the opportunity to explore some of Scotland’s loch-side towns, meeting new people, unique views from the water and so much more. Yes, you may be a little tired at the end of it, but I guarantee it will be worth it. It is a trip that will manifest memories to last a lifetime.