Although best-known for its evergreen species, Galloway Forest is also home to ancient oakwoods. Furthermore, a recent initiative to create a new native woodland on Bennan Hill and the lower slopes of Benyellary has seen the planting of tens of thousands of young Downy Willow, Juniper, Aspen, Elm, Cherry, Birch and Hazel trees.
As this area matures further, it will provide a wonderful complement to the surrounding conifer-covered landscapes, and it should look even more impressive with every passing autumn!
Galloway Forest is only just over an hour's drive from Carlisle, making it an easily-accessible, high-reward destination for a trip from England. Covering more than 300 square miles and surrounded by excellent accommodation options, Galloway Forest Park also makes an excellent addition to an autumnal Scottish self-drive itinerary.
Particularly awesome for: Stargazing! Scotland's first Dark Sky Park can be found in Galloway Forest, providing a wonderful opportunity for stargazing with minimal light pollution. Why not add a visit to the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory to your itinerary? We can arrange private tours with a knowledgeable ranger if you wish.
Located in: Argyll
Managed by: Forestry & Land Scotland
Nearest town: Lochgilphead
Knapdale Forest - often described as 'Scotland's rainforest' - is located on the Taynish peninsula in Argyll, close to the town of Lochgilphead, and is one of Britain's oldest and biggest oak woodlands. As well as being home to Scotland's only beaver population (see below), Knapdale is a wonderful place for wildlife, boasting red squirrels, otters, pine martens and even the occasional wildcat. The variety of wildlife and the mild, moist climate make this an excellent place to visit no matter the time of year, but personally we think it's especially spectacular in autumn! A visit to Knapdale works well as part of a broader Kintyre road trip, and make sure you don't miss the rest of the sights in Kilmartin Glen!
Particularly awesome for: Beavers! Knapdale is the home of the Scottish Beaver Trial - the first formal reintroduction of a mammal in UK history, which ran from 2008 until 2014. The trial population remains in situ, reinforced and managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
To spot the beavers requires an enormous amount of patience and a decent dose of luck, but it's a worthwhile destination anyway! Enjoy a wonderful day out exploring the peaceful woodlands around Loch Sween, chat with the team at the visitor centre, and see if you can spot signs of these rare and elusive creatures as you walk around the area. Send us an enquiry if you'd like to add Knapdale to your self-drive Scottish itinerary.
Queen Elizabeth Forest
Located in: Stirling
Managed by: Forestry & Land Scotland
Nearest town: Aberfoyle
Alongside a range of impressive conifers, the banks of Loch Lomond boast some incredible native oak and birchwoods. The walks around this area are some of the best in Scotland, with the West Highland Way weaving through the oakwoods along the side of the loch. For those looking for bitesize hikes, there are shorter circular walks to the nearby RSPB reserves. There are plenty of accessible options as well - the Three Lochs Forest Drive takes in some of the most beautiful wooded areas in the country and offers views of three lochs (Lochan Reòidhte, Loch Drunkie and Loch Achray) in the space of just seven miles!
Particularly awesome: A woodland island! The island of Inchailloch on Loch Lomond has its own spectacular woodlands - it's accessed by a short boat trip and well worth the slight detour. As well as being a wonderful place to enjoy autumn colours in Scotland, this is a truly beautiful place to visit in spring, when the bluebells are in full bloom.
Located in: Strathcarron
Managed by: Woodland Trust
Nearest town: Shieldaig
In amongst the towering peaks of the North West Highlands and on the beautiful shores of Loch Torridon, the mountainous forest of Ben Shieldaig is a true gem to explore. Boasting rare wildlife including red squirrels, mountain hares and golden eagles, Ben Shieldaig has two distinctive areas of forest - native birchwood is complemented by ancient Caledonian pinewood, giving the most impressive autumn colour combination!
As well as being visually stunning, this site is of particular conservational significance due to its rare and ancient flora and fauna. It was secured by the Woodland Trust in 2019 following an urgent appeal, and plans are afoot to restore the dense cover formerly observed in the area, increasing its attractiveness to the already-abundant wildlife.
Particularly awesome: Birdwatching. The elusive white-tailed eagle was reintroduced to the region in the 1990s and can sometimes be spotted these days at Ben Shieldaig! A pair of binoculars are a must - golden eagles and buzzards, as well as numerous seabirds, are regularly sighted.
Glenmore Forest in Cairngorms National Park puts on a stunning show of autumn colours. Mountains, lochs, forests, beaches, wildlife - this area really has it all!
The area is easy and beautiful to explore by car, with lots of amazing hikes for those who want them, so it's accessible and well set up for visitors with a popular visitor centre and cafe. Many of the more adventurous hikes start from the aptly-named Sugarbowl, including the Chalamain Gap, Braeriach or even the Lairig Ghru pass to Braemar.
Whatever your level of mobility, ambition or fitness, there will be something for you here - a relaxing drive, chilling on the beach, and everything from strolls to strenuous hikes and high-adrenaline watersports on Loch Morlich.
Particularly awesome: Reindeer! Cairngorm is home to a herd of reindeer, which you can pay a visit and hand-feed on a guided Hill Trip offered multiple times daily. You can easily fit this into your self-drive Scottish trip as part of your visit to take in the autumnal splendour of Glenmore Forest.