10 Best Places in Scotland for an Autumn Campervan Trip
It’s not just the trees that put on a fiery display in Scotland, blaeberry leaves turn bright red and yellow, bracken colours the hills in sepia, while grasses flame gold and bronze. Accent colours are provided by berries and fantastically coloured funghi in the woodlands, while atmosphere is provided by mood lighting in the form of sunbeams bursting through dramatic clouds in an expectant sky. Suzanne Turner is you guide around Scotland in the autumn.
We do of course get our fair share of colour from trees too, particularly beautiful in autumn are the beech woods which glow like burnished copper in late afternoon sunshine. Often though, unlike fall in New England, which is all about vast areas swathed in colour, the change is more subtle in Scotland, due to the different climate and landscape, so you’re more likely to see patches of vibrant colour set against deep green forests and camouflage hills.
Perthshire is known as big tree country and is the place to head if you want a New England type experience with lots of fantastic drives and attractive towns to stop in, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is ideal for taking perfect photos of the many lochs framed by golden branches and the Cairngorms are best if you are here early in the season as the hills are swathed with purple heathers in full bloom.
Scotland has so many beautiful places in Autumn which made it hard to choose our favourites, but we’ve narrowed it down, so here are our top picks that are sure to make you fall for Scotland.
Birks of Aberfeldy, Perthshire
The Falls of Moness inspired Robert Burns to write his song, ‘The Birks of Aberfeldy’, birks being the Scots word for birch. There’s a car park with picnic tables just outside the attractive town of Aberfeldy, or park in town and take the 4km circular walk that is signposted from the centre. Follow the easy trail to see a series of waterfalls tumbling down the gorge amongst the birks and beeches, then sit a while at the Burns statue to take in the magnificence of the setting.
Campervans, under 2.1m high can overnight at the car park and use the showers at the leisure centre in Aberfeldy town, a 10-minute walk away, the town has a great selection of places to eat.
Glen Nevis, Fort William
Take a walk through mixed native woodland and pines to Steall waterfall for the full Autumn flavour of this beautiful glen sitting at the bottom of mighty Ben Nevis. Drive along the glen from Fort William to the car park at the road end then walk as far as you wish before turning back, it’s an easy walk but can be very slippery so take care.
Campervans with their own onboard toilets can park for £10 per night at the car park 200m away from the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre. The owner of the parking site is very helpful and will advise you on local walks. Alternatively, Glen Nevis Caravan and Campsite is open until 5th November and offers full facilities.
Meikleour Beech Hedge, Blairgowrie, Perthshire
The highest hedge in the world and the longest in Britain as confirmed by Guinness World Records. Meikleour Beech Hedge is believed to have been planted in 1745, the men who planted it went to fight in the Jacobite Rebellion. None returned, and the hedge was left to grow unchecked. Measuring an enormous 30m (100ft) high and 530m (one third of a mile) long it’s impressive at any time of year but more so when the deep green leaves turn first yellow then copper during the autumn. The hedge is cut every 10 years which takes about six weeks.
For anyone travelling with dogs, an overnight stay at GG & Belles is a great option with a dog park on site and the option of a private, fully fenced pitch, https://www.ggandbelles.com/campi.
If you prefer more facilities, then Blairgowrie Holiday Park is well located for touring the wider area https://www.woodleisure.co.uk/our-parks/blairgowrie
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
This is a place to spend a few days driving around peaceful roads exploring the lochs, and enjoying relaxed coffee and cake stops at the main towns of Balmaha, Callender and Aberfeldy, or the many smaller villages dotted around. There are plenty of walks for all abilities and the wild swimming here is sublime. Hire a bike at Loch Katrine for a scenic cycle along a private road that hugs the loch shore. There’s virtually no traffic and you can also take a boat back to the start or go on a longer cruise around the loch until 31st October https://www.lochkatrine.com/ if you time it right, you may be able to sail on the steamship SS Sir Walter Scott. Overnight parking is available at either Loch Katrine or Stronachlachar Pier in the car parks but we loved our stay at the peaceful Cobleland Caravan and Campsite in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, where you can choose either a meadow or woodland pitch set amongst splendid old oak trees alongside a river with 14 acres in which to wander.
The Hermitage, Dunkeld
Complete with a folly and hermit’s cave, The Hermitage was originally designed in the 18th century as pleasure grounds for the Dukes of Atholl. Today, you can explore this designed landscape that’s managed by National Trust for Scotland. Follow the sound of the River Braan, which teases you by not revealing itself until you reach the stone bridge, where you’ll also gain fabulous views of the narrow gorge. Many of the paths here are accessible by wheelchair. A full circuit takes around two hours on mostly level ground and there are lots of longer walks and cycles in the area. Some of Britain’s tallest trees can be seen here, towering above 60m (200ft) tall.
Combine a visit to The Hermitage with nearby Faskally Wood for a full-on dose of autumn colours. If you visit between 5th October and 5th November 2023, be sure to visit the Enchanted Forest. This annual event is a dazzling sound and light show set within Faskally Wood. Food and drink are available, and it makes for a fun evening out https://www.enchantedforest.org.uk/
The Forestry Commission Scotland operates a Stay the Night scheme for self-contained campervans with their own toilets, https://forestryandland.gov.scot/visit/forest-parks/tay-forest-park/douglas-fir-woods The Douglas Fir parking area just north of Dunkeld, is part of this scheme and makes a convenient place to overnight.
Lady Mary’s Walk, Crieff
Named after Lady Mary Murray whose family were the local landowners, this is a fine walk alongside the River Earn in an area rich in wildlife. Beavers can often be seen, also keep an eye out for Kingfishers, Heron and Otters. Some of the trees are over 150 years old and are a beautiful sight when clothed in their autumn hues. There are lots of options for walks, many waymarked. We like to park in MacRosty Park, head over the bridge, then walk along the river where extensive evidence of beavers can be seen, then loop back across Laggan Hill and on to Glenturret Distillery, home of The Famous Grouse Experience.
Stay at the fabulous Comrie Croft which is well known among cyclists for its top trails. They have a great farm shop and café and offer ‘almost wild’ camping with lovely hot showers, just perfect.
Dawyck Botanic Garden, Peebles
Boasting one of Scotland’s finest tree collections including many rare specimens from around the world, you are guaranteed a kaleidoscope of autumnal colours here. Open until 30th November, there is an award-winning visitor centre and café on-site.
Take a drive south from the thriving Borders town of Peebles to spend a morning at Dawyck Botanic Gardens, have lunch then drive south to Tweedsmuir where you can take the narrow twisting road up over the hills to Meggethead for fantastic far-reaching views, After this, you can continue down to Cappercleugh and turn south for a couple of miles to Tibbie Shiels Inn where you can hook up your campervan for just £5 per night and park right on the shore between St Mary’s Loch and Loch of the Lowes. This is a truly stunning setting and a perfect spot to get out your kayak or paddleboard.
Glentrool makes a great base for a few days, lying within Galloway Forest Park which has been designated by the International Dark-Sky Association as a Gold Tier Park for its breathtaking and rare stargazing conditions. Over 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye, and the Milky Way is usually easy to see arching across the sky. Make sure you get some sleep though, as there’s plenty to do during the daytime too. The Red Deer Range has a viewing hide and a trip to the Wild Goat Park enables you to see this friendly, ancient breed of goat close up. Cyclists won’t want to miss the world famous 7stanes mountain bike trails which are suitable for all abilities. Bike hire is available too.
Take a drive through the forest and park up overnight at Glentrool Camping and Caravan Site, just 2.5km from the Glentrool Visitor Centre and Café and with a lovely inn just a few minutes’ walk away.
This beautiful glen contains some of the largest remnants of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian pine forests, which once covered much of Scotland. The native woodland sweeps down to the shores of Loch Affric and Loch Beinn a Mheadhain, roughly pronounced Ben Vane, where golden eagles soar above. From the end of September until early November you are likely to hear red deer stags roaring during the annual deer rut, a true Highland experience that you will never forget. There are some magnificent walks here. Easier ones include Dog Falls and Plodda Falls, the eleven-mile circuit of Loch Affric is magical at this time of year and is especially atmospheric on a mist shrouded morning. Unbridged burn crossings on the north side can be dangerous so you may want to walk along the south shore as far as you wish, then return the same way. Many people believe Glen Affric to be the most beautiful in Scotland.
The wonderful Cannich Campsite is open until 31st October and has a lovely café on-site. You’ll be sure of a warm welcome and a terrific spot to park amongst the trees.
Blair Castle and Gardens
Discover the history of the Atholl family home from medieval times to the present day. Explore nine acres of gardens, including a deer park, and find out about The Atholl Highlanders, the last remaining private army in Europe. Autumnal activities at the castle include joining a foraging expert on a walk and learning how to prepare the edible and medicinal plants, tickets include an autumn scavenger hunt in the grounds.
Blair Castle has its own Caravan Park open until 20th November 2023 so it’s easy to spend a day and a night here, then head north into the Cairngorms National Park for more autumnal splendour.
When to visit
Most years, mid-October to mid-November offer the greatest chance of experiencing the best autumn colours across Scotland. Earlier in the season, from summer until September you’ll be treated to a spectacular display as the hills turn purple with heathers in full bloom. From mid-November until mid-December, the most dramatic Autumn colours will be past their best, but Rowan berries still add touches of colour to frosted trees and there is often a stillness in the landscape before the onset of winter, which adds a very special atmosphere.
During October, places to stay will be easier to find than during the peak summer months but some accommodation, along with places to eat and visitor attractions close after the October school holidays reopening in spring, so it’s a great time to visit if you crave solitude and come prepared for some colder weather. It’s an ideal time for bringing the camper van. With most sites open until the end of October, there’s less need to book ahead so you can follow the colours wherever they take you.
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