A popular tourist destination in the summer months, Gairloch in Wester Ross is a fantastic place for families to visit. Situated on the shores of Loch Gairloch, the surrounding villages dotted around the loch including Strath, Smithstown, Charlestown, Shieldaig, Lecknasaide and Badachro provide a huge number of activities, places to eat and places to stay in the area.
The loch and the surrounding area offer an abundance of activities for families, a rich variety of wildlife and some of Scotland’s most stunning scenery. So when you escape to this beautiful part of the north-west Highlands, you’ll absolutely be spoiled for choice when it comes to planning family friendly activities!
Gairloch is one of the more popular stops on the North Coast 500 route, so advance planning for accommodation or pitches for tents and campervans is pretty essential, particularly in the summer months. (See where we stayed at Sands Caravan & Camping here.) There are definitely plenty of choices in the area though, with campsites right on the beach and accommodation overlooking the spectacular scenery of Loch Gairloch or across to Skye and the Western Isles.
There is a huge amount of rocky and sandy coastline to explore around Gairloch, so many of the available activities in the area are based around the coast and the water. You might even be lucky enough to catch a rare glimpse of whales offshore! If you prefer to stay on land and inland, there are a whole host of walks and other activities or attractions you can do while you visit Gairloch.
No matter what your budget or the age of your kids, you can have a truly wonderful time in this beautiful part of the world. Here are our top 10 activities and things to do in Gairloch for families.
1. Take a trip on a glass bottom boat
Take a trip around Gairloch and see an abundance of wildlife both above and below the water when you board Alice the glass bottom boat. The pristine sea bed in the salt waters of Loch Gairloch provide a nursery for a whole host of plant and animal life, including urchins, starfish, crabs and fish, which you can safely view from the boat through the glass.
The skipper will take you on a journey around Loch Gairloch, visiting a few hotspots for local bird life, and you’ll probably see a seal or two as well. These 90 minute trips are incredibly family friendly, and kids might even get to drive the boat for a little while.Trips are scheduled every day and cost £15 for age 1-12, and £25 age 12 plus.
Glass Bottom Boat can be found at Ceol Na Mara, Pier Rd, Gairloch, IV21 2BQ
2. Head to some beautiful beaches
There are miles upon miles of stunning, sandy beaches in and around Gairloch and Wester Ross. Many are off the beaten track, and you might find yourself to have lots of them absolutely to yourself.
Big Sand is one of the more well known beaches in the area and with its stunning views out towards Skye and Torridon, and miles of sandy and shale beach is absolutely worth a visit. Watch the sunset over the Hebrides, have a wee splash in the sea or head out for a paddle. This is one of the best places in the area to launch your SUP or kayak if you have one. You can easily reach Longa Island from Big Sand beach, a little island uninhabited apart from a range of seabirds who nest there.
Known for their crystal clear waters, fine sands, excellent rock pooling opportunities and stunning scenery, the beaches of Gruinard Bay have a beautiful mix of pink sands and rocky coves. Gruinard is popular with walkers as there are some great coastal walks throughout the bay.
This red hued sandy stretch of beach is interspersed with rocky outcrops and rock pools. At low tide you can walk out to the tiny island of Ewe, but don’t linger long as the tide comes back in quickly. Firemore is close to Inverewe Gardens NTS site, also well worth a visit.
Firemore has a small campsite, but with no facilities.
Red Point Beach, named for its red hued sands, is far more secluded and remote than the popular Big Sand Beach but is thoroughly worth the drive to reach. Red Point actually has two beaches; both backed by dunes and with fantastic views out across to the islands on a clear day.
Mellon Udrigle Beach
The white sands and crystal clear turquoise waters of Mellon Udrigle beach are quite stunning, and this is one of the most beautiful bits of coastline you’ll find in Wester Ross, if not in the whole of Scotland. Located a bit off the beaten track, the beach is backed by gentle grassy sand dunes, and has some rocky ridges that jut out to the sea. Families will love finding shells, crabs and starfish amongst the rock pools. What makes this beach so special though are the views; the mountain vista over the bay is spectacular, with views of Suilven and the mountains of the Coigach peninsula. Well worth the detour to spend a few hours here.
Mellon Udrigle has a small campsite, but with no facilities. Sheep graze on the grassy dunes regularly, so dogs must be kept on a lead here.
3. Go for a lovely wee walk
Looking around at the hills and mountains as you drive into the Gairloch area, you won’t be surprised to know that there are loads of excellent walking opportunities. There are a number of family friendly walks, and there’s a few that will even suit the littlest legs.
Fairy Lochs, nr Badachro, 6km
This short circular hill walk takes you up into an area with small rocky hills and a number of beautiful wee lochs. There are views back down to the coastline and across the Torridon mountains including Baosbheinn, roughly translated to mean the Wizards Peak.
Flowerdale Glen, Charlestown, 4.75km
This waymarked walk takes you up a sheltered glen to a duo of pretty waterfalls, the Eas Dubh and the Easan Bana (I think these translate roughly to the black falls and the white or pale falls). Given its English name by the MacKenzies of Gairloch, The Flowerdale Glen was named after its impressive displays of wild flowers. The walk is mostly easy, but does get a bit more tricky on the climb up the falls. After you climb the track up the falls you’ll find some beautiful views back down the glen to the sea beyond.
Laide Wood Walk, Laide, 2.5km
Laide Wood is about 20 minutes north of Gairloch. It has several walks leading through an area of hill that was once part of the local Common Grazings, now run as a community woodland with native broadleaf species being planted. It visits two little forest lochs (Loch na Creige and Loch na Cathrach Duibhe) and a lovely waterfall cascade.
Sand River Archaeological Trail, Big Sand, 4km
The Sand River Archaeology Trail became the first of its kind to be signposted in Gaelic and English when in was established in 1994. The seemingly bleak moorlands north of this area, like many in the Highlands, harbour the remains of centuries of human activities. Passing ruins of a schoolmasters barn dating from around 1876, and some much older building remains including some that may date back to prehistoric times and roundhouses thought to date back to the 17th century, each highlighted by the marker posts along this trail.
The dramatic beach of Camas a’ Charraig at Mellon Udrigle is the start point for this lovely wee walk along the wild moorland coastline, taking in a couple of stone cairns on the way. There are great views across the sea to the Summer Isles, and the mountains of Assynt and Coigach in the distance. It can get pretty boggy on this route, so decent footwear is a must.
4. Go on an Argocat Off Road Adventure
https://www.facebook.com/Argocat-Extreme-Rides-309055065855648/ Argocat Extreme operate off road adventure rides that the whole family can take part in. Run by qualified instructors, you will receive a safety briefing before taking a ride in an amphibious Argocat around a specially designed circuit. Once the circuit has been completed, you have the option of driving the Argocat yourself! Incredibly fun rides that you will remember long after your holiday is over.
Trips cost £10-£15 depending on age, for a 40-60 minute trip. Age 5-10 are free.
5. Visit Inverewe Gardens
https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/invereweA National Trust for Scotland site, Inverewe Gardens and Estate is a place like no other. From prehistoric trees to rhododendrons from Nepal, poppies from the Himalayas and eucalyptus from Tasmania, the species here should not be loving life in the Highlands of Scotland. But here they are, living it up in all their colours and scents.
In addition to the garden, the estate at Inverewe has loads to see including Scotland’s ‘Big 5’ species: red squirrels, red deer, otters, seals and golden eagles. Inverewe House is great to explore too, and has an interactive museum some bits to play with too.
Entry costs £13 for adults, £33 for a family and £1 with a Young Scot card. Free entry for NTS members.
6. Get some local ice cream
There are a couple of places you can head to for a delicious ice cream fix when you’re exploring Gairloch.
Check out The Alley at Strath, a cafe serving up sandwiches and paninis, delicious bakes, coffees, milkshakes, sorbets and some incredible ice cream (definitely try the Scottish tablet one). The Alley at Strath is located just next to McColls in Strath, IV21 2BZ.
Crumbs, also located in Strath, serve up some amazing homemade ice cream flavours, alongside delicious bakes, cream cakes, breakfast rolls, sandwiches, panini, and hot drinks. Crumbs is situated on the B8021, the main road running through Strath, IV21 2BZ. You can’t miss it; its always busy!
7. See some waterfalls
The Victoria Waterfalls at Loch Maree are located just a short walk from the car park. The viewing point is easy to reach with young families and is even buggy & wheelchair friendly. Continue up the path for an even better view of the falls and for views across Loch Maree. Definitely worth a quick stop if you are passing.
The nearest postcode for the falls car park is IV22 2HW. There is no charge for the car park.
8. Head out for a paddle on the loch
Whether it’s kayaking, canoeing or some stand up paddleboarding that takes your fancy, at Gairloch the choice is yours. If you have your own equipment the loch is your playground. There are loads of launch points around all around Gairloch and the nearby beaches of the coast.
If not, you can learn a new skill, improve your paddling, explore the coastline, see some wildlife or just have some fun. Gairloch Kayak Centre offer sessions (and SUP hire) for anyone aged 11+.
If your kids are a bit younger and you’d like to try a canoe trip as a family, check out Ewe Canoe. Trips with Ewe Canoe take place at various locations around Wester Ross depending on conditions.
9. Check out Gairloch Museum
Based in a converted nuclear bunker, Gairloch Museum is one of the better known things to do in Gairloch. It is a popular tourist attraction showcasing the history, culture and natural heritage of this beautiful part of Scotland, and it’s well worth a visit.
10. Shieldaig falconry
Located in the grounds of Shieldaig Lodge, Shieldaig Falconry offer sessions where you can get up close to some magnificent birds of prey. Learn to handle and fly one of their smallest or largest owls, a Harris’ Hawk, Common Buzzard or Kestrel. Sessions last an hour and must be pre-booked. http://www.falconryscotland.co.uk/shieldaig-falconry.php