Dan Hobson

A breathtaking hike from lowlands to Highlands — Three Lochs Way

mikeyyuen (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A breathtaking hike from lowlands to Highlands — Three Lochs Way

Hiking Collection by Dan Hobson
3-5 days
3-5 h / day
35.5 mi
3,550 ft
3,650 ft

The Three Lochs Way is a medium-distance hike from the gentle lowlands of Scotland to the wild Highlands that links Loch Lomond with the sea lochs of Gare Loch and Loch Long.

From Balloch, in West Dunbartonshire, the 33-mile (54-km) trail takes you over moors to Helensburgh, rises over the Highland Boundary Fault, heads along Glen Fruin, passes Loch Long and passes through Glen Loin to finish at Inveruglas, in Argyll and Bute.

As the route unfolds, pastoral lowland landscapes gradually give way to the breathtaking drama of Highland mountainscapes, especially as impressive views of the Arrochar Alps are revealed at the head of Loch Long.

Highlights along the Way include: awe-inspiring views over Loch Lomond as you cross the Highland Boundary Fault; the tree-lined streets and beach at Helensburgh; Charles Rennie Macintosh’s domestic masterpiece, the Hill House; the peaceful Glen Loin Woodlands, which are home to rare red squirrels; and An Ceann Mòr, an art installation that affords magical views of Loch Lomond.

The walking is generally leisurely throughout the Three Lochs Way. Whilst there are a couple of tough climbs and descents, these are not too common and the gradients are typically steady. The route does traverse some landscapes that feel very remote. However, in reality, civilisation is never too far away and the trail is mostly waymarked.

In this Collection I have opted for an ambitious two-day itinerary; 17.3 miles (27.8 km) and 18.2 miles (29.3 km), respectively. If you are a seasoned long-distance hiker looking for a challenge, this will be perfect.

However, I have suggested a way to split both routes in half, making for a leisurely four-day itinerary, averaging roughly 8 miles (13 km) per stage, which is perfect for anybody finding their long-distance hiking feet.

Of course, you can split up each stage into as many days as you are comfortable with. You can also walk any single stage, or a couple of stages, in isolation. Public transport links are good for most of the route.

Every stop is well-served with accommodation. However, places to stay can be limited so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling your rest days accordingly.

To get to the start of the trail, Balloch has a train station with direct services from Glasgow and connections around the UK.

The end of the trail is slightly more problematic as Inveruglas has no accommodation and sketchy public transport links.

Currently, there is one bus per day at 3.54pm (the 915 service, see: bustimes.org/services/915-glasgow-uig) to Tarbet, which has a train station with direct services to Glasgow and connections elsewhere. Failing that, your best bet is to arrange a taxi/pick-up from Inveruglas to Tarbet.

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    Difficult
    07:43
    17.3 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,850 ft
    1,375 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The first stage takes you from the southern tip of Loch Lomond and up onto rugged moors with magnificent sea views. With 17.3 miles (27.8 km) of distance, 1,850 feet (564 m) of uphill, and 1,375 feet (419 m) of downhill, this is a crucial hike. (For suggestions on how to split / shorten the stage, read on). I have opted to begin this stage from Balloch Castle, where you can admire the old castle and enjoy wonderful views over Loch Lomond from the parkland. From there, you follow a lovely trail along the banks. If you start from Balloch, it shaves-off 1.3 miles (2.1 km).It is a long and steep climb out of the town to the summit of Gouk Hill, where you are afforded great views back over the loch and Balloch.You then begin a long and gradual descent through moorland with fabulous sea views to the town of Helensburgh, which has a pleasant beach, promenade, and pier overlooking the Upper Firth of Clyde. You find plenty of places for food and drink in the town, as well as some shops. There is also accommodation if you would like to split the stage. The trail rises gradually out of Helensburgh before heading through woodlands and over the moors to Glen Fruin. You then follow a quiet country lane through the glen. Once you reach the A817, where this stage finishes, head left and follow the road to Garelochhead, which adds another 1.4 miles (2.3 km) to the hike. Alternatively, head left at the crossroads a stone’s-throw before the end point and walk to the Gen Fruin bus stop on the A814. Here you can catch the 316 bus to Garelochhead, which runs every two hours. For the timetable, click here: bustimes.org/services/316-coulport-or-garelochhead-helensburgh.You find a few places to stay in Garelochhead, plenty of places for food and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.

    Difficult
    08:15
    18.2 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,700 ft
    2,275 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Breathtaking views over the Arrochar Alps combine with peaceful loch shores and majestic woodlands on this stage.You need a good level of fitness and ability for this hike, which is 18.2 miles (29.3 km) long and has some tough ascents and descents. However, with 1,700 feet (518 m) of uphill and 2,275 feet (693 m) of downhill, the distance might feel slightly easier than expected. (For suggestions on how to split / shorten the stage, read on). From Garelochhead, you must first hike 1.4 miles (2.3 km) back to pick up the trail, or catch the 316 bus as described in Stage 1. You then traverse wild upland terrain with glorious views over the loch. The trail climbs over Tom Buidhe and skirts around Croggan Hill.At Glen Douglas a glorious section of walking awaits, where you are afforded magnificent views of the Arrochar Alps at the northern end of Loch Long.Whilst the official route does not drop into the village of Arrochar, it is a worthy place for a pit-stop, with two pubs and some shops. There is also accommodation here if you want to split the stage. If you skip this extension it shaves-off 0.5 miles (0.8 km). You continue north to Tarbet, pass the Arrochar and Tarbet railway station, and hike along Glen Loin.After crossing Inveruglas Water, it is then a long and gradual descent to Inveruglas hamlet on the shores of Loch Lomond. For an epic finish, continue to the An Ceann Mòr art installation for a breathtaking view of Loch Lomond, the Arrochar Alps, and Ben Lomond. There is no accommodation at Inveruglas and the hamlet is not particularly well-served by public transport. However, if you time your finish right and are ready for the only bus at 3.54pm — the 915 service, see: bustimes.org/services/915-glasgow-uig — you can get back to Tarbet, which has accommodation, places for food and drink, and a train station. Other than that, your best bet is to arrange a taxi or a pick-up.

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    2
  • Distance
    35.5 mi
  • Duration
    15:58 h
  • Elevation
    3,550 ft3,650 ft
Dan Hobson

A breathtaking hike from lowlands to Highlands — Three Lochs Way