The ultimate Glencoe road trip!
Glen Coe is arguably one of the most beautiful and dramatic glens in Scotland, It’s little wonder that it’s such a popular tourist location; driving through the glen is a breathtakingly bizarre feeling as if you’ve descended into another world.
Our 2-day Glencoe road trip has got to be one of my favourite trips in Scotland so far.
In this itinerary, I’m sharing the history of Glencoe and our exact itinerary so you can copy it too.
On this road trip, you also drive past three iconic castles, several lochs and small islands. There really is a lot to see and do on this route, and if you want to stop and explore every attraction in this itinerary, rather than driving by, I recommend adding a few more days to your itinerary. But if you had limited time like we did, there is still plenty you can see from the car!
The History of Glen Coe and Glencoe village
To avoid confusion, ”Glen Coe” is name of the glen, and ”Glencoe” is the name of the village. Many people will just refer to both the glen and the village as ”Glencoe” however!
Aside from its utterly breathtaking beauty, Glencoe was made famous by its residents, the MacDonalds of Glencoe.
Glencoe was gifted to the MacDonald’s in the 14th century by Robert the Bruce, as a thank you for their loyalty. Previously, the land was inhabited by the MacDougalls, who had sided with Robert The Bruce’s rival, John Balliol.
Things remained peaceful until the 16th century when the Glencoe MacDonalds began having conflicts with the Campbells from Argyll. The Campbells made many attempts to extend their lands, while the MacDonalds took to raiding and rustling their cattle.
The MacDonalds and the Campbells often found themselves on opposing sides; the MacDonalds were loyal to the Scottish Royalists, while the Campbells sided with the government. This proved to be deadly for the MacDonald’s of Glencoe.
The Massacre of Glencoe
In the late 17th century, King William III of England offered a pardon to all Highland clans who had fought against him or raided their neighbours. They needed to pledge their oath of allegiance before a magistrate by 1st January 1692. If they failed to comply, they would be sentenced to death.
Alasdair MacIain MacDonald, the clan chief, reluctantly agreed to take the oath, but mistakenly went to Inverlochy in Fort William instead of Inveraray near Oban. He finally reached Inveraray on January 6.
MacDonald believed because he swore allegiance, that he and his clan were safe, but what happened next can only be described as barbaric. The King decided to make an example of the MacDonald’s tardiness and gave orders to exterminate the clan. The force was led by Captain Robert Campbell of Glen Lyon.
Visiting Scotland for the first time? Make sure you read my guide on planning a trip to Scotland!
Campbell asked for his soldiers to be accommodated at Glencoe and used the guise they were there to discuss clan business. The MacDonald’s fed and entertained the Campbells for 10 days.
On the morning of February 13th, Campbell received orders to kill all MacDonalds under seventy years of age. The MacDonald’s were slaughtered in their own homes, including MacIain and his wife. Those who escaped fled into the highlands, many of them dying of exposure due to the harsh winter conditions.
The fact that the MacDonald’s were on friendly terms with the Campbells made this an act of treachery, and once the truth was exposed about this heinous act, the Campbells responsible were shunned.
MacIain was buried on the island of Eilean Munde, in Loch Leven.
The surviving MacDonald’s eventually returned to Glencoe, however after the Highland Clearances, clan life ended, and so did the clan’s hold over the land. The first road was built through the glen in 1785.
To avoid Glencoe from being exploited for commercial use, the National Trust for Scotland purchased the land in 1935. This is why there are very few hotels, restaurants and buildings in the glen- so it can be enjoyed in its natural state.
Day 1: A scenic drive & hiking in Glencoe
We left our home in West Lothian at 9am, stopping at the supermarket to pick up some snacks for the day ahead. Our plan for day one of our Glencoe road trip was to hike to The Lost Valley, celebrate with a drink at one of Scotland’s best pubs, and take a scenic drive through the village of Glencoe before continuing around Loch Linnhe to our accommodation in North Connel.
For dinner, we drove into Oban, located just 15 minutes from where we were staying. We then spent the night relaxing in our cosy Airbnb!
If you’d like to watch a video our our trip, watch our vlog below!
Hiking to The Lost Valley
The main reason planned our Glencoe road trip was to hike to The Lost Valley, a valley tucked between two of The Three Sisters– some of Scotland’s most iconic mountains. The Gaelic name of the valley is Coire Gabhail, and it was the area the MacDonalds of Glencoe used to hide their rustled cattle.
The hike is 4 kilometres / 2.5 miles long, and takes between 2-3 hours. You will climb almost 350 metres to reach the valley, up a dried-up river bed. The hike is rated as moderate, or a 3 out of 5 difficulty.
We had spectacular weather the day that we hiked to The Lost Valley, which made the hike a lot easier. There are narrow pathways with sheer drops down the side of the river in some areas, so I can see how it could be a dangerous hike when it’s wet or snowy. There were also some areas that required a small scramble, and we had to get on our hands and knees when there were no footholds. The walk up to the valley was easier than I anticipated, and we saw kids from as young as 7 to retired folk along the way!
When we reached the valley, it was the perfect climax. The path widens, and you know you are getting close when the rocky terrain turns grassy. You can’t quite see the valley just yet, it’s not until you reach the top of a small hill that you cast your gaze down onto the valley. Rocks the size of houses litter the valley floor, and only the bravest trees are scattered across the amphitheatre.
You’re likely to see the colourful dots of tents, as it’s a popular wild camping spot.
The Haggis and I had a picnic here, looking down into the valley. We imagined the people who passed through the valley seeking to hide rustled cattle, or themselves. After the Glencoe Massacre, some MacDonald’s escaped to The Lost Valley, however many died due to the harsh winter conditions.
As we began our descent, we had a lovely view of Aonach Eagach, Britain’s narrowest ridge, across the glen.
Overall, the hike to The Lost Valley was a fun challenge, and the views were certainly worth it!
Tips for hiking to The Lost Valley
- Check the weather forecast before you go. I suggest checking the Met Office website.
- We arrived in Glen Coe at 1pm, which in hindsight, was a big mistake! The car park fills up very quickly, and is busiest during the middle of the day. My best tip is to arrive as early as possible so you can find a car space.
- Wear good quality hiking boots. Trust me on this one! The path is rocky in places, with some rocks being smooth and slippery. The path can be dangerous when wet, so make sure you have sturdy footwear.
- Bring some food for a picnic once you arrive at The Lost Valley.
A drink at Scotland’s most scenic pub: Clachaig Inn
We celebrated our efforts by stopping for a drink at the Clachaig Inn, which has spectacular views of Aonach Eagach. The Clachaig Inn is one of my favourite pubs in Scotland- it’s encased by mountains, and it really has the most stunning views. They also serve hearty, traditional Scottish food!
Signal Rock, where the order was given to begin the Glencoe massacre, is just a few hundred yards west of the Clachaig Inn on the north bank of the River Coe.
Scenic drive to North Connel
We hadn’t driven the road that follows Loch Linnhe to Connel, and so we decided to book our accommodation further away so we could enjoy the scenic drive. We passed many cute, white country cottages, and the view across the loch to our right was spectacular: mountains, upon mountains stretched the length of the loch.
We didn’t have time to stop, but we caught a glimpse of Castle Stalker, a tall, narrow castle that sits on a tidal islet on Loch Laich, within Loch Linnhe. This castle once belonged to the MacDougalls, but they lost it when they were defeated by Robert the Bruce. The castle and the lands were then passed to the Stewarts. It’s ownership changed hands several times, from the Stewarts to the Campbells of Airds.
The Campbells continued to reside in it until about 1800. They built a new house on the mainland, which still exists today, and the castle was turned into a storehouse.
King James IV of Scotland stayed here on several occations, using the castle as his base for hunting and hawking.
Eventually we arrived in North Connel and checked into our accommodation.
>> Read more: 25 tips for sustainable tourism in Scotland
For accommodation, you have two options with this itinerary:
A] Spend the night in Glencoe
B] Go off the beaten path and spend a night in Connel
If you choose option A, my top recommendation for accommodation is the Kingshouse Hotel. This hotel is plonked right at the start of the glen, in the middle of nowhere. They have an excellent bar and restaurant, so there is no need to venture out once you’ve finished your day exploring. Wild deer often visit the hotel grounds too!
I also recommend the Ballachulish Hotel. It’s not as fancy as the Kingshouse Hotel, however, it’s a comfortable option with traditional Scottish decor and a restaurant and bar. I would rate it as a 3.5 star. I recommend booking a room with a view of the loch.
On this occasion we chose option B because we wanted to stay somewhere a little different, seeing as we’ve both stayed in Glencoe several times. We spent a night in this lovely Airbnb in North Connel, which is an old farmhouse located 2 minutes from Oban airport. Super handy if you were catching a flight the next morning to one of the islands nearby!
Check-in was easy; there was a lockbox located next to the front door. There is also a parking space for one car. Our Airbnb featured a spacious bedroom, hallway and bathroom. The highlight of our room was the huge open fireplace, which dominated the north wall. I cannot tell you how lovely it was cuddling up in front of the fire with a glass of wine after our hike!
The accommodation was beautifully decorated, and the hosts had included absolutely everything we might need in our room- I had forgotten to bring body wash and my toothbrush, and sure enough they had spares I could use. There were also facemasks and hand sanitiser.
Though this Airbnb was located next to the main road, we couldn’t hear any road noise from our room. Behind our Airbnb there was a lovely view of the mountains.
Dinner at the best chippy in Oban
We had dinner at The Oban Fish and Chip Shop, one of Scotland’s best chippy’s and described by Rick Stein as ”the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted.”
We both ordered haddock and chips, and we can confirm it was a wonderful meal!
Day 2: Exploring lochs and castle ruins
On day two we took a scenic route back home, following the A85 that runs alongside Loch Etive and Loch Awe.
Loch Etive is one of the most attractive lochs in Scotland and was a filming location for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One [the scene where Ron, Hermione and Harry’s set up camp while on the run].
One of Scotland’s most iconic castles sits at the north-eastern end of Loch Awe: Kilchurn Castle.
Kilchurn Castle was built in the 1400s by Sir Colin Campbell, the 1st Lord of Glenorchy.
Combined with its location on the loch and the peak of Ben Cruachan peering out from behind the castle makes it one of the most photographed castles in Scotland.
I’ve seen a lot of castles in Scotland, and this one is spectacular! I’ve marked the best place to get photos of the castle on the map [there is parking available here on the side of the road].
Before long we finished our loop around Argyll, and found ourselves back in Tyndrum, and continued home.
Our Driving Route + Map
On this map, I’ve indicated the route we took on our Glencoe road trip, and any attractions you can see along the way.
On the drive to Glencoe, you can see The Kelpies and Stirling Castle from your car window. The Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum is also a good place to stop and stretch your legs, and buy some snacks if you’re hungry,
From there, some more interesting places to look at/stop include the ‘Wee White Hoose’ which sits in front of Buachaille Etive Mòr, Glen Coe’s most iconic mountain.
I’ve also marked the car park where you start the hike to The Lost Valley.