Highland wildlife itinerary

A group trek on horseback through the Alvie Estate within the Cairngorm National Park with views to the mountains beyond
Cairngorms National Park overview ››

Explore Scotland's largest National Park where you will find a fascinating landscape and diverse range of wildlife.

A woman photographing a dolphin breaking water on a boat trip on the Moray Firth
Wildlife ››

The Highlands is home to a remarkable range of wildlife, from the Cairngorms National Park to the Moray Firth.

A puffin on St Kilda Island, Outer Hebrides
Hebridean wildlife trail ››

Discover a selection of the Hebrides' varied wildlife at the nature centres on this itinerary

Buachaille Etive Mor
The Highlands ››

Plan a holiday to the Highlands with ideas on things to see and do, accommodation and travel.

The Highland landscape, wild and unspoilt, provides a range of habitats for wildlife. From the rich seas supporting whales and dolphins, to the high crag and moors, there is plenty to wonder at. Though the chance of a casual sighting of a seal or otter, red deer or red squirrel, eagle or hen harrier – or any of the other Highland specialties – is quite high anyway, this itinerary takes you to some of the very finest wildlife sites in Scotland, many of them nature reserves.

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  • A woman photographing a dolphin breaking water on a boat trip on the Moray Firth
    A dolphin breaking water on the Moray Firth
  • The golden eagle - one of Scotland's largest birds of prey
    The golden eagle - one of Scotland's largest birds of prey
  • The uninhabited island of Handa
    The uninhabited island of Handa
  • A Scottish wildcat stares out from amongst tree branches
    A Scottish wildcat at the Highland Wildlife Park
  • Two puffins standing on a rock
    Puffins

Travelling just south of Fort William on the A82, take the Corran Ferry across Loch Linnhe for Ardgour, following the A861 to reach Loch Sunart via Strontian. Around Loch Sunart are oak woodlands, home to a wide range of birdlife. Visit Ardnamurchan Point, Scotland's most westerly landmark, where the lighthouse offers a spectacular vantage point for bird and whale watching.

Circle north through Moidart on the A861 to join the Road to the Isles for the ferry port of Mallaig. The Mallaig to Armadale ferry link takes you to the Isle of Skye, an excellent destination for spotting wildlife. Here you can visit the the village of Kylerhea, famous for its otter sanctuary. Park the car on top of the hill and then take a gentle stroll through the pine woods to the viewing hide, located in a good position overlooking the Kyle, the beach and the large white lighthouse. There is a great range of wildlife watching cruises and boat trips around the isle available which offer opportunities to spot seals, dolphins, whales and a variety of seabirds.

On your return to the mainland via the Skye Bridge, go north around Loch Carron, following the A896 towards Shieldaig and the Torridons. En route, pay a visit to Rassal Ashwood, the most northerly ash woodland in Britain which boasts an abundance of Scottish wildlife including red squirrels and pine martins.

Explore the Torridon hills for excellent opportunities to view red deer and golden eagles. Go east through Glen Torridon to reach the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, and follow the nature trail by Loch Maree on the A832.

Continue north beyond Gairloch, stopping by Loch Ewe where you might be able to spot otters drifting in the shallows. Look for birds of prey, particularly merlin, from the road on the way to the Corrieshalloch Gorge. At the gorge there is a good variety of woodland, with interesting plants and plenty of wildlife.

Take the A835 for Ullapool and head north again. Explore Inverpolly where you might be lucky enough to see golden eagles, red deer and maybe even the elusive Scottish wildcat. There are many species of moorland birds to be found here and a variety of woodland creatures.

Continue north, taking the signposted road for Handa Island. This nature reserve is noted for its seabird colonies which include nesting skuas and divers. The A838 reaches the north coast at the Kyle of Durness where you can hop on a minibus trip and travel west to the lighthouse at Cape Wrath, the most north westerly tip of mainland Britain and a Special Site of Scientific Interest. An outstanding area for birdlife throughout the year, Cape Wrath is home to a variety of Arctic and Alpine plants. The area is particularity important for large populations of migratory species that visit either during the breeding season or over winter. Walk from Balnakeil Bay to see puffins at Faraid Head.

Inland lies the Flow Country, a unique habitat of peaty moorland interlaced with small lochans. These make the perfect habitat for short-eared owls and hen harriers. The Flow Country is a large, rolling expanse of peatland and wetland, and the largest expanse of blanket bog in Europe, covering about 4,000 sq km. Experience this unique landscape at Forsinard Nature Reserve, just off the A897, where the visitor centre provides a good introduction to the reserve with CCTV cameras guaranteeing close-up views of wildlife. A mile-long trail allows access out among the bog pools.

While travelling along the A9 southbound, there are plenty of natural highlights on the east coast to take in along the way. You might see ospreys fishing on Loch Fleet near Golspie, also noted for its sea ducks, and there are numerous places to observe wading birds on the salt-flats and beaches around Dornoch.

Dornoch has fine beaches within easy reach on both sides of the town, with the Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve to the north offering plenty of birdwatching opportunities in both tidal and woodland habitats.

Continuing down the A9, look for red kites on the Black Isle or view them in their nest via CCTV links at the Visitor Information Centre at North Kessock. Pay a visit to the dolphins and seals of the Scottish Dolphin Centre, where you can learn about the life of these remarkable creatures. Take a wildlife cruise and get close to wild Scottish dolphins as they race beside the boat.

Continue beyond Inverness untill you reach the Spey Valley and the Cairngorms National Park, the largest in Scotland. It encompasses the most extensive area of elevated ground in Britain, much of it only accessible by foot or on ski.

As well as sub-Arctic landscapes, the Cairngorms National Park boasts a variety of woodland habitats which include pinewoods and heather moorland. Bird species range from ptarmigan on high peaks to smaller species such as crested tits and Scottish crossbills.

The Cairngorms National Park hosts a wealth of wildlife attractions, including the Loch Garten Osprey Centre, Rothiemurchus Estate and the Highland Wildlife Park.