Cycling in Scotland with the family isn’t just about fresh air and exercise, it’s about racing through the trees on traffic free paths, cycling around a loch in the summer sun and stopping to stand quietly, and listen out for wildlife.
Cycling is a wonderful way to have fun as a family, and the National Cycle Network provides lots of opportunities for action-packed family days out.
Many of the routes follow old railway lines, canal towpaths and forest trails, through some of Scotland’s finest scenery. Kids will love being able to ride their bikes on these relatively flat and largely traffic free paths, and there are lots of things for them to see and do along the way.
If you are completely new to family cycling and family cycling holidays, then Sustrans, who manage the National Cycle Network, offer some great advice on cycling with kids and planning a family bike ride, to help keep those wheels turning.
Here’s our pick of six great family-friendly cycle routes, to help get you started.
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1. The Speyside Way, Cairngorms National Park
Distance: 5 miles (8 km)
Finish: Boat of Garten
Terrain, gradients and access: a combination of quiet lanes and gently undulating gravel off-road cycle paths. Sign-posted NCN 7.
Route description: This route follows a section of the scenic Speyside Way, threading its way through heather moors and native birch woodlands, complete with sculptures! There are plenty of places to stop for a picnic and enjoy stunning views of the Cairngorm Mountains, or the steam trains running along the Strathspey Railway – great photo opportunities for the kids! At Boat of Garten, stock up on snacks at the friendly post office, or pop into the Boat Hotel for tea and cakes. From here, you could extend the ride to the popular RSPB Loch Garten Osprey Centre (approx. 2.5 miles/4 km), where you can learn about these beautiful birds. Or catch a steam train back to Aviemore – cyclists and bikes are very welcome on the trains!
2. The Rob Roy Loop, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Distance: 13 miles (21 km)
Terrain, gradients and access: A mixture of quiet rural roads and flat off-road cycle paths.
Route description: This beautiful circular loop has plenty to keep the kids entertained and follows tracks north through Strathyre Forest, where red squirrels can often be spotted by the sharp-eyed! Emerging from the forest, the route passes through pretty Balquhidder – home to the historic grave of local outlaw (some say folk hero) Rob Roy McGregor – and there are beautiful views along Loch Voil. The route then follows a quiet road through Auchtubh before re-joining NCN 7 at Kingshouse, where there are fantastic views of Loch Lubnaig and Ben Ledi. Follow the path back to your starting point at Strathyre.
3. The Deeside Way, Aberdeenshire
Distance: Burn O’Vat 5.5 miles (9 km) or Dinnet 7 miles (11 km)
Finish: Burn O’Vat or Dinnet
Terrain, gradients and access: Flat gravel off-road cycle path, with a short on-road section if including the Burn O’Vat Visitor Centre and Loch Kinord. Signposted NCN 195.
Route description: The route starts in Ballater’s Station Square on Royal Deeside and follows a waymarked path along the old Deeside railway line. Never far from the River Dee, you’ll pass through quiet woodland with lovely views of the surrounding mountains.
After 2 miles (3.5 km), take a short detour to Tullich Kirkyard, to see old graves and historic Pictish stones, before continuing on to Cambus O’ May, where you’ll find an old station building and an impressive suspension bridge – a favourite picnic spot. Take a detour here and explore the Burn O’ Vat, a huge geological pothole, and the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, or continue on to Dinnet. The route can also be extended to Aboyne.
4. The Caledonia Way, from Fort Augustus to Laggan Locks
Distance: 11 miles (17.5 km)
Start: Fort Augustus
Finish: Laggan Locks
Terrain, gradients and access: Flat traffic-free canal towpaths and cycle paths. Signposted NCN 78.
Route description: Located at the southern end of Loch Ness, Fort Augustus is a great starting point for a family cycle with its cafés, restaurants, and the Caledonian Canal Heritage Centre. A delightful section of cycle path leads south-west from here to Laggan Locks and takes in Loch Oich, heading along easy-going canal towpaths and the old Invergarry and Fort Augustus railway line. There are lots of picnic stop options and the kids will love the preserved Loch Oich railway tunnel and Invergloy Station platforms. The scenic viewpoint and café at Laggan Locks marks the end of your journey. This route is easily accessible from either end with parking, toilets and cafés available and is a great introduction to cycling the Caledonia Way.
Cycle hire: Fort Augustus Bike Hire at Girvans Hardware
5. The Lochwinnoch Loop, Renfrewshire
Distance: 10 miles (16 km)
Start: Paisley Canal
Terrain, gradients and access: Almost entirely traffic-free cycle path which is flat with a smooth tarmac surface. Signposted NCN 7.
Route description: From Paisley Canal station this path follows the railway line and continues all the way to Lochwinnoch and beyond. Look out for spectacular artworks including the Broken Pencils and the Bedrock Bike. There’s wildlife to spot, spectacular loch views to enjoy and 17th century architecture to see.
At Lochwinnoch, why not stop off at Castle Semple Visitor Centre for a cup of tea or an ice-cream? If you still have some energy after your cycle, there are plenty of family activities available here. Or wildlife lovers can head for RSPB Lochwinnoch nature reserve, just next to Lochwinnoch station. It’s also possible to extend your ride to Kilbirnie (4 miles/6.5 km) and then take the train back to Paisley from Glengarnock station.
Note: there is a small (0.2 mile/0.3 km) section of on-road cycle path at Elderslie, which is on a busy road but can be avoided by walking along the pavement. There is no local cycle hire available.
6. Helix Park, the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel
Distance: 16 miles (25.5 km)
Start: The Helix
Terrain, gradients and access: Predominantly traffic-free cycleway, towpath and woodland trail.
Route description: This route (HArTT) begins at the fantastic Helix Park in Falkirk, and goes past two of Scotland’s most spectacular landmarks – the Kelpies by Andy Scott and The Falkirk Wheel. The route also passes many lesser-known but no less interesting places such as Callendar Park & Estate, a great place for a break to see wildlife and learn about the local history. There are numerous cafés and picnic spots for those all important stop-offs and lots to keep the young ones entertained.
For those seeking a bigger challenge, The Falkirk Wheel marks the junction between the Union and Forth & Clyde canals and NCN 754 follows the towpaths of these two great canals, providing a virtually traffic free cycle route from Edinburgh, right across to Glasgow!
Cycle hire: The Falkirk Cycle Hub
If you’re looking for more ideas for things to do with the kids during the holidays, then look no further than our family holidays section which is packed with information and events. You’ll also find lots more on cycling in Scotland.