Hiking in Argyll Forest Park

Argyll Forest Park, in the southern Highlands, stretches almost to Loch Fyne and is made up of Benmore, Ardgartan, and Glenbranter. The park covers an area of 24,000 hectares (59,000 acres), contains some of Scotland's most panoramic scenery, and includes a wide variety of habitats, from lush forests and waterside to bleaker grassy moorlands and mountains. The Clyde sea lochs cut deeply into the forested areas, somewhat in the way fjord "fingers" cut into the Norwegian coast; in the northern part are the Arrochar Alps (so called), where Ben Arthur reaches a height of 877m (2,877 ft.).

The park attracts not only those interested in natural history and wildlife but also rock climbers, hikers, and hill walkers. There are many recreational activities and dozens of forest walks for trailblazers with all degrees of skill. Trails leading through forests to the loftier peaks are strenuous and meant for skilled hikers; others are easier, including paths from the Younger Botanic Garden by Loch Eck leading to Puck's Glen.

There's abundant wildlife in the sea lochs: shark, sea otters, gray seals, sea scorpions, crabs, shrimp, sea lemons, sea anemones, and sea slugs, among other inhabitants. Boats and canoes are available for rent. One of the park's biggest thrills is exploring the underwater caves of Loch Long.

In the early spring and summer, the park trails are at their most beautiful -- woodland birds create choruses of song, and the forest is filled with violets, wood anemones, primroses, and bluebells. Sometimes the wildflowers are so thick they're like carpets. In the rainy climate of the southern Highlands, ferns and mosses also grow in abundance.

To reach the park, take A83 to B828 heading for Loch Goll, or follow A815 to Loch Eck and Loch Long. Both of the Arrochar and Tarbert stops on the Glasgow-Fort William rail line are on the periphery of the park's northeast frontier.

The best place for lodging is Dunoon, to the south on the Cowal Peninsula, an easy gateway to the park. Dunoon has been a holiday resort since 1790, created for the "merchant princes" of Glasgow. Recreational facilities abound, including an indoor pool, tennis courts, and an 18-hole golf course. To pick up information about the park and a trail map, go to the Dunoon Tourist Center, 7 Alexandra Parade (tel. 01369/703-785; www.cowal-dunoon.com). It's open April to September, Monday to Friday 9am to 5:30pm and Saturday and Sunday 10am to 5pm; October to March, Monday to Thursday 9am to 5pm, Friday 10am to 5pm, and Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.