The best place to go for information about the area is Loch Lomond Shores, standing side-by-side with the National Park Gateway Centre, Ben Lomond Way (tel. 01389/722-600; www.lochlomond-trossachs.org). Staffed by park rangers, the center contains information about Scotland's first national park -- which extends into both Loch Lomond and the Trossachs -- as well as local wildlife and flora, organized talks, and recommended ways to explore the area. There's a rooftop viewing gallery for panoramic vistas of both the loch and the national park, which opened in 2002. The center also features a 40-minute film, Legend of Loch Lomond. On-site are restaurants, cafes, and shops. Hours are daily: April 1 to May 29 and October 3 to October 30 10am to 6pm; May 30 to June 26 and September 5 to October 2 9:30am to 6pm; June 27 to September 4 9:30am to 6:30pm; October 31 to March 31 10am to 5pm. Entrance is free.
The 81-hectare (200-acre) Balloch Castle Country Park is on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, 1.2km (3/4 mile) north of Balloch Station. The present Balloch Castle (tel. 01389/722-600), replacing one that dated from 1238, was constructed in 1808 for John Buchanan of Ardoch in the castle-Gothic style. Its visitor center explains the history of the property. The site has a walled garden, and the trees and shrubs, especially the rhododendrons and azaleas, reach the zenith of their beauty in late May and early June. You can also visit a Fairy Glen. The park is open all year, daily 8am to dusk, with free admission. Easter to the end of October, the visitor center is open daily 10am to 6pm.
Dumbarton District's Countryside Ranger Service is based at Balloch Castle and conducts guided walks at various locations around Loch Lomond throughout the summer.
A fascinating side trip is possible to the village of Drymen, which lies 8km (5 miles) northeast of Balloch along A811. At the edge of the village stands the palatial ruin of Buchanan Castle, the ancient fortress of the Duke of Montrose. Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, was imprisoned here in 1941 after he flew to Britain in hopes of ending the war between his country and the Allies. Other illustrious guests have included the Shah of Iran, King George V and Queen Mary, and King Victor Emmanuel of Italy. The roof was removed in 1955 to avoid paying tax, and the castle fell into ruin. But what magnificent ruins! The original Buchanan Castle was destroyed in 1852, but the Fourth Duke of Montrose commissioned the famous architect William Burn to design what, in Victoria's day, became one of the most spectacular castles in Scotland. Wandering around the ruins is both a ghostly and a sightseeing thrill.
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.