Scotland is a land where glistening lochs meet mighty Munros; where the deep, dramatic glens of the Highlands fade into the leafy forests and rolling hills of the Lowlands, and where a rugged coastal view is never far away.
With such a variety of landscapes and a cycling culture that runs deep, it’s no surprise that Scotland is home to some of the most scenic rides in the UK – no matter your discipline of riding.
In fact, Scotland will host the 2023 UCI World Championships, putting the country’s riding in the spotlight.
Still, many of the most beautiful routes remain under the radar. Mountain bikers will be familiar with the iconic Scottish trail centres of Fort William and Glentress, but less so with the other world-class trails around the country.
Road cyclists might know the North Coast 500, but not the countless miles of remarkable roads through the rest of the country, and the boom in gravel riding, bikepacking and electric bikes means there’s never been a better time to be seeking out new routes.
Travel restrictions remain in place for now, but that just means it’s the perfect time to do some online scouting of your own and plan your next ride.
After all, Scotland has more to it than just thistles and whisky, so we’ve picked out seven of our favourite cycling routes to get you dreaming of epic Scottish views. Once it is time to plan your trip, check local government restrictions before you go.
1. The UK’s longest descent at Highland Wildcat
Golspie is a village in Sutherland on the shores of the Moray Firth, 50 miles north of the Highland capital of Inverness. It also sits in the shadow of the 397m Ben Bhraggie, and on that hill you’ll find the Highland Wildcat trails – including the longest singletrack descent in the UK.
The flagship trail runs for more than four miles from the monument on the summit of Ben Bhraggie, where there are far-reaching views out to the beaches below, down to sea level.
The climb to the start isn’t easy, zig-zagging up the mountain, but the reward is one of the most fun trails in Scotland, mixing flowy berms and exposed hillside singletrack with jumps, rocks and tough, technical forest lines.
The trails were designed and built by Peter Laing, the man behind the first trails at Glentress, so they’ve got real pedigree. They combine with nearby trails at the stunning Kyle of Sutherland, as well as Learnie Red Rock and Abriachan, to form a fantastic northern hub for riding.
2. The Big Country Route at 7stanes Glentrool
The 7stanes are the golden standard of Scottish Lowlands mountain biking – trail centres that span the south and offer riding to excite mountain bikers of all abilities.
Glentrool is perhaps the most scenic – home to numerous lochs and Bruce’s Stone, an engraved hill-top boulder commemorating Robert the Bruce’s victory in 1307.
The 36-mile Big Country Route from Glentrool takes you on a day’s ride through the Galloway Forest Park, the UK’s largest forest. There are beautiful views over Loch Trool, Loch Dee and a few smaller bodies of water, and some tasty climbs to boot.
This route is mostly on fire roads (rare for the 7stanes), but that does mean it’s accessible to all and a gravel bike will manage just fine. It will also take you out to some areas that really do feel remote – ideal for getting away from it all.
If you’re able to spend the weekend, Glentrool is a short ride from another of the 7stanes, Kirroughtree (which also links to the Big Country Route). The Twister Red and demanding Black Craigs run at Kirroughtree are both fantastic.
3. The Commonwealth Trail at Cathkin Braes
The mountain bike trails on Cathkin Braes were custom-built to host cycling events at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. This gives you a certain guarantee of the trail quality and, sure enough, there’s some serious infrastructure up there.
The trail centre has bloomed since 2014, when it was really just a cross-country loop and a few other natural trails. More than £1m has been spent on the development and there’s now an array of fantastic jump trails, a forest climb, and fun bermy, blue routes that accommodate riders of every level.
Perhaps it’s the location that makes the mountain biking on Cathkin Braes particularly special, though. The hill is less than an hour’s ride from the centre of Glasgow and offers sweeping views of Scotland’s biggest city, backdropped by Ben Lomond, Dumgoyne and the Campsie Fells.
If you’ve got more time, combine a trip to Cathkin Braes with some of the other riding in the Central Belt. Head to Beecraigs in Linlithgow, the Callendar Estate via Falkirk High, or explore the beautiful Pentland Hills on the outskirts of Edinburgh, all easily accessible by train.
4. The Black Run at Laggan Wolftrax
Tucked away in Badenoch in the Cairngorms National Park, between the outdoor hubs of Aviemore and Fort William, are the acclaimed trails of Laggan Wolftrax.
The Wolftrax trail centre opened in 2005, and in 2015 welcomed a new cafe and bike hire shop. The trail centre is well known in the Scottish cycling scene for having trails with some bite, but the reason it’s won the hearts of so many is also down to the stunning Cairngorm panoramas that open up as you begin to reach some altitude.
Mind you, Wolftrax isn’t a centre for the faint-hearted. If you’re thinking ‘trail centre’ means smooth berms all over, think again. Laggan is a rocky and fairly demanding place to ride.
The Upper Red is a beautiful run and showcases the best of the landscape, passing through the dramatic Wolf’s Lair Viewpoint, and linking up with the infamous black run, which includes features such as the ‘Two Ton Drop’, ‘Doc Rick’s Rock Slabs’ and the ‘Stiletto Staircase’.
A must-ride day out for anyone touring the Scottish Highlands with a full-suspension bike.
5. The Highland Perthshire Drovers Trail (Perthshire Gravel)
The Highland Perthshire Drovers Trail is just one route that proves if you miss out on Perthshire, you’re missing out on some of the best of Scotland.
A bikepacking trail spanning more than 200 miles and split up into four stages, this route is ideal for gravel bikes. The trail starts and ends in Pitlochry, and really encourages you to embrace slow travel and split days in different towns across Perthshire.
The Drovers Trail is not just about the scenery, but the dense forests, rolling hills, deep glens and winding routes do make for dramatic viewing. There’s a whole lot of history along the way, too.
The route takes in everything from Glen Fearnach and Glen Tilt to the Cairngorms, the River Tay (Scotland’s longest river) and even passes the last surviving oak tree from the wood that inspired Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
The route is inspired by an old Drovers trail – the Drovers being men who would bargain for cattle, then form a herd to take south to towns like Falkirk or Crieff to sell as summer arrived. It’s a particularly unusual inspiration for a route, and a ride that follows historic footsteps through lesser seen parts of Scotland.
6. Ride the gravel of Aberfoyle (Gravelfoyle)
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is at the heart of Scotland. Thanks partly to the popular annual cycling event, The Duke’s Weekender, the small town of Aberfoyle is quickly growing into one of the UK’s top gravel riding destinations.
For a great taster of what Aberfoyle has to offer, ride a 17-mile loop from the town that takes in three lochs.
First, take on a short climb and descent to the impeccably-named Loch Drunkie, then work north to Loch Venachar and west to Loch Achray, before returning to Aberfoyle with views of Ben Venue.
With more than 125 miles of forest roads and trails within a seven-mile radius of Aberfoyle, and the launch of ‘Gravelfoyle’, a local-led project coming in spring 2021, this is a gravel riding destination that’s only going to grow in popularity.
More information: Gravelfoyle
7. The Caledonia Way
We’re really finishing on a classic here. The 234-mile, long-distance Caledonia Way starts on the west coast in Campbeltown (the nearest city is actually Belfast) and finishes in Inverness.
The route roughly follows the Great Glen Fault (a geological feature), sticking to the coast from Campbeltown before passing through Oban and Fort William, and running past both Loch Linnhe and Loch Ness.
The Caledonia Way makes up Sustrans Cycle Route 78, and is a cyclist’s dream of lesser-visited asphalt and the far-reaching, rolling green and blue views typical of Scotland. The length of the route makes it the ideal challenge for a multi-day ebike ride, too.
The beaches of Campbeltown and views to Northern Ireland are beautiful from the start, and that rarely lets up on the route.
Highlights include the loch views from Kentallen, the first sight of Ben Nevis and the picturesque Loch Lochy, which may sound like it was named by a child but is beyond stunning. A sense of far-flung wilderness rarely lets up.
Feeling inspired? Head to VisitScotland’s cycling hub for more information on routes, tours and events.