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Kathi is an award-winning travel writer and storyteller based in Glasgow. On her blog Watch Me See she shares travel guides, hiking routes and loads of trips for experiencing Scotland. Her podcast Wild for Scotland tells immersive travel stories to whisk you away on adventures across the country.
I always thought that camping in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park was reserved to those who are savvy enough to plan their trips and book permits months in advance. But a recent camping trip to Loch Voil and Loch Achray proved just how wrong I was!
In Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park, wild camping is restricted in certain places for part of the year. From 1 March to 30 September, in popular lochshore areas you require a permit and may only pitch your tent in designated camping permit areas. This is to protect the environment in the most popular places.
These areas are spread out throughout Camping Management Zones in the park and in addition to several spots on Loch Lomond, you can camp at most of the bigger lochs in the National Park. There are also places in the National Park where you won’t require a permit to camp – but if you crave to spend a night under the stars lochside during the summer, a permit is the way to go.
To book a camping permit, head to the Get a permit page and enter your details – your touring type (tent or motorhome), travel dates and number of people in your party. You can choose to check availability for a specific loch, or all permit areas combined. Each permit is valid for one tent.
I booked my camping permits for Loch Voil and Loch Achray about a week in advance. Note, that I travelled mid-week though. If you want to camp on a weekend, you may have to plan a little longer in advance or be flexible with regards to the location. You can book up to four weeks in advance.
I thought the process of finding and booking permits for available camping spots was incredibly straightforward and it only took a few minutes to do.
The permits cost £3 per night per tent, so in total I paid £6 for two nights of camping. There are no facilities at the permit areas, but the money is channelled back into the National Park and helps with the management of the area.
Getting to the permit areas
I arrived in the National Park by car and I was happy that the camping permits included information about availability of camping spots as well as little maps of the permit areas. It made parking up a lot easier.
Some permit areas have more parking spaces available than others. Parking at Loch Voil was very limited and it took me a little while to find the perfect spot. In the end, I parked about 5 minutes from my campsite at the beginning of the permit area. At Loch Achray, there is a convenient layby right by the entrance to the permit area and there is space for 5-6 cars. It took about 5 minutes to walk to and from the car.
While I didn’t encounter a Ranger during my stay, they often come round the permit areas to talk to people and make sure they are camping responsibly.
What to expect at the permit areas at Loch Voil and Loch Achray
I spent two nights camping in the National Park – one at the permit area about halfway down Loch Voil, the other at Loch Achray South. I chose Loch Voil because it promised stunning views of the quiet glen, but also due to its proximity to Loch Lubnaig, a popular wild swimming and paddleboarding spot. Since I took out my paddleboard for the first time, I wanted to be near a place where I was sure to meet others in the water.
The permit area at Loch Voil is a long and narrow strip of land between the quiet single-track road down to Inverlochlarig and the water edge. There is a sign marking the beginning of the permit area – if you reach “no camping” signs, you’ve already gone too far. There are no set pitches, so you can camp where you like within the permit area, but be considerate to leave enough space for others, in case the area is fully booked.
Loch Achray, although a little less off the beaten path, was a perfect site for views of Ben A’an and Ben Venue. I had hoped for an early morning sunrise hike, but the weather forecast didn’t play along.
The site is a little bit more compact than Loch Voil and lies inside a fenced off-grassy area. There is plenty of space to pitch either to the left or right of the main path.
Answering nature’s call
As mentioned, neither of these permit areas has running water or toilet facilities, but on the permit I could find information for the nearest public toilets: Loch Lubnaig for Loch Voil (15 minute drive), and Loch Katrine for Loch Achray (5 minute drive).
For toilet emergencies, I brought the bare necessities – a trowel to dig a hole, some toilet paper and a Ziploc bag to take the used paper away with me and dispose of it later. Luckily, I didn’t need it! Here is some more advice on what to do if you need to poo in the National Park.
What else to do in the area
I arrived late at Loch Voil, just in time for dinner – for me, and the midges. The next morning, I drove down to Loch Lubnaig for a cup of coffee at The Cabin and to meet a friend for stand-up paddleboarding. The wind wasn’t in our favour and so we joined the groups of eager wild swimmers for a dip in the loch. It’s a popular spot for swimmers and if you are new to it, it’s a great place to meet others and ask for advice.
That popularity, though, means that the car park can fill up – especially at weekends. It’s worth checking for regular car park updates on the National Park’s website on Saturdays and Sundays – I also like to follow the Park’s Twitter account for such updates.
After a leisurely picnic lunch by the loch, we drove to Brig o’Turk and went for a walk up Glen Finglas. We marvelled at the views of the reservoir, admired the adorable baby lambs and enjoyed this leisurely walk off the beaten path.
Before moving on to Loch Achray, we made a pit stop at the Brig o’Turk Tearoom for refreshments. It was still a little early for dinner after we had set up our tents for the night. Since the wind had died down, we decided to go for a paddle on the loch. With views of Ben A’an, the impressive Tigh Mor Hotel and the full expanse of Loch Achray, we stayed out until we couldn’t paddle anymore. It was the perfect way to enjoy this unique location after the day trippers left.
One of the great benefits of camping in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is that your car is always close, so it is easier to bring certain comforts from home – like a proper BBQ! We cooked up a storm that kept the midges away until 10 pm. Our BBQ had legs to stand on, so we could rest assured that we wouldn’t burn the grass below – unfortunately, we could still see the black marks others had left with their unnecessary fires or irresponsible single-use BBQs.
Our final stop on the way home was Deli Ecosse in the beautiful town of Callander. What better way to end a getaway to the Trossachs than a delicious, cooked breakfast.
I’m so glad that I gave the camping permits of the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park a try. It was so easy to book and knowing exactly where to park and pitch took some of the stress away that often comes with wild camping elsewhere.
I can’t wait to do it again!