As iconic Scottish landmarks go, Loch Lomond is second only to perhaps Glencoe as the countries favourite beauty spot. The national park hosts a great deal more visitors than any other destination in the country. One of a handful of busy trails belonging to the park, the mountain half-way up the loch is a major visitor draw for very good reason.
At 974 meters high, Ben Lomond is far from the roughest and most difficult Munros to summit, but it is more than a tame hill walk too. Navigation and access are easier here than almost anywhere else in the country, but a reasonable level of fitness and a little preparation is required. The sheer number of visitors to visit the mountain year on year means the trail is wide and well trodden from car park to summit. The only task standing between you and the top is to hike onwards and upwards.
The popularity of Ben Lomond comes about as a result of its unique position in the Scottish hills. It is the furthest south of the 282 Munros and one of the most readily identifiable too. It’s often the first choice for those looking to bag a complete set or just get a taste for the adventure of those that do. It’s, quite honestly, an excellent choice for both. The views from the trail capture your attention from the second you break the treeline to the moment you return to the car park. A great many mountains in Scotland make you work far harder for lesser reward.
Hitting The Trail
From front gate to car park, Ben Lomond can be reached by car in little under 2 hours from the central belt. In the summer months, the trail makes a fine afternoons work, but the early riser gets the best of both the light on the loch and the quiet trail on such a busy summit. In peak season it’s not uncommon to meet three or four people on the way up and cross paths with 100+ on the descent.
Getting to the trail involves leaving the motorway behind and taking a fine trip through the A-roads to Drymen and a short journey up the West Highland Way. Care should be taken on the lengthy approach to the car park along the single lane road. Fatigued hikers and enthusiastic motorists can often be travelling in either or both directions at once.
In the middle of the car park, a visitors centre is packed to the brim with information and trail guides which detail the route to the summit. Another boost to those perhaps new to the hills, the building provides a convenient and dry place to sort out clothes and kit in a sheltered environment before setting off. A convenience not many of the remaining 281 Munros have. The trail itself starts practically from the door, on a gentle and deceptively flat path through the forest.
The trail changes character as it winds up through the woods, breaking into little short-but-steep segments which can knock your breath away at the start of the climb. A good number of first time visitors ask if the trail is like this all the way to the top should you cross paths on the return leg. Thankfully, for everyone, it’s not. The path settles down into a long steady climb before long.
Brief glimpses of scenery are offered through the trees where clearings have been cut to accommodate forestry work and telegraph pylons. Crossing straight across the forestry access road offers Brief sightings, both down the loch and towards the distant looking summit. These sneak peeks are enough to motivate you onwards and upwards well beyond the steepest part of the trail.
After the steepest climbs of the day, the treetops fade below and the views improve immensely. Looking south towards Glasgow; almost the entire southern half of Loch Lomond and its many small islands become clearly visible for the first time. Looking west over the loch, the Arrochar Alps in the sunlight look very nearly as inviting as the mountain you are on. It’s worth taking a mental note, before pressing on, to visit the park again soon to see wheat the other side of the water holds.
The harsh rocky gradient never fully returns for the remainder of the path to the summit. With 35,000 walkers a year, the mountain path is exceptionally well worn and taken care of, offering a trail which is at times dusty, at others muddy, but carries you all the way to the top. Only a few short stepped sections, and a little time, lie between your knees and the summit top.
A ‘mid-way’ gate denotes a change in farmland and offers a chance to catch your breath looking down the loch to the south. The path which makes up the main route to the summit cuts directly thorough the farmland making up the vast bulk mountain. The land is often filled with cattle and sometimes bulls. Experienced walkers are likely to be more than familiar, but careful attention should be paid, particularly summiting over hidden crests and hiking with pets.
Eventually the shrubs and grass of the farmland fades way to rocks and light scree accumulated at either side of the main path. The gradient levels out into a broadly gentle slope all the way until uo under the summit.
Well Earned Rewards
By the time you reach the rocky top, the mountain no longer obscures most of your view. Panoramic scenes open up over the rest of the park and well beyond. On a clear day, from the summit, you can look across the peaks of Glen Coe to the slopes of Ben Nevis. The reward for reaching the summit is a generous one. Ben Lomond isn’t a difficult hill in terrain or technicality, but it’s a cracking started to get a taste and experience of the Munro’s.
The simplest way back down the mountain is the same route you came up. There is an interesting route which takes you up the north-western side which is certainly worth a visit on another day.
The landmarks you passed by on the way up act as markers of distance to home on the return leg. By the time you reach the treeline once more you’re virtually home again. The local pubs along the road out and the villages of Balmaha and Drymen offer great lunches out, well-earned after a hefty hike off the mountain.