Galloway Forest Park is the largest forest park in Britain covering more than 300 square miles of land in the southwest of Scotland. Although we've published a guide about the Galloway Kite Trail previously, we imagine that many of you might not have heard of this area before. Believe it or not, Galloway Forest Park is actually Britain's largest forest park and is quite amazing to visit.
Established in the late 40s, the park is often referred to as the 'Highlands of the lowlands' and it attracts just under 1 million visitors each year. You might be surprised to see that we didn't include Galloway Forest Park in our list of UK national parks, but that's because, despite its size and popularity, Galloway Forest Park is not yet recognized as a national park. We'll talk more about that later in the article.
But first of all, we'll have a look at what makes Galloway Forest Park so popular including the top things to see and do during your visit, let's get into the article:
What is there to do at Galloway Forest Park?
The loch is the source of the Water of Trool and has a popular walking trail that goes right around it if you're looking for a gentle wander
Galloway Forest Dark Skies
Galloway Forest Park is one of the best places in the UK for stargazing, if not the very best. More than 10 years ago in 2009, Galloway Forest Park was designated by the International Dark Sky Association as the fourth dark sky park in the world and the first in the UK.
What makes Galloway Forest Park so good for stargazing is that very few people live there. So at night there is very little light pollution and the skies are really clear and the nights are really black. It's estimated that more than 7000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye from Galloway forest park at night and the bright band of the Milky Way is usually very easy to see. If you want to learn more about what you're looking at in the sky while you stargaze at Galloway Forest Park, there are dark sky information points at the three visitor centers in the park and also a series of sites across the area, which will help you to identify any constellation and planets that you see in the sky.
Visiting Galloway Forest Park in 2023
Before you visit Galloway Forest Park, there are a few things to be aware of:
First of all, it's a good idea to decide whether you're looking for a challenging walk or bike or something a bit more gentle. For walking, gentle trails can all be found near the visitor centres. The walk around Loch Trool is a very easy wander and isn't too hard. If you're looking for a slightly more challenging walk and you're prepared in terms of clothing and footwear, then you can also explore some of the hill routes from Cornish hill and also from Merrick, which is the highest peak in south of Scotland.
If you're a mountain biker then you've got a good choice of easy and more difficult trails. The trails which are slightly easier all are all found at Kirroughtree, the Blue Route is especially good even for beginners. If you're looking for something a bit more challenging and a bit wilder, you can go to Glentrool. The Big Country Ride trail is 58 kilometers long and takes you along a good mix of hills, public roads and forest tracks. It's obviously a long day out if you do the whole route, but it's well worth well worth a shot if you love mountain biking.
Parking your car at Galloway Forest Park is pretty straightforward. There is a car park right at the entrance and there are also car parks the visitor centers. Something which isn't as well known is that you can actually park at Galloway Forest Park overnight which is especially useful if you're wanting to stargaze.
Why is Galloway Forest Park not a national park?
Scotland has two national parks already - the Cairngorms (where you will find: Sgòr Gaoith, Clach a’Bhair and Ruighe-aiteachain Bothy) and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. Despite the size and popularity of Galloway Forest Park, it is not yet recognized as a national park. There is, however, an ongoing campaign for Galloway forest park to be recognized as a national park and it's picking up steam, especially in recent months.
The case has been taken to Holyrood and we expect to see Galloway Forest Park listed as a national park within the next few years. Fingers crossed!
If you enjoyed this guide, check out our guides about Arran, Jura, Eigg, and Mull. Also, if you're looking for a good walk near Galloway Forest Park then check out the Borders Abbeys Way. If you're in the Galloway area then the Southern Upland Way is a great route to join (you don't have to walk all 214 miles of course!). We've also got guides about other forests in Scotland such as the excellent Glentress Forest, and forests in Wales such as Bwlch Nant yr Arian.