School holiday activities on a budget
When you're a youngster, the holidays seem to last forever, stretching on and on in a sunlit haze of long evenings and bright, early mornings. The most important thing to do on your holidays, of course, is to make new memories with friends and family... but keeping the kids entertained is always a challenge, especially with the cost of indoor activities in towns and cities.
Looking for something a bit more healthy, active, and most of all memorable? The wonder, beauty and excitement of Scotland's forests is out there, and for very little outlay, you can plan an unforgettable day out, often just a short drive from the big cities. As the holidays approach, we’ve put together some of our favourite things to do with your little ones that’ll get them outdoors and exploring Scotland’s forests.
1. Live the wild life
Want to get up close to Scotland’s largest mammal? The Red Deer Range in Galloway Forest Park runs regular events throughout summer to let you see these magnificent animals in real life. If marine life is more up your street, you can see leaping salmon at Rogie Falls, and maybe even porpoise and otters out west at Fishnish! In the Tweed Valley, spring time is the best season to find out all about the majestic ospreys who nest there once a year, while those keen to spot dam-building beavers should head to Knapdale in West Argyll.
At The Lodge at Aberfoyle, you'll find wildlife-themed rainy day activities for the kids in the Visitor Centre, while up at Glentress you can find out all about the life cycles, habits and behaviours of our furry and feathered friends. Check out our regularly-updated Events page for more ideas, including events with partners like Bug Life, Owl Magic, and our own ecologists.
2. Climb every mountain
There are so many awesome views out there it’s hard to pick one. So don’t! There are hills aplenty to climb for all ages in Scotland, with spectacular views as a reward. Our trail grading system applies to all of our waymarked trails, and will let you know how challenging, accessible and long the route is, along with a terrain description. There are also additional, non-waymarked trails to explore - for these, we advise you take a map to make sure you keep your bearings, and a compass - especially if you are venturing up into the mountains. Check out our tips for hillwalkers before you set off.
Some of our favourites are Ben A’an, with its spectacular views over the Trossachs, Ben Venue's (pictured) short, sharp peak, looking out over Loch Katrine, Cow Hill’s panoramas over Loch Linnhe and Ben Nevis, and the lovely Drummond Hill which lets you take in Loch Tay from above. Plus, all the exercise is definitely a good excuse to get the whole family an ice cream treat afterwards! Scotland's Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) is one of the most generous and far-reaching in Europe, so take advantage of it - start exploring the wilderness today.
3. Embrace their inner Danny MacAskill
With world class mountain biking trails on your front step why would you go anywhere else? Our world famous 7stanes destinations offer award-winning trails for all ages and abilities, and are easily accessible from Glasgow and Edinburgh. There are a ton of resources for beginners and enthusiasts alike over at our Mountain Biking page, and a list of the most popular trails, from the daredevil downhill courses at Glentress and Kirroughtree, which also have Skills Areas so you can practice your moves before hitting the trails; to thrill-packed Innerleithen, the winding forest trails at Mabie, and Dalbeattie, which features some incredible and challenging granite features on its rocky trails.
There are also plenty of places to cycle without raising your heartrate through the roof. The Glentress Peel Bike Shop has hire bikes, and expert staff on hand with advice and tips for beginners. You can even book ahead during the busier summer months. Our website is packed full of resources too - check out our features on mountain bike safety, and our guide to trail markers and grades. You can also follow @7stanes on Twitter for live updates on trails, and the latest mountain biking news.
4. Try more sports than you’ll see at the Olympics
Make new friends, go exploring and make memories for years to come. At our destinations, your little ones can try pretty much try out every activity under the sun. At Barnluasgan, wild swimming is very popular in the crystal-clear waters of Loch Coille-Bharr and Loch Dubh, and in the summer months, both are great locations for a spot of paddle boarding - remember to check the destination page before you go for info about water conditions. Up in Glenmore, you might assume sledging is a winter-only activity... but grass sledging has become incredibly popular, with sledges for rent, and other spring and summer activities like disc golf or hover archery. Nearby Loch Morlich is also the Highlands' most popular watersports destination, with kayaking, windsurfing, sailing and canoeing on offer from April to October.
Over on the scenic Isle of Mull, besides the waterfalls, forests, mountains and trails to explore, the new and fast-growing sport of geocaching has become popular - if you've never heard of it, think of a combination of orienteering and a treasure hunt, powered by GPS technology. Mull has over 100 geocache locations to find - details can be found here, and on the UK geocaching website Geocache UK. For grown-ups looking for a challenge, forest trail running races are popular - even if you don't think you could handle a marathon, you can find trail races at destinations such as Devilla in Fife during the summer, a marathon at Glencoe, and shorter races later in the year at Glentress and Roseisle - the Scottish Running Guide has dates, times and sign-up details for each of these events.
5. Toast the perfect marshmallow
Dust off your tent and sleeping bags: it’s time to get out and wake up in the woods. Whether your clan fancies wild camping or glamping with style, there are plenty of options around the country to find the perfect family location to toast marshmallows over an open fire. Cooking outdoors might seem like a challenge, but there are plenty of recipes out there for simple campfire food - and there's no denying that there's something incredibly satisfying about eating something you've cooked over an open fire.
If you want to plan a longer stay in the woods, with a few more amenities, Camping In The Forest provide campsites throughout Scotland with all the essentials, while Forest Holidays have cabins available in the stunning surrounds of Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. You can try out the full green eco-camping experience at Sallochy, or if you want to take advantage of Scotland's unique right-of-access laws, you could bring your own gear, and try some wild camping.
6. Live like Tarzan (but with more clothes)
Treetop adventure courses give you the chance to swing from trees, balance on rope bridges and zoom down flying foxes. Each course is completely unique, building different skills while giving you a squirrel's-eye view of the forest. Go along with your family or friends for an outing you’ll never forget. While a treetop adventure at Go Ape does require a degree of physical fitness, if you can climb up a rope ladder you should be fine. Even if you're afraid of heights, Go Ape can be an amazing experience - you are attached to the obstacles at all times during the course, so safety is guaranteed. Age and height limitations do apply, so check these before you book.
Visit Glentress or The Lodge Visitor Centre to Go Ape - their sites at Aberfoyle and Peebles offer unparalleled views as you fly high above the ground on some of Britain's longest zip wires. All sites have options for younger children to ensure your mini Tarzans-in-training don’t miss out. There are also thrilling Segway adventures for those who don't fancy the view from the trees! For all activities you'll need sturdy footwear, weather-appropriate clothing, and if possible a pair of gloves/
7. Play bug bingo
There’s a whopping 24,000 species of insect in the UK – and the forest is a great place to spot some of them! Download our bug bingo sheet and see how many you can count. Warning: you might have to get up close so be prepared to see some weird and wonderful beasties!
Insects play an important role in forest ecology, and across our destinations, there are tons of opportunities to learn about topics like butterfly conservation, or the role insects play in pollenating wildflowers and breaking down the forest's dead wood.
8. Build a den
There's nothing better than whiling away an afternoon in the woods building your own den or fort - and like many of the other activities on this list, it's one that's fun, completely free, and requiring no special equipment. Fort-building is always best on a dry day - although finding out how to build a more sturdy all-weather shelter, and maybe even bivouacking down for the night, is a great activity for older children, too.
9. Hang by your fingertips
Cuningar Loop is Glasgow’s newest woodland park and has lots to keep kids of all ages entertained. The bouldering area is Scotland’s first outdoor bouldering park and has routes for all climbing abilities. The bouldering area - Scotland's first outdoor bouldering park - is designed to introduce new climbers to the sport whilst providing facilities for the more experienced climber, with boulders up to 4m high.
10. Turn out the lights
Scotland has some of the darkest skies in Europe and Galloway Forest Park is one of the darkest places in Scotland, which is why it became the UK’s first Dark Sky Park. So few people live within the Forest Park that the nights really are inky black, making it a brilliant place to enjoy the Grab the binoculars and a constellation guide, and lose yourself in the night sky.
The whole family can also experience dark skies from some of our other destinations, including Broadford and Kinloch on the Isle of Skye, and look out for our popular guided stargazing and meteor-spotting events at Kirroughtree and Clatteringshaws, throughout the year.