If you’ve ever been to the American Midwest, Pacific Northwest, or New England at this time of year, you’ll have experienced their “fall foliage” as the leaves begin to turn and the trees explode with those brilliant shades of red, gold, and yellow.
But it’s not just the US that puts on the best show in town. We’re blessed with some amazing scenery in our corner of the Scottish Highlands (we’re in ‘Big Tree Country’ here after all) and every autumn as the days grow colder and shorter the trees unleash their glorious colours to highlight just how beautiful the landscape around Perthshire is.
It’s a very fleeting experience, its peak usually lasting just a few weeks, but if you live in the area, or are visiting at just the right time, it’s worth stocking up on a thermos of coffee and taking a walk to enjoy some of Scotland’s best scenery. Here are five of our favourites, plus of course a trip up Glen Lyon:
Just north of Pitlochry, walks around Killiecrankie can be steep but offer spectacular views across the roaring River Garry and some amazing autumn colour—not to mention a splash of history.
Start at the visitor centre (open April to October) and choose the trail that suits your mood and ability: a short stroll down to viewpoints over the gorge, or longer walks that take in more of this historical area of conservation.
A highlight is Soldier’s Leap, a point where a redcoat is said to have jumped 18 feet across the gorge to escape certain death at the hands of a group of pursuing Jacobites at the battle of Kiilliecrankie in 1689.
THE HERMITAGE, DUNKELD
Easy to get to from the A9 just north of Dunkeld, this is a relatively easy and accessible walk in a magical setting (although be warned, it can get busy during peak times).
Originally conceived in the 18th century as a pleasure ground for the powerful Dukes of Atholl, this National Trust for Scotland-run park contains woods, waterfalls, and various man-made structures. There are plenty of trails dotted around, but the most popular is a woodland walk that guides you along the Braan River to a picturesque folly called Ossian’s Hall overlooking the Black Linn Falls. Although famous for its Douglas firs—part of a Perthshire area that has been dubbed Big Tree Country—the woods are also home to huge non-native trees such as Cedar of Lebanon among others.
Pro tip: head uphill towards Pine Cone Point, another 18th century structure, which is usually less busy and offers stunning views across the Tay valley.
BIRNAM WOODS, BIRNAM
Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him. (Macbeth Act 4, Scene 1)
There’s something mystical about this leisurely circular walk along the banks of the river Tay under towering trees—including the colossal Birnam Oak, the last remnant of the wood mentioned in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
You can park in Dunkeld and walk over the bridge to Birnam, or park in the village and wander down to the riverside path where the looming oak, beech, and sycamore trees line the river. It’s a quiet and meditative walk, with wide paths and benches dotted along the route. Seeing the Birnam Oak up close is quite an experience—its huge lower branches are supported by several struts to stop them collapsing under their own weight—and it is presumed to be 600 years old, which means it will have already been a mature tree when Shakespeare visited the area in 1589.
The rest of the walk is very pleasant and scenic, the colours are striking, and afterwards the Beatrix Potter garden is fun to explore.
THE BIRKS, ABERFELDY
We’ve mentioned this one before, but the Birks walk to the Falls of Moness is a must if you’re visiting the area. The beech and birch trees in their autumn glory provide a dramatic canopy and the rushing Moness burn supplies a soundtrack to your walk, a relatively steep climb around the edges of the gorge up to the waterfall.
Scotland’s national poet Robbie Burns was so taken with the setting that it inspired his famous poem, The Birks of Aberfeldy, and the walk has drawn visitors ever since. It’s a short one, but quite steep, and takes about an hour, but the setting is glorious—especially in the autumn.
DEIL’S CAULDRON, COMRIE
Beginning in the picturesque village of Comrie, this walk winds through a lovely wooded setting to the Deil’s (or Devil’s) Cauldron, a dramatic waterfall where the River Lednock cascades down a narrow gorge.
Signposted as the Glen Lednock circular, this walk also features an optional ascent to the Melville Monument obelisk on Dun More hill. Stunning autumn colours, roaring waters, and majestic views make this an unmissable Perthshire walk.
If you are headed out of Comrie afterwards, check out Comrie Croft for bike hire, a farm shop and our very own Glen Lyon Coffee.
GLEN LYON CYCLE/DRIVE
Obviously we had to include this one! Rather than walking (although you can if you’re determined), we recommend a leisurely drive or cycle up Scotland’s “longest, loneliest, and loveliest glen”, in the words of Sir Walter Scott.
A mostly single track road bends and curves its way up Glen Lyon, taking in spectacular scenery and glorious autumn colours. Look out in particular for the iridescent birch trees in the pass and some magnificent larch trees further up as the road follows the River Lyon up into the hills. Take it slow—there are many tight corners—and enjoy the scenery. Stop off at the brilliant Glen Lyon Tea Room near the top of the glen for delicious food and our own Glen Lyon Coffee.
Depending on the time of year the road over Ben Lawers is a good way to complete the loop, but even in the autumn you could find it tricky going if the snow or frost has come early as it isn’t treated. In that case, turn around and come back down the glen on the same road, but with a totally different perspective.