Scotland’s natural and historic environment provides many opportunities for outdoor activity and attracts millions of visitors a year.

Key messages

Scotland's natural environment provides a fantastic backdrop for a wide range of outdoor recreation activities, ranging from dog walking and visiting parks to mountain biking, golfing and water sports. 

Benefits of visiting the outdoors

Improving health and well-being: walking is recognised as the most cost-effective means of improving physical health. Enjoying the outdoors and participating in challenging activities can also contribute to good mental health and well-being.

Increasing understanding of the natural world: participation in outdoor recreation and activities like volunteering provides opportunities for people to learn more about the natural world and to care for a resource that is valuable to the whole community. Both Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and Cairngorms National Parks and Forestry and Land Scotland offer a range of volunteering opportunities.


YouTube: National Park Volunteers - we thank you!

Increasing understanding of our cultural heritage: Visits to can help provide a sense of place and cultural identity, ensuring we can confidently pass these assets to the next generation.

Exploring the Heart of Neolithic Orkney © Crown Copyright Historic Environment Scotland

Contributing to the economy: In 2012 outdoor recreation visits generated around £2.6 billion of expenditure.

Scottish Natural Heritage have a range of on the Scottish population’s participation in outdoor recreation.

Visit Scotland have a range of research resources on outdoor recreation sectors, including:

Social inclusion - well-planned and managed recreation facilities with links to public transport can offer opportunities for everyone.

Settings for outdoor recreation

  • Urban green space - well-designed and managed green spaces make settlements more pleasant places to live, provide space for wildlife and can encourage healthy, active lifestyles by giving people an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors close to home. Improvements in the provision and promotion of paths (especially paths close to home), is likely to play a key role in increasing recreation in urban areas in the future.
  • The National Walking and Cycling Network is an ambitious project which will expand and improve Scotland’s network of paths, trails and canal paths.


YouTube: The National Walking & Cycling network animation - Scottish Natural Heritage

6,000km of paths offering active travel and recreational opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. By 2035, this extensive network of routes and connections will extend to 8,000km.

National Parks - Scotland’s two National Parks, the Cairngorms (established in 2003) and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs (established in 2002) offer visitors and local communities a wide variety of opportunities to enjoy our natural and cultural heritage. These include visits for sightseeing, walking, cycling, mountain biking, camping, kayaking, horse riding and visits to historic and cultural properties and sites.

National forest estate and other public land - the national forest estate in Scotland is the largest single public land resource held by the Scottish Government, comprising over 660,000 hectares and more than 35% of Scotland’s woodland.

Scotland’s National Nature Reserves (NNRs) cover less than 1.5% of Scotland, and contain some of the very best of the country’s nature and wildlife, including habitats and species of national and international significance.


Scotland performs - National indicator

Increase people’s use of Scotland’s outdoors - View the graph for more information.

Source: Scottish Recreation Survey (ScRS), Scottish Household Survey (SHS)

Greenspaces for leisure and recreation - new Greenspace layer in OS maps

Click here to view the map

Contains OS data © Crown Copyright and data rights 2017

Find out more about using Scotland’s greenspace map

Core Paths Scotland

To access Core Paths data published by The Improvement Service, on the Scottish Spatial Data Infrastructure metadata portal.

Leaflet | Contains OS data © Crown copyright and database right 2016. OS licence number 100050367.

Around 20,000km of existing paths have been recorded as core paths across Scotland, these vary from tracks, paths, roadside footways to sections of minor road, but many paths are no more than isolated fragments and often include minor roads.

National Cycle Network - Scotland

View the data on the map.

Map data © 2017 GeoBasis-DE/BKG (© 2009), Google © Carto

There are approximately 2,371 miles (3,815km) of National Cycle Network routes in Scotland, including 644 miles of traffic-free routes which use a mix of railway path, canal towpath, forest road, shared-use path, segregated cycle lanes and re-determined rural footways. 41% of the Scottish population now lives within a third of a mile of a National Cycle Network route.

Scotland's Great Trails

29 different routes provide over 1900 miles of well managed paths from the Borders to the Highlands.

What are we doing?

Access rights and responsibilities

Providing and protecting recreation space

  • Scottish planning policy encourages local authorities to prepare ‘open space strategies’ to guide future provision within their areas, in particular through the planning system.
  • Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework 3 (NPF3) includes the National Walking and Cycling Network as a national development to support recreation, tourism and active travel.
  • The Central Scotland Green Network is being developed to enhance landscapes, wildlife and recreational opportunities in central Scotland.
  • Every access authority in Scotland has a core paths plan.
  • Future development of mountain biking in Scotland is being guided by the National Strategic Framework for the sustainable development of mountain biking in Scotland.
  • From 2016, a programme of Green Infrastructure projects will deliver improvements to the quality, accessibility and quantity of green infrastructure in Scotland’s towns and cities.
  • The Scottish Historic Environment Policy sets out Scottish ministers’ policies on issues including access to historic sites and the important recreational opportunities afforded through volunteering.

Developing good practice and managing recreation sustainably

  • Recreation can inadvertently damage the environment, and in very popular destinations visitor management may be needed to protect it.
  • The Scottish outdoor access code provides information on everyone’s access rights and responsibilities in Scotland’s outdoors - access rights in Scotland apply to most land and inland water. A series of good-practice guides offers guidance on responsible behaviour

Scottish Outdoor Access Code

YouTube: Respect Your Park - responsible camping

  • Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code raises awareness of the need for responsible behaviour and offers practical guidance for visitors and commercial operators.
  • The NTS Mountains for People Project aims to conserve and repair some of the most challenging upland routes in Torridon, Glencoe and on Arran.
  • Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland is working to fund and repair eroded mountain paths so that access can be sustained.
  • Heading for the Scottish Hills project helps walkers plan routes that are unlikely to disturb deer-stalking.
  • Taking the lead initiative supports responsible behaviour among dog walkers and the use of responsible management practices among landowners.

Improving access to the countryside

  • The trust’s phototrails website allows users to look at a series of photos of countryside routes and read descriptions of path features, enabling visitors with disabilities to forward plan their visits.
  • The path grading system for Scotland helps path managers to simply, consistently and accurately describe paths to walkers, cyclists and riders, assisting path users to select a route that suits their needs.
  • Forestry and Land Scotland have published Forests for people - A strategy for access, recreation and tourism, following a major review and improvement works on accessibility to the National Forest Estate for people with a disability.

This page was added on 31 Oct 2017

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Pages we suggest

Useful contacts

Central Scotland green network - a national development within the National Planning Framework which aims to make ‘a significant contribution to Scotland's sustainable economic development’. It’s aim is to change the face of Central Scotland by restoring and improving the rural and urban landscape of the area.

Cycling Scotland - working with others, to help create and deliver opportunities and an environment so anyone anywhere in Scotland can cycle easily and safely.

Greenspace Scotland - a social enterprise, working with a wide range of national and local partners to improve the quality of life of people living and working in urban Scotland through the planning, development and sustainable management of greenspaces as a key part of the green infrastructure of our towns and cities.

Local Authorities and National Park Authorities (Cairngorms National Park Authority; Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park) - have a key role in promoting outdoor recreation opportunities in their areas and are responsible for  preparing  the core path plan networks in their areas. Core paths enable and encourage members of the public to exercise their rights of access.

Outdoor recreation network - Exchanging and sharing information to develop best policy and practice in recreation in the outdoors, across the UK and Ireland. We encompass all of the outdoors – from urban greenspace in towns and cities to remote, countryside and wilderness spaces across the British Isles.

Paths for all - A Scottish charity and a partnership of 28 national organisations, championing everyday walking as the way to  a happier, healthier Scotland.

Scotland’s national nature reserves - A number of organisations manage National Nature Reserves in Scotland. These include Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry and Land Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Woodland Trust and South Lanarkshire Council.

Scottish land and estates - Represents landowners across Scotland, demonstrating good land ownership and management, and promoting better communication and mutual understanding between land managers and those who use the countryside recreationally.

Scottish Natural Heritage - Has a responsibility for promoting understanding of the opportunities for outdoor recreation, including promotion of the Access Code.

Sustrans - Scotland - Works closely with communities, the Scottish Government, local authorities and other partners to ensure that the people of Scotland have access to a network of safe walking and cycling routes; making Scotland a healthy, happy place to live, work and play, and a sustainable and beautiful tourist destination.

The Scottish Government - The Government will seek to increase accessibility, education and awareness.