Pleasure boats float along Caledonian Canal, a scenic 60-mile (97-kilometer) waterway that runs through Scotland's Great Glen, connecting Fort William in the southwest to Inverness in the northeast. The canal, which links Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Dochfour, and Loch Ness, is popular with walkers and cyclists, who follow towpath trails.
Though the long-distance Great Glen Way, which follows the path of the canal, attracts hikers and cyclists to the water’s edge, most visitors to Scotland encounter the Caledonian Canal during sightseeing cruises. The most-visited part of the canal is the area around Loch Ness, a vast and scenic lake, and the supposed home of a mysterious aquatic monster. Organized tours departing from Edinburgh and Inverness often include a visit to the canal, as well as trips to other area Highland highlights, such as Urquhart Castle, the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, and Glencoe.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Caledonian Canal is a must-see for scenery-seekers and active travelers.
- Swimming is not allowed in the waterway.
- Wi-Fi hotspots are available (for a fee) at various spots along the canal.
- Some parts of the Great Glen Way are wheelchair-accessible.
How to Get There
If you’re coming from Fort William, Neptune’s Staircase, 4 miles (6 kilometers) north of the city in the village of Banavie, are the nearest and most spectacular set of lochs on the canal. To get there, ride the Mallaig-bound train from Fort William to Banavie. If you’re based in Inverness, take a stroll along the Canal Road, which connects to the Great Glen Way.
When to Get There
The best time to visit the canal is in summer. At this time, the weather is generally warmer, days are longer, and sightseers can take advantage of cruise vessels’ outdoor decks. The canal is perhaps at its most scenic during sunrise and sunset, when the golden glow reflects off the water’s surface.
The History of the Caledonian Canal
Built in the late 18th and early 19th century, the Caledonian Canal was meant to serve as a safe route for commercial freight who wanted to avoid the hazardous west coast of Scotland. Unfortunately, by the time it actually opened in 1822, larger steam ships were becoming more commonplace, and were too large to use the canal. Nowadays, the canal is largely used for recreational purposes.