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, hillwalking, horse riding and water sports. 

Benefits of visiting the outdoors

There are many benefits that can be gained from visiting the outdoors. These include:

  • Improving our 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 our understanding and care of the natural world: Participation in outdoor recreation and activities, such as 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. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Cairngorms National Park, Forestry and Land Scotland and NatureScot are some of the environmental organisations which offer a range of volunteering opportunities. Volunteer Scotland  and Make Your Mark, an inclusive volunteering campaign, can help you find outdoor volunteering opportunities in your area. 
  • Taking part in citizen science is a useful way of helping the environment and expanding our scientific knowledge. By getting involved you can really make a difference.

YouTube: National Park Volunteers - we thank you!


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

Settings for outdoor recreation in Scotland

  • Urban green spaces - 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.
  • 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, It comprises over 650,000 hectares and more than 9% of Scotland’s landmass and has a network of waymarked paths.
  • National Nature reserves (NNRs) - Scotland’s National Nature Reserves 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.



  • Regional parks - Three regional parks offer many ways to enjoy the outdoors within easy reach of Scotland's central belt.
  • Country parks - Scotland has 40 country parks conveniently near to cities and towns.
  • Local Nature Reserves - There are 75 local nature reserves in Scotland. They are as easy to access as parks and other green spaces but with a more natural environment. 
  • Geoparks - In a geopark you can discover how Scotland's icy past shaped the landscape we see today.





Scotland performs - National indicator

The Scottish Government National Indicator Performance shows progress against all the Scottish Government’s National Indicators, including ‘Visits to the outdoors’ and ‘Access to green and blue space’.



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

Greenspaces for leisure and recreation

You can use this free interactive digital map to find accessible recreational and leisure greenspace anywhere in Britain – parks, public gardens, playing fields, sports areas, play spaces, allotments and community gardens.



© Copyright Ordnance Survey 2020

Core Paths Scotland

Around 21,000km of existing paths have been recorded as core paths across Scotland, these vary from tracks, paths, roadside footways to sections of minor road.



Access Core Paths data on the local path network.

National Cycle Network - Scotland

OS data © Crown Copyright and database right 2018 

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.

Find your route on the Sustrans National Cycle Network

Scotland's Great Trails

29 different routes provide over 1,900 miles of well managed paths from the Borders to the Highlands.

What are we doing?

Access rights and responsibilities

Providing and protecting recreation space

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. Scotland's visitor management plan sets out to educate key audiences on how to enjoy our countryside responsibly. Guidance on managing public access in areas of wildlife sensitivity provides a framework for site managers o balancing public access with safeguarding sensitive wildlife.
  • 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 for activities such as camping. Managing camping with tents in Scotland is produced by the National Access Forum.

Scottish Outdoor Access Code

YouTube: Responsible camping in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

YouTube: Camp fires and cooking in the Cairngorms National Park

Improving access to the countryside

  • The Experience Company'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. Other information on disabled access is available in Euan's Guide.
  • The Outdoor Accessibility Guidance provides advice on making outdoor places, routes and facilities more accessible and outdoor experiences more inclusive.
  • 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.
  • Health walks are a supportive and sociable way for people to enjoy the benefits of being physically active outdoors.

This page was added on 17 Jul 2023

  Adobe Acrobat Reader is the free, trusted leader for reliably viewing, annotating and signing PDFs.
Download Adobe Acrobat Reader

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.

Green Action Trust - The Green Action Trust is the trusted delivery partner focussed on environmental and regeneration outcomes for Scotland. They work with others across Scotland to turn ideas into tangible change, to build more sustainable communities and a greener country. They plan, collaborate and deliver positive action across the country to achieve Scotland’s climate change ambitions, and are specifically responsible for the delivery of the Central Scotland Green Network Plan.

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.

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

Outdoor Recreation Network - Exchanging and sharing information to develop best policy and practice in recreation in the outdoors, across the UK and Ireland. They 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 NatureScot, 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.

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.