The main approach roads to the National Park are well signposted, but before entering the designated Park area, there are a number of interesting gateway towns and villages nearby. They are well worth a visit and also make ideal touring bases.
In the west, this is a classic gateway to the beauties of Cowal. Dunoon is the largest town on the peninsula. It has good shopping and leisure facilities and is known as the maritime gateway to the Park. Its ferry links across the Clyde Estuary - a short crossing with a real sense of ‘getting-away-from-it-all’ - gives access to a scenic hinterland that feels almost like an island. And the town has a good accommodation choice as a base for exploring the Argyll Forest part of the Park and further afield.
Historic points of interest include the Robert Burns connection by way of a statue to ‘Highland Mary’, the poet’s lover. Nearby are the scanty remains of Dunoon’s ancient castle, once a royal fortress with the Campbells as hereditary keepers. Dunoon is also famous for its annual Cowal Gathering, with the world-renowned ‘March of a Thousand Pipers’ thought to be the largest gathering of its kind in the world.
This attractive tree-lined planned town is easily accessible by road and rail from Glasgow and has easy access both to the western and southern portions of the Park along the west bank of Loch Lomond. Like Dunoon it is a long-established Clyde coast resort town, with a good share of the fine villas and mansions originally built by the city merchants and business folk. Helensburgh is the setting for perhaps the most famous of all: Hill House by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.
With plenty of accommodation choice, and the Park just minutes away ‘over the hill’ Helensburgh is an excellent gateway. The town is also on the Three Lochs Way, a signposted walking route that takes an exciting course northwards into the Park high above Loch Long.
Further east, the city of Stirling also gives easy access to the National Park. The Trossachs hills and Ben Lomond are prominent from the ramparts of its ancient and impressive castle, for long at the centre of Scotland’s story. And it is an easy journey from Stirling to both Aberfoyle and Callander, within the park boundaries.
Well-resourced with a good range of shops, accommodation and other leisure facilities for those visitors preferring a larger centre as a base, Stirling also lies close to the motorway network and has good rail connections.
Continuing round the Park area, further north, visitors cross the boundary west of the attractive village of Comrie. The same fault line encountered to the south-west by Ben Ledi and through the Loch Lomond islands, also marks the Highland-Lowland edge hereabouts - so that Comrie has a real sense of a portal or gateway to the grand landscapes that lie beyond by way of Loch Earn or Ben Vorlich.
While Comrie has places to stay, as well as little shops and galleries along its main street, the choice is further widened by the larger town of Crieff, just minutes away to the east.