Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder

From Pitlochry dam and Fish Ladder to the new visitor centre

Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder

Pitlochry Fish Ladder and Dam are extremely popular with visitors to the town. There is an excellent circular short walk from the town centre.

Pitlochry Dam was constructed between 1947 and 1951. At the time it was very contentious, as people felt it would destroy the tourist town. What has happened in fact is the opposite. The twon is known for its Dam and fish ladder.

The River Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder when the river is in full spateTummel was dammed, flooding the then Highland Games and recreation field, to form Loch Faskally. Which is approximately 5km in length.

Pitlochry Fish Ladder Design  - With such a massive obstacle (the dam) across the River Tummel it was necessary to create a way for the 5,000+ salmon each year to pass upstream. The ladder as it is known is 310 metres in length and has 34 pools, 3 of which are resting pools. There are two viewing windows, side by side looking into 2 pools; these enable visitors to observe the salmon using the ladder.

Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre is open 7 days a week April to October. Open 5 days over winter. It has an excellent exhibition down stairs, with interactive models on how electricity is created, salmon swimming up the fish ladder, to a film of how the dams were built. Also an excellent cafe and shop. The cafe balcony allows you to sit with your coffee or lite meal with views over the dam.

Pitlochry Fish Ladder Walk

  1. Salmon counter and observation chamber of the Fish LadderYou can walk it in either direction. Our own preference is to start from the Car Park at the west end of town (Blair Atholl end, not the Perth end).
  2. Being a short circular walk (allow 40 to 60mins).
  3. Using the road at the far end of the car park, pass under the railway line, along Armoury Road, you will see the putting green on your right.
  4. Follow the road to the left, through some trees. Once you come out of the trees you will see the new dam visitor centre car park below. The dam wall just beyond the car park.
  5. The new Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre opposite the car park, is well worth dropping in to, if you have time. It is free entry with an excellent exhibition on the hydro power scheme in the river network. Also a cafe, toilets, shop and very helpful staff.
  6. Walk along the dam wall. There are a number of explanation plaques and fine views up the loch and down below the dam over the River Tummel and fish ladder.
  7. At the far side of the dam wall take the steps down to the fish ladder. Walk over the small bridge across the fish ladder to the observation chamber and fish counter. If you are lucky you might spot a large salmon taking a rest in the rest pool or observation window.Salmon in the Fish Ladder Observation Window
  8. Follow the River Tummel down below the dam. To your right is Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the Explorer's Garden, both are worth stopping at if you have the time.
  9. You will pass through the small hamlet of Port na Craig. This is very ancient, established in the 12th Century by the monks of Coupar Angus.
  10. Walk through Port na Craig, on the far side you will see a path to the left, follow this over the pedestrian suspension bridge. The suspension footbridge was built in 1913. Just above the bridge on the Pitlochry bank is a large slab of rock, it from here the ferryman rowed passengers over the river until the bridge was built.
  11. Follow the path beyond the bridge on to Tummel Crescent. Turn right up the road, which will take you past Drummond's Restaurant and under the railway line, beside Pitlochry Memorial gardens to Pitlochry main street.
  12. You are at the bottom end of Pitlochry main street, Atholl Road. Walk up the mains street to get back to your start point..

Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder in full spate (60secs).
Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder Walk from the centre of Pitlcohry (2mins 40 secs)

When is the best time to see the water going over Pitlochry Dam Wall?

Water goes over Loch Faskally or Pitlochry Dam wall when there has been excessive rain or when the snows melt. So this occurs more often in the winter months than during the summer. We have found a couple of web sites that give you river level information, that are worth refering too. The first gives all the rivers in the Pitlochry area and the second you can search by river name and importantly it gives a graph showing each individual river level (so click backwards and forwards to see the best information), we have set it on the River Tummel the river that runs through Pitlochry dam.

Salmon and the River Tummel

Foot bridge on the Pitlochry Dam and Fish ladder walk

The salmon season opening celebrations occur in January each year. Many salmon swimming up stream during the spring, the peak period is April to end of August. The late salmon run starts in September and ends in October.

The actual act of spawning takes place in the smaller rivers and tributaries where the male salmon excavates a trench into which the female releases 5,000 to 10,000 eggs, while the male salmon releases 'milt' that fertilises the eggs before they are buried beneath the gravel.

Once the adult salmon has spawned it migrates back to the sea and returns in 18 months or so to spawn again. Several salmon caught in the spring 2013 run were over 30lbs, having come back to spawn a second and third time.