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5 of the Best Adventurous Hikes in Edinburgh
August 12, 2019

A beautiful day in the Pentland Hills in Edinburgh. Photo: Sean Paul Kinnear

Edinburgh is a brilliant city for hiking. It’s a city where ocean meets history meets rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Within a half hour’s walk from the city centre you can be at the base of Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, and 15 minutes walk from the main shopping street will get you to the top of Calton Hill, which offers equally stunning views of the historic Old Town.

What you’ll also see from both Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat, though, are the Pentland Hills. Running from the south west of Edinburgh towards Bigger and the upper Clydesdale, the Pentalnds are 20 miles in length, 90 km² and boast 100km of waymarked paths. Rolling hills provide the backdrop for beautiful reservoirs, and there are an array of public buses in the city that will drop you right off at the foot of the hills. The best, most adventurous hikes in Edinburgh are in the Pentland Hills.

> Check out our full guide to the best hiking in Scotland

Below, we’ve selected five options (well, four in the Pentlands, one elsewhere) that will give you a proper day in the outdoors. As ever, just make sure you come prepared, have looked further into the route with a map (the Komoot maps embedded below are approximate and not to be taken as bibles!) and checked the conditions before your departure. The Scottish weather can be quite adverse, as you may have heard. And if there’s snow, it’s probably a no-go. Ensure you pick a hike appropriate for your fitness and bring appropriate equipment and supplies (food, water, map etc) on the route. None of the below are an easy walk – though there are many simpler, shorter routes on the Pentland Hills website! And there’s some tips on safety in the Pentlands on their website too…

1. Bonaly Circular via Harlaw and Reservoirs

Edinburgh hikes treks walking in Scottish Capital Bonaly Reservoir

Bonaly Reservoir from the top of Harbour Hill, looking back over Edinburgh. Photo: Calum McRoberts (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Length: 13.9 miles Total Ascent: 1350ft Approximate time for hike (not including transport): 6.5 hours + Getting there: Number 10 Lothian Bus (to Bonaly) from city centre, 30-45 minutes. Same on return. Less frequent services on weekends. This is a big, challenging route that will take you the best part of the day, but is incredibly easily accessed from near enough anywhere in the city. Jump on a number 10 Lothian Bus (to Bonaly rather than Torphin) to avoid climbing up a road known locally as “puke hill” and you’ll find yourself at the entrance to the Pentland Hills Regional Park after a five minute walk over a bridge above a motorway. You’ll see a road on your left, leading to a Scout camp, and a road on your right, where there will probably be some cars parked. Take the road on the right and follow it. You’ll climb to the first reservoir of the day on a tarmac road – Torduff – with plenty more to come. Follow the road up and you’ll soon come to Cluddbiedean Reservoir, where you can follow a gravel path, or we’d recommend going through the gate to the reservoir and following the hiking trail through the forest on the far side of the water. It’s a nice little trail and brings you back to the gravel path when the reservoir ends. Follow that path, and you’ll get to some farmhouses, where you join a road which takes you to Harlaw Reservoir. There’s occasionally a little food van here, and a toilet available if the building itself behind the van is open. Follow the trail past Harlaw, and past Threipmuir Reservoir, with great water and hill views, cross a bridge and go up a very scenic, tree-lined road. Follow this round and you’ll get back off gravel or tarmac paths and onto proper hiking trails. Follow the trail through Green Cleugh (watch out for deer here!) and climb the Black Hill Path – a steep climb. Follow the lovely route back down and you’ll come out at Threipmuir Reservoir. We should note, it’s worth keeping an eye open for mountain bikers during all of this. Follow the route back round, via the opposite side of Harlaw, and then ascend on a new path to a high crossroad gate, from where you’ll see great views of Glencorse Reservoir. Turn up to hike the steep Harbour Hill, then follow it down, past the beautiful Bonaly Reservoir, and descend back to Bonaly with great city views.

2. Hillend to Bonaly via Caerketton, Allemuir and Capelaw

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A sheep on the rolling hills of the Pentlands. Photo: Daniel Macdonald

Length: 5 miles Total Ascent: 1150ft Approximate time for hike (not including transport): 3 hours + Getting there: Number 4 Lothian Bus (to Hillend) from the city centre, and number 10 Lothian Bus (to Western Harbour) from city centre, 30-60 minutes each way. Less frequent services on weekends. This is a demanding five mile hike which takes in several hill tops along the way, and doesn’t loop back at any point. It’s also incredibly easily accesible at either end by bus, however, and as such is great for those visiting for the weekend. You can grab the number 4 Lothian Bus from the city centre to get out to the start point, and the number 10 back to the city centre from the finish point in Bonaly. But enough of that. Onto the route! The trek starts from the terminal of the bus station, which is handy. You’ll turn up as though you’re going to Hillend, the artificial ski slope, but quickly turn off and do the bulk of your climbing for the day in the opening mile. Gradients can get tough here, so take your time, enjoy the views back the way towards the city as you climb, and don’t burn yourself out on the opening climb. Things will become a lot more manageable as you reach the peak of Caerketton Hill, and rejoice, because now that you’re up – much like the 10,000 men of the Grand Old Duke of York – you are very much up. From here it’s mostly rolling hills and great views. Needless to say, as is often the case anywhere in Edinburgh, the wind can get pretty bad on these hilltops, so be prepared, cautious and surefooted whatever you’re doing. From Caerketton you follow the trail over to Allermuil Hill, then take a little detour to reach Castlelaw Hillfort crossroads. After a short but slightly uphill walk to the top of Capelaw Hill, you’ll cash in on that early ascent, and it’s nearly all downhill from here. You’ll reach White Hill soon, and while you can follow the gravel path down, we recommend extending the journey a little and nipping into the forest, where you can follow a nice trail back down to the Scout Camp and the exit of the hills which passes a stream and a small waterfall.

3. Flotterstone to Nine Mile Burn via Turnhouse, Carnethy and West Kip

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Two hikers make their way from the top of Turnhouse Hill towards Carnethy Hill in the Pentlands. Photo: Bob Douglas / iStock

Length: 7.7 miles Total Ascent: 1,700ft Approximate time for hike (not including transport): 5 hours + Getting there: You can get the 101A or 102 from Princes Street (the main shopping town in the city centre) to the Flotterstone Inn, and then get the 101 or 101A home from the bus stop at Nine Mile Burn. The service is run by Stagecoach West Scotland. Less frequent services on weekends. Starting at the Flotterstone Inn, a beautiful place to grab a bite to eat or a drink on a sunny day, this route comes in at almost eight miles long – but it requires a fair bit of time given all the ups and downs involved. And of course, a very good level of fitness and stamina. You have about half a mile to ease into the hike before the biggest ascent of the route kicks off and you climb to Turnhouse Hill. You’ll ascend around 900ft in this climb alone, and it’s covered over the space of about three quarters of a mile, so take your time. This might be the biggest climb but it’s not the only one. Your rewards when you reach the top of Turnhouse are multiple, though. The views over the stunning Glencorse Reservoir are lovely, and the worst of the climbing is now done for the day. That said, you’ll spend the next few miles going up and down between approximately 1,400ft and 1,800ft, ascending again along a ridge to reach Carnethy Hill, descending a little and then quickly climbing again to Scald Law, the highest hill in the Pentlands at 609m. This isn’t an easy route by any means, but once you’re on top of Scald Law, the remaining four miles are nearly entirely downhill. As with any trek, stay surefooted. The views on this route really are very picturesque, and when you get to the finish line, you’ll find yourself a very short walk from a bus stop to take you back into the centre of town.

4. West Linton to Balerno via Pentlands Hike

Edinburgh hikes treks walking in Scottish Capital

A beautiful view of the Pentlands near West Linton in Edinburgh. Photo: Sean Paul Kinnear

Length: 12.5 miles Total Ascent: 775ft Approximate time for hike (not including transport): 5.5 hours + Getting there:The 101, a Stagecoach West Scotland bus, from Edinburgh towards Biggar stops in West Linton. From Balerno, you can get the 44 Lothians Bus back into the city centre of Edinburgh. Less frequent services on weekends. The Balerno – West Linton hike is part of the Scottish National Trail, an 864km long-distance walking route which runs the length of Scotland. Starting in historic West Linton, you quickly get off the road and onto a path with the Pentlands bare in front of you, though a little away in the distance. By the time you get to Carlops, you’ll have already covered 3.5 miles. Next you’ll climb up to North Esk Reservoir. It’s a beautiful, quiet and quaint spot a mile and a half further up the road. With peaks all around, you’ll begin your descent from a height of over 1,300ft back down to Balerno. The views of the Pentlands are stunning throughout, and though it’s a slightly longer route than some of the others, much of the terrain is on good paths or road. That said, there can also be boggy sections in the latter half of the journey. You’ll eventually come out at Balerno, which is a small town very well connected to the city centre of Edinburgh. Jump on the 44 Lothians Bus back into town and you could be on Princes Street 45 minutes later.

5. The Seven Summits of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Hikes Arthur's Seat Seven Summits of Edinburgh

The stunning Arthur’s Seat, looking out over the ocean, North Berwick and the city. Photo: Claudel Rheault

Length: 17 miles Total Ascent: 2,025ft + Approximate time for hike (not including transport): 8 hours + Getting there: Calton Hill is a short walk from the city centre of Edinburgh. Finally, since there’s such a wealth of beauty in Edinburgh, we thought we’d include the seven summits of Edinburgh route as well, in the city itself. Edinburgh was built on seven hills, and you’re going to summit them all! It’s a lengthy trek at 17 miles, but it’s a fantastic tour of the entire city and includes the biggest hills and the best lookout points within Edinburgh. Of course, most of this route is on streets, roads and footpaths though, so it’s not nearly as nature-friendly as the Pentlands. Starting on Calton Hill, right next to the main shopping street in Edinburgh Princes Street, you’ll have a great look out over the old town and over the Firth of Forth, all the way to Fife. From here, you’ll walk up to Edinburgh Castle, the first of the peaks. From here you’ve got the longest bridging walk of the trip over to Corstorphine Hill at 514ft. You’ll pass through the lovely Dean Village on your way though, and there’s a tower on top once you’ve summited the hill. The tower was built as a memorial to Sir Walter Scott in 1871, 100 years after the author’s death. From Corstorphine Hill it’s over to Easter Craiglockhart hill, then you’ll continue on to summit the Braid Hill, just short of 650ft. Watch out for stray golf balls! You can then make your way over to Blackford Hill, then it’s on to the highest point on the trip at 720ft, Arthur’s Seat. The extinct volcano is one of the highlights of the trip, and the panoramic views from the top are excellent. The nice thing about this route is that you can go up Arthur’s Seat one way, and come down another, giving you the full feel of the landscape, and it’s not far back up to Calton Hill from there! At 16.5 miles, this one will take the bulk of your day (though you could cheat with some buses), but if you do complete it, you can definitely say you’ve seen the city. For easier walks, you can break this down into just Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill.. If you’re competitive meanwhile, there’s a Seven Hills of Edinburgh race each year. The winner for 2019 completed the route in – a frankly quite baffing time of – an hour and a half. Happy hiking! Fancy a bigger adventure but don’t have much time off? Check out these adventures which only take up a weekend.