Hiking in Scotland can mean anything from a jaunt up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh to a walk round Loch Lomond (just 45-minute’s drive from Glasgow), to climbing Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK.
More and more people are being drawn to walk in the Scottish Highlands, having seeing beautiful images of the Cairngorm mountains and the glens and the mountain bothies within them. Nan Shepherd, who adorns the £5 notes in Scotland, wrote in her foundational text The Living Mountain that the Cairngorms are “like a work of art […] perpetually new when one returns” to them. Heading further west, many others venture to the Isle of Skye and the Cuillin ridge, or take on the ultimate Scottish challenge of ‘bagging’ each of the country’s 282 Munros (mountains in Scotland over 3,000ft).
Scotland is also renowned for multi-day hikes; from the West Highland Way, from Milngavie to Fort William, to the far-flung Cape Wrath trail, which reaches even further north, or the Rob Roy Way - a route which passes through the Southern Highlands. The 537-mile Scottish National Trail encompasses nearly every walking route in Scotland, if you’ve got the time (and the legs).
So, where to start hiking in Scotland?
That’s the big question. Or at least, one of the big questions. What are the best hikes in Scotland? What should you wear hiking in Scotland and are the pesky midges worthy of all that notoriety? Naturally, any guide to the best hikes in Scotland will be entirely subjective, but what we’ve tried to do in the list below is provide a resource that will give you a great introduction to the hiking in different regions of Scotland, as well as answer some of those key questions you might have about hiking in the land of lochs, glens, Munros and multi-day epics.
Remember, the mountains of Scotland should not be underestimated. For many Munros, and even smaller mountains, you need a knowledge of mountaineering and experience hiking in all sorts of conditions, on all sorts of terrains. Guides are always recommended for those in doubt. Please don’t end up being that person without a map or compass stuck up Ben Nevis in flip flops in February.
1. The West Highland Way
Where to start with hiking in Scotland? The West Highland Way is probably the place. A cornerstone of walking in the country, the West Highland Way sets off from Milngavie and goes 96 miles (155km) to Fort William, home of Ben Nevis.
Along the way you’ll pass along the shores of Loch Lomond, with plenty of opportunity to bag a Munro in Ben Lomond as you go, before ascending further north into far more remote areas of Scotland, passing through high-rising mountain tops and low glen valleys. You’ll walk through Rannoch Moor, one of the last great wildernesses of Europe, and eventually reach Fort William, where if you’re still feeling fresh (good job, you’ve clearly been training!), you have the option to head up the tallest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis.
The recommended itineraries for the West Highland Way offer options for 5-7 days, with daily mileage anywhere from 8-20+ miles, but the route allows for flexibility, particularly if you’re camping. There’s a great sense of community on this route throughout at the bars, hostels and camp spots along the way.
2. Climb Ben Nevis (the CMD Arête route)
Speaking of Ben Nevis, we can’t write a list of the best hikes in Scotland without including one up the highest mountain in Scotland and the UK. At 1,345m (4412ft), Ben Nevis in Fort William is the King of the Munros, and is the peak of the United Kingdom, 36m higher than the also well-known Ben Macdui (which is on the edge of the Cairn Gorm plateau and is the highest point in the Cairngorms National Park).
The “Tourist Route” up Ben Nevis can be quite crowded, and while still a great way to see the mountain, the route up Ben Nevis via the knife-edge Carn Mor Dearg Arête, commonly known as the CMD Arête, is possibly the most interesting. Ascending via this route will mean you’ll also ascend the Munro of Carn Mor Dearg, and the ridge walk itself must be one of the most stunning in the United Kingdom, if not beyond – a fitting way to summit the highest mountain in Scotland. Mind you, you need a bit of nerve and a head for heights.
3. Climb The Cobbler
At 920 metres tall The Cobbler isn’t quite a Munro, but that’s just proof that if you only ever climb the Munros you’ll miss out on some of the best hikes in Scotland.
Also known as Ben Arthur, this hike is found in the Arrochar Alps. It’s accessible from the Succoth car park in Arrochar, about a one hour 45 min drive from Edinburgh or one hour from Glasgow. The path up is clear and easy to follow, starting with a zig-zagging path with views back over Loch Long before walking three miles to the foot of the mountain to begin the ascent. The triple-headed mountain has one of the most distinctive outlines of any mountain in Scotland, Munro or not. It’s also one of the most rewarding to summit as well – with some great views (and great photo opps) at the top. Not least if you scramble up the rocky tower at the top after “threading the needle” on the north summit.
4. The Southern Upland Way
The Southern Upland Way is the first official coast to coast walk in the United Kingdom. It takes you a full 214 miles from Portpatrick on the south west coast to Cockburnspath on the east. This is a hell of a multi-day hike normally split up between 12-16 days. You’ll take on over 80 peaks which rise above 2000ft, but never 3000ft, and get a real sense for the beauty of the Scottish borders. It’s an area so often overlooked by those who hike in Scotland, but it really is beautiful. Make no mistake, this is challenging even for experienced walkers. But if you’re looking for a lesser known way to discover the country, then this is one of the best hikes in Scotland.
5. Climb the Cuillins (Isle of Skye)
The Isle of Skye is beautiful all over, but in one corner, the skyline is dominated by the Cuillin mountains. They can be divided into the Black Cuillin and the Red Cuillin, which are separated by Glen Sligachan. The Black Cuillin is often said to be the most challenging mountain range in the United Kingdom – the high point being 3,254ft. The Red Cuillin is a Corbett rather than a Munro at 2,543ft, and when you get to the top of either, there’s a great view of the other, and of the rest of Skye (pending weather).
The Clach Glas Blabheinn Traverse is a classic Skye scramble along an airy ridge. The Dubh Slabs offer another option, and the big one is “the inaccessible pinnacle“, the second highest summit in the Skye Cuillins and a holy grail for mountaineers. Again, it’s not as easy climb, but often the best aren’t. The more traditional tourist spots in Skye – the Fairy Pools and Old Man of Storr – are still well worth a visit. They’re famous for a good reason!
6. The Rob Roy Way
If you’ve not heard of him previously, Rob Roy MacGregor was an infamous outlaw who lived in Scotland in the 17th and 18th centuries. He is the eponymous character of Sir Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy, which immortalised him in literature. This seven-day hike honours him too.
Covering 94 miles from Drymen to the picturesque Pitlochry, this is a great way to see the glens, rivers and lochs of the Southern Highlands, all the while taking in the history of Scotland along the way. The walk passes by the lochs of Venachar, Lubnaig and Tay and the towns of Aberfoyle, Callander, Strathyre, Aberfeldy and more. The official website hasn’t been updated in some time, but there’s a great photo-guide to the full route by WalkHighland user Andrew.
7. Climb Stac Pollaidh
Stac Pollaidh, on the Northwest coast of Scotland, above Ullapool, is another mountain which shows height isn’t everything. The hill in the Northwest Highlands is just 613m high, but the scenery that surrounds it is everything you dream of when you think of the Highlands.
The hike has outstanding views of Assynt to the north and the Summer Isles to the south. A good path up also means that you can make the climb in just a few hours (one-way), and while it's exhausting work getting up there, it's not technical at all.
This has got to be one of the best hikes in Scotland, and in particular one of the best singular days out in Scotland, because there are few places I can think of where you get such stunning views for only a few hours of hiking. Picture Torridonian sandstone, steep gullies, and ice age ridgelines. If you need any more inspiration, check out the Scottish folk band Assynt, inspired by the place.
One thing to know is that the trail will take you up to a top plateau, and then it's a simple climb to the eastern summit. The true summit is on the west though, and is a tricky scramble which should only be done by those who are experienced. If you're sticking to the regular trail, then this same level of experience isn't required.
8. The Aonach Eagach Ridgeline
Found in the famously stunning Glen Coe, the Aonach Eagach is the UK mainland’s narrowest ridge walk. It’s also one of the more challenging of the 282 Munros to ‘bag’ in the country.
This is a dangerous climb, full of hazardous, often wet, sometimes slippy paths and rocks. Experience is required and it’s not one to take on alone, or in rotten conditions. Still, it truly is one of the most remarkable mountain climbs, as the photos above and below show.
Those with experience will be rewarded with an exhilarating scramble and views over the other Glen Coe peaks. Check out this great, detailed guide on Walk Highlands for more details on this (and many other) routes.
9. Climb Liathach
Liatach in Glen Torridon is considered by many to be the most beautiful Munro in Scotland. It’s not an easy day in the mountains, though. There’s a lot of scrambling involved, a lot of exposed paths, some tricky ridge spots and plenty of steeps. The ascent is steep on a well-set path and you’ll bag two Munros on your way, Spidean a’Choire Leith and Mullach an Rathain. The scenery has to be seen to be believed.
10. Climb An Teallach
The final of three Scottish ridges known for their scrambles, An Teallach (alongside Liathach and Aonach Eagach) is a beautiful climb on the Northwest of Scotland. It’s not far below Ullapool. The BMC (British Mountaineering Club) describe it as “mainland Britain’s most legendary Grade 3 ridge scramble”. So again, this isn’t one for the inexperienced or for the faint hearted. Another mountain made of Torridonian sandstone, the steep gullies make for incredibly dramatic views from the peak at 914m. A hike that’ll stay with you a lifetime.
11. The Cape Wrath Trail
Our last on this arbitrary list of 11 of the best hikes in Scotland is the Cape Wrath Trail, which takes us to the very top of the mainland. Running for 240 miles and often called the toughest long-distance hiking trail in the UK, the Cape Wrath trail starts in Fort William and finishes at Cape Wrath 15-20 days later. Cape Wrath is the north-westerly point of the British mainland. You’ll pass through the remote wilderness of Knoydart and Assynt on the way and bump into almost nobody else for weeks. You’ll also spend many of your nights in bothies. It’s a big ‘un alright. But maybe not one for those who live to socialise.
Hiking in Scotland | What to Wear & When to Visit
So, you want good weather for your hiking in Scotland? Best of luck with that. I’ve lived here for over 25 years now, and one thing that you learn is that seasons are more concept than fact. As Scottish comedian Billy Connolly said, “there are two seasons in Scotland: June and Winter.” The sun will shine when it shines and the sky will rain when it rains.
Of course, the winter is still (usually) colder than the summer. From November-March, particularly in the north of the country, you can get a lot of snowfall. So if you’re going to hike in that time period, you need to have the gear and experience for that. Peak hiking season is from June-August, and these will be the busiest but driest times. April could honestly be anything from snow to substantial sunshine, depending on how the Gods are feeling that day. The important lesson to take away from this is to be prepared for all weathers in Scotland.
That means having a rain jacket which is properly waterproof, a pair of boots that can scramble and support but also keep out the wet weather. If you’re camping, a tent and sleeping bag that are up to scratch (appropriate for the warmth and wind). And of course, if there’s snow, appropriate gear for that – which may include crampons.
Hiking in Scotland | Avoiding the Midges
If you don’t know what a midge is, then you’re a very lucky person indeed. Unfortunately though, you’ll find out when you come to Scotland. Midge are tiny little flying blood-suckers (literally) who will leave your arm feeling very itchy indeed. They’re attracted to the CO2, scent and heat of humans and are very much the bane of all hiking in Scotland.
Midges favourite conditions are warm and damp but not windy. They also love still and humid, or cloudy conditions. If it’s actually raining or if it’s windy you should be fine, though. Midges can’t fly in winds beyond around 7mph. They’re only wee, so get blown about easily – but when the weather settles, they do swarm. Cold and dry or full on sunlight – you should be so lucky – and you’ll also likely be fine.
Fires keep them away, as does insect repellent, which is really a must. Avon Skin So Soft is often recommended as a repellent free of deet, but different people find different things work. Midge season is primarily May-Sept.
Check out our full range of adventures in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom