Asked to imagine themselves walking or hiking on the Isle of Skye, most budding visitors will conjure up an ethereal image; of hidden sea lochs guarded by the rugged Cuillin mountains, of windswept coastlines looking out over spiking sea stacks and choppy water, or of beautiful beach walks, backdropped by some of Scotland’s finest Munros. Indeed, all of these scenes can be reached on the best walks on Skye. The island is a dreamscape.
What people often miss out of this image, though, is the people; the actual communities who live on Skye, have done for generations, and how all of this tourism to the island impacts them.
The legendary Black Cuillin is renowned as the UK's most challenging, most beautiful mountain range.
It can be difficult not to romanticise the Isle of Skye; this legendary site of castles and clan battles, home to many of the finest mountain climbs and day hikes in Scotland. Indeed, all of this is as much a pull for us native Scots as it is for the thousands visiting from abroad. But while tourism brings obvious benefits to Skye, it’s irresponsible to write about the beauty of this glorious island without also acknowledging the overtourism that now plagues certain honeypots.
That overtourism has led to congestion, and to roads eroding under campervans and tour buses, often accused of treating the island more like a theme park than somebody’s home. At the same time, tourism is the lifeblood and livelihood of many who live on Skye. As MSP for the area, Kate Forbes, once said: “There is a strong message that you are welcome on Skye but please respect Skye.”
With that in mind, you’ll notice we’ve omitted certain iconic destinations on the Isle of Skye from this guide; notably the fairy pools in Glen Brittle, the fairy glen in Uig, the Neist Point Lighthouse, the craggy Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing.
While these are all beautiful - remarkable - locations, they already all receive a lot of visitors. In overlooking them, we do not believe this (entirely subjective) list of the best walks on Skye is lessened. After all, huge tourist footfall not only impacts the health of a wild place - but also the enjoyment of hiking there, and as you’ll see below, there are so, so many other remarkable hikes around Skye.
If you’re only visiting Skye once, and do want to visit those hotspots, consider shoulder or off-season travel, when it’s less crowded. After all, sunshine is never guaranteed in Scotland anyway - and Skye is beautiful year-round.
In this guide, I’m going to recommend some of the best walks on the Isle of Skye beyond the honeypots. There are some famous sites and hikes on here you’ll have heard of, but perhaps there are a few lesser known walks as well; peeling back another layer of this legendary isle. As with all hikes, aim to leave no trace.
Staying safe on Skye
These route descriptions are only short summaries, designed to inspire but not to serve any navigational purpose. They are not intended to guide you on the route and further mapping, planning and experience will be required if you want to safely walk any of the trails featured.
The legendary Black Cuillin is renowned as the UK's most challenging, most beautiful mountain range - and the weather is famously changeable around Skye. Mist and other infringing conditions can draw in quickly, and there are even some ridges where compasses may not work as intended. When there is snow, specialist winter equipment including ice-axes and crampons is often essential, and climbing in these conditions can be seriously perilous.
Only embark on hikes you have the skills and experience to safely navigate. We'd recommend hiring a local guide. You’ll bring an income stream to locals, ensure you stay safe - and learn the history and lore of this storied island as you go.
If you need to call for help, dial 999, ask for the police, then mountain rescue.
1. Climb Blà Bheinn (Blaven), 929m
- Distance: 5 miles (8km)
- Duration: approx 5 hours
- Start Point: Car park near Loch Slapin
There are 282 Munros in Scotland - that is, mountains over 914m/3,000ft high - and many keen hikers will tell you that Blà Bheinn, often anglicised as Blaven, is the finest climb of the lot.
To put the mountain into context, there are 12 Munros on Skye in total. 11 of these are on the main Cuillin ridge, while Bla Bheinn is the only one which is not. This gives the mountain a particularly distinctive character.
Blaven has become that dream mountain. It's one of these hills I'll just keep going up again and again.
“The south ridge of Blaven rises from the sea to the summit, right from Camasunary Bay,” Dempster said. “The most common route up Blaven is from Loch Slapin. I usually go up the south ridge - or do the Clach Glas-Blaven traverse, which is a lovely scrambling route including one of the other routes near Blaven called Clach Glas. It [Clach Glas] is sometimes called the 'Matterhorn of Skye' because it is quite a climb. There’s a scramble to the top. I've never found it that difficult but you often see people roped up climbing Clach Glas. The traverse is one of the finest ridge traverses in Scotland.
“In the book I've talked about the ‘dream mountain of the west’ and I think to me, Blaven has become that dream mountain. It's one of these hills I'll just keep going up again and again. Blaven is now possibly my favourite Munro."
2. Walk to the Point of Sleat
- Distance: 5.5 miles (8.9km)
- Duration: approx 3 hours
- Start point: Car park, Aird of Sleat
Most who drive onto Skye follow the A87 all the way to Portree. In order to reach this hike, you’ll need to take a left off the road five or so minutes after crossing the Skye Bridge, and follow the A851 past Torabhaig Distillery, past Armadale ferry port, all the way to Aird of Sleat, in the southwest corner of Skye.
From here, you’re then going to hike out to the southernmost point of Skye, starting on a wide dirt track with almost immediate views out over the Sound of Sleat and all the way to Knoydart.
You’ll weave and wind on rolling hills, and after the path narrows, you’ll have the option of detouring down to Camas Daraich, a startlingly white sand beach with deep turquoise water, sandwiched between rugged rocks. You should definitely head down here - the beach is one of the major pulls of this route - but it’s up to you whether you visit the beach on the out-route or when returning. I find this to be a nice lunch stop on the way back to the car.
The best views of Camas Daraich actually come looking backwards, as you continue on the trail. You’ll find this section a bit boggy, but it soon leads out to a set of steep, concrete stairs (which can be slippy), allowing you to descend to the north shore. Follow the grass over to reach the Point of Sleat, walking over the rocks, to the lighthouse. This is a rarely visited part of Skye, but I find the views from here out to Eigg and Rum in particular to be astounding.
Keep an eye open for marine life. I’ve spotted dolphins, otters and seals here.
3. Climb Sgùrr nan Gillean, 966m
- Distance: 7.5 miles (12km)
- Duration: approx 6 hours
- Start Point: Layby near Sligachan
The mighty Sgùrr nan Gillean is perhaps the most famous mountain on the Cuillin ridgeline. A huge triangle of a mountain, you'll need to undertake a dramatic scramble in order to reach the summit, but it’s another which author Andrew Dempster picked out as amongst his favourite Scottish Munros.
“I think I’ve been up Sgùrr nan Gillean 12 times,” he told me. “It’s one of the few peaks in the Cuillin you get a good view of from Sligachan. Sgùrr nan Gillean is really recognisable. There are these three ridges which form a lovely pointed summit. If you asked a child to draw a picture of a mountain they would probably draw a pyramid, and it's exactly like that.”
Climbing in the Cuillin range is famously difficult, and this is no exception.
If you asked a child to draw a picture of a mountain they would probably draw a pyramid, and it's exactly like that.
“There's not really any easy way up Sgùrr nan Gillean,” said Dempster. “Even the 'Tourist Route' is a bit of a misnomer because it's quite hard scrambling for the last few hundred feet. I remember the first time I did it I actually did it via the west ridge, which is one of the harder ridges. At that time I was a 'Green horn' but I managed to get up it - and I actually came back down the same way in order to get another Munro [Am Basteir] done.
“I climbed it again last year and we had a beautiful day on Sgùrr nan Gillean. It was the first time I had done it for years, and the scrambling part I actually found quite challenging. I used to think it was really easy but the older you get, the less appeal you find scrambling! Sgùrr nan Gillean translates as the ‘Peak of the Young Men’ and I would say it is a young man's peak!”
4. Visit Preshal Beg on a Talisker Loop
- Distance: 2.5 miles (4km)
- Duration: approx 1 hour
- Start Point: Talisker
Talisker is a name famed around the world for its whisky, and indeed, Talisker Distillery is very near to this walk, in the village of Carbost on Loch Harport, four miles from Talisker itself.
If you’re looking for an easy walk in this area, park up and stroll to Talisker Bay. It’s a one-hour out-and-back and the sunsets there are terrific. For a more adventurous outing though, consider this loop, which starts at the tiny settlement of Talisker and takes you out to cliff and hill tops. It’s more demanding and requires confident, careful navigation - but the route has huge rewards.
It’s notable for the hexagonal basalt columns which run up the hill, reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, or the island of Staffa.
Early on in the walk, you'll get remarkable views stretching down to Talisker Bay. You'll then stray out over the moors to reach the steep cliffs. The highlight comes when you get to Biod Ruadh, and can look down a cliff almost 300m high. Do be careful. Near here you’ll find Preshal Beg, which is perhaps the standout of this hike. It’s notable for the hexagonal basalt columns which run up the hill, reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, or the island of Staffa.
The return route runs past Loch Sleadale, climbs Preshal More for great views of Talisker Bay, then returns to walk back to the start point via the River Talisker.
5. Climb Bruach na Frithe, 958m
- Distance: 8.5 miles (14km)
- Duration: approx 7 hours
- Start Point: Layby near Sligachan
When we say that this is one of the easier summits to reach on the Cuillin ridge, that should not be taken to mean that this is an easy climb.
When you begin your climb at Sligachan, you won’t actually be able to see Bruach na Frithe. It’s largely hidden by Sgùrr a Bhasteir. You’ll start this walk by walking across sprawling moorland, with great views of Sgùrr nan Gillean, before climbing up to the Bealach na Lice and reaching the remarkable Basteir Tooth, a dramatic, sharp rock formation by the Am Basteir cliffs.
There is an optional detour to Sgùrr a Bhasteir, but the main climbing route here runs onwards, involving some scrambling on the ridgeline. A head for heights is a requirement for any climbing in the Cuillin, and this section is no exception. The views from the Bruach na Frithe trig point are fantastic - allowing you to look out over the rest of the rugged Cuillin ridgeline. Return the same way.
6. Climb Sgùrr na Strì, 494m
- Distance: 14.5 miles (23km)
- Duration: approx 8 hours
- Start Point: Car park near Sligachan
Being almost half the height of the Skye Munros, you might think that Sgùrr na Strì is an odd choice for this list - but those who know, know. This is not an easy walk. It’s long and at times, arduous. It’s also not a quick walk. The out-and-back will take you most of the day. So why climb this tough 494m hill? Because the view from the top - a sweeping lookout over Loch Coruisk, the mighty Skye Cuillin and the Sea of the Hebrides - might just be the very best in Scotland.
The view from the top - a sweeping lookout over Loch Coruisk, the mighty Skye Cuillin and the Sea of the Hebrides - might just be the very best in Scotland...
This long walk then feels increasingly isolated the closer you get to your viewpoint. On the way, you’ll also have terrific views almost the whole time, passing rivers and looking out to moors and the most famous peaks of Skye, including the Inaccessible Pinnacle, Sgùrr nan Gillean and Blà Bheinn.
When you do eventually reach the summit, take the time to breathe it in. Look out across the sea and trace the outlines of the Small Isles, Eigg and Rum, and gaze at Mull in the distance. Turn back in-land and follow the water to Loch Coruisk, which seems from here like some secret haven, guarded by high-rising mountains and backdropped by the sheer might of the Cuillin ridge.
7. Walk the coast from Elgol to Camasunary
- Distance: 6 miles (10km)
- Duration: approx 3 hours
- Start Point: Layby near Elgol
We know. So far, we’ve included a lot of high mountain routes in this list of the best walks on Skye. Good news: this walk is more accessible than all of those. It’s an out-and-back from the village of Elgol to the beautiful Camasunary Bay, with great views up to the spiking Cuillin range. This is a fantastic walk for getting a flavour of the Cuillins without having to climb, or delve into the mountains.
The closer you get to Camasunary Bay, the more the Cuillins will reveal themselves. The most notable, as is often the case, is Sgùrr nan Gillean, with its spiking summit, but there are also great views of Blà Bheinn. The bay itself is delightful, and there’s actually a relatively new bothy here, sitting beneath the Black Cuillin, for any intrepid explorers who wish to extend their stay in this wonderful location. It can be a great base for onward exploration. For those on an out-and-back, turn around here after taking in the view and retrace your steps.
8. Walk to Rubha Hunish
- Distance: 6.2 miles (10km)
- Duration: approx 4 hours
- Start Point: Shulista
This walk will take you to Rubha Hunish, the northernmost point on the Trotternish peninsula. It’s a route of cliff faces and rugged coastline which isn’t too often visited, and if the weather is on your side, there are fantastic views out to the Outer Hebridean islands of Lewis, Harris and Uist.
This is one of the best places on Skye for those hoping to see whales and dolphins.
The paths on this looping route are fairly obvious. Heading outward, you’re going to walk north, through heather, on rolling hills, always with coastal views. The Lookout Bothy is up on Meall Tuath here, and can be a splendid place to spend a summer’s night. Around here, there are huge cliff drops, and this is one of the best places on Skye for those hoping to see whales and dolphins.
The route from here to the Hunish is by far the most challenging part of this walk, and caution is urged. There’s a very steep descent, and careful scrambling is required. It should be noted that this section is optional though, and even if you don’t decide to go right to the very northernmost point of Skye, this hike is still well worth the time. Without this section, it can be done in around two hours.
When it comes to the return leg, you can walk back via Duntulm Bay, looking out to the tiny Tulm Island just off shore and passing the ruins of Duntulm Castle and Loch Cleat before arriving back at your starting point.
9. Climb Sgùrr na Banachdich (via Coir nan Eich), 936m
- Distance: 5 miles (8km)
- Duration: approx 6 hours
- Start Point: Glen Brittle Youth Hostel
This is another of the more achievable climbs on the Cuillin ridge - though it warrants repeating that this does not mean it’s easy. No climb in the mountains of Skye should be taken lightly.
Leaving the homely Glen Brittle Youth Hostel (I can vouch for their full Scottish breakfast) you’ll pass waterfalls and pools as beautiful as others far more famous. Climb up to the scree of Coir nan Eich and ascend further via a grassy ridge, where you’ll notice the path starting to fade. Careful navigation is required.
As you near the summit, the views get particularly dramatic, with a curving, daunting, raw rockface dominating the view up ahead. On top of the Cuillin ridge, you’ll find the summit, and frankly remarkable views out over the ridgeline, as well as of Coir Uisg and Blà Bheinn. Look closely and you can usually spot climbers making their way up the Inaccessible Pinnacle.
Return back to Glen Brittle Youth Hostel on the same route.
10. Climb Bioda Buidhe, 466m
- Distance: 2 miles (3.2km)
- Duration: approx 2 hours
- Start Point: The Quiraing Car Park
The Quiraing is iconic for good reason. The otherworldly landscape is perhaps the most iconic in Scotland. The start of the famous route, during the high season at least, is always - without fail - extremely crowded. If you walk further on the route, it does get less crowded, but if you’re looking for an alternative which still takes in this landscape, look across the road from the same car park.
That’s where you’ll find Bioda Buidhe; a hill which is rarely visited, but which has sensational views. On the route, you’ll be able to look out over the Quiraing, you’ll have a stunning view over the lochs and lump of Cleat, and you’ll sample the Trotternish Ridge, from where you can look to the Storr and Outer Hebrides.
11. The Skye Trail
- Distance: 79.5 mile (128km)
- Duration: 7 days
- Start Point: Rubha Hunish
The 79.5-mile (128km), seven-day Skye Trail is the ultimate way to see the Isle of Skye, but it’s strictly a route for experienced hikers only. Starting in Rubha Hunish in the north of Skye, the trail runs along much of the Trotternish Ridge. This ridge is often described as the best ridge traverse in Britain, but it’s also long, often with no clear path, and it requires serious expertise to navigate.
After leaving the ridge, the Skye Trail continues through the iconic spots of the island; past the Storr, stopping to Portree before reaching Sligachan and the Skye Cuillin. It then visits Elgol, Torrin and finishes in Broadford in the south.
There are no waymarkers, and the Trotternish Ridge isn’t the only occasion when you won’t have a path to follow. You must be prepared for all conditions and eventualities if you are going to attempt the route, but those who do complete it are rewarded by some of the world’s best scenery - passing through the beauty, history, culture and community of the magnificent Isle of Skye.
Inspired? Check out our Hike, Kayak and Wild Camp on Skye trip now!