Hiking in the Scottish Highlands
With dramatic views and fresh country air, we implore anyone who’s here on vacation to plan a few hikes in the stunning Scottish Highlands. Whether in summer or winter, this vast region is utterly spellbinding. And with over 30,000 square kilometers of wild, rugged land to explore in the Highlands, you’re never far from a top walking destination.
There’s a great deal of choice for hikers too in the Highlands, with trails that are suitable for people of all ages and abilities. You could be a hobbyist or a pro – Scotland’s walking routes offer something for everyone. Hike the highest peaks, soak up wonderful waterside views with the many circular loch walks, or take on a long-distance hiking challenge and test your own strength. Hike for leisure or push your limits. Scotland is your oyster.
Not sure where to go? Here are some of the best areas for short and long distance hiking at any time of year.
1. Fort William and Lochaber
Fort William is the largest settlement on the western coastline of the Highlands, and our luxury lodge is located about an hour away. A popular area with tourists, Fort William makes a great base known to many as the ‘Outdoor Capital’ of the Highlands. Take on the mighty Ben Nevis (the tallest peak in Britain) or explore one of the many easy forest, woodland and canalside walks. For a full-day challenge, try Stob Ban (Mamores) and Mullach nan Coirean, or for a short stroll try the easy River Lundie walk at Leanachan Forest.
Where to Stay:
Stay near the popular town of Fort William in our spectacular Corrour Lodge, a luxury vacation rental that has been described as a “modern Scottish castle”. As well as our fantastic guided walks, there are also many other fun outdoor activities and sports to be enjoyed on the huge estate and private loch area.
In Fort William, you can visit Old Inverlochy Castle or the Commando Monument, or you can hop on board the Jacobite steam train which travels over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct that appeared in four Harry Potter films. This is also one of the best towns to explore the local food and drink of the Highlands. The town is home to plenty of restaurants and pubs, and local and seasonal produce is very much celebrated here.
Ben Nevis is the most famous mountain in Scotland. Whether you’re climbing it or just taking photos from the ground, it’s a highlight not to be missed. You’ll also want to spend some time in the village of Glencoe, a valley that was carved out by icy glaciers and volcanic explosions many centuries ago. Head to the Glencoe Visitor Centre for information and maps of nearby walks.
In Lochaber, you’ll also find a mecca for cyclists. So if you’re interested in seeing the sights on two wheels instead of on foot for a change, make sure you leave some time for bike hire.
From Fort William, you can access Glen Nevis, one of the prettiest glens that is simply divine when the sun is out. The Steall Falls is one of the best walks and will be surrounded by gloriously green countryside from spring onwards.
If you’re hiking in winter, give Ben Nevis a miss. The terrain can be treacherous as you near the top. Some of the navigation cairns are completely buried in snow, so it’s best to tackle this peak in the summer months. The best winter walks in around Fort William are Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean, Beinn a’Chaorainn & Beinn Teallach, Sgurr Thuilm and Sgurr nan Coireachan, Beinn a’Bheithir, and Binnein Mor and Na Gruagaichean.
If you are unsure of where to go or you are worried about weather complications in the winter time, make sure you book a guided walk. We can organize group hikes for a maximum of 12 people per guide.
2. Loch Ness and Glen Affric
The area surrounding Loch Ness is famed for its legendary monster, but it’s also a magical spot for short and easy hikes. For 30 minute walks, try Loch Ruthven near Farr or Urquhart Bay Woods. Hiking trails that are suitable for the whole family include the walks at Dundreggan Estate and the Aldourie Castle circuit. If you’re looking for a serious long-distance challenge that passes through this area, the Scottish National Trail will take around six weeks to cover 864km – but many people like to take on smaller sections of this route.
Where to Stay:
The city of Inverness is a great base for those wishing to explore any part of the Highlands and is known as the region’s capital. The city itself has plenty to do, with attractions such as Inverness Castle, Inverness Cathedral, the Botanic Garden, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and the Victorian Market.
For hikes around Glen Affric and the Strathglass area, the best place to stay is Fort Augustus. Located at the south end of Loch Ness, this tourist village is utterly charming. It’s a haven for hikers of all levels too, featuring more waymarked trails and easy routes than many other parts of the Highlands. This makes it a great destination for families traveling with children.
Hiking around the world-famous Loch Ness is not to be missed, especially if you want to try and spot the mythical beast, “Nessie”. But other top highlights are Garve and Dingwall. The town of Dingwall is small today, but it was once known as the capital of Scotland to the Vikings. If you’re looking for the most rugged landscape, head up here to escape the main tourist crowd.
In the summer, head east to the beautiful and fertile Black Isle. It’s perfect for hikers, but is also dotted with quaint little villages with cute pubs, cafes and shops. There are also some fine beaches around this way, so if the weather is good, don’t miss this coastal section.
Glen Affric is known for having over 30 miles of ancient pinewoods. These woods are spectacular year-round, but as especially beautiful in winter time. If you’re lucky enough to catch a sunset in snow, make sure you capture a photo.
3. Cairngorms and Aviemore
You will be spoiled for choice at Cairngorms National Park and the Aviemore area. There are some wonderful villages here that are worth exploring too. Beautiful Braemar is one of Scotland’s highest villages and it makes an excellent center for hillwalkers – there’s the Linn of Dee circuit, Loch Callater, Creag Choinnich, and the Cairnwell Munros just to name a few places. The upper reaches of the River Spey at the northern end of the Cairngorm range is also worth exploring. Short walks here include Gynack Mill Trail, Riverside Walk at Kincraig and the Gorstean Crag woodland. If you’re looking for a bigger challenge, try Bynack More from Glenmore.
Where to Stay:
Fort William is located just 1 hour 30 minutes away from Cairngorms National Park. But if you want to be in the heart of the wilderness, we recommend staying in Aviemore. This stunning town is in inside the national park area and has very close proximity to secluded lochs, ancient forests and dramatic mountain trails, making it a hiker’s paradise.
Another place to stay is Grantown-on-Spey, gateway to the Anagach Woods and areas with easy sightings of friendly Roe Deer. The town itself is also a fantastic destination for independent shops, cafes, tearooms and restaurants.
Whisky fans will love exploring this part of the Scottish Highlands as there’s a fantastic concentration of distilleries here, including some of the most famous ones. Combine hiking with a few whisky tours and tastings for the ultimate walking and drinking vacation. If you’re here on vacation with children, you’ll also love the many easy hikes that are suitable for little legs. Some of these include Loch an Eilein, Green Lochan, Loch Mallachie and RSPB Loch Garten, Viewpoint Walk in Grantown-on-Spey, the River Walk by Nethybridge, and Ellan Woods at Carrbridge.
Cairngorms is spectacular in the summer. With 280km of footpaths spread across the entire area, there are so many great places to explore. This is also the best season for wildlife spotting. Hike by the lochs and rivers and you’ll be able to view wild salmon in the prime.
If you’re lucky enough to be here when it snows, head up to Lily Loch on Rothiemurchus. In winter, it’s the picture of Narnia. Other pretty hiking locations in the frosty or snowy conditions are the Uath Lochans with its breathtaking viewpoints and An Lochan Uaine. As well as winter hiking, you’ll be able to enjoy skiing during a winter vacation in the Cairngorms.
4. Kintail and Lochalsh
This is one of the most famous hiking destinations in the Highlands. Kintail itself is known amongst hikers for its classic mountain ridge walks, with The Five Sisters and the South Glen Shiel Ridge attracting people from all around. The Saddle is also one of the most incredible mountains in Scotland, with breath-taking views aside you ascend. The village of Plockton and the town of Kyle of Lochalsh are popular starting points too, with nice, moderate walks such as Loch Achaidh na h-Inich from Balmacara, the Balmacara and Reraig circuit, and the walks around Duncraig Castle.
Where to Stay:
Located just 1 hour and 45 minutes away from Kintail is Fort William, or you can also get there from Fort Augustus in just over an hour. Staying in Kintail itself is also recommended, although accommodation is scarce. There’s a small handful of B&Bs and hotels, but don’t expect a great deal of choice when it comes to luxury facilities, restaurants or places to shop. There are also a few seafront cottages and B&Bs in the village of Plockton.
The Loch Duich and Kintail community is largely rural, and this is one of the best areas to go to if you’re looking to escape city life.
Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie is one of the most photographed castles in the world, and is one of Scotland’s most famous landmarks. For postcard views, make sure you plan a few walks in this direction. There’s a fine walk that takes you along the opposite side of Loch Duich, providing you with views of the peaks of the Five Sisters as well as the fortification. The route also follows a path to Dun Totaig, which is a Bronze Age broch (drystone tower).
If the skies are clear, don’t miss the Glenelg Peninsula. Hidden away by the Mam Ratagan Pass is one of the most peaceful areas of the Highlands. Not only is this location amazing for hikers with steep mountains such as Beinn Sgritheall and easy lowland walks around the coast, it’s also a fantastic place for spotting wildlife, particularly in the spring and summer months. Glenelg itself is also worth checking out. For further hiking in the remote islands, you can catch a ferry from Glenelg that crosses over to Skye through the Kylerhea narrows.
If you are planning on taking on the great ridge walk of The Five Sisters, it is recommended that you choose a month with good weather. Hillwalking around these parts when there is snow on the ground requires special equipment such as an ice-axe and crampons. Additionally, you’ll also need to have winter hiking experience in order to stay safe. If you’re unfamiliar with ice and snow conditions, The Five Sisters is best left for summer.
For safe winter walks in the Kintail and Lochalsh area, try the easy trails near Gleann Lichd, Strome Wood, Plock of Kyle, Loch Scalpaidh, and Loch Achaidh.
If you’re looking for a good base in the Highlands with easy access to many of Scotland’s best hikes, take a look at our spectacular Corrour Lodge located just an hour from the popular town of Fort William. Fort William acts as a gateway to some of the Highland’s top outdoor destinations and you’ll find amazing walks at any time of year.