hiking in scotland guide

Hiking In Scotland: 25 Best Trails Not To Be Missed

As more and more people embrace hiking, Scotland continues to receive an influx of tourists looking to hike its beautiful mountain trails. Scotland may be a small country, but it features loads of attractive hiking destinations. In addition to this, it has a rich history and culture.

If you are planning to go hiking in Scotland, you should prepare yourself to make a choice from a list of great hiking trails scattered all over this mythical landscape. To get you started, we’ve taken the liberty of reviewing some of the best hiking trails that Scotland has to offer.

Related Reading: What To Wear Hiking

Why Scotland is So Popular for Hiking

You Don’t Need Access Rights

ridestore magazine ultimate guide to the best hikes in Scotland

Everyone in Scotland is allowed by the law to canoe, bike, and hike anywhere they please. However, you are advised to stay away from the grounds surrounding private buildings, including backyards.

You can roam the hills without sticking to the few trails available, but you have to be careful not to get lost in unfamiliar territory. Unlike other countries, Scotland doesn’t have an elaborate system of well-maintained hiking paths. Because of this, during your first hike, experts recommend that you hire a guide to take you through the hills.

Amazing Wildlife

scottish wildlife

This is yet another reason why people have fallen in love with Scotland’s hiking destinations. When hiking, you should expect to come across reindeers, eagles, roe deer, red deer, red squirrels and other beautiful and graceful animals with habitats in the highlands. But what about predator animals like wolves and bears you ask? Well, fortunately, there aren’t many predators in the hiking regions. Scotland has ensured that the areas are safe. Actually, the only insect that should worry you during the summer is the midge (tiny biting flies).

Attractive Scenery

scottish scenary and landscapes

Scotland is beautiful. Its mountain scenery is mysterious and breathtaking. It reels in tourists from different parts of the world every year. While many of the tourists come to view the gorgeous landscapes from the roadsides, the best experience is from the mountains. Those who know this cannot have it any other way. They immerse themselves in hiking, canoeing and biking expeditions every chance they get.

The beauty Scotland oozes is acknowledged by artists all over the world too. A good number of movie directors look to the Scottish highlands for inspirations. Don’t believe it? Here are a few of the best movies filmed in Scotland:

  • Braveheart – this movie was inspired by William Wallace, a historical figure
  • The Outlander – was inspired by the traditions and the landscape that Scotland offers
  • Batman – this was filmed in the Cairngorms

You don’t need altitude adjustment and training while on the hills.

The highest peak in Scotland is 1,344m (Ben Nevis). For most tourists, this is merely a bump. However, when you consider the fact that the climb starts from sea level, and becomes a decent climb, the route at Ben Nevis takes about 8 hours to finish. This means that even a novice can complete it.

The best bit is that you don’t need to worry about getting altitude sickness or going out of your way to carry oxygen. The trails are ready to go even without all this equipment.

Accessibility

scotland transport to the countryside

There are international flights that land in Scotland through Glasgow. From this major airport, there are connections to the mountains through train and buses. However, even with reliable public transportation, it’s advisable that you hire a car or book a tour with a renowned tour company.

Best Time to Hike in Scotland

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to which time is perfect for hiking. Here’s why. Every season has something different and unique to offer. And since different people love different things, it’s hard to pick out the best season. However, we’ve gone the extra mile to compile some information to guide you on what time would be perfect for you.

Weather

sunny scotland

Tourists have a lot to say about the Scottish weather. But the bottom line is that the weather isn’t too shabby. On average, you expect temperatures of about 19 degrees Celsius between July and August. In the western coast, you should expect temperatures of about 16°C though occasionally, it might be as high as 26 degrees or higher. The weather is warm between May and September.

Scotland receives a lot of rain, which is excellent as it contributes a lot to the beauty we all love, including the waterfalls, lakes and green grass. Usually, April and May are the driest months. But you shouldn’t be surprised when heavy spring showers drench you during your hike.

It’s important to note that the west and east coast weathers are very different the Eastern coast receives about 40mm of rainfall in April while the Western coast receives 80mm.
From October, the weather tends to be unpredictable. The hills may be covered with snow and cold. The good thing is that the snow melts quite fast.

Daylight

lots of daylight in scotland in summer great for hiking ridestore magazine

Given that Scotland is close to the North Pole, there is a vast difference between days in winter and summer. In midsummer, the sun floats above Scotland for about 18 hours. In midwinter, it’s only up for about 6 ½ hours. This means that during summer, you can hike for longer than in winter. For this reason, you might want to hit the mountain trails earlier in winter.

Number of Hikers

number of hikers depends on the time of the year in scotland

This is yet another factor that affects which time is perfect to visit Scotland for a hike. July and August are by far the busiest. As such, it can be challenging to find accommodation (unless you make your booking in advance). In September, May, and June, the traffic is still moderate. Though still a challenge to find accommodation, it’s easier in comparison to July and August. Outside of these months, there are very few hikers.

Now, while visiting outside the peak seasons may sound like a great option, you should think about other things that you might want to do aside from hiking. Usually, most private attractions are closed during the low season, and some only operate on weekdays. Even worse, if you are not in a big town, you might experience some trouble locating a place to eat. Some restaurants in rural areas close during winter.

Getting Around

drive through scotland as more reliable

As pointed out earlier, you can get to the highlands through public transport. However, during winter, some roads are blocked by snow, and the winter storms affect journey by ferries. Driving yourself to these destinations is probably the easiest thing to do, especially during winter.

If you are looking for a guided tour, there are loads of options. However, bear in mind that it can be quite challenging to land a privately guided session during the peak seasons, and that’s why it’s advisable to book in advance.

25 of Scotland’s Best Hikes

1. Old Man of Hoy, Orkney

Old Man of Hoy, Orkney from Visit Scotland

Best for – Advanced 1 Day Hikers

To get to the Old Man of Hoy, you’ll have to catch a ferry. This hiking trail is on a beautiful island adorned by archipelagos.It’s on the northeast coast of Scotland.

Here you can walk on the sea cliffs and catch the beautiful view around. This hiking trail is easy to follow and rises to about 450 feet. The hike from Rackwick and back takes about 3 hours.

2. Stac Pollaidh, Assynt​

Stac Pollaidh by Stunning Outdoors

Best for – Novice Walkers

This destination has the most memorable view. Stac Pollaidh is not a big mountain. Actually, it’s one of the smallest in Scotland. It is only 613m high and is located in the northwestern part of Scotland.

The peak of this mountain is rocky. Moreover, it has many steep gullies and pinnacles. Hikers in the region say it looks like a porcupine.

The hike is 3 hours long. You will climb up a steep, winding trail. At the peak of the ridges, you will experience panoramic views that are rivalled by no other view in Scotland.
We advise that you spend some time at the peak to soak up the view, including the view of Mt. Suilven and Cul Mor. These mountains rise from a nature reserve, which makes them even perfect.

3. Muckle Flugga, Shetland

Muckle Flugga, Shetland by shetland.org

Best for – Novice Walkers

When you want to get away from all the hassle and bustle of the city, then Muckle Flugga is the best hiking destination for you. It is found in Northern Scotland, and is perfect for hiking and getting in touch with nature. A walk on this trail will help you forget your everyday worries, including work for a moment.

The Hermaness National Nature Reserve is close by. It offers a cliff top setting and provides a natural habitat for seabirds.
The hike is about an hour long through a grassy and beautiful terrain. In addition to beautiful scenery, you’ll be fed to a view of colourful flowers growing in the wild, nesting seabirds and marine life.

4. Loch an Eilein, Cairngorm National Park

Best for – Novice Walkers

If you have a family that is into hiking, the Loch an Eilein is a perfect hiking destination that is located in the heart of Rothiemurchus forest. Being in a forest, it’s surrounded by Caledonian pine and has a lovely view of the island castle, which was built back in the 13th century.

In 2010, this destination won the prize for the best picnic spot.
The low-level hiking trail around the lake is perfect for families. However, you need to be on the lookout for wildlife, including Scottish crossbills, and red squirrels.

The Old Mill and Achmelvich Beach

The Old Mill and Achmelvich Beach bu walking highlands

Best for – Novice Walkers

If you are in the mood for a day at the beach, the Old Mill and Achmelvich BeachNorthern Scotland is perfect for you. The Old Grain Mill is the starting point of the hike. From here, you can head to the Achmelvich beach, which is famous for its bright white sand. There’s also a secret beach on the shore as well as the smallest castle in the region – Hermit’s castle. The hike ends at the Lochinver village.

Note that dogs aren’t allowed on the hike during high season.
Besides being a beautiful beach, Achmelvich is also known for having diverse wildlife, including seals, basking sharks, ospreys, otters, and cetaceans.

6. The Scottish National Trail

The Scottish National Trail by Scottish National Trail

Best for – Long Distance Strollers

Do you fancy long distance hikes? Does an 864 km hike excite you in any way? If it does, then the Scottish National Trail is the perfect spot for you. On this trail, you’ll go from Kirk Yetholm to Cape Wrath. The trail is distinct and set aside for hikers who love challenges.

Unlike most trails in Scotland, this has beaten footpaths to follow and is fed by other well-known walkways, including the river Tweed, St. Cuthbert’s Way, the Cape Wrath Trail and the Great Glen Way.
As you’d expect from such a long trail, the Scottish National Trail has many different terrains that are perfect for people with varied abilities. However, the hike gets increasingly difficult as you move northwards.

7. Lovers’ Stone, St Kilda

Lovers’ Stone, St Kilda by geograph.org

Best for –Novice Walkers

If you recently got married, or are looking for a romantic thing to do with your better half, why not go hiking? Steer away from the norm and discover the beauty of the Lovers’ Stone. This destination reels in many hikers and tourists because of its remoteness.

The Lover’s Stone hovers 135 m over the Atlantic. History has it that Scottish men were required to scale the rocks and balance their weight on one leg to prove their sincere love. With such an account, what better place is there to declare or reaffirm your love for your loved one? C’mon, open your heart and soul at the edge of the world.

8. Beinn a’Chrulaiste, Glen Coe

Beinna’Chrulaiste, Glen Coe by walking highlands

Best for – Rookie Ramblers

This destination is prominent in the region. However, given its bulky outline, it often goes unnoticed by hikers and tourists. A hike to the top of the highland will provide you with a breathtaking view.
The trail begins from the west side ridge and ends at the Kingshouse.

It’s important to mention that the terrain is slightly rough and rocky.

9. Isle of Eigg, Summer Isles

Isle of Eigg, Summer Isles by Isle of Eigg

Best for – Novice Walkers

This island is full of rocks which makes it beautiful. The hiking trail is relatively straightforward. However, it includes a steep climb and a rocky scramble. As such, you should be extra cautious as you near the summit. The highest point on this island is 393 m high.

10. The West Highland Way

The West Highland Way by west island way

Best for – Long Distance Strollers

This is one of the most famous hiking routes in Scotland. The trail takes you northwards away from the hassle of Milngavie town to Fort William, located in the shadow of Ben Nevis.

The trails have ample signposts, which make it difficult to get lost. Moreover, the tracks and paths are well maintained.
The hiking trail measures 154km, and it’s best to visit between April and October.

11. Slioch (The Spear), Wester Ross

Best for – Rookie Ramblers

This is yet another excellent hiking trail for those who are up for a challenge. On this trail, you ascend Mt. Slioch (Slioch means ‘The Spear’).

It is known for its beauty and often features in landscape calendars.
Though quite demanding, the view at the summit (981m high) is rewarding. While at the peak, you can opt to take a short walk to the subsidiary peak as you enjoy the view of the wilderness below.

12. The Great Glen Way

Best for – Long Distance Walkers

The Great Glen Way features a scenic long distance walk. It’s a fault line that presents you with the opportunity to bask in the glory of three beautiful Lochs.

The trail is 117 km long and cuts through Scotland from one coast to the other, past beautiful and breathtaking mountain ranges.
Your hiking journey will start at the Ben Nevis and come to a halt at Inverness. Throughout the trip, you’ll be treated to a spectacle of Lochs, including Loch Oich, Loch Lochy and Loch Ness.

13. The Coffin Roads, Isle of Harris

Best for –Novice Walkers

Does the name bother you? Well, it shouldn’t. It’s used to preserve history not to scare you away from the trails.
The Coffin Road was used by some people to carry dead bodies to Harris. There, they’d bury the bodies deep in the ground.
The hiking journey on this trail begins from Leac a Li and ends at Bealach Eorabhat.

During the hike, you need to keep eyes on eagles. It’s also worth pointing out that Harris has some of the most beautiful beaches in Scotland, including Seilebost and Luskentyre.

14. Glenfinnan Viaduct

Best for – Novice Walkers

This trail is quite short. Nonetheless, it’s famous and quite reputable. Its views are spectacular and reel in people from far and wide. However, you should note that the hike gets pretty steep in some areas.

In length, the trail is 4 km. This should take between 1 and 2 hours, depending on your fitness levels and preparedness.

15. Rothiemurchus Forest

Rothiemurchus Forest by west highland way

Best for – Novice Walkers

The walk is quite simple. It’s only 7.5 km long and perfect for beginners. Most hikers love the fact that it’s quieter than other trails in Scotland.
The trail goes through the Caledonian forest.

If you intend to bring a dog to the hike, you should keep it in on a very tight leash to protect the Capercaillies which are very rare, especially during their breeding season, which is between April and August.

16. Fairy Pools

Best for –Novice Walkers

The fairy pools are beautiful rocks that are drowned in spring water. The water is fed to the pools through several waterfalls from the mountains. The trail is only 6.67 km long and will take about 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete. The view of the pools as you navigate around it is incredible and relaxing.
The fact that the trail leads you away from the crowds makes the hiking experience even more exciting.

17. Ben Nevis

Best for – Rookie Ramblers

This is the highest mountain in Scotland and stands tall at 1344 m. It is irresistible for hill walkers, and although it’s a hard and challenging hike to the top, the journey is paid by a stunning view of the west coast (assuming the clouds don’t get in the way).

18. Loch Leven Heritage Trail

Best for –Long Distance Strollers

This hiking trail, which begins from Kirkgate’s car park will take you through lots of beautiful places in the region, including the Loch, marshland, and woods. It’s especially famous for its birds.
The trail has a café, which makes for a perfect café spot if you get hungry and hadn’t carried any snacks.

19. Ben Ledi

Ben Ledi by walking highlands

Best for – Rookie Ramblers

This is a mountain in Scotland that is visible from kilometres all around. For the hikers who like challenges, this trail is worth your while.

You can access the trail from the northern side of Callander. All you need to do from here is follow the signs until you get to the forest cabins. If you visit during the summer, make sure you commence your hike early to avoid large crowds.

20. Quiraing

Best for – Novice Walkers

This trail measures 7km and will have you going over hill peaks for some stunning views over the Isle of Skye. The area has rugged cliffs, green valleys, ancient walls and shimmering stones adding to its beauty. Given that the ground is rocky, you are advised to carry protective and hardy boots.

21. Conic Hill

Conic Hill by discovering britain

Best for – Novice Walkers

This hiking route measures 4 km and takes about 3 hours to complete. Conic Hill is a summit that is slightly above Balmaha. The hiking trail has beautiful views of the many islands and Loch Lomond.

The path is quite useful when ascending. However, close to the summit, there’s a detour which features a rocky scramble.

22. Dumyat

Dumyat by walking highlands

Best for –Rookie Ramblers

This hill path is slightly rocky and is lower than most hill paths. However, it’s packed with loads of character. It is perfectly positioned to give a view of the Central Belt and the Stirling.
The trail is ideal for first-time hikers as it seems to avoid steep slopes, and is only 7.5 km long.

23. Edinburgh Royal Mile

Best for – Novice Walkers

This is a walking route that runs from the old town’s castle to the palace on the east side through a steep incline. If you decided to walk down the route without stopping, it would only take about 15 minutes. It’s quite a short walking trail, but it will surely get your blood pumping.

24. Arthurs Seat Hike

Best for –Advanced 1 Day Hikers

This trail is ideal if you are in good shape. The extinct volcano provides a great view of Edinburgh in all directions. The volcano went dormant aeons ago, so you need not to worry about it acting up any time soon. The trail starts from Holyrood Palace.

25. Lost Valley Trail

Best for – Novice Walkers

There’s a reason why this trail is one of the most popular in the park. It has beautiful waterfalls, especially after the rains. The hike takes about 2 hours to complete.
It’s perfect for novice hikers and also accommodates persons on wheelchairs. Additionally, it has a couple of benches a few kilometres into the hike.

What to Pack When Hiking the Scottish Highlands?

This is a common question we get from hikers looking to give the Scottish Highlands a try. If you are confused about what to carry, here is a quick list of what you should have:

Short/Long Pants

Although it might be tempting to go hiking in shorts (after all, the weather is warm and favourable), you should bear in mind that Scotland highlands have pests, including ticks. You can minimise the risk of tick bites by wearing gaiters and long outdoor walking trousers.

dope jackets and pants for outdoor exploring

Short or Long Sleeves?

Well, if you will not be battling through trails with overgrown plants, you shouldn’t worry too much about how long your sleeves should be. But on the flip side, the weather will determine which you choose. For more choice, see the latest Dope Outdoor Jackets and Outdoor Hoodies.

Boots

Most of the trails in Scotland are rough. They are full of rocks and loose stones. For this reason, you should protect your ankles with ankle boots. Note that leather boots offer more protection than fabric lined boots.

Gloves and Hats

These always come in handy. You never know when the weather will take a 180-degree turn.
Mid and Base Layers
Make sure you have several light layers. Several light layers provide flexibility in comparison to heavy layers. Ensure the layers you pick are not made from cotton as they will get you wet and cold fast. Synthetic and woollen layers are preferred.

Backpack

The best backpack size is 35 litres. This is big enough to carry your camera for capturing all the beautiful sceneries, excess clothing, and packed lunch – anything smaller than this will have you cutting back on your supplies.
Insect Repellant

In addition to long pants, an insect repellant will keep you safe and protected from bugs. Bug bites can make you uncomfortable and itchy. This is the last thing you want on a hike. Having an insect repellant is especially essential if you’ll be on the trails early in the morning and at sunset.

Wrapping Up!

Clearly, Scotland has a lot of hiking trails to offer. While on a trail, you will keep fit as well as enjoy the beautiful views of the towns, valleys or wilderness below. Regardless of the destination you choose, you are bound to have a great time!

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