From wild, pristine island beaches, to hidden lochs and dramatic mountain valleys, when it comes to hiking in Scotland, you are spoiled for choice. With more than 280 Munros (peaks higher than 3,000 feet), you aren’t going to be short of a challenge.
Some pretty wild weather can accompany the rugged Scottish landscapes. Your best bet for good walking conditions is to stick to visiting in the summer months. Make sure you’ve packed your waterproofs, some midge repellent if you are heading up north, and a flask full of whisky to celebrate reaching your destination with a wee dram, in true Scottish fashion.
1. Best Urban Trek: Water of Leith Walkway
Most guidebooks list extinct volcano Arthur’s Seat as the best hike in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. It does offer breathtaking views, but for something a bit more off the beaten track, you can’t go wrong with the Water of Leith Walkway. This 19.5-kilometer peaceful river trail takes you from the Port District of Leith, out to the suburb of Balerno, nestled under the Pentlands Hills (also worth visiting for a hike). If you don’t have the time or inclination to do the full thing, don’t miss the section starting in Stockbridge. This village in the town is full of rich history and character. It’s just a half-hour walk to the Dean Village, a picturesque old grain mill quarter.
2. Dramatic Scottish Glens: Aonach Eagach Ridge, Glen Coe
Glen Coe is a famous, breathtakingly stunning mountainous valley at the foot of the Highlands. The drive through the Glen is worth the visit alone. The area is very popular with hikers. If you are looking for total tranquility, head south to Glen Etive, or for the most elevated views, climb Bidean nam Bian. For seasoned hikers looking for a real challenge, tackling the Aonach Eagach Ridge is sure to get the heart racing. It’s only around 9 kilometers but has some tough scrambling sections, and the ridge itself is famed for being exposed with precipitous drops. You need good weather; climbing the ridge in high winds would be foolhardy.
3. Island Adventure: Goat Fell on the Isle of Arran
The Isle of Arran, easily accessible from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, is often described as “Scotland in miniature.” It has a magical coastline and mountainous inland and is teeming with wildlife.
For spectacular views of the coast and beyond, make your way to the highest point on the Island, Goat Fell. At over 2,800 feet, this Corbett is manageable for most walkers with a moderate level of fitness, though there is some light scrambling near the summit.
4. Best for Families: The Chain Walk, Elie, Fife
Fife is well known for its varied coastline and traditional fishing villages. To experience it in full, walk the 183-kilometer Fife Coastal Trail. For an adventurous family day trip, head to the quaint village of Elie. The trail includes a section of chains embedded into the cliffside, allowing you to carefully negotiate your way along, above the splashing waves below. It is like Scotland’s version of the alpine via ferratas! This isn’t a route for very young children, and you need to check timings, so you don’t get caught out with high tides.
5. Ideal for Wildlife Spotting: Moray Coastal Trail
The northeast coast around Moray is worth visiting. There is a 72-kilometer coastal trail, which takes in wide, peaceful expanses of sandy beach and some magnificent cliffside rock formations. If you only want to tackle one section, then focus on the 25-kilometer stretch from the fishing town of Lossiemouth to Buckie. You will pass the coastal reserve of Spey Bay. The bay estuary is famous for bottlenose dolphin spotting.
6. Best for Swimming: Isle of Skye
A short walk through the Glen Brittle forest leads to a series of crystal clear swimming holes and waterfalls known as the Fairy Pools. The pools are easy to access in under an hour, and if you can handle the chilly Scottish waters, taking a dip can be a bracing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If you want a greater challenge, expansive views over the island, and the chance to stop for a refreshing swim in the pools on the way back down, you could hike one of the many trails of the Cuillin mountain range. The Fairy Pools sits at the bottom of the Black Cuillin.
7. Multi-Day Trekking: The West Highland Way
If you want a Scottish hiking holiday, walk the West Highland Way. This 154-kilometer route starts in Milngavie (pronounced Mill-guy) in Glasgow and finishes in Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. You will hike the forest trails along the edge of Loch Lomond, trek across the vast and often bleak expanse of Rannoch Moor, and tackle the imposing Devil’s Staircase at the end of the mountainous Glen Coe valley. There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie on this popular route, but if you are looking for complete tranquility, it might not be for you. Accommodation along the way books up quickly in peak season, so make sure you are organized. Don’t forget the midge repellent, as the little blighters can be relentless the further north you go.
8. The Ultimate Challenge: Cape Wrath Trail
This unmarked route, running from Fort William up to the most northerly point in the U.K., Cape Wrath, is only suited to the most seasoned long-distance walkers. The trail, which is more than 350 kilometers long, will push you to your limits. But you will also hike through some of the wildest, untouched, and scenic landscapes that Scotland has to offer, sleep in some characterful crofting bothies (farm homes), and come across a variety of wildlife. You’ll need to be self-sufficient, have excellent navigation skills, and be happy in your own company (aside from the midges that will plague you much of the way).