10 unmissable hikes in Scotland
© Luke Waterson
If you want some world-class hiking head to the Scottish Highlands & Islands.
Scotland’s mountains break no world records for height any more than its lochs do for depth or its forests for extent. But few would deny that the nation’s countryside is pretty special. It is the rugged northern and western extremities – the Highlands and the islands lying just off their coast – where hikers want to head to immerse themselves in the best of it. Perhaps it’s the startling contrast of scenery that Scotland packs into relatively small geographical areas that make the trails here so thrilling. Beguiling beaches, dense woods, gushing rivers and dramatic peaks can all easily be incorporated into a day’s walk.
Here are 10 of Scotland’s most iconic wild walking trails...
1: Sgùrr Mòr, Beinn Alligin & Tom na Grugaich Circuit (10km)
Location: Torridon, Wester Ross
The Torridon peaks are known for offering up Scotland’s finest mountain panoramas. Start 3km west of Torridon village at the Coire Mhic Nobuil car park and follow the tumbling river of Abhainn Coire Mhic Nobuil to witness them rising all around you. After a footbridge veer left on a steep climb to the first of the trio of summits, Sgùrr Mòr, after which a curling ridge giddily connects the other two (both Munros), along with views of the lake-spattered Wester Ross wilderness.
2: Sgùrr Alasdair (9km)
Location: Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye
This one isn’t just about bagging a Munro, although at 992 metres and as the highest point on any of Scotland’s islands, the dizzying summit of Sgùrr Alasdair doesn’t lack for accolades. But for anyone getting acquainted with the Cuillin range, home to some of the UK’s best climbing, this hike is about getting in amongst Skye’s vertigo-inducing precipices and peaks. Start at the Glen Brittle campsite. This winds up being a tough out-and-back tramp with an obligatory scramble over scree and several sections where sheer drops are close at hand, but stunning views across Skye and out to the isles of Rhum and Eigg are the dazzling reward.
3: Inchnadamph to Glendhu via Eas a Chual Aluinn (19km)
Location: Inchnadamph, Assynt
Eas a’ Chual Aluinn is Britain’s highest waterfall and sighting this plume of water cascading down a remote valley side halfway along this one-way trek would be enough of a motivation to take it on. But the swathe of the Assynt wilderness traversed beforehand is more stunning still. The boulder-studded hills, with lochans spattered below, contain some of the planet’s oldest rocks, and a large part of Assynt is an internationally regarded Geopark. The route twists up from Inchnadamph village to the pass at Glas Bheinn from where the views are best. It then tumbles dramatically down pass the waterfall to Loch Glencoul, before rising steeply again and then dropping to the lonely bothy at Glendhu.
4: Sandwood Bay (16km)
Location: Blairmore, Northwest Highlands
Arriving at Blairmore, a scattering of houses north of Kinlochbervie, you are truly at the road’s end. There is nothing now between you and Britain’s most north-westerly point, Cape Wrath, save 15km of wild moor. Nothing that is, apart from the country’s remotest and, perhaps, most beautiful beach, Sandwood Bay. Almost halfway along the tramp to Cape Wrath from Blairmore, alongside a vast tract of blonde sand, the lonely dunes are a magical place to camp. The out-and-back route otherwise is mostly rolling moorland, occasionally dotted with the crofting ruins of those who once tried surviving year-round in these tempestuous climes.
5: Ben Nevis (17km)
Location: Glen Nevis, Fort William
Scotland’s most popular mountain hike this may be, but it fully deserves its place as one of the country’s greatest treks – not least because it climbs to the country’s greatest mountain, Ben Nevis. A distinct path exists for the entire out-and-back route but this is still a strenuous ascent – worth emphasising as it’s often less experienced hill walkers attempting it. But for an initiation into Scotland’s mountains this walk is wonderful, with delightful contrasts between the richly verdant lower slopes and the boulder-strewn plateau above. On the summit at 1345m the views, should the weather hold, are sensational, and there are the remnants of the mountain’s former observatory.
6: Glen Tilt Circular from Blair Atholl (15km)
Location: Blair Atholl, Perthshire
Highland Perthshire is renowned for its woodlands (it styles itself as ‘Big Tree Country’) and its undulating heathery uplands and this easy-going walk has the best of both. Start at the Old Bridge of Tilt car park near Blair Atholl and ascend through gorgeous woods to grab a glen view of sheer postcard-perfect loveliness. The hike continues around both sides of the glen, where the russet of the bracken, the inky green of the pines and the cobalt of the Allt Mhairc river intermingle in a visual feast.
7: Linn of Dee and Sgor Mor circuit (20.75km)
Location: Linn of Dee, Aberdeenshire
From the bubbling waters of the Linn of Dee this heathery moorland ramble turns to rock and rises to reveal the most impressive all-round vistas of the Cairngorm mountains. The Sgor Dubh to Sgor Mor section is where the views really open up, capturing the Cairngorms’ highest point, Ben Macdui, perfectly. The final stage through the idyllic pine forests of Glen Luibeg will charm hikers as much as the high peaks awe.
8: Carsaig Arches (13.25km)
Location: Carsaig, Isle of Mull
The arches at Carsaig can be summarised as some of the UK’s most impressive and least-known rock formations and showcase hiking on Mull at its most rugged. Starting from Carsaig Pier near the hamlet of Pennyghael, the out-and-back trail hugs the coast and features waterfalls, a cave with Celtic inscriptions and an abundance of majestic cliff scenery on the arduous way out to the arches.
9: Rowardennan to Ben Lomond (12.5km)
Ben Lomond is the most popular Munro mountain to scale after Ben Nevis and it’s easy to see why – as you take on this hike you are gifted birds-eye views of Scotland’s bonniest loch, the vast, sparkling Loch Lomond, rimmed by its band of forest. In contrast to the busy western shore, the eastern lakeshore around Rowardennan – where the walk commences – is tranquil. The main path up is a good one, the panoramas at the summit are sensational and there’s the option of a more challenging route down (via Ptarmigan ridge) if you’re feeling game.
10: Losgaintir and Beinn Dubh (11.5km)
Location: Losgaintir, Isle of Harris
This hike encompasses one of the famously splendid Harris beaches, Losgaintir, and some of its distinctive inland lunar landscapes. Starting near Losgaintir, a gleaming white sandy beach (park just down the Losgaintir road from its junction with the A859) this route ascends to the outcrop of Sron Godamuil. It hugs a ridge that throws up the most fabulous beach-mountain vistas in the entire Outer Hebrides. It then crests Beinn Losgaintir before circling back down to the beach.
Luke Waterson specialises in writing about outdoor adventure across Europe and Latin America. Follow him on Twitter @lukeandhiswords.