Runners are spoilt for choice when it comes to remote trails in Scotland. Dramatic mountains, stunning lochs and rugged coastlines are around every corner and it's hard to go for a run without encountering some stunning scenery.
Many of the best trails though are point-to-point. While these linear routes are logistically more complex than circular trails, they are worth the effort for the immense satisfaction you get from journeying through wild or remote terrain.
Whether you prefer to follow a waymarked route or use your own navigation skills, this bucket list has something for everyone.
1. Two Lairigs, Glencoe
Best for: Remote mountain ‘feel’ but with roadside access
Distance: 12km (or 14km if you run back to the start) | Route
Where: Glencoe, West Highlands | Starting point
What: This trail circumnavigates the base of Buachaille Etive Beag by ascending the Lairig Eilde and descending the Lairig Gartain. Expect fantastic mountain views all along its length.
Best bit: The highest point of the Lairig Gartain (the col is marked with a cairn). Look behind you as breathtaking views open up towards Loch Etive.
Level of difficulty: 2/5 – It’s not too long and the trail is well-defined.
More info: Best undertaken in an anti-clockwise direction to avoid meeting a (sometimes impassable) burn at the very end! There is a 2k section of boggy roadside trail to get back to the start, but this can be missed out if you have two cars.
2. Lairig Ghru, Cairngorms
Best for: A runnable adventure of epic proportion
Distance: 30.5k | Route
Where: The Lairig Ghru is the most well-known pass in Scotland and bisects the Cairngorm National Park from Speyside to Deeside | Starting point
What: The trail is deceptively gradual, climbing to a high point of 835m. Here, runners suddenly find themselves in a remote location, which feels very exposed in poor weather (it is often snowbound in winter). The trail also becomes a jumble of boulders, which certainly slows the pace, but the views are fantastic.
Best bit: The fabulous descent that sweeps down beyond the Pools of Dee is a trail-runner’s dream.
Level of difficulty: 3/5 – The length and remoteness of this trail means it's is not to be underestimated.
More info: Best completed north to south.
3. West Highland Way, West Highlands
Best for: Ultra-distance classic with a long ‘running history’
Distance: 154km | Route
Where: Milngavie to Fort William | Starting point
What: Scotland’s most popular National Trail is waymarked and usually completed in a south-to-north direction, leaving the most challenging sections for its latter stages. The journey tackles every kind of terrain; country parks, loch shores, open moorlands and mountain trail.
Best bit: The Devil’s Staircase, Glencoe. This viewpoint is hard-won but the reward of spectacular views over both Buachialle Etive Mor and the Mamore mountain range in Lochaber make it worth it.
Level of difficulty: 4/5 – There is nothing technical here, it’s just very long!
More info: The route is home to the ultramarathons the West Highland Way Race, Highland Fling, and Devil o’ the Highlands. While many choose to tackle this trail as a multi-stage ultrarunning challenge, each stage should be seen as a great trail run in its own right.
4. Bennachie, Aberdeenshire
Best for: Accessible hill running experience with rocky summits
Distance: 9.25km | Route
Where: Bennachie is an upland plateau with several rocky tops. It's also the most popular hill in Aberdeenshire. This trail takes in the two highest peaks of Bennachie | Starting point
What: Fast running on flowing trails through heathery ground link Oxen Craig and Mither Tap. Follow signs and spongy forestry trails back to Bennachie Visitor Centre.
Best bit: Ascending out of the forest and gaining the view across to Millstone. Plus, getting your hands dirty with some easy scrambling on the rocky tors.
Level of difficulty: 2/5 – Moderate ascent and medium distance make this a good all-rounder.
5. Inverie to Loch Arkaig/Glenfinnan, Knoydart
Best for: The authentic Scottish wilderness experience
Distance: 28km/43km | Route
Where: This trail is a passage through the Rough Bounds of Knoydart (also known as ‘Britain’s Last Wilderness’). The remote start at Inverie is only accessible by boat from Mallaig or a long day on foot | Starting point
What: This route heads east from Inverie to the head of Loch Nevis (passing by the rustic Sourlies bothy). From here, continue east past Lochan a' Mhàim, in the direction of Glen Dessary, and then out to meet the road at the head of Loch Arkaig.
Best bit: Stepping off the boat and heading into the wild! Pop into Sourlies bothy for a fire and a cup of tea on the shore of Loch Nevis if you can.
Level of difficulty: 4/5 – This is a long trail in a remote location. Runners will need to be capable of navigating with a map and compass, and be familiar with tackling a mountain environment.
More info: This route can be extended by heading south through Gleann Cuirnean to an alternative finish in Glenfinnan. This extension opens up the option of a train/boat link-up between Glenfinnan and Mallaig for the true Scottish experience. Also note that finishing at Loch Arkaig involves one big car shuttle back to the start in Mallaig.
6. Loch Affric, Glen Affric
Best for: ‘Bang for your buck’ in the mountains
Distance: 18km | Route
Where: Picturesque Loch Affric in the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve | Starting point
What: A circuit of two halves – the trail on the south side of the loch is a major vehicle track with stunning views, while the other side is an undulating singletrack. Both offer excellent running with a reasonably flat profile.
Best bit: Lochside trail with gnarled ancient woodland and fantastic sweeping views. Even the drive to the start is stunning!
Level of difficulty: 2/5 – The (mainly) waymarked trail and low overall ascent profile make this a distinctly doable adventure.
7. Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye
Best for: Dramatic mountain scenery and true remoteness
Distance: 9.5km/19.5km | Route
Where: A circuit of the most picturesque loch in Scotland, the remote Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye. Only accessible by boat or foot, this is really the trail to get away from it all | Starting point
What: For the full experience, access the loch by boat from the remote village of Elgol. The only way back is by boat or trail. If you choose to run there, follow the coast eastwards, back to Elgol. This option adds an additional 10k to the run, but is worth it for the undulating scenic running and visit to Camasunary bothy.
Best bit: Incredible views of the Cuillin Ridge and a bit of wild swimming in the Coruisk River.
Level of difficulty: 1/5 (or 3/5 if you run back to Elgol) – The trail is short and flat but the experience is magical.
More info: There are several commercial boat trips that run from Elgol to Loch Coruisk. If you take the coastal trail back to Elgol, beware of the ‘bad step’ – a brief rock traverse above the water. Thankfully its bark is worse than its bite!
8. Cape Wrath Trail
Best for: Ultimate journey for the experienced
Distance: Various (all over 320km) | Route
Where: This trail passes through most of the northwest coast of Scotland via Morar, Knoydart, Torridon and Assynt, weaving through wild glens and beautiful mountains | Starting point
What: The route is unmarked and in places there is no trail at all. There are several route options along the way, making navigation skills and wild camping experience a must for this endurance expedition.
Best bit: Endless wilderness and unspoilt mountainscapes that get better the further north you go. That and Sandwood Bay!
Level of difficulty: 5/5 – The Cape Wrath Trail is long, wild and unrelenting. And the Scottish weather takes no prisoners.
More info: Runners can tackle this extreme trail as part of the Cape Wrath Ultra trail race.
9. The back of Liathach, Torridon
Best for: A taste of the wild Northwest
Where: A journey behind the formidable Liathach, one of Scotland’s finest mountains | Starting point
What: A point-to-point trail that not only takes runners around Liathach, but also offers views of the great Beinn Eighe and Bein Alligin. Start at the main car park on the A896 East of Liathach, and finish at the car park on the west side of the Abhain Coire Mhic Nobuil, about 3k kilometres west of Torridon village. A 5.5k return detour with a 250m climb into the staggering Coire Mhic Fhearchair on Beinn Eighe will be one of the best uses of your time in the Scottish Highlands.
Best bit: Setting out from the car into an ancient and enchanting wilderness of water and rock.
Level of difficulty: 2/5 (or 3/5 if you visit Coire Mhic Fhearchair) – little navigation required and not much height gain.
More info: Much of this route is on well-defined mountain trail, but some short sections are pathless and boggy.
10. Stac Pollaidh loop, Ullapool
Best for: A power blast with the best view in Scotland
Distance: 4.5km (but 500m climb) | Route
Where: Stac Pollaidh is a small mountain in the northwest Highlands, with a rocky crest and several distinctive Torridonian sandstone pinnacles | Starting point
What: A circuit around Stac Pollaidh on excellent runnable trail. The first third of the route is a steep climb, but the rest offers incredible running with phenomenal scenery. A diversion to the summit ridge is well worth the 350m climb for the ultimate panoramic photograph!
Best bit: The view from behind Stac Pollaidh overlooking Suilven is possibly the most prized vista in Scotland; a wilderness of lochs and lonely mountains as far as the eye can see (which is all the way to the sea!).
Level of difficulty: 2/5 – The trail itself is easy and short, but you can make it much harder by scrambling to the true summit at the west end of the ridge.
Keri Wallace is a trail running guide for Girls on Hills in Glencoe, Scotland. The company specialises in equipping women with the skills and confidence necessary to become independent in a remote mountain environment.
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