The 8 Most Popular Hikes in Scotland

Hikes in Scotland

Scotland is a country of exceptional wilderness and beauty. With a rich Celtic history and rugged landscape, this is a perfect gateway for budding adventurers and enthusiastic hikers. Scotland’s interior is filled with mountains, fells, and remote moorland. Its coastline is populated by 790 islands and vast stretches of wind-swept beaches and towering headlands.

The best way to explore this country is on foot. There are plenty of hiking trails throughout the country to suit all tastes. Many hikers flock to Ben Nevis to bag the highest peak in the UK. Other ramblers head to the National Parks of the Cairngorms or Loch Lomond to experience some of the best-preserved Scottish natural beauty.

These popular hikes in Scotland can fulfil every criterion. Lofty peaks or sparkling rivers. Dramatic moorland or wild beachheads. Long-distance hiking trails or short city jaunts. Scotland really is a hiker’s haven and one to be experienced in depth. Here are some of the most popular hikes in Scotland.

1 . Ben Nevis

Location: Fort William, the Highlands

Length: 15.8 km

Elevation Gain: 1,341 m

Route Type: Out & Back

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland and the highest peak in the UK. Standing 1,345 metres above sea level, it is unsurprisingly one of the most popular hikes in Scotland. Given its grand stature, it is a summit that many wish to accomplish.

Climbing Ben Nevis can be done in a day, but it’s a challenging one. The push to the summit and back can take hikers anywhere from 5 to 8 hours depending on the weather and their ability. The terrain is rocky, but the path is well maintained. The views from the summit are sensational and this hike is undoubtedly a highlight of the Highlands.

There are a few trails one can choose to hike up Snowdon. The most popular route is the Ben Nevis Mountain Path or “Pony Track”. This trail departs from the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre and has the highest footfall. For a more challenging route, there’s the Carn Mor Dearg Arête which involves crossing some tricky scrambles and hair-rising ridges.

2 . Old Man of Storr

Old Man of Storr hike in scotland

Location: Lealt, the Isle of Skye

Length: 4.7 km

Elevation Gain: 323 m

Route Type: Loop

The Isle of Skye has risen in prominence over recent years and is now considered one of the most beautiful islands in Britain. The island is only 50 miles long, but it’s the largest in the Inner Hebrides and jam-packed with excellent hikes.

About a 15 minute drive north of the island capital Portree, you’ll find the geological wonder known as the Old Man of Storr. This rock formation is 674 metres tall. It was formed by a landslip which created a sheer rock face that overlooks the lowland moors and down to Loch Leathan.

Legend claims that the Old Man of Storr was a giant who dwelled upon the nearby Trotternish Ridge. After many years of ruling over the land, he fell into an eternal slumber and stuck his thumb above the ground as a final gesture. This “thumb” is the epic rock shelf we see today.

Exploring this landscape is easily one of the most popular hikes in Scotland. The scenery is iconic, and the hiking trails are busy during the high season. For other great trails on the Isle of Skye, check out the Fairy Pools and the Quiraing Circuit.

3 . Sandwood Bay Beach

Location: Lairg, the Highlands

Length: 13.5 km

Elevation Gain: 438 m

Route Type: Out & Back

Sandwood Bay is famed for being a highlight of the North Coast 500 road trip around Scotland. However, it is situated almost 4 miles away from the nearest road. That means anyone wanting to visit this secluded beach, must be willing to do an 8-mile round-trip to see it.

This helps to keep the Sandwood Bay beach gorgeously remote. Even during the busy summer months, the beach is relatively quiet despite its magnificent landscape. The trail begins at Blairmore and crosses over the moorland. It passes through peat pits and bogs before reaching the rolling dunes that open onto the beach.

Check out the Am Buachaille sea stack at the west end of the bay for a fantastic example of Scottish geology.

4 . West Highland Way

West Highland Way - 8 Hikes in Scotland

Location: Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire

Length: 154 km

Elevation Gain: 4,365 m

Route Type: Point to Point

The West Highland Way is the first long-distance hiking trail to be declared in Scotland. Despite strong competition, it remains one of the most popular hikes in Scotland. The trail begins in the wonderful Loch Lomond National Park. The route is relatively well-paved and cuts north, through vales and fells, before reaching Fort William at the base of Ben Nevis.

This is a long multi-day hiking trail. It is often completed in 4-7 days and most participants wild camp along the way. The trail is far-removed from urban life. You will pass the occasional village and hamlet, but mostly you’ll be hiking in the wild. That means you need to pack and carry all your equipment for the duration of the trail. A real challenge, but a worthwhile mission to complete.

5 . Conic Hill from Balmaha Circular

Location: Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park

Length: 3.9 km

Elevation Gain: 315 m

Route Type: Loop

Loch Lomond is one of the busiest National Parks in the UK so naturally, it will have some of the most popular hikes in Scotland. Conic Hill is one outstanding highlight in what is already a stunning nature area. The trail begins in Balmaha before looping up and around Conic Hill to the summit. The route delivers fabulous panoramas over Loch Lomond.

The trail is manageable for most parts, however, there are some rocky sections which need to be scrambled near the summit. At certain times of the year, the trail becomes muddy or icy and appropriate footwear is recommended. However, it’s well worth the trials and tribulations for the rewarding views you receive from the peak.

6 . Meall a’ Bhuachaille

Meall a’ Bhuachaille hike in scotland

Location: Cairngorms National Park

Length: 8.7 km

Elevation Gain: 600 m

Route Type: Loop

The Cairngorms is the largest National Park in the UK. It is a high plateau landscape filled with a mixture of mountains, tors, and fells. In fact, in winter, there is sufficient snow to practice ski-touring and ice climbing in the Cairngorms – a rear feat in Britain!

Meall a’ Bhuachaille is an excellent hiking route because it has an accessible trail with superb views from the summit. The trail is loved for its range of landscapes; from misty lochs to towering Caledonia pine forests and wind-raked mountain ridges.

The trail departs from the Glenmore Visitor Centre alongside the reflective Loch Morlich. As the path climbs upwards, keep an eye out for some of the rare wild reindeer that live in this area of the Cairngorms.

If you are one for traditions, you can wear an article of green clothing when undertaking this hike. This is done to pay homage to the mythical fairies that are said to live in the woods. It’s also in reference to Lochan Uaine which is the green lake the fairies supposedly wash their clothes in!

7 . Arthur’s Seat

Location: Holyrood Park, Edinburgh

Length: 3.9 km

Elevation Gain: 260 m

Route Type: Loop

Even in Scotland’s cities, hikes can be found. This famous ridgeline has become a must-complete jaunt for anyone living in or visiting Edinburgh. For that reason, it has become one of the most popular hikes in Scotland.

Arthur’s Seat is the tallest ridge in the Salisbury Crags rock formation. This geological feature acts as the remains of an extinct volcano last active around 350 million years ago. The summit now rises 251 metres above Edinburgh and provides hillwalkers with a sense of serenity and an elevated view of this magical city.

As with many places in Scotland, there is a legend to accompany the hike. Some say that Arthur’s Seat is the body of a dragon. This dragon used to be a scourge of the Scots, flying across the land and eating whatever it pleased. But one day, it became greedy as dragons often do, and over-ate. When it returned to its lair, it fell asleep and never woke up – thus it became the great rock!

8 . Lost Valley (Coire Gabhail)

Location: Glencoe National Nature Reserve

Length: 4 km

Elevation Gain: 262 m

Route Type: Out & Back

Glencoe is probably one of the most iconic and well-known valleys in Scotland. It has featured in films such as James Bond’s Skyfall and has become a famous photo spot containing some of the most popular hikes in Scotland.

The Lost Valley trail, although short, takes in some of the highlights of this nature area. The valley gained its name in 1692 as a location where the cattle of the MacDonalds of Glen Coe were hidden to escape the Glen Coe Massacre.

Today, there is a much less gruesome feeling to the place, and it is more renowned for its dramatic landscape. The trail is rocky and difficult in places but in general, this adds to the fun of the route. The Lost Valley is a serene spot and a perfect place to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

Bonus Hikes in Scotland

Hikes in Scotland - The Cape Wrath Trail

Although these are a handful of the most popular hikes in Scotland, there are plenty more to be discovered. The Cape Wrath Trail is one such contender. This 321 km hiking trail traverses the Scottish Highlands before winding its way along the west coast of Scotland. It is not for the faint of heart and should only be attempted by experienced hikers. Those that do attempt this trail hail it as one of the most challenging, wild, and rugged hikes left in the UK. Now that’s an adventure!

Final Tips

With all its remote landscapes and wilderness areas, there are sadly a few downfalls. One issue with Scotland is its rainy climate. The western highlands have the unenviable title of being one of the rainiest places in Europe. Due to the Gulf Stream bringing warm, damp air the average annual rainfall in this region tops 4,577 mm.

Waterproofs are an essential item to bring on the popular hikes in Scotland. In your backpack, carry both waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket. You may also want a waterproof cover for your backpack to keep your equipment extra dry. Gortex hiking boots can also be a lifesaver.

One final tip for anyone exploring the most popular hikes in Scotland is to prepare for the midges! In the summer months, these biting flies swarm the swamps and bogs of Scotland. Pack insect repellent and wear midge nets in areas of high activity.

By using these tips, you can make the most out of your adventures in Scotland. Now all you have to do is pick one of the hikes on this list and get exploring.