Scottish Highlands Hiking

Updated on January 24, 2017
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If you like to hike, the Scottish Highlands is one of the best places in the world to do it. The Scottish Highlands are full of gorgeous coastlines, rugged hills, beautiful lakes, impressive buildings, an entrenched sense of history, and much more. There is a wide range of hiking trails through the Scottish Highlands, so you can easily pick a route that fits your skill level. If your goal is to conquer mountains, there are 284 “Monros” over 3,000 feet high that are waiting to be climbed.

If you’re more of a leisurely hiker, you can choose an easy-going path with plenty of stops for tea or fish and chips in quaint Scottish towns along the way. If you love history, you can find an abundance of castles and historic ruins to visit. No matter which route you choose, you’ll find refreshingly green fields, clean air, amazing views, the famous Highland cows, and maybe even a glimpse at the Loch Ness monster.

Where Are the Scottish Highlands?

The Highlands is the name for the northwestern part of Scotland, including a number of islands off the Scottish coast. It encompasses many of Scotland’s most scenic locations, including Inverness, Perth, and the Hebrides, including the Isle of Skye. In general, the Highlands are sparsely populated. This means that the wilderness is largely unspoiled. Hiking through the Highlands can be a welcome break from the business of urban or crowded suburban life. You’ll find yourself in the company of vast hills, rolling mists, and grazing sheep for miles around. The small towns in the Scottish Highlands have a lot of character, and there are always pubs and restaurants with excellent seafood and Scottish breakfasts. Outdoor activities such as walking are very popular in the Highlands.

If you prefer to take a guided trip, you can find many group hikes. If you prefer to go independently, the trails are well-marked and easily accessible to individual hikers. As you hike through the Highlands, however, make sure that you don’t stray too far from the trails. There’s a lot of open wilderness, and off of the trails, it wouldn’t be hard to get lost away from civilization.

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What’s the Weather Like?

You’ve probably heard that it rains a lot in Scotland. Popular conceptions about the weather are generally exaggerated, so don’t expect that it will rain every day. Depending on how long you’re hiking for, you may even enjoy a hike without a single day of rain. However, it’s reasonable to expect that you’ll be hiking through at least a little bit of rain and wind. When you pack your gear, make sure that you’re prepared for wet weather with good hiking boots, a rain jacket with a snug hood, waterproof pants, and plenty of pairs of socks (wet feet are not a hiker’s friend).

If you’re properly prepared, hiking in a bit of rain can be a perfectly enjoyable experience. You may want to visit some of the Highland’s waterfalls or coast to enjoy views of the water at its fullest. If you’d prefer to stay dry, however, you could opt for a day inside at one of the Highlands’ cozy B&Bs or try taking a brewery tour.

When to Go Hiking

It’s worth noting that the Scottish Highlands are pretty far to the north, so depending on when you travel, you’ll experience different amounts of light during the day. In the depths of winter, you can expect the sun to rise between 8:00 and 9:00 am and to set between 4:00 and 6:00. In the summer, on the other hand, you can expect really long days, with the sun staying up until 10:00 pm or even later.

If you want to enjoy long days of hiking, you may want to plan your trip for the summer. Typically, the best time to hike in the Scottish Highlands is between May and August. Unfortunately, this is also the season for midges, small insects similar to mosquitoes. Make sure to pack bug repellant for your trip.

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Camping

There is a good number of B&Bs, hostels, and hotels scattered around the Scottish Highlands. If you’d like to stay in these accommodations, it’s relatively easy to plan your trip around them. If you’d like to camp while you hike, this is also easy to do. There are many camp sites and caravan parks around the Scottish Highlands. At these sites, you can camp and have access to facilities such as showers and electricity, usually for a very reasonable price. Scotland also allows wild camping, meaning that you are allowed to camp on almost all unenclosed land. This is a fantastic opportunity if you want to spend some time away from most other people and close to nature.

The Scottish Highlands are full of gorgeous wilderness areas, and you can camp right in them. If this is what you’d like to do, plan accordingly by packing a tent, sleeping kit, and cooking gear. You’ll also need to make sure you review and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The code includes rules and guidelines for things like finding an appropriate campsite, disposing of waste, and cooking without leaving a trace. As long as you follow the code, wild camping in the Scottish Highlands can be an amazing experience.

Best Hiking Trails in the Scottish Highlands

One of the great things about walking in the Scottish Highlands is that there are so many trails to choose from. For a full guide, you might want to visit Walk Highlands or Visit Scotland. There are some trails through the Highlands, however, that stand out as particularly beautiful and enjoyable. One of the most popular Scottish Highlands hikes is the West Highland Way, a 95-mile trail from Milngavie (close to Glasgow) to Fort William. The trail passes through a beautiful variety of woodlands, hills, and moors. Particularly in the first half, there are plenty of restaurants, B&Bs, and pubs along the way to make your trip comfortable.

If you want a longer hike, you can continue onto the Great Glen Way, which take you another 73 miles to Inverness. This hike will take you through some forest and provide great views of Scottish lakes, including the famous Loch Ness. You could also try all or part of the Southern Upland Way, a 212-mile trail that goes from one coast of Scotland to the other, from Portpatrick to Cockburnspath. This lengthy trail includes many different kinds of scenery and varying degrees of difficulty. The main thing to remember about hiking trails in the Scottish Highlands is that there are many to choose from, so you can always find one that matches your skill level and the kind of scenery you’d like to walk through.

Questions & Answers

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      • Sam Shepards profile imageAUTHOR

        Sam Shepards 

        2 years ago from Europe

        Scottish highlands are great! I was out of form last time I did some hiking. Too much driving the car during the year and no exercise. So if you are out of the hiking routine be careful on the distance you want to cover.

      • agusfanani profile image

        agusfanani 

        2 years ago from Indonesia

        Hiking is my favorite and regular outdoor activity and Scottish Highlands sound like an ideal place for it. I dream of going hiking to Scottish Highland someday.

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