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Do I need a guide to hike in the Scottish Highlands?

Scotland’s trails, from the short loops to the long-distance routes, are self-guided. Unlike places like Kilimanjaro and Everest, where extreme conditions and harsher lands necessitate an experienced guide and even a team of porters, these routes in the Scottish Highlands are pretty much designed for self-sufficient hikers. This is because they’re not only less hazardous, but they also have easy access to small villages and towns so you can replenish your supplies at the end of each day, and carry a lighter load during your hike. It also gives you the option to forgo camping and stay at accommodations along the way so you won’t have to carry tents, sleeping bags, and cooking supplies.

That being said, this doesn’t mean that guided and pre-arranged tours are not available. In fact, there are several tour operators out there that offer guided tours as well as self-guided tours for which they make arrangements for accommodations, luggage transfers, some meals and even transportation in the Scottish Highlands. 

Popular guided tours include the West Highland Way and the Cairngorm Mountains. Consider joining a guided trek or hiring a private tour guide if you’re a novice trekker, if you haven’t done a multi-day hike before, or if you plan on hiking in rougher conditions. Having a tour guide not only ensures that you’re staying on course and on time, but it also allows you to obtain insider information about the history, surrounding landscapes, flora, and fauna from someone knowledgeable.

Seasonality and Climbing Requirements

  • How do I prepare for the Scottish Highlands?

    Though many of the Highlands’ great walks and trails are accessible for most skill levels, a strong fitness level is certainly preferable. To prepare, build up your stamina and strength by doing some practice uphill and downhill hikes before your trip, perhaps with your backpack on. Learn more.
  • When should I climb the Scottish Highlands?

    Some trails are manageable in the wintertime, some are best in the summer. Generally, the Scottish Highlands are excellent from May through August, when the days are long and warm. September might be too wet for long-distance treks, but October is drier, and stunning with fall foliage. Learn more. 
  • What permits do I need?

    Though wild camping in Scotland is permissible in many unenclosed areas, there are camping bylaw-covered areas in which a permit is necessary for camping. If you plan on camping in such areas, obtain a permit for £3 per tent before your trip. Learn more.
  • Do I need a guide to climb?

    Scotland’s trails are self-guided treks, easily navigable and never too far from civilization, so a guide is not necessary. However, there are guided treks and hikes being offered by tour operators if you prefer to travel with one. Learn more. 
  • How do I get to the Scottish Highlands?

    Since the Highlands' network of trails start in different places, where you fly in depends on which route you would like to take on. Travellers from NYC and Sydney have the option to fly into Glasgow, Edinburgh or Inverness, while those from London can hop on a train to those cities. Learn more.
  • What should I pack and what equipment do I need?

    There are some gear and equipment that every hiker will find necessary, and these include mountain gaiters, a raincoat, quick dry pants, water filter and trekking poles. Summers are notorious for midges so a midge head net is also important, as are tweezers for removing ticks. Learn more. 

The Scottish Highlands routes


  1. West Highland Way. Distance: 154 km, average duration: 6-8 days
  2. Great Glen Way. Distance: 126 km, average duration: 5-6 days
  3. Southern Upland Way. Distance: 341 km, average duration: 10-20 days
  4. Great Trossachs Path. Distance: 48 km, average duration: 1-3 days
  5. Three Lochs Way. Distance: 55 km, average duration: 3-4 days
  6. Cowal Way. Distance: 92 km, average duration: 3-5 days 
  7. The Great Glen Canoe Trail. Distance: 96 km, average duration: 3-5 days 

Scottish Highlands tours & reviews