Best time to visit Scottish HighlandsSee all Scottish Highlands tours
Best time to visit the Scottish Highlands
The answer to this question is not so simple. As the Scottish Highlands cover a wide expanse of land, as well as a variety of terrain and elevation, trail conditions vary and are often dependent on the season. Some trails are not so easily accessed in the wintertime due to snow and fog conditions, and therefore must only be tackled by expert or experienced hikers. Others are hikeable throughout the year, no matter your skill level.
Generally speaking, the Scottish Highlands are an excellent venue for long-distance hiking from May through August. During these months, the days are longer, giving hikers more time in the day to hike, set up camp and unwind while there’s still light outside. The weather is also warmer, though it’s worth noting that temperatures in these parts average 15 degrees celsius at its warmest. Most businesses are open, so trekkers have access to everything.
However, these months also have their drawbacks – the increase in midge population, for example – so some people might want to consider another option. Here’s the breakdown of the different seasons to help you determine which one is best for you.
Scottish Highlands in December through February
As Scotland’s coldest months, they are plagued with freezing temperatures, short days, and longer nights, not to mention icy winds and snow. December is mostly clear and has its fair share of sunny days, while January and February are marked with bitter cold and lots of snow. If you plan on hiking during this time, it’s best to do it in December, especially if you’re not an expert hiker. Remember that layering is key. Bring a compass, in case of fog, and decide on a trail that doesn’t require you to hike for longer than 6-8 hours, as you’ll be working with shorter days.
Scottish Highlands in March through early June
Springtime sees Scotland slowly thawing, the snow making way for lovely blooms. In March, the lower parts of Scotland awaken from their winter slumber and the days are warmer again, even if higher elevations—the Cairngorms, for example—are still flaunting snow. For a springtime hike, the best times are from May through early June. Not only will you be witness to the Highlands’ vast beauty, but you’ll also be rewarded with even warmer temperatures and up to 17 hours of sunshine. The Highland Games start in May, so factor that into your itinerary.
Scottish Highlands in Late June through August
During this time, there is a seemingly endless number of festivals across the country. Tourist traffic is at its highest, as is the midge population. Summer in Scotland might just be the best time to hike through the Highlands, but concessions need to be made. For example, do make sure to really protect yourself from a midge bite, as you need only get bitten once to draw a swarm. There are also a lot of tourists, though in the Highlands, it never really feels crowded. However, you might have a harder time securing accommodations if you don’t plan to set up camp, so it is best advised to make reservations well in advance.
Scottish Highlands in September, October and November
Though still a busy tourist month, September sees Scotland at its wettest, which means it’s not quite ideal for a backpacking trip, especially if you’re expecting to camp. Skip this month altogether, unless you have a penchant for hiking in the rain and sleeping on the wet ground.
- October & November
It’s tough to beat the spectacular colours of the autumn months, especially when you’re hiking in the Highlands. Layering is key during this time as the weather starts to cool down. If you don’t mind the cold, you’ll get excellent views and breathtaking photographs during these months. Keep in mind that many places tend to shut down around October so consider this when you’re packing your supplies. It would be a good idea to make arrangements in advance so that you don’t find yourself hungry with no roof over your head.
Scottish Highlands weather
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
- West Highland Way. Distance: 154 km, average duration: 6-8 days
- Great Glen Way. Distance: 126 km, average duration: 5-6 days
- Southern Upland Way. Distance: 341 km, average duration: 10-20 days
- Great Trossachs Path. Distance: 48 km, average duration: 1-3 days
- Three Lochs Way. Distance: 55 km, average duration: 3-4 days
- Cowal Way. Distance: 92 km, average duration: 3-5 days
- The Great Glen Canoe Trail. Distance: 96 km, average duration: 3-5 days