Great Glen Way
Great Glen Way
Though the Great Glen may have been little more than a strategic military location in the past, today it’s a popular setting for more leisurely endeavours. Travel by foot from one coast to another – from Fort William in the west to Inverness in the east – via the impressive Great Glen Way. This stunnig route weaves past the legendary Loch Ness, the historic Caledonian Canal, and old fort towns, taking you to some of the most tranquil spaces and awe-inspiring views in the country for 79 incredible miles.
The trail is easy-going for the most part, generally maintaining a lower altitude and shorter hiking days, which is why beginner trekkers have been using it as their introduction to long-distance hiking in the Highlands. It does, however, have its share of challenges in the eastern end, for the more experienced hikers. The sections from Fort Augustus to Drumnadrochit, for example, offer a higher route alternative for steeper climbs, and the last stretch from Drumnadrochit to Inverness can be a good 28 kilometres (18 miles) trek.
Great Glen Way starts in Fort William, along Loch Linnhe, and ends in Inverness in the east, connecting both coasts. It roughly traces Scotland’s Great Glen, passing historic fort towns along the way.
Abriachan Forest at 1,230 feet (375 metres)
8 days, 92 kilometres
The Great Glen Way encompasses a diverse range of roads and tracks, from well-maintained towpaths to pebbly, forested roads and rugged tracks. Though no section of the trail rises over 450m, higher sections are more exposed to the elements so pack for harsher weather.
Great Glen Way difficulty rating & trekking requirements
Moderate. No experience is required for this trail, but you should be generally fit, healthy, and able to walk 5-7 hours at a time. No physical preparation is required, but the healthier you are, the more you'll enjoy the journey.
There are no trekking requirements for hiking the Great Glen Way, as it doesn’t require any climbing or other technical activities. However, it’s a good idea to pack fast-dry hiking pants, waterproof clothing, hiking boots, hiking sandals, and midge face nets and repellent.
Great Glen Way tips
- Wearing layers is key, as the weather is unpredictable.
- A proper raincoat (the more comfortable the better) is necessary, as it could rain anytime – even in the summer months.
- Keep those pesky midges away with a bottle of repellent and midge face nets.
- Wild camping is allowed in Scotland, but some areas require a permit, which only sets you back £3 per tent.
- If you prefer more comfortable sleeping accommodations and travelling lighter, hostels, guest houses, and B&Bs are on hand along the way.
- Waterproof sacks are necessary to keep your clothes and valuables dry, even in the summertime.
- It’s an incredibly safe trail, so solo trekking is possible.
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