West Highland Way
West Highland Way
Stretching for 154 kilometres (96 miles), starting just outside Glasgow in the town of Milngavie and concluding in Fort William, the West Highland Way route is Scotland’s darling. This long-distance route utilizes ancient roads and traverses wildly beautiful land like Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe. Passing through some of the country’s best landmarks like Ben Nevis, the West Highland Way offers its walkers a crash course of Scotland. For this reason, it’s one of the UK’s most popular treks, with a few thousand folks completing it in its entirety.
Trekking the trail from south to north is typical practice, as the stretch from Milngavie to Inverarnan is easier and gives travellers a chance to warm up before taking on the more challenging stretch from Inverarnan to Fort William. As its many elevation changes (at one point even rising about 1,8000 ft) don't make it a simple undertaking, it’s also usually completed in 6-8 days with around 5-7 hours of hiking each day. Don't let that put you off, though: the West Highland Way is easily one of Scotland’s most rewarding hikes.
The West Highland Way is located in the southwestern section of the Scottish Highlands, starting just north of Glasgow in Milngavie before crossing the Highland Boundary Fault into the Highlands. The journey ends in the foothills of Ben Nevis in Fort William.
The Devil's Staircase near Kingshouse at 1,800 feet (550 metres)
6 nights/7 days, 154 kilometres (96 miles)
As one of Scotland’s great long-distance trails, the West Highland Way is a well-maintained, waymarked route with its share of rocky and narrow sections. However, it can disappear in the wintertime when the northern stretch is covered in snow. The most challenging part of this trail, really, is its constant ascents and descents.
West Highland Way difficulty rating & trekking requirements
Moderate. You should be in relatively good shape and able to walk for 5-7 hours at a time. There is no physical preperation required for this journey, but the fitter you are, the more you'll enjoy the experience.
No special trekking requirements are needed to hike the length of the West Highland Way. However, make sure you have the typical backpacking gear, like hiking poles, a reliable pair of hiking boots, hiking sandals, a head torch, a First Aid kit, and daily provisions. A 65 to 75-litre backpack is recommended if you’re planning on sleeping under the stars.
West Highland Way tips
- Wild camping is legal in Scotland, and the West Highland Way has its share of camping spots. Some of these are permit areas so acquire a camping permit before your trip.
- If you’re travelling from June to August, make sure to pack proper protection from midges and ticks. A midge head net, midge repellent, fine-tipped tweezers, long-sleeved shirts and long pants are your best bets to ward them off.
- Be sure to pack a decent raincoat, especially when hiking during the rainy season.
- Bed and breakfasts are popular in Scotland. Many offer a lunch service and are a great way to meet locals.
- Make sure to pack plenty of snacks and drinks, as some days you might be a little ways off from civilization.
- Start training a few months before the trip, and include some hilly terrain in your training.
- Utilizing a baggage transfer service might be an excellent idea if you don’t want to be burdened with a heavy load during your hike.
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