Scotland is a small country, but a good half of its size is taken up by the mountainous, sparsely populated Scottish Highlands. They don’t reach especially high, there are only nine over 4,000 ft (1,220 m). But, this remote United Kingdom country abounds in “Munros,” which is their name for mountains over 3,000 ft (914 m). Munros are typically walkable and don’t require mountaineering gear to climb, making them welcoming and relatively safe for novice hikers. After that, there are 221 “Corbetts”, which are hills between 2,500 and 3,000 feet, and 224 “Grahams,” which are hills between 2,000 and 2,500 feet tall. The lower elevation and abundant rain means you’re looking at lovely, sloping green mountains more often than snowy, craggy peaks. That makes Scotland the perfect country for a vacation of splendid, panoramic hikes.
This article will cover the different types of hiking in Scotland, the best hikes the country has to offer, information on guided tours, and some pointers to keep in mind when hiking.
A hike can be as simple as a long walk in the outdoors. A hike can be self-guided, tour-guided, single-day or multi-day. A self-guided means the hiker travels alone and follows a trail, but doesn’t hire a guide. These self-guided hikes tend to be free. But if you don’t mind spending some cash and want a greater degree of safety and experience, as well as good company, you can spring for a guided hike with an experienced and knowledgeable tour guide.
The Kintail Saddle: This 1010km peak with a pronounced ridge, located in the Kintail mountains of the northwest highlands, has a reputation as one of the most magnificent in all of Scotland.
There is a challenging way to do this hike and an easier way, so it’s best to research this hike in advance to make sure you know what to expect. If you’re up for adventure, there’s a trail up the Forcan ridge with some steep scrambling, and some exposure. But there is also an easier, less technical path that still gets you to the summit. This is a full day hike of 13km (8 miles), which takes 7-9 hours and has an ascent of 1350km. There’s also an option to stay another day and hit the peak of Sgurr na Sgine as well.
The Old Man Of Hoy: For a gorgeous hike that lets you explore one of Scotland’s numerous windswept isles, check out this moderate one-day jaunt. Located on the large Orkney island of Hoy (accessible by ferry), this walk takes you along the coast high sea cliffs with beautiful views of the water. But that’s not all. The roundabout hike leads you to The Old Man Of Hoy, a 450-foot sea stack jutting out of the shoreline. The hike has a moderate ascent of 220m, covers a distance of 9.25km (5.75 miles), and takes around 2.5-3 hours.
Stac Pollaidh: This is a moderate, half-day hike in the northwest Highlands that still exposes amateur hikers to exceptional views. This 2,011 ft (613m) peak and ridge rise starkly out of a flat, otherworldly landscape. As with other Scotland hikes, there’s an easy route with a gradual rise, and a harder route with more scrambling, so hikers can choose their own level of difficulty. From the summit, victorious hikers can feast on views of the sparse Assynt wilderness and the Summer Isles archipelago beyond.
Ben Alligin: This is another highlands munro (whose name translates to “Jewel Mountain”) with a challenging but enjoyable hike. Located in the wilderness of Torridon, this hike starts at just above sea level and takes you to the summit of Ben Alligin, which is at 986m, so you’ll get your exercise in for the day.
Loch an Eilein: This is the easiest hike on the list and is the best suited for families, but will still take your breath away. This lake (loch) lies deep in the forest of Rothiemurcus and is surrounded by pines. This hike takes you around the lake, which contains a 13th-century island castle that can be spied from shore. The hike is 7km (4.25 miles) long and takes a couple hours.
Scottish National Trail: This is the king of them all. The Scottish National Trail is a nationally maintained trail that runs 864 kilometers through the length of Scotland, from Kirk Yetholm at the border with England, to Cape Wrath in the far northwest coast. The trail passes through the big city of Edinburgh but mostly runs through villages and wilderness, and lets hikers take in the stark beauty and grandeur of Scotland. If you hiked all 864km, this would definitely be rated “Difficult.” But no one is going to do that over a weekend. Rather, the trail has different sections that would be perfect for a day or long weekend walk. For an optimum experience, try to walk one of these popular footpaths: St. Cuthbert’s Way, the Rob Roy Way, the Union, the Great Glen Way, the Southern Upland Way, the West Highland Way, Forth and Clyde Canals, the River Tweed, and the Cape Wrath Trail.
Hiking is a fun and healthy experience for young and old, but all hikers should follow a few simple guidelines in order to keep safe in the wilderness.
- Bring a friend for company and safety. But if you strike out on your own, make sure you inform a friend or loved one where and when you will be hiking.
- Monitor the weather forecast to guarantee you’ll be hiking in good weather.
- Wear proper footwear, suntan lotion, and bring plenty of water, as well as a snack.
- Drink water regularly, even when you don’t feel thirsty.
- Pack a first aid kit.
- Observe any local wildlife you encounter from a safe distance.
- As they say “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” Be a good guest of the outdoors.
- Don’t litter. Just don’t.
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All sources accurate as of 30 March 2020
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