The West Highland Way is an iconic long-distance trail that explores some of Scotland’s most enchanting landscapes.
The 96 miles (154 kilometers) of the trail takes you beside tranquil lochs and crystal-clear rivers, into ancient woodland, through serene glens, up awe-inspiring mountains and deep into remote moorland. It is a land rich with wildlife, including golden eagles, peregrine falcons, wild goats, and huge red deer.
The trail, which was opened in 1980, was Scotland's first official long distance route and is now designated by Scottish Natural Heritage as one of Scotland's Great Trails. For good reason, too. With an ever-changing landscape, you encounter areas of immense peace, solitude and beauty, as well as vibrant villages and towns that always offer a friendly Highland welcome.
Most people opt to walk the route from south to north, as this Collection does. The standard itinerary is eight days, but more experienced walkers can cover it in four to six days. However, this is not a route to rush; it is a journey you should take time over; appreciating the landscape every step of the way.
As the route passes through some extremely remote countryside, preparation is absolutely essential. Whilst shops are available at most of the stops, there are some sections when you will not pass any shop for a long time.
As well as ensuring you have adequate clothing and footwear for the conditions, make sure you have a map, compass, first aid kit, enough food and water for each stage, a torch with spare bulb and batteries, a whistle to summon assistance, a pen-knife or multi-tool, and a watch with an alarm.
At every stage of the route shown here, there is at least one form of accommodation and usually a few options. However, there are many designated camping spots along the way, as well as bothies.
Wild camping is also allowed along the West Highland Way. The type of camping permitted is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place.
On the subject of wild camping, the official West Highland Way website states: “Avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures. Leave no trace by taking away all your litter, removing all traces of your tent pitch and of any open fire and not causing pollution. Please also note that within the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park camping byelaws operate between March and September.”
If you plan to arrive by public transport, Milngavie is well served by regular train services from Glasgow and it’s simple enough to take the train back from Fort William to Milngavie or Glasgow.
If you want to arrive by car, there is free parking outside Milngavie railway station with CCTV coverage or you can park outside the police station. You should inform the police of your intentions and give them your registration number and emergency contact number. Some hotels in Milngavie and Fort William may allow you to leave your vehicle for a period, usually for a fee.
For more information about the West Highland Way, visit: westhighlandway.org.
For information about transport options, visit: travelinescotland.com.
The West Highland Way begins from the town of Milngavie. Before you set off on the 96-mile (154-kilometer) route, it is worth topping-up on any supplies you might need.
The first day is relatively flat and easy-going—aside for the detour shown here to the summit of Dumgoyne—giving you a nice warm-up for the rest of the week.
Along this stretch, you experience a little taste of what is to come; rivers and smaller lochs before the highland landscape opens up as you cross into Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
A short time into the walk, you enter Mugdock Country Park and it is worth making a slight detour to see Mugdock Castle; a fantastic 13th-century castle that is free to enter and is in a picturesque setting.
Approximately eight-and-a-half miles (13.5 kilometers) into the route, there is a diversion to the summit of Dumgoyne. This distinctive hill affords fantastic panoramic views over the landscape and is a fun challenge. However, the ascent is very steep and the detour will add approximately 90 minutes to the day.
Stage one ends in the village of Drymen. Before you finish for the day, an exploration of the spooky ruins of Buchanan Castle is a good experience.
There is a range of accommodation is Drymen. For more information, visit: visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/drymen-p235061.
Day two affords an utterly spellbinding hike into the hills and along the shores of Loch Lomond.
From Drymen, you make a steady ascent northwest before a steep push to the summit of Conic Hill, where your climbing efforts are richly rewarded with breathtaking views over Loch Lomond, backed by the rugged highland landscape.
Below Conic Hill you can see a chain of islands on the lake which mark the highland boundary fault, the border between the lowlands and the highlands of Scotland.
From the summit, you make a steep descent into the village of Balmaha where there is opportunity for refreshments. Balmaha offers access to the island of Inchcailloch, too, which has a campsite for a unique overnight stay.
For the rest of the day, you follow the trail along the shores of Loch Lomond through ancient woodland until you reach Rowardennan, a picturesque village that is popular with hikers due to its proximity to the West Highland Way and the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park.
Rowardennan is also the starting point for anyone looking to hike up Ben Lomond, the most popular Munro mountain of them all. If you fancy adding an extra day to your West Highland Way experience by taking on Ben Lomond, try this circuit: komoot.com/tour/56270575.
There is a range of accommodation in Rowardennan. For more information, visit: visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/rowardennan-p240551.
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This section of the West Highland Way affords the first taste of wild beauty that the route is renowned for.
Taking you along the remote northern shores of Loch Lomond—where the water is 620 feet (189 meters) deep in places—this section of the trail is home to birds of prey, including the golden eagle and the osprey, as well as wild goats.
Roughly halfway through this stage, you arrive at the picturesque hamlet of Inversnaid. At the entrance to the hamlet, you encounter beautiful waterfall which you can get close to via the adjacent footbridge. There is opportunity for refreshment here, too.
When you leave Inversnaid, the terrain can be challenging and care is needed. However, the feeling of remoteness and the abundant beauty is well worth it.
As you reach the edge of the lake, the water narrows, allowing you to make use of accommodation on both sides of the water. There are a few bothies and wild camping spots along this section, too, if you fancy a night under the stars, free of charge.
When you reach Inverarnan, try heading for a drink in the Drovers Inn, where you will meet fellow West Highland Way hikers.
There is a range of accommodation in Inverarnan. For more information, visit: visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/inverarnan-p244171.
After sauntering along the tranquil shores of Loch Lomond previously, day four begins to explore a new landscape of rugged mountains and serene glens.
From Inverarnan, you make a gradual ascent past the beautiful Falls of Falloch; a cascading waterfall on the River Falloch with a plunge pool—if you are feeling brave—that is surrounded by lush woodland and steep rocks.
Although the trail bypasses Crianlarich, roughly halfway into the route, it is not much of a detour to head into the village if you are in need of some refreshment. There is a shop and a pub.
Nine-and-a-half miles (15.2 kilometers) into the hike you arrive at the mysterious St. Fillan's Holy Pool. This natural, deep pool at a bend in the River Fillan was used to treat people with ‘mental instability’ up until the 19th century, when the healing properties of the water were ruined when somebody threw a wild bull into pool.
A short time later, you arrive at The Lochan of the Lost Sword, a small stretch of water that is said to be the resting place for a number of ancient Scottish swords; all cast aside to facilitate an escape from battle.
You finish for the night in the small village of Tyndrum, which has a range of accommodation. For more information, visit: visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/tyndrum-p235451.
Day five is a heavenly hike through a mountainous region of the Highlands; rewarding you with awe-inspiring views of some Scottish giants.
Before you leave Tyndrum, though, make sure you stock up on any supplies you might need as the next shop is at Kinlochleven—28 miles (45 kilometers) further up the trail and three days of hiking away.
The section of trail between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy is truly breathtaking; with the Beinn Odhar and Beinn Dorain dominating the landscape around you.
When you do reach the Bridge of Orchy, there is a spot to wild camp beside the river for free. This will shave two miles off stage five.
If you do press ahead to Inveroran, you make a relatively steep and challenging ascent to the summit of Mam Carraigh, where you are afforded magnificent views over Loch Tulla and the Black Mount. If you want a true highland experience, wild camping is permitted around this part, too.
From the summit, you descend into Inveroran. There is only one place to stay in this hamlet, the Inveroran Hotel, but there is plenty of wild camping to be had in the area if you prefer. For more information, visit: inveroran.com.
The trail rises gently from Inveroran to Rannoch Moor, a wild and wonderful part of the West Highland Way.
Hailed as one of the last great wildernesses of Europe, Rannoch Moor is a picturesque place to find yourself, especially in good conditions. Bleak, yet beautiful; you will experience an unrivaled sense of isolation here.
However, do take care if the weather is bad as the moorland is extremely exposed. Ensure you have the right clothing, navigational equipment and food and water supplies.
Halfway across the moor, you cross Ba Bridge. If the weather is fine, this makes for a great place to stop for a moment and take in the scenery.
The old military road passes the Glencoe Ski Centre, where you can get some refreshment should you need it, and the picturesque Black Rock Cottage.
A short time later, you arrive at one of Scotland’s most photographed mountains, Buachaille Etive Mor. The imposing mountain fills this Glencoe landscape spectacularly; watching over the surrounding moors.
You finish for the day in Kingshouse. There is only one hotel here, The Kingshouse Hotel and Bunkhouse. If you do not fancy that, there is plenty of wild camping to be had in the area. For more information, visit: kingshousehotel.co.uk.
The penultimate day of the West Highland Way takes you deep into mountainous glens and up to the highest point along the trail.
From Kingshouse you ascend gently with glorious views of Glen Coe and Buachaille Etive Mor before ascending the zig-zag path of the Devil’s Staircase.
Reaching a height of 1,084 feet (550 meters) tall, the Devil’s Staircase is the highest point along the entire trail. However, if you want to push it higher still, you can follow the detour shown here to the 2,320 foot (707 meter) tall summit of Stob Mhic Mhartuin.
If you do follow the detour, it will add approximately one hour to the day. If conditions are clear and you have the energy, though, you will not regret making the extra push as the views over the landscape are phenomenal.
Whether you make the detour, or not, this section of the trail is challenging. Luckily, the rest of the route descends gently through moorland all the way to Kinlochleven.
The town of Kinlochleven has a range of accommodation and places to eat and drink. For more information, visit: visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/kinlochleven-p244041.
The final stage of the West Highland Way begins with a very steep climb out of Kinlochleven which is guaranteed to blow away the cobwebs and get the blood pumping for Fort William.
The challenging section ascends 700 feet (213 meters) in one mile (one-and-a-half kilometers), before easing off and rewarding you to view back over Kinlochleven with the River Leven running majestically through the middle.
The route continues through Lairigmor, which affords leisurely hiking between grandiose mountains, and eventually reaches woodland and forestry plantations.
Eventually Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, comes into sight. If you want to get a really great view of the mountain, there are plenty of opportunities to climb the valley sides.
However, you get an especially good view from the summit of Dun Deardail, an iconic Iron Age fort, as shown on this route. If you do decide to follow this detour it will add roughly 20 minutes to the day.
Following this, you are on the home straight and the rest of the route descends gently all the way to Fort William. When you reach the official end point, it is definitely time for a hearty meal and a wee Scottish celebration. Congratulations!
However, on the off-chance you are keen for more, you can climb to the summit of Cow Hill for an awe-inspiring view over Fort William, Loch Linnhe and the route you have just taken. This detour will add around 90 minutes to the day.
There is a range of accommodation in the town Fort William and plenty of shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. For more information, visit: visitscotland.com/destinations-maps/fort-william.