The John Muir Way is a stunning coast-to-coast across the heartland of Scotland that explores the country’s unique landscape and heritage.
Starting from Helensburgh, on the Firth of Clyde, the trail runs for 134 miles (215 kilometers) across the center of Scotland to the town of Dunbar, on the North Sea.
Along the way, you explore the country’s first national park, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs; the northwest frontier of the Roman Empire, the Antonine Wall; two iconic industrial canals, the Forth and Clyde and The Union; the world’s only rotating boat lift, the Falkirk Wheel; Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh; many historic castles; and lots of wonderful inland and coastal scenery.
The trail is dedicated to John Muir (1838-1914), one of the most influential figures in the conservation movement. Muir, who was born in Dunbar but emigrated to the United States, was a key figure in saving Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and other wilderness areas.
The John Muir Way affords leisurely walking for the most part. Paths are well-signposted and well-maintained.
There is no set direction to complete the trail, however Helensburgh to Dunbar (as per this Collection) is the most recommended because prevailing winds are from the southwest and Muir’s birthplace makes a fitting finish.
In this Collection, we split the Way into nine stages. Of course, you can split up each stage into as many days as you are comfortable with. You can also walk any single stage, or a couple of stages, in isolation.
Every stage finishes close to accommodation, even if there are only a few options nearby. However, places to stay are not always abundant so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling any rest days accordingly.
If you are planning to arrive by public transport, you can catch a train to Helensburgh railway station, which is served by direct trains from Edinburgh and Glasgow and has connecting services around the UK.
To get home, Dunbar railway station has direct trains to Edinburgh, with connecting services around the UK.
If you are planning to arrive by car, your best bet is to negotiate with a hotel or B&B a rate to stay for a night either side of your hike in Helensburgh. To get back you can catch a train from Dunbar to Helensburgh with one change in Edinburgh.
Alternatively, you could find long stay parking in Edinburgh or Glasgow as both cities have good public transport links between the start and finish.
For more information about the John Muir Way, visit: johnmuirway.org.
For train timetables and tickets, visit: thetrainline.com.
The John Muir Way begins from the pretty Victorian coastal resort of Helensburgh.
Whilst this stage has the shortest distance of all routes along the way, it has the second greatest amount of ascent to contend with, making for a good warm-up.
From the stone plinth memorial to John Muir, which marks the start, the trail cuts through the center of Helensburgh and ascends over the tops; skirting the edges of Ben Bowie and Gouk Hill.
As you descend, you are treated to fine views over Loch Lomond against a breathtaking mountainous backdrop.
This stage finishes in the village of Balloch, which has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This stage starts by exploring Balloch Castle Country Park; where you experience lovely views over Loch Lomond amid a stunning landscape.
You ascend gradually from the park and will notice the landscape change from farmland to rugged moorland as you get higher.
The trail passes woodlands, skirts Thief’s Hill, and affords lovely views over Burncrooks Reservoir as you emerge from the trees.
With nearly 18 miles (29 kilometers) of distance and 1,350 feet (411 meters) of climbing, this is one of the toughest stages and will really test your mettle.
This stage finishes in the village of Strathblane. Whilst there is not much here, there are options for accommodation and food and drink nearby.
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Signs of the Roman Empire are everywhere along the John Muir Way and this stage is your first introduction to that rich history.
From Strathblane, it is level, easy-going walking to begin. You pass Dunglass and continue east where, after a few miles, you have the option to make a detour to see the eerie ruins of Lennox Castle.
You follow Glazert Water to the outskirts of Kirkintilloch and then hike alongside the Forth and Clyde Canal to Twechar.
The trail ascends Bar Hill, where will see the first Roman Fort on the way. Overlooking the Kelvin Valley and the Campsie Fells, Bar Hill Roman Fort was built for troops manning the Antonine Wall, which was once the northwest frontier of the Roman Empire.
This stage finishes near to Auchinstarry and Kilsyth, which both have some accommodation and options for food and drink.
This stage follows the Forth and Clyde Canal for the most part; exploring great scenery, ancient forts, and feats of modern engineering.
You begin by climbing Croy Hill, which has a Roman Fort and affords spellbinding view over the Kilsyth Hills, the Firth of Forth, Fife hills, and Bar Hill fort.
The trail descends to the Forth and Clyde Canal, which opened in 1790 to provide a vital passage for vessels across central Scotland.
You follow the towpath to Bonnybridge, at which point you cross the canal and continue to another impressive fort.
Rough Castle might be one of the smallest forts along the Antonine Wall, but it is one of the best-preserved and has the tallest surviving section of rampart, defensive lila pits, and many ditches and gateways.
A short time later, you arrive at Falkirk Wheel, the only rotating boat lift in the world. This feat of engineering transfers boats 79 feet (24 meters) through the air between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal—using the power of eight kettles.
This stage finishes in the town of Falkirk, which has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This stage starts by exploring Callendar Park, a sumptuous stately estate has been developed since the 12th century.
As you wander through the park you pass Callendar House, a French chateau style home from the 14th century, and the impressive monument, Forbes Mausoleum.
The trail descends to the Union Canal and follows the towpath through the more urbanized landscape of Redding and Brigtons.
You continue to the point where the Union Canal flows over the River Avon along the awe-inspiring Avon Aqueduct, which was constructed between 1819-21.
From there, you hike alongside the Avon until Linlithgow Bridge and continue into Linlithgow, which has plenty of opportunity for refreshment.
The trail passes Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and winds along Linlithgow Loch’s Town Bay.
You continue through pleasant countryside on the Fisherrow walk; once used by fishermen’s wives traveling between Bo'ness and Linlithgow to sell the catch.
This stage finishes in Bo’ness, which has a range of accommodation and places to eat and drink.
This stage takes you along the Firth of Forth to Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh.
From Bo’ness you pick up the trail along the Forth and follow the banks of the ever-widening estuary for the majority of the stage.
Along the way you pass Blackness Castle, an impressive 15th century fortress, and Abercorn Church, which has architecture that dates to the 12th century.
You continue through wonderfully-managed Hopetoun House Estate and onto the Forth's iconic road and rail bridges at South Queensferry.
The trail follows the Forth to the point where the River Almond joins it, and then continues inland to Corstorphine Hill, the most westerly of Edinburgh's Seven Hills, where this stage finishes.
You will find a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions nearby.
With the medieval Old Town, Georgian New Town, Castle Rock, a grand Cathedral, and a host of other sightseeing opportunities, Edinburgh is a great place to explore.
This stage takes you from Corstorphine Hill, which affords wonderful views over the city and the Forth, right through the heart of Scotland’s capital.
This hike detours slightly from the official John Muir Way in Edinburgh so you can see some prized-sights without heading too far off route.
Along the brief excursion, you hike up Castle Rock, a volcanic plug in the middle of the city where Edinburgh Castle sits proudly, and St Giles' Cathedral, one of Edinburgh’s most famous landmarks.
The trail joins the Firth of Forth at Musselburgh and continues along the banks to the small fishing town of Prestonpans, where this stage finishes.
There is a range of accommodation and places to eat and drink in and close to Prestonpans.
The landscape is a curious blend of patchwork fields, industrial heritage, grand castles, and golden coastline.
From Prestonpans, you follow the Forth to Port Seton, where it is worth making a slight detour to see one of the finest medieval churches in Scotland, Seton Collegiate.
You rejoin the trail and soon arrive at Longniddry Bents, a beach and grassland with base-rich soils that allow rare plants to flourish.
The trail heads inland after Aberlady and continues to Dirleton, where you find the 13th-century Dirleton Castle, one of the oldest surviving strongholds in Scotland.
You return to the coast at Yellowcraig, a large sandy beach with great views over Fidra Island.
The trail follows the sands to the seaside town of North Berwick, where this stage finishes.
North Berwick has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
The final stage of the John Muir Way explores wonderful scenery bejeweled with natural havens and old ruins.
From North Berwick, you head inland. As you leave the town behind, you will see the tantalizing North Berwick Law, a conical hill that rises abruptly from the landscape and affords superb views.
You continue through the patchwork landscape to East Linton, at which point you join the River Tyne and follow to the beaches of John Muir Country Park and onto Dunbar, where this stage and the trail finishes.
In Dunbar, it is worth exploring Dunbar Castle, one of the strongest fortresses in Scotland, and the town’s old harbor, before making your way to John Muir's Birthplace Museum, which marks the end of the trail.
Dunbar has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.