Relatively speaking, Scotland isn’t a big country; transposed over a map of the US it’d be considered a small state, roughly the same size as South Carolina. But when you’re actually here, in the midst of its gargantuan landscapes and with not another human for miles around, it certainly doesn’t feel small. On a human scale—and what else really matters?—this place is vast.

And despite being just 25 miles wide at its narrowest point (and only 154 miles at its widest!) Scotland’s diversity of scenery and landscapes can be astounding. From tranquil lochs to towering munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet), forested glens and yawning moors, from craggy coastlines to fertile farmland to great cities and what remains of a proud industrial history; Scotland provides a backdrop for every flavour of hiking and walking holiday.

The drama of the scenery is matched by the unpredictability of the elements, but that only adds to the ultimate reward. There are no rain days in Scotland. Come prepared to experience four seasons in a day and you’ll be fine—especially with the lure of a good meal and a dram of whisky to warm you at the end of a long day’s walk.

Scotland's best places to go walking

The country’s cultural, political and geographic regions aren’t always perfectly aligned, but from a walker’s perspective here are some of the top-rated areas for walking and hiking in Scotland.

The Highlands

Scotland’s geological fault line runs from the Isle of Arran in the south-west to Stonehaven in the north-east, delineating the dramatic Highlands from the more gently rolling landscapes to the south. This vast, sparsely populated area is the closest thing to true wilderness in the UK and is a justifiably popular region for serious hiking.

UK Scotland loch lomand

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park

Freedom to roam

Scotland, unlike its more restrictive neighbour to the south, has an ancient tradition of “freedom to roam” which gives recreational access to much of the countryside, including privately-owned land. Access is contingent on visitors acting responsibly and following the basic principles of the Outdoor Access Code, namely to care for the environment and fellow land users, and to take responsibility for their actions. Read more about access rights and responsibilities here: www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot

Highlights

Within Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park, 3,196-foot Ben Lomond is a good start to any Munro-bagging mission. Slightly to the east is 3,547-foot Schiehallian, easily-scalable on a fine day and where scientists first attempted to weigh the world. With their proximity to the cities of Scotland’s Central Belt, both of these areas are fairly easy-to-reach making them great for a shorter Highland escape.

In the Cairngorms National Park you’ll find 1,748 square miles of protected heather-covered moorland and mountains cut by meandering burns (small streams). Long-distance walks like the 65-mile Speyside Way and 64-mile Cateran Trail run through the park, and its challenging terrain makes it a popular base for centre-based walking holidays.

Towards the west coast, the wild Knoydart Peninsula is for true backpacking expeditions, largely accessible only by foot or by boat to the village of Inverie. Guided hiking is advisable for all but the most competent navigators. A good challenge for experienced hillwalkers is climbing the three munros of Luinne Bheinn, Meall Buidhe and Ladhar Bheinn.

For maximum reward, finish a long day out in the elements with a pint or a whisky in the nook of a cosy pub. Most villages have at least one local, if you’re lucky you might time your visit for a ceilidh (pronounced ‘kay-lee’, a lively evening of folk music and dance.)

Need to know

Some of the main Highland walking hubs, such as Fort William, Pitlochry and Aviemore, are connected via the Scotrail train network (https://www.scotrail.co.uk), with yet more accessible by bus (https://www.citylink.co.uk/journeyplanner.php). If you’re relying on public transport these towns make a good base for day hikes (check out the Pitlochry Path Network of trails) or as departure points for long distance paths; West Highland Way, Great Glen Way, Speyside Way. Be sure to get advice from a walking holiday specialist. Given the region’s topography, a car becomes useful (and sometimes essential) to reach farther-flung areas on the west coast beyond Fort William, and the far north.

The Highlands is a vast region with landscapes that are suitable for hikers of all abilities. Families and inexperienced walkers might enjoy the easy-to-moderate woodland and shore paths of the Trossachs while the northwest Highlands and the wilder reaches of the Cairngorms present a challenge for even experienced multi-day trekkers and hillwalkers.

Recommended walks

At 4,413 feet, Ben Nevis is the UK’s tallest mountain. The peak, accessible from Fort William, attracts over 100,000 summit-seekers each year, though it’s important to keep a close eye on the fast-changing weather if you’re attempting a climb. Further north, the view from the top of the short and steep Stac Pollaidh offers very different Highland views toward the stark beauty of the Assynt region. For another record-breaker, walk Duncansby Head near John-O-Groats, the most north-easterly corner of mainland Britain, where Orkney hovers on the horizon just over the Pentland Firth.

Most of Scotland’s waymarked long-distance paths traverse some part of the Highlands. The 96-mile West Highland Way leads walkers from the outskirts of Glasgow along Loch Lomond, through Glencoe and across Rannoch Moor to Fort William over six to ten days of walking. The easier-going Rob Roy Way crosses paths with the West Highland Way at the southern end of its 79 miles before diverting northeast across the Trossachs and Pertshire to end in Pitlochry. And picking up where the West Highland Way ends, the Great Glen Way stretches along canals, lochside and forested track for 85 miles.

Bothies

More venturesome hikers might consider a self-supported trek between some of the UK’s ninety bothies; very basic but free-to-use mountain shelters run by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA). Bothies are marked on Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and their locations are listed on the MBA website: www.mountainbothies.org.uk/bothies/location-map

The Lowlands

The Scottish Lowlands sweep up from the English border past the major cities of the Central Belt, the old Kingdom of Fife and up to Stonehaven in the northeast. Named “Lowlands” in contrast to the Highlands, the region actually covers a variety of landscapes including some fairly challenging hills. While the wild mountains further north claim all the attention, the Lowlands offer plenty of classic scenery and some spectacular—and uncrowded—walks.

Scotland Fife Ruins of St Andrews Castle in St Andrews

The ruins of St Andrews Castle on the Fife Coastal Path

Highlights

The Lowlands are home to Scotland’s two largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh—both of which offer a good dose of food, arts and culture with which to bookend your walking holiday. Hike Arthur’s Seat for panoramic views of Edinburgh’s UNESCO-listed Old and New Towns.

In Scotland’s southwest, stargaze from the Galloway Forest, the UK’s first International Dark Sky Park after a day on the challenging 6-mile Loch Trool route. From the Borders town of Melrose, set off on a 65-mile pilgrimage southeast into England, finishing by crossing the sands at low-tide to Holy Island.

Need to know

The towns and cities of the Central Belt are well connected by bus and train services. Getting further afield into the Borders or Dumfries and Galloway will require trickier bus connections. Bringing or renting a car is advisable if you intend to visit further-flung spots.

You’ll find more accommodation, services and year-round attractions in the Central Belt than in the Highlands and more rural section of the Lowlands. If basing yourself in Edinburgh, the city is busiest in August for the Edinburgh Festival and at Christmas. Accommodation can be expensive and hard to come by during these times, so plan well in advance.

Recommended walks

The 134-mile John Muir Way, retracing the emigration route of the famous Scottish-American naturalist, is a moderate coast-to-coast walk from Dunbar in the east to Helensburgh in the west. The well-waymarked route takes roughly ten days to complete and cuts through the rolling landscape of the Central Belt, following part of the Forth and Clyde Canal, touching the banks of Loch Lomond, and hugging the coast along the Firth of Forth.

Walk a portion of the 117-mile Fife Coastal Path that connects the old Kingdom of Fife’s southern and northern borders, from the Forth to the Tay. If you have just a day, try the 10.5-mile section between Elie and Crail through the colourful, traditional fishing villages of the East Neuk. Look seaward to the cliffs of the Isle of May National Nature Reserve (day trips run out to the isle from Anstruther).

The charming Borders village of Peebles serves as a great base for easy day walks like the River Tweed circular route to Neidpath Castle (4 miles), and, following the Tweed in the opposite direction, a loop walk to the outskirts of Glentress Forest—renowned for its mountain biking tracks (6.5 miles).

The Inner Hebrides & Clyde Islands

When looking at a map of Scotland, it can be hard to distinguish peninsulas from islands on the wonderfully convoluted west coast. The Inner Hebrides are nestled snug between the Western Isles (see below) and the mainland and are made up primarily of Skye in the north; Coll, Tiree and the Small Isles; Islay, Jura and Colonsay to the south, and Mull at their heart. Just a hop over the Kintyre Peninsula are the Clyde Islands of Arran, Bute and a smattering of smaller islands, connected by ferry services to Glasgow across the Firth of Clyde.

UK Scotland Skye Old Man of Storr

The classic view of Old Man of Storr, on the Isle of Skye

Highlights

On Skye, drive past the entrance to Dunvegan Castle until you reach the end of the road at Claigan, from where you can walk out along a stretch of white sand at Coral Beach. Take a boat trip from Mull to Staffa and wonder at the basalt pillars of Fingal’s Cave. On Islay and Jura, taste the renowned single malts for which the islands are world-famous. Soak in the rays on Tiree, surprisingly one of the sunniest places in Britain.

In the Firth of Clyde, the Isle of Arran is sometimes referred to as “Scotland in miniature”, with the highland boundary fault creating dramatic mountains to the north and rolling hills and farmland to the south. The peak that dominates the skyline at 2,866 feet, Goatfell, makes for an excellent day hike that (just about) fits between ferry services if you plan in advance and walk quickly!

Need to know

The largest of the Inner Hebrides, the Isle of Skye, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Scotland. The other islands have followed suit, and it’s best to book well in advance, especially if you plan to visit in the peak month of May.

Caledonian MacBrayne (www.calmac.co.uk) runs ferries from Oban, Mallaig and Kennacraig to most islands in the Inner Hebrides. The operator also connects Bute (from Wemyss Bay), Cumbrae (from Largs) and Arran (from Ardrossan). Skye can also be accessed via road bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh. If you prefer to fly, Loganair services Islay and Tiree. It’s easiest to get around with a car on the large islands like Mull and Skye, though public transport is available. Portree and Tobermory, both colourful harbour towns and hubs of tourist activity on their respective islands, provide a good home base for a centre-based walking holiday.

Recommended walks

Being an island chain, there are fewer waymarked long distance paths here, with the notable exception of the Arran Coastal Way (66 miles) and the Kintyre Way (100 miles). Specialist walking companies have developed their own offerings which typically consist of multi-centre trips with day hikes in each location. They will devise an itinerary to suit your preferences and arrange your accommodation, ferry tickets and other logistics.

There are countless day walks on the footpaths that criss-cross the Inner Hebrides and Clyde Islands. Just get yourself an Ordnance Survey map and head out! A smattering of suggested walks include the 7km Quiraing loop is a moderate-to-difficult walk on Skye that follows the Trotternish Ridge and offers some of the best views in the west of Scotland. On Mull, the 11km Treshnish coastal walk follows suit, passing a hidden whisky cave and featuring an abundance of wildlife in the sea below and sky above. Christianity and the Gaelic culture came to Scotland by way of Iona—where St Columba first landed. Walk past the Abbey, keeping your eyes peeled for the elusive Corncrake, and to the top of Dun I, at 101 metres, the highest point on the small island.

The Western Isles (Outer Hebrides)

In the westernmost reaches of Scotland, embrace Gaelic culture, archaeological wonders, and remote and wild landscapes. The Outer Hebrides island chain stretches from Barra in the south past North and South Uist, to Harris and Lewis in the North, with smaller islands dotted throughout.

UK Northton Taobh Tuath Isle of Harris Outer Hebrides western isles Scotland

Wild landscapes on the Isle of Harris

Highlights

If you feel an urge to go further west still, take a boat to the island of St. Kilda where a 3.5 mile loop walk takes you to the highest point on the Hebrides—1,410-foot Conachair—passing abandoned villages, and surrounded by Europe’s largest seabird colony. Visit the Callanish Stones in Lewis, dating back to 2900 BC, and don’t leave without sampling Stornoway Black Pudding, so coveted it now has its own protected status.

Need to know

Calmac ferries depart from Oban, Mallaig, Ullapool, and also from Uig on Skye. You can then travel the 130-mile length of the islands by connecting ferries and causeways. An easy way to island-hop is with Calmac’s Island Hopscotch ferry ticket, running from Oban up through the islands and back to Ullapool. Like the Inner Hebrides, island accommodation and car spaces on ferries books up extremely quickly, so it’s best to make your plans well in advance. Travellers can fly with Loganair to Benbecula, Stornoway or Barra (the only airport in the world where scheduled flights use the beach as a runway.)

Recommended walks

While the Western Isles offers walks for all ages and abilities, the most mountainous terrain can be found on Harris. Challenge yourself to climb Clisham (An Cliseam) via the more moderate direct route or the far longer (7-9 hours) and tougher horseshoe. The Hebridean Way stretches 156 miles across ten islands from Vatersay to Lewis. The walking route threads through open moorland, past bald and rugged hills, across machair and white-sand beaches that appear tropical until your toes touch the cold North Atlantic water—a truly Scottish experience.

The Northern Isles (Orkney & Shetland)

The Northern Isles feel a world away from the mainland UK—both Orkney and Shetland are closer to the Arctic circle than to London—yet these rugged archipelagos at the collision of North Sea and Atlantic Ocean are surprisingly accessible. You’ll find independently-minded locals strongly connected to their Nordic heritage, Neolithic history that predates Stonehenge, and wide open landscapes that roll straight into the sea, rich in wildlife and beckoning to be explored on foot.

UK Ring Of Brodgar Orkney Scotland A neolithic stone circle and henge

The Ring Of Brodgar, a neolithic stone circle on Orkney

Highlights

No trip to Orkney is complete without a visit to the several UNESCO neolithic sites on the island. Afterward, enjoy a peedie dram of Highland Park or Scapa Whisky on a tour of the distilleries, both near Kirkwall. In Sumburgh, Shetland, visit the Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlements that span 4,000 years of early history. In Unst, Shetland, look toward Britain’s most northerly lighthouse, Muckle Flugga, perched on an outcropping of rock that juts defiantly toward the Arctic.

Need to know

Northlink operates a 90-minute ferry service from Scrabster to Stromness (Orkney) and a 12-14.5-hour ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick (Shetland), with a stop halfway in Kirkwall (Orkney) at least three days a week. Loganair flies to Kirkwall and Lerwick from several airports across mainland Britain, and their Orkney inter-island service is an excellent way to explore the southerly archipelago’s outer islands, including the world’s shortest scheduled flight from Westray to Papa Westray.

A central base in Lerwick, Stromness or Kirkwall will allow you to maximise a shorter trip—especially if traveling without a car. Accommodation can be found in village inns and hotels or a wide range of independent rentals. If you have extra time, be sure to venture to Shetland and Orkney’s outer isles. Each has its own unique character, and you can enjoy empty stretches of coastline and heritage sites (such as Northern Europe’s oldest home on Papa Westray) all to yourself.

In summer, Orkney and Shetland benefit from between 18 and 19 hours of daylight. This swings drastically down to six in the winter. While both islands are known for extreme wind, you are more likely to see the sun in the Northern Isles than in the west of Scotland. Best to be prepared for every type of weather, as in all of Scotland!

While the bulk of tourists visit the islands between May and September, the winter holds its own bit of magic, with the chance to see Mirrie Dancers (Northern Lights) and experience festive cultural traditions like the ancient game of Ba, a sort of full-town rugby game played on Christmas and New Year’s Day in Kirkwall and the Viking fire festival of Up Helly Aa held in January and February across Shetland. If you’re arriving in winter, keep in mind you will have limited daylight for walking and prior planning is essential as accommodation, transport and meal options are more limited.

Recommended walks

Walks range from short and easy loops on well-defined paths to longer cliffside walking with tougher ascents or traversing open heathland and hills. Many short walks are accessible right from villages for those without cars. There are a handful of walking companies that offer both guided and self-guided holidays on Orkney and Shetland. Keep in mind that longer walks from most rural locations will require a car.

On Hoy, the ‘High Isle’, walk from Moaness to Rackwick Bay through Orcadian novelist George Mackay Browne’s “hidden valley of light.” Continue along a cliff path toward the towering sandstone sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy. The newly developed St Magnus Way pilgrimage route follows the 55-mile journey of the martyred Earl of Orkney as it crosses Egilsay, then zig-zags across the Orkney mainland. On Shetland, ferry to the Island of Noss National Nature Reserve for a challenging 5-mile coastal loop and some of the best birdwatching in the Northern Isles.

Where To Go Walking In Scotland

Taylor St. John

Taylor is a freelance writer and international odd-jobs enthusiast who has spent the past eight years collecting unique work experiences across New Zealand, Australia and Scotland. Currently based between Glasgow and the east coast of the U.S., she writes about travel and the outdoors for publications like HuffPost UK, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Country Walking, easyJet Traveller and Orkney.com. She is also an associate for an Orkney-based environmental consultancy, helping to promote innovations in sustainability and renewable energy development.

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