For long-distance hikes, Scotland is hard to beat. The scenery is outstanding and the trails a joy to follow. One of the aspects that make walking here so appealing is the sense of space. This ancient land feels much bigger than it is thanks to the amount of wilderness and low population density: Scotland is the most sparsely populated country in the United Kingdom, with only 70 people per square kilometre; England has more than six times that.

A walking holiday here, as in the rest of the UK, offers a great variety of terrain from delightful coastal routes to long trails that traverse a big chunk of the country with character-filled overnight stops. Hearty food will help keep your energy levels up and you will find lots of regional variations in the cuisine and, of course, the whisky. A warm Scottish welcome also makes a trip here extra special and you can be assured the locals will make your holiday a memorable one. The knowledge that you are exploring a part of the UK, perhaps an entire region you have never been to, is one that many domestic visitors relish.

Easy Ways Scotland Great Glen Way

Great Glen Way, Scotland

There are 29 nationally promoted Great Trails in Scotland which range in length from 24-210 miles. Together, they provide almost 2,000 miles of well-managed paths from the Borders to the Highlands. This guide covers walks in Fife, in the east of the country between Edinburgh and Dundee; Speyside, from Aviemore north to the Moray Coast; the central county of Stirlingshire into Perthshire on the Rob Roy Way and the outskirts of Glasgow into the Highlands on the iconic West Highland Way.

Fife and Speyside offer gentler terrain than the other options, though they are totally distinct with the Speyside Way following a broad, partly wooded, river valley while walking in Fife passes through strings of villages, by quaint old harbours and through rich agricultural land. These areas are best for families and walkers who like to take their time sightseeing en route. A basic level of fitness will suffice for much of the walking here.

The West Highland Way passes through increasingly rugged country as it progresses from south to north. This is a trail that is ideal for younger hikers or seasoned walkers. Less fit walkers will manage but will have to push themselves.
The Highlands of Scotland have few villages and only scattered hotels for long distances. Thorough prior planning is required if you are not going with a guide.

Scotland Speyside whisky

Speyside whiskey, Scotland

Stirlingshire and Perthshire, on the Rob Roy Way, are filled with smaller hills than the Highlands and the walking is generally a little easier than the more rugged lands to the north. The Rob Roy Way does have one section where experience will help in following the trail. For this reason, we recommend that those with a poor sense of direction engage a guide.

Many attractions and visitor centres are seasonal, opening from Easter to September. And, broadly speaking, that is the best time for outdoor activities. Favoured months are May and September as the weather can be at its most crisp and stable then. In more recent years, heavy rains drop in July and August.

Scotland is a place of many lochs, rivers and moorlands. These are all lovely but (and this quite a big ´but´) they provide ideal conditions for the Scottish midge, which bites walkers from June to late September. Always carry repellent and clothing that will cover your limbs. It is advisable to keep these items accessible along with a head midge net and peaked hat. Warm, sultry, cloudy days are the worst. Dawn and dusk are also when you may be worst hit.

If you are the totally independent type, Scotland is your oyster. Wild camping is enshrined along with access, subject to common sense caveats, through the Land Reform (Scotland) Act (2003) which includes some of the most walker-friendly legislation in Europe.

Scotland's Great Trails

For Scotland specific route-planning, see the Scotland’s Great Trails website and VisitScotland which also has a search tool for approved accommodation providers in the Walkers Welcome scheme.

Scotland's best long-distance walking trails

Popular and lesser-known routes and ways

The following ‘Best of Scotland’ offers four hugely contrasting walking experiences in terms of location, terrain and difficulty, but each rewards with memorable experiences as you wander across this invigorating land.

West Highland Way

West Highland Way

Distance: 96 miles (154km)

Duration: Eight days

Start point: Milngavie

End point: Fort William

Difficulty: Moderate with harder northern sections – well-marked route; some remote and hilly parts

Suitable for: Any reasonably fit walker, family-friendly sections highlighted below

Scotland's oldest and most popular long-distance walking route – the West Highland Way – appeals to serious walkers, strolling day trippers and even runners who race the 96 miles in under 35 hours! Walkers take around a week to complete the distance, travelling from the outskirts of Glasgow, past Loch Lomond’s wooded banks, via Tyndrum and across the wilds of Rannoch Moor before a final stretch to finish in the Highland town of Fort William.

Scotland West Highland Way 2

West Highland Way, Scotland

The full undertaking is a long and fairly challenging trail but the majority of those who hike it only have an average level of fitness. As with all long-distance walks, it’s a very good idea to get some multi-day training in first if you can to harden up your legs and feet.

Then, all going well, you can relish in the experience as you trek ever northwards. Wildlife that may be seen includes hardy feral goats, red deer and golden eagles, but it's the Highland scenery that offers stunning views year-round. Filmmakers have long been drawn to sights you will see en route.

Sections of Braveheart with Mel Gibson as the Scottish legend, William Wallace, were shot around Loch Leven, Glencoe and in the Mamores mountains near Fort William, all of which are along the West Highland Way trail.

The West Highland Way route

A really satisfying aspect of this long-distance walk is the sense of progression. The change in landscape from the lowlands of the start to the finish near the foot of Britain´s highest mountain Ben Nevis (1,345m) is memorable.

The West Highland Way begins as you step off the high street in Milngavie (pronounced Mullguy!). You’ll be following in good company: around 85,000 people walk parts of the Way every year. Indeed the West Highland Way has been well tramped over the centuries as much of it follows ancient drove roads, military roads from Jacobean times, old coaching roads and disused railway lines.

You enter Mugdock Country Park, pass the Carbeth Huts built by Glaswegians during the thirties, cross a stile and suddenly the scenery becomes wilder. Straight ahead stands wooded Dumgoyach Hill, to the right an ancient volcano – Dumgoyne and, in the distance, bigger hills, including Ben Lomond can be seen. In the foreground, a rocky path can be seen weaving its way across this more open landscape.

The first night, spent in Drymen, will give an inkling of the camaraderie that walkers of this epic route share. You´ll probably recognise fellow hikers the following day as you edge up the stunning eastern shore of Loch Lomond, part of a national park, passing oak-wooded islands that drip with natural beauty. Families will love the sections north of Rowardennan and by Inversnaid which give unrivalled views of the loch.

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Glencoe, Scotland

By day five you will be in the shadow of Beinn Dorain, a magnificent mountain that rises from the foot of the trail to a pleasing conical top. Then, after Bridge of Orchy, the route bursts through trees onto the open hillside. Below is Loch Tulla and beyond the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor. On a sunny day, its many lochans glisten like a jewelled rug. Lochan na h-Achlaise, beyond Loch Tulla, is backed by the Black Mount to your left. They include Stob Coir an Albannaich – the Highlandman's peak.

Descend to the Inveroran Hotel, one of Scotland’s oldest inns which retains a charm of yesteryear. Wake the next morning to the fresh Highland air and set off to join a Thomas Telford designed cobbled road which was in use until 1933.

Further on, Bá Bridge over the tumbling river makes a good half-way spot for a break. As you progress the views over the expanse of Rannoch Moor open out and you’ll realise this is no place to be in bad weather.

Round a corner to see the track drop ahead with Buachaille Etive Mór – Glencoe’s guardian – on your left and the Kingshouse Hotel below. The Kingshouse has a famous climbers’ bar complete with classic photos and you can camp by the river for free.

The final two days are the hardest. First, you ascend the Devil’s Staircase to reach the highest point of the West Highland Way at 550m, with breathtaking views back to The Buachaille and north to the Mamores mountain range before dropping down to overnight in Kinlochleven.

After a good night´s rest, another big climb is tackled to gain superb views down tidal Loch Leven. Then the Way takes the Lairigmor (the great pass) for easier walking between towering mountains and then views of might Ben Nevis.

The last leg follows Glen Nevis into the heart of the seagull filled town of Fort William where you can eat to your heart´s content.

West Highland Way day by day

Given the popularity of this trail, there’s a great range of accommodation and support services available. Choose from a mix of accommodation, combining camping experiences with a night in a comfortable B&B or well-appointed hostel.

There are plenty of character-filled old inns to stay in too. These will always be filled with other tired but contented walkers where the smell of malt whiskey hangs pungent in the air. The vast majority of hikers, excepting perhaps day-walkers, go south to north which helps build your strength for the harder hillier sections near Fort William.

Around East Loch Lomond, be aware that camping restrictions are in place between 1 March and 31 October.

Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles)

Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan (15 miles)

Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan (14 miles)

Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum (12 miles)

Day 5: Tyndrum to Inveroran (9 miles)

Day 6: Inveroran to Kingshouse (10 miles)

Day 7: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (9 miles)

Day 8: Kinlochleven to Fort William (15 miles)

Rob Roy Walk

Rob Roy Walk

Distance: 79 miles (127km)

Duration: Six days

Start point: Drymen

End point: Pitlochry

Difficulty: Moderate to hard – partly way-marked route, ill-defined path in places; hilly sections

Suitable for: Any reasonably fit walker, family-friendly sections highlighted below.

Named in honour of the 17th-century folk hero, the Rob Roy Way passes through rugged country closely associated with the irrepressible Scot and follows tracks he would have taken on his many adventures.

While Rob Roy was no saint, he was a man who captured the popular imagination. Variously described as a folk hero and Robin Hood type figure, he was wont to help the less fortunate with random acts of kindness.

Scotland Rob Roy Way Loch Tay

Loch Tay, Rob Roy Way, Scotland

Rob Roy was a hugely effective and talented leader of a section of his clan, the MacGregors, and proved himself to be a very persistent thorn in the side of the government and its local supporters.

His life story, from successful cattle dealer to outlaw, has become the stuff of legend, helped in no small part by several audacious escapes. On one occasion, a troop of dragoons surprised him at his Balquhidder farm and, hopelessly outnumbered, he succumbed. The troops rode down Strathyre with a dejected-looking Rob Roy in the saddle. It seemed certain he would be sentenced and imprisoned like his father. MacGregor, however, timed his escape to perfection at a narrow point by Loch Lubnaig, disappearing up a heathery slope as the horses below danced in confusion.

The great thing about the Way is that it passes through all these places. So, as you walk through this beautiful landscape, you are literally walking through history.

The Rob Roy Way route

Expect quiet pine forests, scenic lochshores, and wilder upland sections where the adventure is tangible. The first four days lead northwards through the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park – a gem among Scotland’s landscapes.

Set off from Drymen where the Clachan Inn dates from Rob Roy’s time. The route meets and follows the West Highland Way for a short distance before ascending a minor moorland road. Forest tracks and a quiet road leads to Aberfoyle. The variety of terrain and underfoot surfaces followed are typical of the Way.

Scotland’s most notorious outlaw was born north-west of Aberfoyle, at the far end of Loch Katrine in 1671, and named Raibert Ruadh MacGregor – red-headed Robert. By his thirties, he had prospered as a cattle dealer. But when his chief cattle hand, or drover, absconded with a large sum of borrowed money MacGregor was accused of embezzlement, evicted and outlawed.

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Loch Lomond, Scotland

Next, the quiet Way leads by the wooded shores of Loch Venachar and Loch Lubnaig. Families will enjoy the flat section from Loch Venachar to the southern end of Loch Lubnaig, just before which is a particularly pretty woodland trail by the Falls of Leny.

Beyond Loch Lubnaig, divert off the Way for Balquhidder where one can see Rob Roy’s grave at the churchyard where he was buried in 1734.

After overnighting at Lochearnhead, walk up Glen Ogle on an old rail line, crossing a viaduct. At the crest look left to spy a beautiful hidden lochan, or small loch, before reaching the village of Killin at the head of Loch Tay. There´s a wilder aspect to the landscape here and great panoramic mountain views once you have climbed stiffly to the dammed Loch Breaclaich. This is wild country where you need to be prepared for the elements. The going can be tough and wet underfoot.
By the time you drop back down to Loch Tay at Ardeonaig you will be glad to follow the gently undulating lochshore road which gives magnificent views to lofty Ben Lawers opposite. The official way leaves the road at the hamlet of Acharn. However, it is recommended that you keep straight to visit the fantastic Crannog Centre – with its reconstruction of the ancient stilt dwelling – and overnight in Kenmore.

The next leg begins with a sharp road climb before rejoining the Way to continue east above the River Tay. The conical peak of Schiehallion draws the eye. Its Anglicised name translates from the Gaelic Fairy Hill of the Caledonians. Stroll on to reach the enchanting birch-clad Birks of Aberfeldy.

Nearing the end of the journey you will reach Strathtay close to a prison from which Rob Roy escaped in June 1717.

The final uphill leg of the Way offers rewarding views over Strathtay before a welcome descent through woods with bustling Pitlochry down below your feet.

Rob Roy Way day by day

Accommodation is generally plentiful along the route (except on the south shore of Loch Tay on Day 5), with options that include campsites, hostels, B&Bs and hotels. The seven-day schedule outlined below is a popular one, with a stay each night in the main villages or town en route. Very fit walkers could complete the Way in four or five days. Note there is an additional optional 17-mile loop through remote glens to the hamlet of Amulree from Loch Tay. For wild country lovers, this is well worth considering.

Either way, it is best to complete the trip from south to north to benefit from the prevailing wind and to soak up the atmosphere of the Rob Roy country at the beginning.

Day 1: Drymen to Aberfoyle (11 miles)

Day 2: Aberfoyle to Callander (9 miles)

Day 3: Callander to Lochearnhead (16 miles)

Day 4: Lochearnhead to Killin (7.5 miles)

Day 5: Killin to Kenmore (18 miles)

Day 6: Kenmore to Aberfeldy (8 miles)

Day 7: Aberfeldy to Pitlochry (10 miles)

Speyside Way

Speyside Way

Distance: 65 miles (105km)

Duration: Five to eight days

Start point: Buckie

End point: Aviemore

Difficulty: Easy to moderate – well-marked route; few steep gradients; some stiles to negotiate

Suitable for: Most walkers, family friendly sections

The Speyside Way is one of four official Long Distance Routes in Scotland (the others are the West Highland Way, the Southern Upland Way and the Great Glen Way). It largely follows the course of the majestic River Spey from the Moray coast to the Cairngorms National Park gateway town of Aviemore. Along the route one passes myriad whisky distilleries and stands of ancient pine and birch woods.

The route principally follows the wide and peaceful Spey Valley and passes through some of Scotland's most beautiful landscapes. Alongside, the river – the fastest flowing in Scotland – is glimpsed regularly and walked next to, though not continuously.

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Pack horse bridge, Carrbridge

It springs from the Cairngorm mountains, a vast subarctic plateau where reintroduced reindeer thrive. Not surprisingly, the Spey has shaped the landscape and character of the lands through which it passes. The pure waters have given rise to a staggering number of malt whisky producers across Speyside, more than half of the total distilleries in Scotland. You’ll literally smell them before you see them from the trail!

In the 1600s pine logs felled in the ancient forests under the Cairngorms were transported downriver in rafts. The timber was used for railway construction, and later for shipbuilding where the river meets the sea at Kingston and Garmouth, from where more than 500 vessels were launched.

The Speyside Way route

Lace up your boots to leave Buckie, formed from a string of villages during the 19th-century herring boom years, to walk pleasantly to the mouth of the Spey. This is a fine walk from all the family and leads to the Scottish Dolphin Centre. The nutrient-rich Spey waters mean fish flourish here which in turn provides a haven for wildlife including bottlenose dolphins, ospreys, grey and common seals, the occasional otter and many coastal birds. The free-to-enter centre is located in an 18th Century salmon fishing station.

A further easy five miles leads inland with stretches of riverside path that are flower-lined in the warmer months. Take your time, bring a picnic, and soak up the atmosphere on a lazy summer´s day. Afterwards, in the village of Fochabers, you can eat well as there is a good range of excellent local produce from the surrounding fertile lands.

Heading south Day 3 is considerably longer (at 13 miles) and harder (graded moderate) as the Way negotiates hillier ground on woodland paths, roads and forestry tracks. A highlight is the view from the steep wooded slopes of Ben Aigan, which looks down over Speyside. From there a descent leads back down to the river before the mighty Spey is crossed on a road bridge by charming Craigellachie. A must-see is the Craigellachie Hotel, where the unique Quaich bar stocks some 900 single malts!

Scotland Speyside whisky

Speyside whisky, Scotland

The next day´s stretch is very pretty. Note that the narrow riverside path with views to famed fishing spots can get muddy here.

Stroll through woods and tunnels before reaching a park by Aberlour, or Charlestown of Aberlour, as it is known in full. The linear town is home to the famous Walkers shortbread factory, and, of course, the Aberlour distillery. If you’re feeling peckish, the butcher shop sells a superb steak pie.

The Speyside Way visitor centre (open April-September) is located in the old Aberlour railway station and has displays on the natural and local history, including archive footage of the former railway.

Carry on, rising gradually, to follow the river bank downstream through mixed woodland and cross the river below. Knockando distillery is passed in a couple of miles. Close by are the distilleries of Tamdhu and Cardhu. The latter runs tours which will proudly tell you how it was the first distillery in Scotland to have been set up by a woman. Further on, you will recross the Spey on a lattice girder bridge to reach the old Ballindalloch station building, near the Cragganmore distillery (tours).

Continuing south to Grantown is the hardest section of the route (graded moderate/hard). It´s hilly and rough and wet underfoot with two burns (streams) to cross on stepping stones; these may be difficult to cross in flood conditions.

Once completed, the remaining three days to Aviemore are a breeze and nice and flat. The villages passed through all have good facilities with lots of home cooking in the cafes. Ancient pine woods are walked through by Nethy Bridge and the final leg gives superb views across the Spey Valley to the Cairngorms´ mighty northern faces.

Speyside Way day by day

The official Speyside Way website describes the Way from the sea inland to Aviemore, but notes that this is a matter of preference. With this walk, one can just as easily hike downstream. It´s up to you. On the whole, there is a lot of accommodation choice for hotel, B&Bs with a more restricted choice for hostels and campsites.

You may struggle to get accommodation for one night in Ballindalloch. If you are doing the Way independently a simple workaround is to arrange for a taxi to pick you up from Aberlour.

There is also a hard 15-mile spur to Tomintoul from Ballindalloch. This mainly uses rough hill tracks.

Day 1: Buckie to Spey Bay (5 miles; family friendly)

Day 2: Spey Bay to Fochabers (5 miles; family friendly)

Day 3: Fochabers to Craigellachie (13 miles)

Day 4: Craigellachie to Ballindalloch (12 miles; family friendly)

Day 5: Ballindalloch to Grantown (13 miles)

Day 6: Grantown to Nethy Bridge (6 miles)

Day 7: Nethy Bridge to Boat of Garten (5 miles; family friendly)

Day 8: Boat of Garten to Aviemore (6 miles; family friendly)

Fife Coastal Path

Fife Coastal Path

Distance: 117 miles (188km)

Duration: Eight days

Start point: Kincardine

End point: Aviemore

Difficulty: Easy first half, easy to moderate thereafter – well-marked route; few steep gradients; rough ground and slippy steps in places; some sections only suitable at low tide

Suitable for: Most walkers, family friendly sections

Tamer than the above trails, this 188km well-signed route passes through picturesque seaside villages, old smuggling caves, and fabulous beaches. In summer it is very beautiful. There are many historical castles and sites too in addition to the stunning sea views; Fife is bounded by the Firths (estuaries) of the Forth and Tay, to the south and north respectively, and juts east into the North Sea. You can even take a boat trip to one of the islands.

The route really lends itself to walking in multiple sections if that takes your fancy rather than one big undertaking. Its character changes a lot from the low-lying easy first half to include some rougher but straightforward parts on the easternmost section, the East Neuk.

Scotland Fife East Neuk of F Ife fishing village of Pittenweem

Pittenweem fishing village, Fife

Fifers are proud of their historical importance – Dunfermline was Scotland’s ancient capital – and they stoutly defend the popular county title ‘the Kingdom of Fife’.

There´s more wildlife along the route than you might expect, even where it passes busy urban areas at Kirkcaldy and adjacent former steelworks and old colliery sites. Further east there are several wildlife reserves and a seal colony. The mouth of the Tay estuary is also where hundreds of sea ducks and wildfowl come to roost. And the dunes are full of fluttering butterflies during the summer months.

Fife Coastal Path route

Starting from the western extremity of Fife at the village of Kincardine on the River Forth the path entices you east. Bridges span the Firth of Forth and for the remainder of this section, you can clearly see the far side. The walking is easy and delightful on a calm day when the water can appear like a mirror.

Soon the excellent path runs to Culross by the prominent chimney stack of the last coal-powered station in Scotland, Longannet, which closed in 2016 marking the end of an era as the Fife Coalfield was one of the principal coalfields in Scotland until the late 80s.

Allow plenty of time to see the ancient burgh town, which is very attractive and is packed with colourful, Old Dutch style stone buildings which attest to the strong trade links that the Forthside town had with Veere in the Netherlands. During the 16th century, the town had a thriving community, developed under the laird, Sir George Bruce, and for whom the striking red-tiled Culross Palace was built.

Torry Bay Local Nature Reserve is passed before a steep climb above the firth. The historic villages of Charleston and Limekilns are reached after. Day one gives a good taste of the variety of the Fife Coastal Path for the next sections

Scotland Fife Ruins of St Andrews Castle in St Andrews

Ruins of St Andrew's Castle, Fife

Day four follows sandy beaches during low tides, with alternatives at other times. Beyond Largo Bay the path climbs to Shell Bay where there are two options – one goes up over the cliffs, the second the Ellie Chainwalk hugs the rocks with chains for handholds. Elie is a beautiful harbour village like many to follow.

Day five can´t be beaten though for its string of picturesque harbours. Pittenweem, Anstruther and Crail are all linked by the coastal path which is easy to follow and ideal for families. From Anstruther, there are daily boat trips during the summer months to the puffin-filled Isle of May nature reserve.

Beyond Crail the terrain becomes rough. The path narrows by Fife Ness with more low tide only sections beyond a golf course.

Day six also needs to be planned in advance due to sea levels. The rewards are the sense of remoteness and views of a pink sea stack, the Buddo Rock, and the Rock and Spindle, the weathered remains of a volcanic plug. The path leads to the East Sands by St Andrews – the famous golf centre and university town – where you should visit the centre to see the beautiful but ruined 12th-century cathedral.

Heading on from Leuchars the following day is an easy family-friendly section as far as Tayport. It passes through Tentsmuir Point National Nature Reserve. Located at the mouth of the Tay Estuary this forms an important roosting and feeding area for huge gatherings of seaduck, waders and wildfowl. It is also a haul-out area for more than 2000 common and grey seals. Butterflies are a feature of the grassland and dunes too.

Further on you will see Broughty Ferry on the far side of the Tay and then Dundee. It´s fun to realise you have rounded Fife!

One last day of the Fife Coastal Path is all that remains. It takes in the sizeable Normans Law and leads through some nice woodlands. It leads to a suitably pleasing end in the charming town of Newburgh at the coastal path arch.

Fife Coastal Path day by day

Accommodation is plentiful in all locations, though you should book early, and is largely B&Bs or hotels.

The exception is the final day section from Balmerino to Newburgh, though Newburgh itself has plenty of options.

The entire route from Kincardine as far as Newport-on-Tay is well served by public transport, and the section between Kincardine and Kirkcaldy is served by the mainline railway.

More detailed information on sections affected by tides can be found from the official path website.

Day 1: Kincardine to Limekilns (11 miles)

Day 2: Limekilns to Burntisland (17 miles)

Day 3: Burntisland to Buckhaven (14 miles)

Day 4: Buckhaven to Elie (13 miles)

Day 5: Elie to Cambo Sands (16 miles)

Day 6: Cambo Sands to Leuchars (14 miles)

Day 7: Leuchars to Wormit Bay (16 miles)

Day 8: Wormit Bay to Newburgh (15 miles)

Scotland's best long distance walks

Fergal MacErlean

Dublin-born Fergal fell in love with Scotland as a student, settling there to become a journalist and cycle guidebook writer. In addition to his guides covering Scotland, he has written for the BBC, New Scientist, BBC Countryfile Magazine and many travel publications. Andalusia is a second home.

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