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Highland Walking Trails

The magnificent and sometimes imposing Scottish Highlands are a walker’s paradise.  With a seemingly endless array of walking trails ranging from gentle low-ground walks to mountain climbs and from short leisurely sightseeing strolls to arduous and challenging miles-long treks, the Highlands of Scotland will not disappoint anyone hoping to get out on one, or many, of our different Highland walking trails.  Bring your camera and be sure to stop along the way in order to take in the splendid scenery, the diverse wildlife, and the beautiful flora.  Head out on a Highlands walking trail today.

There are several long-distance trails that are musts for serious walkers.  The West Highland Way is a 96-mile trail from Glasgow to Fort William.  Over 50,000 people walk this spectacular trail each year.  Generally, it is walked from south to north and taken in six or seven stages.  There is an obelisk in Milngavie which marks the start of the trail, and you are sure to experience as thrill as you head off on this most popular long distance walk up into the Scottish Highlands.  On this trail, you will pass Loch Lomond, follow old military and drove roads, and parts of Glencoe.  Devil’s Staircase marks the highest point on this trail at 548 m.  The official end of the West Highland Way is at Gordon Square in the centre of Fort William.  Most folks walk this trail in six to ten days.  By the way, there are organizations called AMS Scotland and Travel Lite which will carry and deliver your packs and luggage as you make your way along the West Highland Way.  The Great Glen Way is a 73-mile trail from Fort William to Inverness.  This trail is also usually walked from south to north and divided into six daily sections.  On this trail you will pass Spean Bridge, Inverlochy Castle, Urquhart Castle, Ben Nevis, Fort Augustus, and the Caledonian Canal, to name a few high spots.  The Speyside Way is another long-distance trail in the Highlands that links the Cairngorms with the sea at Buckpool.  It tends to follow the River Spey, and is 65 miles long.  As well, it has two spurs off the main route which will take you into Tomintoul and Dufftown.  This trail is also usually done in six sections, and it is up for debate whether you should start at the east or the west trailheads.  The Coast to Coast Walk stretches 128 miles and runs from Oban to St Andrews.  This trail is not waymarked, so you will need a guidebook to make this journey, which generally takes about ten days.

If long-distance walking trails are not for you, don’t despair.  You can enjoy an absolute plethora of walking trails all throughout the Highlands, offering varying degrees of difficulty, duration, and length.  One of the best places to find walking trails is through the Forestry Commission.  They have put out some fantastic, free pamphlets outlining the walking trails which they maintain, and they are grouped by region.  These trails are anything from flat land and short circuits, some as quick and easy as 45 minutes or so, all the way to several miles through upland and hills.  Forestry Commission walks are designated with different key symbols so you know just what to expect—whether all you need is sensible footwear or waterproof boots; whether the walk is easy, moderate, or difficult; whether there are picnic facilities along the way; and whether there are information kiosks, viewpoints, nearby parking, and toilets nearby to the trailhead.  These walks are spectacular year round and good for families as well as individuals.  Off the beaten path, you will enjoy well-maintained trails and excellent vistas.  Most forests will have more than one walking trail, and as the majority of these trails are 5 miles or less in distance, they are perfect for an afternoon or perhaps and early morning walk.

Walk Highlands is an organization which provides all kinds of trail information as well as guided holidays, recommendations for gear, and tourist information by region.  They provide detailed descriptions of walks throughout the Highlands, including distance, approximate duration, and levels of difficulty.  This is a great resource for serious walkers and beginners alike and will provide you with loads of inspiration in planning your Highland walking trail adventures. 

Walking and climbing holidays are very popular in the Scottish Highlands, and there are plenty of tour operators and guiding services to provide you with that special Highland walking holiday.  CNDo Scotland runs out of Stirling but specializes in walking tours of the Scottish Highlands.  You will be provided with an expert guide as you go along with a small group of like-minded travelers.  Food and accommodation are arranged for you when you book a walking tour through this organization.  Contours Walking Holidays organize self-guided walking holidays along the best known trails throughout the Highlands.  This is perfect if you want to experience the walk but are less sure about all the planning and organizing.  Footpath Holidays offer guided and self-guided walking holidays of any duration all throughout the Scottish Highlands.  Osprey Adventures provide all levels of walking holidays, all durations and distances, to suit your individual experience and skill.  They operate throughout the entire Highland region. 

Right to Roam legislation was passed in Scotland in 2003.  This gives people access to most land and inland water throughout Scotland.  However, it is imperative that folks taking advantage of this respect people’s safety, privacy, and livelihoods.  It is especially important to take care when crossing fields of animals, and when opening and more importantly closing gates.  There is a 136-page Outdoor Access Code for Scotland, available as a PDF, which is worth getting before you set off on your walking adventures.  Courtesy, consideration, and awareness are the key words when walking through the Scottish Highlands and taking advantage of “right to roam.” 

When you are hitting the Highland walking trails, it is also important to keep in mind the fact that Scotland’s weather changes constantly and rapidly.  Be prepared.  Obtain a weather forecast before you head off on any trail, and leave word with someone about where you intend to walk.  Choose a walking trail appropriate to your skill level.  Be sure you are wearing warm, wind- and waterproof clothing.  It is not likely you will be too hot when walking through the Highlands, whatever the time of year.  It will get colder and windier the higher you go, too.  Always take a map and a compass.  Ordinance Survey Maps are the best for this, and they should have all walking trails marked on them.  Be sure you have good, firm footwear, and bring safety gear such as a torch, first aid kit, and a whistle.  Emergency signals are six flashes with a torch and / or six blasts on a whistle.  Take plenty of high energy foods and ample drinks.  Take hot drinks if you can for cold, wet weather.  If you are prepared, then you can enjoy the diversity of Scotland’s Highland region without worrying about the weather.  It will change and may go through everything from warm and sunny to cold and snowy in a single day, on a single walking trail.

Whatever you hope to experience on the walking trails of the Scottish Highlands, you are sure to be delighted with the variety and the scenery.  Good guidebooks and local trail maps are available all over the Scottish Highlands.  Whether you want the thrill of a long-distance walk on a world-famous walking trail or a leisurely sightseeing ramble through the woods, you can find it here in the Scottish Highlands.  Get your gear, good boots, and a map and head on out into the wilds of the Scottish Highlands on one of the thousands of excellent walking trails available today!