15 Top-Rated Day Hikes in Scotland

A tingle of excitement gripped my spine when I was asked to write this post, followed almost as quickly by a sense of dread. How on Earth, when dealing with a country as naturally-blessed as Scotland, do you narrow the list down to just 15? Just.. ummm.. how?

There are simply not enough delightful adjectives in the English language to describe the rugged splendor that is Scotland. From the far reaches of the remote Scottish Highlands, to the gateway hills of the Central Lowlands, Scotland really is just one great big hiking playground. So for this list, I have taken some of the famous, must-see sights and combined them with day hikes that no one outside of Scotland is likely to know.

But before we delve into this list, we need to have a wee look at some Scottish hiking terminology, so you dinnae get lost. The Scots call a mountain over 3,000 feet a munro, while the act of trying to climb all 282 of them is munro-bagging. Anything between 2,500 – 2,999 feet in elevation is a Corbett. Got that? Good. Moan fer a wee look!

1. Quiraing Hill Circuit

This is the quintessential Scottish walk (and the featured photo for this article), situated on the remote northern coastline of the Isle of Skye, and a must-visit for any landscape photographer traveling to Scotland. You will be gasping with delight right from the car park of this 3-hour looped-hike, as you wander past cliffs and plateaus, the remnants of a 15,000-year-old landslide.

Do not be fooled by the short length of this hike. It begins easily enough, but there are some steep sections, some of which can be typically boggy, while there are sections with big drops next to the path, which can be hazardous in particularly windy conditions, or where visibility is limited.

The Isle of Skye is breathtakingly-beautiful, so base yourself there for a few days. Then pick a sunny day to do this walk. It is worth it, with awe-inspiring views across Staffin Bay and over the Torridon Mountains.

Length: 4 miles

How Hard? Moderate

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/Quiraing/

2. The Fisherfield Six

Full disclosure: this hike is often done over two days, with a wee bit of wild camping in the middle, which is an awesome thing to do; but for the addition to this list, we salute the legends and the foolishly-brave, who undertake this gargantuan hike in one full day.

Also known as the Fisherfields Round, this 18.25-mile hike takes in five munros and a corbett, meaning you can bag Bein a Chlaidheimh, Sgurr Ban, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Beinn Tarsuinn, A’Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mo in one day. Now go and shout that on the street if you want people to think you have gone mad.

The Fisherfield Six actually lost one of its munros, when poor old Bein a Chlaidheimh was downgraded to a corbett after being more-accurately measured.

The demonic walkers among you (you know who you are) can expect to complete this day-hike in 12 hours-or-so. If you are like me and take six million photos, and tend to drag- the-chain a bit, then allow yourselves a good 18 hours.

There is so much to say about these famously-remote mountains that I haven’t said anything at all of their beauty. Go and see for yourselves. And let me know what you think. You won’t regret it.

Length: 18.25 miles

How Hard? Very difficult

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/The+Fisherfields+Round,

3. Beinn a’Chrulaiste

The view across to a cloud-shrouded Buachaille Etive Mor from Beinn a’Chrulaiste..

You are not climbing the prettiest chunk of rock in the galaxy, but what you are doing is giving yourself the best possible vantage point of its flashy, pyramidal neighbor, Buachaille Etive Mor (do not ask me how to pronounce that properly).

It is like what a friend from New York told me when I visited the Big Apple: Go up the Rockefeller Building.. why? Well, because you can’t see The Empire State building when you are standing on top of it.

The wondrously-triangular mountain is made more spectacular by its stand-alone situation, while intermittent patches of still water give the opportunity to capture that perfect reflection of a near-perfect mass of land. It really is that beautiful.

The rise of Beinn a’Chrulaiste stretches 2,812 feet into the air, making it a what? Yes, that’s right. A corbett. Well done.

You are going to be asked to climb 2,140 of those feet on this 5-hour hike. But you are going to be spoiled pretty much from the word go, so add this one to your bucket list.

The path joins a section of the West Highland Way – the epic 96-mile cross-country trail from Milngavie to Fort William. Maybe I should ask the boss if I can do a 5 Best Multi-Day Hikes in Scotland article. What do you reckon?

Length: 7 miles

How Hard? Moderate

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/Beinn+a’Chrulaiste/

4. Ben Nevis (CMD Arete)

Being the largest and most famous of all the peaks in the British Isles, you would expect Ben Nevis to feature somewhere on this list. However, I give no free passes, and this is not the traditional tourist route that is ‘climbed’ by about 150,000 people every year.

This is Ben Nevis via the Carn Mor Dearg Arete, involving an exhausting 4,940-foot vertical climb, before a long traverse of the arete. It is for serious and experienced hikers only, but it has been described as the finest way to climb Ben Nevis.

I just have this little warning about hiking in Scotland in winter. This is not a climb to be taken lightly at any time of the year, let alone winter. People die every year on Ben Nevis, and it is usually people that have absolutely no business being on a mountain in the first place. An ice axe and crampons are essential for most Scottish munros (remember what they are?) during the winter months.

That being said, this is truly a spectacular hike, and if you have the know-how and the gear, then this is a highly rewarding climb and well worth the effort. Allow at least 11 hours from start to finish.

Extra incentive: The Carn Mor Dearg Arete is considered a munro in its own right. You wouldn’t bag a double. Would you?

Length: 11 miles

How Hard? Difficult

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/Ben+Nevis/

5. Beinn Alligin

Drone shot of Beinn Alligin reflecting in Upper Loch Torridon..    Photo by Katherine Fotheringham of Fox in the Snow Photography

If this list called for only 3 hikes, I dare say Beinn Alligin would find itself sitting comfortably in there. It is one of the most dramatic walks in the Scottish Highlands, and it is possible to see all the way to the Isle of Skye if the weather is kind.

It is listed as difficult, but only because there is an optional scramble up ‘the horns’ when you reach the top. The scramble itself is not particularly challenging, but is not for people who suffer from vertigo.

You will bag another two munros on this 3,640-foot ascent (Sgurr Mor and Tom na Gruagaich), while the views over the lochs, valleys and Torridon Hills make this an epic day out.

The path is steep but well-constructed and is on the easier side of difficult. If you know what I mean. You should still budget for 7 – 8 hours from start to finish of this stunning looped walk. Because let’s be honest, you are going to want a lot of photo breaks.

Length: 6.25 miles

How Hard? Difficult

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/Beinn+Alligin/

6. Schiehallion

Seen from the shores of Loch Rannoch, Schiehallion takes on the shape of a glorious pyramidal rise, with a cone-like curve at the top giving it a volcano-like appearance.

If history is your thing, the mountain was involved in a unique experiment in 1774 to determine the weight of the world. It seems the regular shape and isolated position of the mountain made it the perfect candidate for science and stuff.

Nowadays it is a steady 2,400-foot climb to the summit (3,553 feet) over a well-worn trail, likely to take between 5-6 hours on a clear summer’s day, when you can see all the way to Ben Nevis.

Just to reiterate quickly about Scottish weather in winter. I climbed this with my dad and brother in the winter of 2013, and we climbed into a cloud. It became bitterly cold on the summit, and very uncomfortable. On the way down the visibility dropped, so that seeing your own hand in front of you became a challenge. I was very happy to have my old man there, a very experienced hill walker with navigational skills. Do not undertake any of these mountain hikes in winter lightly!

Length: 6.25 miles

How Hard? Moderate

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/Schiehallion/

7. Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle

Not even a half-hour drive from Aberdeen is the little town of Stonehaven. Ditch the car, find the coastal track and wander along until the mystical medieval frame of Dunnottar Castle comes into view for the first time. Perched on a patch of land separated from the mainland, and now barely-joined by a land bridge, the great miracle is that there is anything there at all.

Follow the coastal cliffs around and explore the pristine beaches, and if you are lucky enough, spot sea lions, dolphins or whales. There is a coastal track that carries on past the castle, and I would highly recommend continuing around the cove to gain impressive views of the castle from across the bay, and from an entirely new perspective.

If you have it in you (and are not scared of the cold), get up early and get here for sunrise. You will be well rewarded as the sun kisses the cliffs and lights up Dunnottar Castle for the first time.

Length: 3.8 miles

How Hard? Easy

Trail Location: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Dunnottar+Castle/

The mystical Dunnottar Castle

8. Ben Vorlich & Stuc a Chroin

These two munros appear on the southern fringes of the Scottish Highlands, and as such are some of the most commonly-sighted mountains in all of Scotland. Ben Vorlich (meaning ‘Hill by the Bay’ in Gaelic) and Stuc a Chroin (the fascinatingly-named ‘Peak of Harm or Danger’) sit side-by-side and are often climbed as a double by munro-baggers as part of a large day, where you are required to climb about 3,750 vertical feet to summit both mountains.

The climb begins at Loch Earn, and you are immediately rewarded with gorgeous loch-and-mountain views in a stunning 270-degree panorama. In front of you there are no false summits, as the daunting mass of Ben Vorlich climbs into the sky.

There is nothing too difficult about the long climb over a well-worn trekker track, but some scrambling will be required over a fairly steep section as you come down from Stuc a Chroin. A great day out – allow at least 7 hours for both peaks in the summer months (longer in winter).

Length: 9 miles

How Hard? Moderate to Difficult (moderate if you do not climb Stuc a Chroin)

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/Ben+Vorlich/

My father, Gavin Alexander, and I, on the summit of Ben Vorlich in January, 2019, on a bitterly cold day..

9. Ben Lomond

It is fairly easy to correlate Ben Lomond’s popularity – 30,000 people climb the mountain each year – with its close proximity to Glasgow. But the jewel of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park would attract this interest, even if it was on the moon.

With sensational views over the aforementioned loch, and with the Trossachs sitting to the east, this 3,250-foot climb is still a good challenge, particularly when lined with snow during the winter months.

The path is rocky but easily negotiated, and there is a harder return option if you desire it.

Length: 7.5 miles

How Hard? Moderate

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/Ben+Lomond/

10. The Saddle

If you love a bit of scrambling, then you have come to the right place. When the path divides into two, head directly up the Forcan Ridge. Although not too difficult at first, as you near the top the going gets tougher, and you can feel a little exposed at times. Regardless of your experience, I would consider giving this one a miss in particularly bad weather, or even if the wind is blowing.

It is another day-hike where you bag another two munros, the first being Sgurr na Sgine, which you gain after completing the scramble, or by taking the longer way around the ridge. You have now climbed to 3,100 feet, leaving you a little over 200 vertical feet to climb. You will ascend a total of 4,400 feet during the course of the day, so it is not easy by any stretch of the imagination.

The hardest part of the hike – the bad step – should only be attempted by experienced hikers as it will involve a bit of maneuvering with both hands and feet, but do not fear. This part can be avoided on your way to summit The Saddle. If you avoid Forcan Ridge and the bad step, this hike can be classed as being of moderate difficulty.

Length: 8.25 miles

How Hard? Difficult (if attempting Forcan Ridge and bad step)

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/The+Saddle/

11. Stac Pollaidh

Sunrise view from Stac Pollaidh

This gigantic, fascinating chunk of rock is one of the most striking natural landmarks in north-west Scotland. The famous lump looks as though a stegosaurus has laid down for a nap, with spiky stacks forming the ridged-top of the mountain.

The track is a short loop, but the climb up the ridge is steep and the trail does not go up to the summit. This involves a pretty tricky scramble over some dodgy terrain. It is best left to people with scrambling experience to stray off the path.

Be on the look-out. It is possible to spot the top predator in the Scottish countryside here, the golden eagle, while red deer can also be seen gracing the flatter, grassy areas.

Although short, the trail around Stac Pollaidh gains about 1,670 feet in elevation in a very short space of time, so get those lungs sucking in the big ones and you will be alright!

Length: 2.75 miles

How Hard? Moderate

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/Stac+Pollaidh/

12. Mayar & Driesh, Cairngorms

Double munro-­baggers, give me your ears! Tucked away on the south-eastern side of the Cairngorms are the dual peaks, affording sweeping views of old glaciated u-shaped valleys.

The path is well-defined and easily-followed, while the 2,740-foot vertical climb will not throw anything too tough at you. A wonderful day in the Scottish Highlands.

Length: 9 miles

How Hard? Moderate

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/Driesh/

13. Ochil Hills

Many of the purists will scoff at the notion that the Ochil Hills could make this list. It is not in the Highlands and the highest point is flat and wouldn’t even be classed as a corbett.

There is, however, something magical and grand about these almost fist-shaped hills that rise steeply from the edge of Stirling, and then roll away gracefully to the horizon. It is not just the Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle in the foreground, sitting atop their own respective mounds, or the way the thistle and heather-covered slopes change color as the sun moves across the sky, or the hundreds of different trails of varying degrees of difficulty to choose from; or the fact that you can walk out of a small city and disappear into nature. But rather a combination of everything.

The Ochil Hills are the perfect training ground before heading into the Highlands. And you can get there in less than an hour from either Glasgow or Edinburgh. Stay a few days. I know you will love it.

Length: Various

How Hard? Easy to Difficult

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/Dumyat/

The rolling Ochil Hills from Stirling, a hikers playground..

14. The Cobbler

A.K.A Ben Arthur, this close neighbor of Ben Lomond is another hugely popular walk on the footsteps of Glasgow. Although only a corbett, the mountain will make you ascend over 3,000 feet to reach the summit, and there are some steep, rocky sections on the trail.

Length: 7 miles

How Hard? Moderate

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/The+Cobbler/

15. The Old Man of Hoy

It is time to go remote! Take the ferry across to the Isle of Hoy in the far reaches of Northern Scotland, to visit the Old Man of Hoy, the largest sea stack in the United Kingdom.

This hike doesn’t require anything crazy in the way of exertion, with a steady uphill climb out of Rackwick taking you up just 700 feet in elevation. Gawk at some of the highest and most spectacular cliffs in Britain as you follow the well-worn trail until you reach the giant red sandstone stack.

After you have seen enough, turn around and head back the way you have come, taking about three complete hours of walking for the return journey to Rackwick.

Length: 5.75 miles

How Hard? Easy to moderate

Trail Location: google.com/maps/place/Old+Man+of+Hoy/

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