6 Great Hikes That Showcase Scotland’s Dramatic Scenery

Scotland’s scenic terrain is full of hiking opportunities for all levels, with rewarding views that have inspired folklore and famous poems.

6 Great Hikes That Showcase Scotland’s Dramatic Scenery

Roam Scotland, a land of peaks, valleys, and bothies.

Photo by Neil Williamson

Scotland is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. The wild landscapes are shrouded in history and mythology and offer some of the best hiking opportunities in Europe—from rugged coastal cliffs to green hillsides. It’s no coincidence that Scottish landscapes have inspired countless poems and folklore tales.

An adventure-friendly country, Scotland offers many resources to help nature lovers access the outdoors. One of the country’s perks is the network of “bothies,” or mountain shelters, maintained for “the benefit of all who love wild and lonely places”—as per the mission statement of the Mountain Bothies Association. These charming albeit basic shelters are free for hikers to camp in and are a great way for outdoor enthusiasts to explore the wilderness.

You can’t book a bothy, and there’s no way to know how many other hikers you’ll be sharing with—but that’s all part of the fun. Regardless of whether a bothy is empty or a full house, be prepared to share with others if you go. Consult the Mountain Bothies Association for more information and read up on the bothy code to ensure respectful use of the shelters.

The Scottish outdoors can be harsh. The weather can turn quickly, and it is possible to become lost if you wander off-trail. It’s important to be prepared with adequate equipment and information before heading out. Walk Highlands is a useful resource to consult. But with that in mind, here are six appealing hikes to discover that will showcase why Scottish landscapes are some of the world’s most striking.

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Hiking the Ben Vrackie trail offers plenty of moments of solitude.

Photo by Neil Williamson

Pitlochry-Ben Vrackie summit

  • Effort: Moderate-Difficult
  • Distance: 6.25 miles
  • Ascent: 2,582 feet
  • Go for: A sample of the Highlands a stone’s throw from the city
  • Walking guide

This walk is an accessible taste of the Highlands for those a little short on time. The journey to Pitlochry is worth it alone for the short but scenic train ride from either Glasgow or Edinburgh that meanders through the Lowlands before crossing the Highland boundary. The trail’s beginning is a pleasant walk from Pitlochry’s charming town center and takes you across marshy heather moorlands that are burgeoning with purple blooms in the summertime.
After a steep ascent up Ben Vrackie, you’ll be met with sweeping views of the Cairngorms (providing the weather is decent). Returning to Pitlochry, you’ll pass by the historic Moulin Inn on your way back to town—a perfect opportunity to stop for a posthike pint (as is Scottish custom!). At the Moulin, you can sample its house-brewed ales while admiring the view of the mountain you’ve just conquered.

Loch Muick Circuit with a stop at Glas-Allt-Shiel

  • Effort: Easy-Moderate
  • Distance: 7.75 miles
  • Ascent: 558 feet
  • Go for: The 19th-century lodge that was Queen Victoria’s hideaway while grieving her late husband
  • Walking guide

This walk around the beautiful Loch Muick takes you past the remote Glas-Allt-Shiel lodge—built by Queen Victoria as part of the Royal-owned Balmoral Estate. Perched on the crystalline waters of the lake, the historic lodge is a picturesque stop on the circuit (and still in use by the Royal Family today). From the lodge, experienced hikers can modify the trail to include an ascent of Lochnagar for magnificent views over the lake and the surroundings.
The more leisurely Loch Muick Circuit will take you through verdant woodlands, and it offers views of the very same scenery that was immortalized in poems by Lord Byron. The trailhead is located approximately 1.5 hours by car from either Aberdeen or Aviemore.

Schiehallion

  • Effort: Moderate-Difficult
  • Distance: 6.25 miles
  • Ascent: 2,398 feet
  • Go for: Some of the most expansive views of Scotland
  • Walking guide

The name Schiehallion translates to “Fairy Hill of the Caledonians”—and this prominent Munro in Perthshire is just as mystical as the name suggests. A “Munro” is any Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet, and the Scots refer to summiting one as “bagging a Munro.” Schiehallion is shrouded in myth and legend, known in folklore as a supernatural gateway to the underworld.

Due to its location in the heart of the country, Schiehallion is notable for the extensive views it offers from its summit. It’s one of the easier Munros to climb, so tackling this trail means you can lay claim to having bagged a Munro, as well as see Scotland from one of the best vantage points in the country.

Lost Valley Trail

  • Effort: Moderate-Difficult
  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Ascent: 1,100 feet
  • Go for: A taste of the wild west coast and Scottish clan history
  • Walking guide

Albeit a moderate challenge, this track is full of history and dramatic scenery. The trail begins with a view of the iconic Three Sisters landmark—a group of steeply sided ridges in the mountain face. The walk will lead you through wild glens and over rolling green hills.
You’ll cross rivers and walk between great rock walls, and reach vantage points that illustrate why the West Highlands has a reputation as one of the wildest and prettiest parts of the country. The trail ends at the Lost Valley, a historic site steeped in MacDonald clan history. The lovely town of Glencoe is half an hour from Fort William, and the trailhead is six miles from the town.

The Old Man of Storr Circuit

  • Effort: Easy
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Ascent: 1,115 feet
  • Go for: Iconic rock formations and memorable coastal views
  • Walking guide

This short walk on the Isle of Skye takes you up close to some of the most iconic landmarks on the island. You’ll see the toothed rock formations of the Cliffs of Storr and the unmissable pinnacle of rock known as the Old Man. After an ascent behind the rocks, you’ll enjoy epic views over the sea and Scottish isles. The trail is a short drive from the town of Portree, Skye’s capital, and reachable by public transport from there.

Ben Nevis

  • Effort: Moderate-Difficult
  • Distance: 10.5 miles
  • Ascent: 4,436 feet
  • Go for: Completing one of the most iconic hikes in the U.K.
  • Walking guide

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Britain and one of the most iconic walks in the United Kingdom. Located on the west coast of Scotland, this bucket-list item is a great addition to your itinerary if you plan on visiting Loch Ness. The ascent up this ancient (now inactive) volcano will take you through a rugged hillside filled with botanical life.
Once at the summit, you’ll find the remains of a historic observatory, as well as views that extend as far as Northern Ireland on a good day. The trail starts near the country’s outdoor capital of Fort William, which offers public transport to the trailhead between May and September.

> Next: 17 Epic Hikes Around the World

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