When it comes to stunning scenery, the West Highlands offers some of the best in Britain. Dramatic mountain ranges, idyllic lochs and stunning panoramic views are aplenty. It’s of no surprise then that one of the busiest long distance trails in Britain passes right through it.
Some 30,000 people from across the world descend on Scotland every year to walk the West Highland Way, which takes walkers on a scenic tour through this stunning landscape; its popularity helped by the fact that the whole trail can be walked in a week.
So what are you waiting for? Get those hiking boots ready and get planning your trip!
Inside This Guide
- What is the walk like?
- Route Map
- Planning an itinerary
- Extending Your Walk
- Finding and booking accommodation
- Getting to/from the West Highland Way
- Guide books and maps
- And finally, and any questions
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The West Highland Way is 96 mile walk through some of the finest scenery Britain has to offer. It follows a mixture of drovers tracks, and old military and coaching roads, and heads along lochs, through forests and up hills.
The trail is usually in good condition and not particularly difficult, although there are some big hills and steep climbs. What climbs there are, regularly are rewarded with some stunning views. Don’t forget your camera as you’ll come back with a memory card full of amazing shots.
At the southern end of the trail is Milngavie, a commuter town near Glasgow, but don’t let that put you off as you’re quickly out of the town and into the countryside. At the northern end, the West Highland Way terminates with Ben Nevis nearby, in the bustling but relatively remote Highland town of Fort William.
Its popularity does mean that you will see a lot of people on the trail during the summer months, and from across the globe. If you want a walk that has peace and tranquillity, this is not the one. However with all those visitors come great facilities with plenty of B&Bs, hostels and more.
If you’d like to know more, you can browse an online map of the route.
You can see the route of the West Highland Way using the map above. Using the controls you can scroll around, zoom in and explore the route. Note that this map is a guide only, and should not be used for navigation.
As with any walk, a key decision is which direction you walk in. Most West Highland Way walkers travel south to north, keeping the sun out of the eyes. This has another benefit too. Those going north to south will inevitably end up having to greet a lot of fellow walkers going in the opposite direction! The southern end is also easier to reach by public transport, and the journey back from Fort William by train is stunning way to celebrate your walk.
The West Highland Way is often split into seven or eight days, although it is possible to walk faster. Both seven and eight day itineraries are given below. Each of the locations have accommodation, pub and shop unless otherwise noted and take roughly a day to cover. Locations with a railway station are marked with a *.
7 Day Itinerary
|5||Tyndrum *||King’s House||18½||29¾|||
|7||Kinlochleven||Fort William *||15||24¼|
- No shop
- No nearby facilities. See Alternative accommodation near King’s House for more information
8 Day Itinerary
|5||Tyndrum *||Bridge of Orchy or Inveroran||6½ or 8½||10½ or 13¾|||
|6||Bridge of Orchy or Inveroran||King’s House||11½ or 9½||18½ or 15¼|||
|8||Kinlochleven||Fort William *||15||24¼|
- No shop
- No nearby facilities. See Alternative accommodation near King’s House for more information
When to walk
Its location and the high ground means that the West Highland Way is best walked between April and October. Before that you can expect snow and very difficult conditions. Late spring is an especially good time to walk if you want to avoid the dreaded midges who reside in the area.
Breaking the walk up for several trips
Unless you live in or relatively close to the West Highlands, the trail is a difficult one to split up. Not because there aren’t ways to do it, but because train travel takes so long to get anywhere.
That said, there are train stations at Crianlarich, Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum which are on or close to the trail. At the top of Loch Lomond, two miles before Inverarnan, a ferry runs to the opposite side of the loch near Ardlui station. All the stations are on the West Highland Line which runs between Glasgow and Fort William (and then up to Mallaig.)
If one week of walking isn’t enough for you, the West Highland Way connects at Fort William with both the Great Glen Way to Inverness, and the East Highland Way to Aviemore.
Also at Fort William is Ben Nevis, the UK’s largest mountain which will take a day to climb. The paths up Ben Nevis are good, and it’s not a massively difficult climb; just a long one. Be prepared for snow at the top, even in the summer, and to get up there and find the summit covered in cloud!
The popularity of the West Highland Way means that there’s generally plenty of places to stay. That said, it can be busy so it’s worth booking if you want to be sure of a bed. The official website contains details of accommodation providers on or near the route, although not in the most user friendly format. It also lists companies who will book everything for you.
It’s not an exhaustive list, but reasonably comprehensive. You may find alternative sources by searching the old internet.
The stage ending at the King’s House Hotel is the most challenging for finding accommodation. Whilst the hotel has 22 bedrooms and a campsite, if they are booked up then there is nowhere else nearby, and you will need to use public transport. Scottish Citylink coaches stop at the nearby Glencoe Ski Centre. There’s no bus stop – just keep your eyes open for the coach, and stick your arm out. Coaches run every two hours, seven days a week. Alternatively, if you pop to the King’s House hotel, you can contact a local taxi.
The coaches head south to Tyndrum, or north to Glencoe. Glencoe is the closest and is a stunning twenty minute ride down this amazingly beautiful part of the world.
There’s several hotels and B&Bs in Glencoe village, and neighbouring Ballachulish (also on the coach route.)
There is also accommodation at the SYHA Glencoe, Glencoe Independent Hostel and the fantastic Clachaig Inn which has a famous climbers bar. These are not in the village, and require some walking when you get off the coach as they are on a road that runs parallel to the main A82.
For the Clachaig, you need to alight the bus at the road that turns off at Achnambeithach (at the western end of Achtiochtan.) It’s a well known pub, signposted from the road, and the chances are that the driver will know where you mean. The pub is a half mile walk from the junction with the A82.
For the two hostels you have a choice – you can either alight as per the Clachaig – the hostels are a mile further up the road. Alternatively you can walk from Glencoe village – this is a mile and a half from the village. The Clachaig is the nearest pub to both hostels (although the SYHA is licensed and does some meals.)
The following morning you simply need to retrace your steps back to King’s House on the coach (or taxi.)
Hostels and bunkhouses
The West Highland Way is pretty well served if you’re looking for cheaper accommodation. There are hostels and bunkhouses at the following locations on or near the trail. Note that some of the independent ones can be small.
- Kip in the Kirk, Drymen – B&B in the village, which has an eight person shared bunk room.
- Balmaha House, Balmaha – independent bunk house and B&B, in the village of Balmaha which is roughly half way between Drymen and Rowardennan.
- Rowardennan Hotel, Rowardennan – Hotel with a small number of bunk rooms, pretty much on the trail.
- SYHA Rowardennan Lodge, Rowardennan – large hostel just outside Rowardennan, and very close to the trail.
- Inversnaid Bunkhouse, Inversnaid – bunkhouse, about a half mile from the trail.
- SYHA Crianlarich, Crianlarich – SYHA hostel in the village.
- By the Way Hostel, Tyndrum – medium sized, comfortable hostel in Tyndrum, at the mid point of the trail.
- West Highland Way Sleeper, Bridge of Orchy – independent hostel on the platforms of Bridge of Orchy station
- SYHA Glencoe, Glencoe. A coach ride away from King’s House.
- Glencoe Independent Hostel, Glencoe – virtually next door to Glencoe SYHA is this independent hostel.
- Blackwater Hostel, Kinlochleven – large independent hostel, right next to the West Highland Way.
- Fort William Backpackers, Fort William – independent hostel in Fort William, close to the railway station.
- Achintee Farm, Glen Nevis – hostel and B&B at the foot of Ben Nevis, so is a walk from Fort William.
- Glen Nevis SYHA, Glen Nevis – SYHA hostel also near the foot of Ben Nevis.
There are many campsites on the West Highland Way, and several of hotels and pubs also allow camping, such as the remote Kings House Hotel. You can find a list of campsites on the official West Highland Way website.
You can wild camp on most of the route as long as you follow the Scottish Outdoors Access Code. There’s plenty of water sources. Note however that on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, there are by-laws which are active between March and October. These ban wild camping along most of the eastern side.
As the West Highland Way goes through a rather remote part of Scotland, transport links are limited. However there are train services at each end of the route, and also intercity coaches.
At the southern end, Milngavie has frequent rail services to Glasgow, which is less than 25 minutes away. Monday to Saturday, there are four trains an hour, two of which extend to Edinburgh. Note that the Edinburgh services depart from Glasgow Central, whilst other services depart from Glasgow Queen Street. The two stations are a ten minute walk apart. There are also bus services, from Glasgow Buchanan Bus Station.
Services at Fort William are less frequent, with just three or four trains running to and from Glasgow, with a journey time of just short of four hours. It may be a long journey, however this is a fantastic journey through some stunning countryside, much of it near the West Highland Way.
Indeed the West Highland Line is perhaps best viewed with a whisky in your hand from the lounge car of the evening service that runs from Fort William – the Caledonian Sleeper. Six days a week the sleeper connects Fort William with Crewe, Preston and London, and is a fantastic way to travel. There are sleeper berths, and a seated carriage. The service also runs as a local stopping service, allowing passengers to travel to/from Glasgow and Edinburgh without a reservation, in addition to the normal daytime trains.
Along the trail there are also stations at Crianlarich, Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum which are on or close to the trail. At the top of Loch Lomond, two miles before Inverarnan, a ferry runs to the opposite side of the loch near Ardlui station. All are on the West Highland Line as well.
Scottish CityLink also run coaches from Glasgow, connecting Fort William, Kingshouse, Crianlarich, Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum. These are more frequent, running every 1-2 hours.
Thanks to its popularity, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to guide books for the West Highland Way. We can’t feature them all here, so we’ll highlight the following based on our experiences. Note that in 2011 the walk was extended with a new ending in the centre of Fort William. Some older books and maps will show the original ending of the trail at the Bridge of Nevis – near a roundabout on the edge of town.
The West Highland Way: The Official Guide has been in print in various versions since the year the route opened in 1980. The most recent edition was published in 2013 so is well up to date. The book comes with a strip map of the whole route, using Harvey’s 1:40,000 scape mapping.
Also highly recommended is Aurum Press’s West Highland Way by Anthony Burton. We’re big fans of Aurum’s guide books here at Rambling Man because they’re generally well written and easy to follow. And they have a huge benefit over the competition because they include Ordnance Survey mapping at the 1:25,000 scale (the same scale as the OS Explorer maps.) This is a huge boon as you get the best scale of maps on the market, and all in a handy book format.
Very useful for planning your trip will be the Trailblazer’s Buy from Amazon guide. These books contain extensive, and regularly re-published, guides to accommodation and facilities on, and near, the trail. They do also come with walking instructions, and hand drawn maps which some people rate very highly, although our own personal preference is to always have a proper map with you.
If you’d prefer a map, then the Harveys publish a West Highland Way strip map, at their bespoke 1:40,000 scale mapping.
Alternatively if you are one of those people who likes to carry a stack of OS maps around with you, to walk the West Highland Way you’ll need the maps noted below. Note that in 2015 the Ordnance Survey renumbered some of their maps. Where there has been a change, the old map numbers are shown in brackets.
- Landranger (1:50,000): 41, 50, 56, 57, 64
- Explorer (1:25,000): 342, OL38 (347), 348, OL39 (364), 377, 384, 385, 392
The West Highland Way is one of the most popular walking routes in the UK, and not surprising either. It’s combination of classic, dramatic scenery sees thousands of people flock to this corner of Scotland every year.
Because of that, you’ll probably never be really alone, despite being in one of the more remoter parts of the country. But despite that, the rewards are plentiful. Just make sure you take some midge repellent – those pesky critters get everywhere!
If you’ve any questions or comments about the West Highland Way, pop them in the box below.
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