The West Highland Way is Scotland’s oldest official long distance walking route. It stretches from Milngavie near Glasgow to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis. The West Highland Way goes through some of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery which explains why the route is so popular among outdoor enthusiasts.
Kenny and I hiked the West Highland Way in June 2016 (for our honey moon!). Despite the weather being pretty “typical Scottish” (i.e. it rained every day) we had an amazing time and met many super friendly people on the trail. Hiking the West Highland Way was a great way to relax, get back to basics and enjoy the simplicity of the great outdoors after a pretty full on wedding weekend.
In this post I’m sharing tips and advice to help you plan your West Highland Way hiking trip. If you still have questions after reading through the article, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Hiking the West Highland Way: fact sheet
- Start: Milngavie (near Glasgow)
- Finish: Fort William (the outdoor capital of Scotland)
- Distance: 154 km (96 miles)
- Duration: on average it takes hikers 6-7 days to complete the route but it is of course possible to do it faster (the record is 13hr 41min!) if you are looking for a challenge
- Difficulty level: easy to intermediate (manageable hills, waymarked route)
- Road surface: a mix between roads and trails
- Accommodation: plenty of B&B, hostel and camping options available
- Water/food availability: grocery stores and pubs along the way
The West Highland Way route overview
The West Highland Way starts in Milngavie near Glasgow and ends in Fort William. Most people complete the route from South to North. This is because the southern section is mostly flat so most people prefer to start with this easier section as a warm-up for the hillier highlands section in the North. But it is also possible to hike it in the opposite direction.
The landscape on the West Highland Way is very diverse. It includes loch shores, open moorland, hills, cow fields, quite country roads and forest paths. The route follows the length of Loch Lomond in the south before heading into the mountainous (and spectacular) Scottish Highlands.
How long does it take to hike the West Highland Way?
It really depends on what type of experience you are looking for. If you want to enjoy the hike at a leisurely pace with plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, I would suggest a 6-7 days itinerary. If you are looking to challenge yourself you could attempt to complete the route in 3-4 days or you could even plan to run it (the record time stands at 13 hours, 41 minutes in case you want to attempt to break it).
This was our itinerary:
- Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen (19 km / 12 miles)
- Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan (23 km / 14 miles)
- Day 3: Rowardennan to Crianlarich (33km / 20 miles)
- Day 4: Crianlarich to Inveroran (24km / 15 miles)
- Day 5: Inveroran to Kinloch Leaven (31km / 19 miles)
- Day 6: Kinloch Leaven to Fort William (24km / 16 miles)
What navigation skills are required to hike the West Highland Way?
The route is waymarked along its entire length which makes navigation very straightforward. We did have a map and compass with us just in case but we did not end up needing them.
However, I would always recommend that you do take a GPS or map and compass with you to assist with navigation in case you miss a marker and accidentally get off the trail. This is especially important if you are planning to hike the trail during the winter.
How can you get to the start of the West Highland Way?
There are plenty of public transport options to reach the start of the West Highland Way. Milngavie can be reached easily from Glasgow by train or bus. From Fort William there are plenty of train and bus services to Glasgow or back to Milngavie.
We drove to Milngavie, parked the car near the train station and then took the train back from Fort William to Milngavie after completing the hike. That worked out pretty well.
The Traveline Scotland website is a useful resource for planning your journey to and from the West Highland Way.
When is the best time to hike the West Highland Way?
The West Highland Way can be hiked all year round. Obviously, if you plan to hike the route in the winter you need to be prepared for harsher conditions. Winter conditions and snow falls can be expected any time between November and March, especially in the highlands. Make sure you pack the appropriate gear and you have good winter navigation skills if you are attempting the West Highland Way during that time period.
May is the most popular month for hiking the West Highland Way. The days are long (giving you more hiking time) and the midges have not yet arrived (midges season is usually between June and August). However, hiking at the most popular time of the year also means that the trails will be more crowded. So if you choose to hike the West Highland Way during the peak season, make sure you book your accommodation in advance or plan to camp.
What is the weather like on the West Highland Way?
The weather in Scotland is famous for being very unpredictable and changeable. Even if you are planning to hike in the summer you have to be prepared for every type of weather (even a snowstorm). So make sure you pack plenty of layers and waterproofs and remember “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”.
Packing for the West Highland Way
Below is a list of the kit we took with us. A few things to note:
- We stayed in B&B’s but if you decide to camp you will have to add your camping gear to the list.
- If you are planning on wild camping I would recommend taking a water filter. There are loads of streams along the route but there are also many sheep and cows around so drinking the stream water without filtering it is probably not recommended.
- A waterproof jacket is a must in Scotland. I would highly recommend waterproof trousers as well. And waterproof dry bags to keep your electronics and spare clothes dry in case of a downpour.
- Make sure you pack a warm hat and gloves even if you are planning on hiking the route in the summer. We hiked the trail in June and I was very happy to have my big woollen hat and my skiing gloves with me.
- We didn’t take trekking poles but we saw many hikers using them. If you have knee issues I would definitely suggest adding these to your gear list. They will provide additional supports during the hilly sections.
- We hiked with hiking boots but in retrospect I would recommend trail running shoes (unless you are planning to hike in the winter). Trail running shoes are less stiff and therefore much more comfortable than hiking boots. The West Highland Way is not very technical so trail running shoes will give you sufficient support.
Accomodation along the West Highland Way
There are plenty of B&B’s, guest houses, hotels and hostels along the West Highland Way. If you are planning to hike the route during the busier summer months make sure you book your accommodation in advance.
This is where we stayed:
- Winnock Hotel (Drymen) – great value for money, restaurants and grocery store nearby
- Rowardennan Lodge Youth Hostel (Rowardennan) – really nice hostel, they provide breakfast, great pub nearby. Although, in retrospect, dorms are probably not the most romantic option for a honeymoon 😉
- Inverardran B&B (Crianlarich) – very friendly host, great Scottish breakfast in the morning, a few pubs nearby, but: slightly off the trail
- Guest House (Inveroran) – I forgot the name of this guest house, it was just next to Inveroran Hotel
- West Highland Lodge – has a kitchen if you want to make your own dinner/breakfast, lots of restaurant, pubs and grocery stores nearby
Camping on the West Highland Way
There are a number of serviced campsites on the West Highland Way. There are also many great wild camping spots along the route. If you are planning on wild camping just be aware that there are a few wild camping exclusion zones within the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. These operate between March and November. You can find more info here.
Food along the West Highland Way
If you are planning on wild camping and/or want to avoid eating out you can carry a few days worth of food and re-stock in grocery stores along the way. That is the best option if you are on a tight budget but it will add weight to your backpack.
If you are planning on staying in serviced campsites and/or B&B’s and hostels, most places provide dinner, breakfast and packed lunches on request. Just check in advance what is available in terms of food and take a few emergency energy bars with you just in case.
Trip extension suggestions
The West Highland Way ends in at the foot of Ben Nevis. So if you have some energy left after arriving in Fort William you could end your trip by summiting the highest mountain in the British Isles.
Fort William is also the starting point of the Great Glen Way. The Great Glen Way goes from Fort William to Inverness. So if you are looking for a longer hiking route, combining the West Highland Way with the Great Glen Way could be a great option.