With its open glens, mountain passes, thickets of forests, and idyllic lochs, the West Highland Way is every backpacker’s dream. Tens of thousands of people from all over the world walk this scenic trail every year – it’s one of the planet’s prettiest routes that can be walked in a single week.

However, that doesn’t mean that walking the West Highland Way doesn’t require meticulous planning. In this article, we’ll provide a general overview of this popular Scottish long-distance route and help you prepare for its wonders as well as difficulties.

What is the West Highland Way Like?

sunset along the West Highland WayThis long-distance trail is 96 miles long and ventures along forestry paths, abandoned railways, ancient roads, rolling hills, and scenic lochs. While there are some steep climbs on the way, the route is not particularly arduous and is usually in good condition. Keep in mind that conquering each of these steep climbs is guaranteed to reward you with a stunning view.

At the route’s southern end is a town called Milngavie. It is located around 6 miles away from the center of Glasgow and most of its residents commute to Scotland’s most populous city to study or work there. The route ends in Fort William, a relatively remote but bustling Highland town that is only a couple of miles away from the UK’s highest mountain – Ben Nevis.

When is the Best Time to Walk This Route?

While most people consider that summer is the best time of year to walk the West Highland Way, this is also when the route is populated by thousands of hikers from all over the globe.

The result of this is pretty obvious – finding the serenity and peace that the wilderness brings can be quite difficult. Furthermore, walking the West Highland Way in summer means dealing with midges, Scotland’s most famous (and most irritating) flying insects.

For that matter, the best time to walk this route is in Spring – the temperatures are more pleasant, there’s a remarkable growth of fresh life, and it’s too early in the year for midges. The month of May, in particular, can be a fantastic time to walk the West Highland Way. During this month, the weather tends to be clear and dry, which is ideal for observing the unforgettable views that this trail offers.

Planning an Itinerary

Sunset over Loch Lomond in BalmahaLike with all other hikes, deciding which direction you’ll be walking in is of crucial importance. A vast majority of WHW trekkers walk south to north. Not only is the southern end of the trail easier to reach by public transport, but walking south to the north also keeps the sun out of the hiker’s eyes.

This scenic route is usually split into five to eight days. Five, seven, and eight-day itineraries are provided below:

 

 

5 days

7 days

8 days

First day

Milngavie to Balmaha

Milngavie to Drymen

Milngavie to Drymen

Second day

Balmaha to Inverarnan

Drymen to Rowardennan

Drymen to Rowardennan

Third day

Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy

Rowardennan to Inverarnan

Rowardennan to Inverarnan

Fourth day

Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven

Inverarnan to Tyndrum

Inverarnan to Tyndrum

Fifth day

Kinlochleven to Fort William

Tyndrum to Kingshouse

Tyndrum to Inveroran

Sixth day

 

Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

Inveroran to Kingshouse

Seventh day

 

Kinlochleven to Fort William

Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

Eight day

 

 

Kinlochleven to Fort William


Finding and Booking Accommodation

As the most popular long-distance route in Scotland, the West Highland Way is dotted with places where you can stay. However, these places are very busy most of the time, so it’s incredibly important to book in advance.

woman sitting on a bench in Fort WilliamWhile it’s not presented in the most user-friendly format, the official website provides a list of hotels, hostels, B&B’s, and inns that are present on or next to the trail.

Baggage Transfer & Accommodation Booking Services

Another consequence of this trail’s immense popularity is the sheer number of companies that can arrange the entire journey for you. In general, this includes the transfer of luggage as well.

Just like in the case of accommodation providers, the official website of the West Highland Way also provides a list of booking services and luggage transfer companies.

What About Camping?

Along the West Highland Way, trekkers will bump into numerous campsites. In addition, some of the pubs and hotels that are located on or near the trail also allow camping, one of which is the isolated Kings House Hotel.

As long as you’re following the Scottish Outdoors Access Code (you can find more on that here), you will also be able to wild camp on most of the trail. One particularly great thing is that there are a lot of water sources along the way.

Bridge of OrchyFinally, it’s important to keep in mind that, on some parts of the route, certain by-laws are active between spring and autumn. In most cases, these forbid wild camping in specific areas.

What Should I Pack?

Packing your backpack for walking this picturesque trail requires a bit of strategic planning in order to keep the bag packed with essentials but also comfortable and lightweight enough for long days out in the wild.

Some of these essentials include food, drinking water, multi-tool, first-aid kit, portable stove, energy snacks, additional layers of clothing, utensils, hiking poles, emergency whistle, toilet paper, antiseptic wipes, binoculars, headlamp, gloves, hats, bug repellents, tick-removal tool, scissors, sunglasses, sunscreen, battery backup, travel insurance, and other items.

For more info, check out our article on what to pack for West Highland Way.

Extending Your Journey

All three West Highland Way itineraries we listed above can be easily extended with side excursions along the route as well as with an extra trip at their end.

A lot of trekkers enjoy taking a day trip to Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond. For the most adventurous trekkers, the best option would be to simply keep walking and combine the West Highland Way with the Great Glen Way. This 73-mile trekking route starts at Fort William and finishes in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands.

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