If you’re an avid hiker looking for a breathtaking adventure, walking West Highland Way in Scotland should be at the top of your bucket list.
Stretching 96 miles (154 kilometers) from Milngavie, just outside Glasgow, to Fort William, the West Highland Way offers stunning landscapes, charming villages, and a chance to immerse yourself in Scotland’s rich history. In this blog post, we’ll explore everything you need to know about hiking this iconic trail.
My friend, Mariann and I walked the West Highland Way in early May after spending a week in Edinburgh. It was a wonderful birthday present from Henry!
Unlike the AV2 in the Dolomites, which I hiked with my family in September, the WHW travels through communities and towns, as well as natural areas.
As with hiking the AV2, we used a booking service to make reservations at hotels and hostels along the way. And we even had a luggage transfer service so that we only had to carry a daypack with the items we need for that day’s walk. This was especially nice since our luggage contained everything for our entire three-week trip, not just what we needed for the WHW section.
All of the information here is accurate (to the best of my abilities) but you should call ahead to check restaurant and store hours as they do change, and you’d hate to be without a meal option after hiking all day!
- 1 What is the West Highland Way?
- 2 West Highland Way Route
- 3 West Highland Way Map
- 4 West Highland Way Distance
- 5 History of Scotland’s West Highland Way
- 6 Cost of Hiking the West Highland Way
- 7 How Long Does it Take to Hike the West Highland Way?
- 8 Are There Restaurants on the West Highland Way?
- 9 Cell Service on the West Highland Way
- 10 Scottish Landform Definitions
- 11 7 Day Itinerary for the West Highland Way
- 12 Day 0: Edinburgh to Milngavie
- 13 Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen
- 14 Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan
- 15 Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan
- 16 Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum
- 17 Day 5: Tyndrum to Kingshouse
- 18 Day 6: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
- 19 Day 7: Kinlochleven to Fort William
- 20 Bonus Day – Ben Nevis
- 21 Best Sections of the West Highland Way If You Only Have 1-2 Days
- 22 Hotels Along the West Highland Way (and using booking services)
- 23 Luggage Transfer Services Along the West Highland Way
- 24 Camping Along the West Highland Way
- 25 Packing List for the West Highland Way (Gear List)
- 26 Getting To The West Highland Way (Milngavie)
- 27 West Highland Way Safety Tips and Considerations
- 28 Local Wildlife and Flora
- 29 Recommended Guidebooks and Online Resources
- 30 Local Customs and Etiquette
- 31 Alternative Routes and Side Trips
- 32 Frequently Asked Questions About The West Highland Way
- 33 More Adventures in Scotland
What is the West Highland Way?
The West Highland Way is a long-distance hiking trail that winds its way through the picturesque Scottish Highlands. It is Scotland’s first official long-distance walking route and remains one of the most popular trails in the country. The trail takes you through diverse terrains, including lowland moors, dense forests, rolling hills, and majestic mountains, offering an unforgettable journey for outdoor enthusiasts.
West Highland Way Route
The route of the West Highland Way Walk begins in Milngavie, just north of Glasgow. From there, the trail takes hikers through Scotland’s breathtaking landscapes and small towns.
The initial stretch meanders through scenic parks and woodlands, gradually transitioning into open moorlands as it approaches Loch Lomond. Following the eastern shores of the iconic loch, the trail offers stunning panoramic views and the opportunity to explore picturesque islands.
As the West Highland Way continues, it leads into the heart of the Highlands, passing through remote glens, ancient forests, and rugged mountain terrain. One of the highlights is the challenging ascent of the Devil’s Staircase, which rewards hikers with awe-inspiring vistas.
The trail then winds its way through Glen Nevis, culminating in a triumphant arrival at Fort William, nestled in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK.
West Highland Way Map
West Highland Way Distance
The West Highland Way is 96 miles (95.6 miles to be exact) from Milngavie to Fort William.
History of Scotland’s West Highland Way
Established in 1980, the West Highland Way was developed by the Countryside Commission for Scotland (now known as Scottish Natural Heritage) in collaboration with local authorities and landowners. It was created to promote Scotland’s stunning landscapes and boost tourism in the region. Since its inception, the trail has gained international recognition and attracts thousands of hikers from around the world each year.
Cost of Hiking the West Highland Way
The cost of hiking the West Highland Way can vary depending on your preferences and budget. Accommodation, food, transportation, and equipment are the main factors to consider. Accommodation options range from campsites and hostels to cozy B&Bs and hotels.
On average, budgeting around £40-£100 per day for accommodation and food should provide a comfortable experience. Additionally, you may want to allocate some funds for transportation to and from the trail, as well as any luggage transfer services you may require.
We used Bookatrekking.com to book all of our hotels (9 nights as it included the night before we started in Milngavie and the night we finished in Fort William), breakfasts at our accommodations, luggage transfer, and map segments for Komoot. The total cost was $1196/person. We paid for all additional meals and snacks separately.
How Long Does it Take to Hike the West Highland Way?
The duration of your West Highland Way adventure depends on your fitness level, hiking experience, and the amount of time you have available. The trail can be completed in as little as 5 days, but most hikers take around 7-8 days to fully enjoy the experience. Ultrarunner Rob Sinclair did the whole route in 13 hours and 41 minutes!
It’s important to know your abilities and set a pace that allows you to savor the stunning scenery and soak in the unique atmosphere along the way.
Are There Restaurants on the West Highland Way?
There are restaurants on several of the sections of the West Highland Way, but not all of them. Some of the places where you sit down and eat aren’t at the most logical spot for lunch.
We only ate at one restaurant for lunch during our hike (The Oak Tree Inn on the second day.). We found it more enjoyable to carry food and eat when we were hungry or needed an excuse to sit and enjoy a breathtaking view.
All the lodging on the West Highland Way recommended in this post offers takeaway lunches. Be sure to order your lunch the night before and it will be ready when you leave in the morning.
I also carried a small thermos and had a cup of Earl Gray tea and a biscuit each day. All the places we stayed had an electric kettle, tea bags (but not Earl Gray – I brought my own), and a little packet of biscuits (cookies). I prepared my tea in the morning and loved having a little treat in the afternoon.
In the West Highland Way itinerary, I list all the places to get food along the trail so you can plan ahead. As I mentioned, there are a couple of sections without restaurants and shops so you need to carry your lunch.
For my fellow vegetarians – you will have no problem finding things to eat on the West Highland Way. Although I did eat fish and chips, the rest of my meals were veggie. Vegans might have a little more difficulty, but I think you could make it work with a little pre-planning.
Cell Service on the West Highland Way
While there are some areas on the West Highland Way without cell service, I found that I was able to get a signal almost everywhere.
I purchased a SIM card at the Edinburgh airport without doing any research and it worked great.
Another option is to get an e-SIM card. You set this up through an app and activate it when you get to where you want to use it. I like Airalo for e-SIMs. You can get the Airalo app here or check out the Airalo website here.
Scottish Landform Definitions
Whether you are reading this blog post or a map of the West Highland Way, certain words come up to describe the landscape that aren’t used in other English-speaking places.
- Glen: a long, narrow valley
- Burn: a stream
- Moor: an expanse of open rolling infertile land, a boggy area
- Munro: a mountain with a height over 3,000 feet
- Ben (beinn): the common word for a big hill.
- Meall: a rounded, lumpy hill
- Sgùrr: a high, pointed pea
- Càrn (càirn): a pile of stones
- Creag: a rockface or crag
7 Day Itinerary for the West Highland Way
There are a lot of ways you can walk the WHW. I have included our West Highland Way itinerary since I thought it worked out really well and didn’t have any days that were too long or too short.
I’ve also included which hotels on the West Highland Way (and hostels) we used and share other options in the Hotels Along the West Highland Way section below.
I also list where you can get food along the West Highland Way.
Day 0: Edinburgh to Milngavie
We took the train from Edinburgh (Waverley Station) to Milngavie (pronounced “Mull-guy”) with a change at Glasgow Queen Street. Trains run all day and you can buy tickets online from ScotRail or get the app.
Restaurants in Milngavie
There are plenty of choices in Milngavie, but we went to Finsbay for dinner – highly recommended! The food was delicious and we were really digging the Palm Springs / Midcentury Modern decor.
Lodging in Milngavie
We stayed at the Premier Inn Milngavie, which was fine, but the West Highland Way Rooms is closer to the trailhead, train station, and village center. We were originally booked there but moved at the last minute for some reason.
Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen
After breakfast at the hotel – it’s a big one at the Premier Inn! – we left our bags with AMS Baggage Transfer and walked 10 minutes to the center of town and the start of the West Highland Way.
We picked up lunch supplies at M&S Simply Foods and a West Highland Way Passport at Creature Comforts Pet Store. I don’t know why they sell them there, but they do.
It was an easy, mostly flat 12 miles from Milngavie to Drymen over trails, paths, dirt roads, and paved roads.
We traveled through parks, past farms, around distilleries, all the while admiring the verdant greens and copious blooms.
Distance From Milngavie to Drymen
Lunch Options on Section 1 of the West Highland Way
- Pick up picnic supplies in Milngavie at M&S or Tesco Superstore
- The Beech Tree Inn is just past the Dumgoyne Distillery (they have a little sitting area on the trail for picnickers, which is where we ate our lunch)
- The Oakwood Garden Centre has a cafe.
- There were a few Honesty Boxes later in the route which sold snacks as well as midge spray and sunscreen.
An Honesty Box is a box or cabinet along the road with items for sale. You either leave money in a cash box or use a Paypal QR code to pay. There isn’t anyone monitoring the box, so you have to be honest!
Dinner Options on Section 1 of the West Highland Way in Drymen
- The Winnock Hotel has a bar and restaurant – each with different menus. We thought the food and beer were lovely.
- The Buchanan Arms Hotel also has a bar and restaurant.
Lodging in Drymen
- The Winnock Hotel in Dryman is a cozy hotel dating from the 18th century. The rooms are newly renovated. We loved the bar, restaurant, and the fire in the lobby surrounded by tartan-covered seats.
- The Buchanan Arms Hotel is also meant to be nice. They have a restaurant, bar, and leisure center.
- Other hotels in Dryman on the West Highland Way.
Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan
Day 2 of the West Highland Way started in rain, turned to mist as we climbed Conic Hill, and cleared as we descended to Loch Lomond and followed the shoreline (with a lot of up and down). It rained a tad more as we approached our lovely hostel. We saw our first black slugs, a critter that would fascinate us for the rest of the walk.
Distance from Drymen to Rowardennan
Lunch Options on Section 2 of the West Highland Way
- Grab a packed lunch from your lodging or one of the sandwich stores in Drymen.
- We ate at the lovely Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha. It’s a local food/farm-to-table place. There is a spigot to fill water bottles here.
Dinner Options on Section 2 of the West Highland Way in Rowardennan
- We ate dinner at the Rowardennan Hostel (be sure to make a reservation when you check in. You need to make a reservation for breakfast, too, even though it is included in the stay.) If you bring food you can prepare it in the guest kitchen.
- The Rowardennan Hotel is about a 15-minute walk from the Rowardennan Hostel. The Clansman bar has a cozy fire and a hearty menu.
Lodging in Rowardennan
- We stayed at the Rowardennan Hostel and it is one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed at. They have a restaurant and you can purchase alcohol and snacks from the front desk. The view over Loch Lomond was spectacular and the lounge was modern, clean, and homey. It would be nice to spend an extra day here and paddle board on the lake or hike up Ben Lomond.
- The Rowardennan Hotel is also on Loch Lomond (about 15 minutes closer to Drymen) and is a good option for those wanting a more traditional inn experience.
- Other lodging options in Rowardennan on the West Highland Way. We met a woman who hiked to the Rowardennan Hotel and then took a taxi to another hotel as the two options in Rowardennan were full. She returned to the trail by taxi the next morning.
Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan
Day 3 was Rowardennon to Inverarnan (14 miles) up and down along the edge of Loch Lomond. The WHW guidebook calls this the toughest section of the trail and describes parts as “torturous.” It was the most tiring day for me, but not torturous by any means.
The lake was beautiful, the trail required focus, we crossed from the Loch Lomond Basin to a lovely glen, and our hotel was haunted (or at least loud as we were above the bar).
Distance from Rowardennan to Inverarnan
Lunch Options on Section 3 of the West Highland Way
- Get a takeaway lunch from the Rowardennan Hostel (we still had snacks from the first day)
- There was an Honesty Box just a few minutes onto the trail that offered hard-boiled eggs, toasties, and more. There was a QR code on the box to pay with PayPal if you don’t have cash.
- Inversnaid Hotel is the only place to get lunch in this section. Use the “Walkers’ Entrance” and leave your boots and packs in the mud room. It’s a nice location and has good food. We picnicked at the outdoor tables. There is a spigot to fill water bottles here.
Dinner Options on Section 3 of the West Highland Way in Inverarnan
- The Drovers is known as one of the best pubs in Scotland, with a fantastic atmosphere in an old, smoke-blackened bar, crammed with oddities. It feels very Scottish. The food is good, but make sure you get a reservation as it gets busy!
- Beinglas Campsite has a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Lodging in Inverarnan
- The Drovers Inn is said to be the most haunted inn in Scotland. I don’t know about that, but it is loud on a weekend night. Our room was above the bar (two floors above the bar) and we got to listen to the band play until the wee hours of the morning. It’s also really old and maintains its original form. It is a fun place, though and I am glad I had the experience.
- For something a little quieter than the Drover’s Inn, try Beinglas Campsite. There are 8 en-suite B&B rooms, 6 camping cabins, and 2 large camping fields.
Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum
Inverarnan to Tyndrum (13 miles). Gentle glen walking, lots of cascades, power lines and clear cuts, forests, mountain views, SUNSHINE, sheep, stone walls covered in moss (every day), Earl Grey and ginger biscuits with a view, crazy couch maze lounge.
The West Highland Way is a lot of things.
Distance From Inverarnan to Tyndrum
Lunch Options on Section 4 of the West Highland Way
Crianlarich is the halfway point on this stretch, however, it is a bit off the trail and requires a descent to get there and a climb back to the trail.
- We got a takeaway lunch from the Drover’s Inn and picnicked on a lovely rock outcrop at the high point of the trail.
Dinner Options on Section 4 of the West Highland Way in Tyndrum
- The Real Food Cafe had great food and local beer, plus lots of delectable sweet treats. And it was a 1-minute walk from our hotel. It’s said to have the best fish and chips on the mainland. Plus, they promote sustainability and accessibility.
- T.J.’s Diner is next door to The Real Food Cafe. It’s an American 50s-style diner that’s said to have good burgers.
Lodging in Tyndrum
- Muthu Ben Doran Hotel is where we stayed. It was an odd place that seems to have been renovated in the early 1980s. Our room was fine. Definitely check out the lounge on the top floor and its couch maze. There were a few big tour groups there and the breakfast buffet was a madhouse.
- For something more boutiquey or camping pods, check out these other lodging options in Tyndrum on the West Highland Way.
Day 5: Tyndrum to Kingshouse
West Highland Way – Day 5 (Tyndrum to Kingshouse 19 miles) This ramble through the Rannoch Moor was the wildest and most remote section of the Way.
It’s really not too far from the road, but being out of sight and sound of the road made it feel isolated and wild. The Old Military Road was rough on our feet and we were longing for a softer or less bumpy surface.
Every section is different and interesting and I’ve enjoyed them all for different reasons, but here I felt like I was in the “real” Scottish Highlands.
It rained off and on all day but was pretty pleasant in general. Highly recommended!
Distance From Tyndrum to Kingshouse
Lunch Options on Section 5 of the West Highland Way
- I recommend getting snacks in Tyndrum for the day. We found premade sandwiches, nuts, cheese, fruit, chocolate, etc at the Green Welly. Picnicking on the moors is a great option and one we wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
- You can get lunch at either the Bridge of Orchy Hotel or The Inveroran Hotel, but we passed these hotels too early in the day for lunch.
Dinner Options on Section 5 of the West Highland Way in Kingshouse
Once you are at the Kingshouse Hotel and Bunkhouse there isn’t anywhere else to eat. Fortunately, there is a pub, a bar, and a dining room — all with great food and drink options. We loved eating (and drinking violet gin) at the Kingshouse Hotel.
Lodging on Section 5 of the West Highland Way
- The Kingshouse Hotel and Bunkhouse is an iconic stop on the West Highland Way in Glen Coe. The setting is spectacular and the hotel is totally renovated and lovely. We stayed in the bunkhouse, which is basically a hostel. We shared a room with two young men who were surprisingly quiet and we got a great night’s rest. Other people didn’t have such good luck. There are also rooms in the hotel.
Day 6: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
West Highland Way: Day 6 Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (9 miles). On our shortest day on the Way, we ate a leisurely (and scrumptious) breakfast at the Kingshouse Hotel in the fabled Glen Coe. Then we set out with Buachaille Etive Mor (a big iconic mountain) in sight as we climbed the Devil’s Staircase to the highest point on the West Highland Way.
This is a social trail and at the pass, we chatted with Glaswegians, a Dutch couple, English folks, and a handful of others. Everyone was in a great mood despite (or because of!) the on-again, off-again rain.
We were all happy to be Wayfarers out for a walk in a lovely spot.
It was a long, steep descent into the charming village of Kinglochleven.
Distance From Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
Lunch Options on Section 6 of the West Highland Way
- There isn’t anywhere to stop for lunch on this section, so grab a takeaway lunch from the Kingshouse Hotel.
Dinner Options on Section 6 of the West Highland Way in Kinglochleven
- We stayed at the Tailrace Inn and had dinner in their pub. It was good pub food and beer.
- The Bothy Bar at the MacDonald Hotel and The Highland Getaway are other dinner options in Kinglochleven. They are all pretty similar and have good food.
Lodging on Section 6 of the West Highland Way in Kinglochleven
- The Tailrace Inn is a small inn and worked out well.
- If I went back I would probably look at staying at the MacDonald Hotel, though my guess is it is a bit pricier.
- You can look at these other hotels in Kinglochleven on the West Highland Way.
Day 7: Kinlochleven to Fort William
West Highland Way: Day 7 Kinlochleven to Ft. William (15 miles). On our final day on the WHW it rained a lot! It was proper Scottish weather and we reveled in it.
It’s easy to be bummed when the weather turns or something isn’t to your liking (and I can definitely go down that road!) but we had to walk to our next destination, so we might as well have a good time.
Most people on the trail were in high spirits and we joked about quintessential Scottish weather. There were two ten minutes reprieves during the day and we used those moments to stop, eat, and drink.
We had a hotel room and a shower waiting for us so it was pretty easy to keep having fun.
The rain stopped as we were walking into town and, after a stop at a bookshop, we made it to the official end and sat with “the walker” statue. Then it was pizza and beer!
Distance From Kinlochleven to Fort William
Lunch Options on Section 7 of the West Highland Way
There isn’t anywhere to stop for lunch on this section of the West Highland Way. Get a takeaway lunch or snacks in Kinglochleven and don’t forget to pack your tea and biscuit!
Dinner Options on Section 7 of the West Highland Way in Fort William
There are a lot of places to eat in Fort William. I recommend the Black Isle Bar behind the “Walker” statue at the official end of the WHW.
The wood-fired mushroom pizza was so good, we went there two nights in a row. The beer was delicious, too. Plus, you are likely to see a lot of the wayfarers you met along the trail and can toast them for finishing.
Lodging on Section 7 of the West Highland Way in Fort William
- The Alexandra Hotel was quite nice and perfectly located to walk into the main part of Fort William. It’s also close to the train and bus station and a five-minute taxi ride to the Ben Nevis Trailhead.
- There are many other hotels, inns, and apartments in Fort William.
Bonus Day – Ben Nevis
The day after we finished walking the West Highland Way was sunny and beautiful, so we opted to keep on walking to the top of Scotland.
Ben Nevis is a 4,000-foot climb over 4.5 miles to the highest point in Great Britain (and the top is lower elevation than where I live in Montana).
The “Pony Track” or “Tourist Track” is one of the most bomber, well-built trails I’ve been on. Because of easy access from Fort William and the relative ease of the trail – it’s steep, but not technical- a lot of people hike up there. A lot.
But, it didn’t seem overly crowded on the mid-May day we huffed and laughed our way to the top.
Such a fun end cap to our Scotland walk!
Distance Up Ben Nevis
9 miles round trip
Lunch Options on Ben Nevis
We brought snacks to eat at the top of the mountain and stopped for soup and beers at the Ben Nevis Inn at the foot of Ben Nevis. This is a fun, historic pub with good food in a 200-year-old converted barn.
Dinner Options on Ben Nevis
If you get a late start on climbing Ben Nevis, you could have dinner at the Ben Nevis Inn. We had dinner at Black Isle Bar in Fort William again, but there are a lot of other options for dinner in Fort William.
The Geographer and Crannog Seafood Restaurant are both reported to be good.
Lodging Near Ben Nevis
- The Alexandra Hotel was quite nice and perfectly located to walk into the main part of Fort William. It’s also close to the train and bus station and a five-minute taxi ride to the Ben Nevis Trailhead.
- There are many other hotels, inns, and apartments in Fort William.
Best Sections of the West Highland Way If You Only Have 1-2 Days
If you’re short on time but still want to experience the magic of the West Highland Way, there are a few sections that you shouldn’t miss.
The stretch from Rowardennan to Inverarnan is particularly stunning, taking you along the shores of Loch Lomond and offering breathtaking views.
Another great option is the segment from Kinlochleven to Fort William, where you’ll encounter the famous Devil’s Staircase and witness awe-inspiring vistas of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK.
Hotels Along the West Highland Way (and using booking services)
Along the West Highland Way, you’ll find a range of accommodation options to suit every preference. From charming B&Bs to traditional inns and cozy hotels, there are plenty of places to rest your weary feet after a day of hiking.
In some places, there are only one or two options, so you will need to book ahead of time. We met a few people who stayed a bit off the trail since they couldn’t get lodging on the West Highland Way. They took a taxi to their hotel in the evening and back to the WHW in the morning.
Henry booked our trip with Bookatrekking.com. They arranged all of our inns and hostels, sorted the luggage transfer, provided written information about the trail, and mapped routes for Komoot (the digital map we used).
Bookatrekking used Booking.com to reserve most of our lodging and you can do the same if you want to save a little money or make your own lodging choices.
You can book your own lodging through the links I provided in each segment description above or here:
- Milngavie: Premier Inn Milngavie or West Highland Way Rooms
- Rowardennan: Rowardennan Hostel
- Inverarnan: The Drovers Inn or Beinglas Campsite
- Tyndrum: Muthu Ben Doran Hotel
- Kingshouse: Kinghouse Hotel and Bunkhouse
- Kinlochleven: The Tailrace Inn or MacDonald Hotel
- Fort William: The Alexandra Hotel
Luggage Transfer Services Along the West Highland Way
If you prefer to lighten your load and enjoy the hike without the burden of a heavy backpack, luggage transfer services are available along the West Highland Way. Our WHW luggage transfer was arranged by Bookatrekking.com.
These services allow you to send your bags ahead to your next accommodation, ensuring they will be waiting for you when you arrive. Each morning we put our bags out by 9 am and they were at the next hotel when we arrived or not long after.
This convenient option allows you to fully enjoy the hike while only carrying a daypack with essentials.
West Highland Way Baggage Transfer
Camping Along the West Highland Way
For those seeking a more immersive outdoor experience, camping is a popular choice along the West Highland Way. This guide isn’t about camping on the WHW, but know that it’s an option. I love camping, but I was pretty happy to be indoors and have a hot shower as it rained for at least part of most of the days and nights during our walk.
Some people we met along the trail would camp on some segments and stay in hostels on other segments.
There are designated campsites at various points along the trail, offering basic facilities such as toilets, showers, and fresh water. There is also the option to wild camp along the West Highland Way (and it’s free!)
Some hostels allow camping outside their building and access to the public spaces in the hostel. It’s important to check the availability of campsites in advance and obtain any necessary permits. There are some areas, such as around Loch Lomond, where wild camping is restricted.
Remember to practice Leave No Trace principles and respect the natural environment while camping.
Packing List for the West Highland Way (Gear List)
When embarking on the West Highland Way, packing wisely is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable experience. We walked the trail in early May and it was mostly cool and wet, so I may have more warm gear than you will need. It wasn’t buggy yet (the midges can be unrelenting), so we didn’t need bug spray or bug nets, but you might.
Here are some essentials to include in your hiking gear:
West Highland Way Packing List
- short sleeve wool shirt
- long sleeve wool hoodie
- wool sweater
- synthetic hiking pants
- wool leggings
- 3 pair wool socks
- 3 quick dry undies
- warm hat
- sun hat
- lightweight gloves
- rain jacket
- rain pants
- hiking shoes (or boots)
- slippers (for hotels, hostels)
- bug spray
- trekking poles
- first aid kit
- day pack with rain cover
- water bottle or bladder
- Minaret insulated mug (for my afternoon tea break)
- cell phone/cord/external battery
- camera (if you want more than your phone)
- Kindle or book
- snacks and meals for the trail
Getting To The West Highland Way (Milngavie)
Getting to the West Highland Way is relatively straightforward, thanks to the various transportation options available. Here are some common ways to reach the trailhead:
- By Train: If you’re coming from Glasgow or Edinburgh, you can take a train to Milngavie, the official starting point of the West Highland Way. Trains run frequently from Glasgow Queen Street Station, and the journey takes approximately 25 minutes. From there, it’s just a short walk to the trailhead. We took the train from Edinburgh’s Waverly Station and transferred at Queen Street Station. It was super easy.
- By Bus: Buses also provide convenient access to the West Highland Way. Regular bus services operate from Glasgow to Milngavie, where you can begin your hiking adventure. Be sure to check the bus schedules in advance, as they may vary depending on the day of the week.
- By Car: Renting a car is the least desirable option in my opinion. Milngavie is easily accessible by car, and there are parking facilities available near the trailhead. Keep in mind that parking may be limited, especially during peak hiking season, so it’s advisable to arrive early. Plus, it doesn’t make sense to rent a car and then leave it in Milngavie for 7 days only to have to take a bus or train back once you get to Fort William. You can, however, take a taxi from Glasgow.
- Airport Connections: If you’re arriving from further afield or internationally, Glasgow International Airport is the closest major airport to the West Highland Way. From the airport, you can take a bus, taxi, or train to reach Glasgow city center, and then proceed to Milngavie by train or bus as mentioned earlier.
West Highland Way Safety Tips and Considerations
While hiking the West Highland Way is a rewarding experience, it’s important to prioritize safety. Here are some essential safety tips and considerations:
- Check the Weather: Scotland’s weather can be unpredictable, so always check the forecast before setting out. Be prepared for changing conditions and pack waterproof and windproof clothing, regardless of the season.
- Hiking Gear and Equipment: Invest in sturdy and comfortable hiking boots that provide good ankle support. Choose breathable and moisture-wicking clothing layers to stay comfortable during your hike. Pack a well-fitted backpack with a rain cover to protect your belongings from the elements.
- Navigation Tools: Carry a detailed map, a compass, or a GPS device to navigate the trail. While the West Highland Way is well-marked, having additional navigation tools can help you stay on track, especially in challenging weather conditions or areas with fewer waymarkers. We used Kamoot for our digital map. Our booking service already created each leg for us, so we could follow along. We also had paper maps that came in our guidebook. We barely used either since the route is so well signed.
- Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Carry an adequate supply of water and high-energy snacks to keep yourself hydrated and fueled throughout the hike. It’s crucial to drink plenty of water, even if it doesn’t feel hot, as dehydration can still occur in cooler temperatures.
- Emergency Contacts: Save emergency contact numbers in your phone and inform someone trustworthy about your hiking plans. Familiarize yourself with emergency procedures and the location of emergency services along the trail.
Local Wildlife and Flora
The West Highland Way is not only known for its stunning landscapes but also for its wildlife and diverse flora. Keep an eye out for the following:
Wildlife: Scotland’s wildlife is varied and often captivating. Look out for red deer, a common sight in the Highlands, and consider yourself lucky if you spot a golden eagle soaring above.
Mountain hares, wild goats, and elusive otters are some of the other fascinating creatures that call this region home. We saw a few deer, but not much else.
The jet-black slugs along the trail were pretty fascinating.
Flora: The trail meanders through diverse habitats, each showcasing its unique flora. From heather-covered moorlands to ancient Caledonian pine forests, you’ll encounter a variety of plant species. Keep an eye out for rare orchids, bluebells, and vibrant mosses adorning the landscape.
Remember, it’s essential to observe wildlife from a distance and avoid disturbing their natural habitats. Respecting and preserving the flora and fauna will ensure the sustainability of this beautiful environment for generations to come.
Recommended Guidebooks and Online Resources
To assist you in planning and navigating the West Highland Way, here are some recommended guidebooks and online resources:
We used this guidebook and I appreciated the natural history and history sections, as well as the detailed maps. It has everything you need to plan your route and includes 6, 8, and 9-day itineraries. We used a Cicerone guidebook for the AV2 in the Dolomites – I like these guidebooks quite a lot.
Another guidebook for the West Highland Way, this one is better for learning about the trail itself and the history of the area it passes through than for actual planning. It’s a good addition to Walking the West Highland Way.
West Highland Way Official Website
Visit the official website of the West Highland Way for the latest updates, recommended itineraries, and additional resources to enhance your hiking experience.
Walkhighlands is a popular website offering detailed trail descriptions, maps, photographs, and user-generated content. It’s a valuable resource for planning your West Highland Way adventure. I’ve used this site for hiking trail information all over Scotland – it’s a great resource.
These resources will provide you with valuable insights, helping you make the most of your journey along the West Highland Way.
Local Customs and Etiquette
As you hike the West Highland Way, it’s important to be aware of local customs and etiquette to ensure a respectful and positive experience:
- Closing Gates: When passing through farmland, be mindful to close gates behind you to prevent livestock from straying. In fact, leave all gates as you find them. We passed through a lot of gates.
- Leave No Trace: Follow the Leave No Trace principles by carrying out all your waste, disposing of it properly, and avoiding any damage to the natural environment. Read about the Scottish Outdoor Access Code before you go.
- Respecting Privacy: Scotland’s “Right to Roam” law, enshrined in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, grants individuals the right to access and enjoy most of the country’s land and inland water for recreational purposes. This law allows hikers, including those walking the West Highland Way, to explore and traverse vast areas of Scotland’s stunning landscapes, even on private land, as long as they do so responsibly and respectfully. The Right to Roam law ensures that walkers can follow the West Highland Way’s designated route while also having the freedom to explore adjacent areas, such as taking detours to admire scenic viewpoints or access rivers and lochs for rest and refreshment. It enables hikers to truly immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands, fostering a sense of adventure and discovery along the way. However, it’s important for walkers to remember that the law also emphasizes the responsibility to respect the environment, wildlife, and the rights of landowners, ensuring a harmonious balance between access and preservation.
By embracing the local customs and practicing responsible hiking, you’ll contribute to the preservation of the West Highland Way for future generations of hikers to enjoy.
Alternative Routes and Side Trips
If you have extra time or want to explore more of the surrounding areas, consider these alternative routes and side trips near the West Highland Way:
- Ben Lomond: Extend your adventure by climbing Ben Lomond, one of Scotland’s most popular Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet). The rewarding summit views of Loch Lomond and the surrounding landscapes make it worth the extra effort.
- Glencoe: Make a detour to Glencoe, a breathtaking glen known for its dramatic landscapes and rich history. Explore the valley’s hiking trails, visit the Glencoe Visitor Centre to learn about the area’s geology and wildlife, or simply soak in the awe-inspiring scenery.
- Isle of Mull: If you have a few additional days, consider taking a ferry from Oban to the Isle of Mull. This enchanting island offers diverse wildlife, stunning beaches, and charming villages. Explore the colorful waterfront town of Tobermory or go wildlife spotting in the Isle of Mull’s nature reserves.
- Take a 4-Day Scotland Roadtrip: Move the days around in my itinerary to start and end in Fort William and explore the rest of the country, including whizzing back the way you just walked!
- Edinburgh: We spent a few days in Edinburgh before our walk on the West Highland Way. It was my fourth visit to the city and I loved it as much as ever. Find fun things to do in Edinburgh in these posts: Girls Weekend in Edinburgh and Fun Things To Do in Edinburgh with Kids.
Frequently Asked Questions About The West Highland Way
Q: How long does it take to hike the West Highland Way?
A: The average duration is 7-8 days, but it can be completed in as little as 5 days or extended for a more relaxed pace.
Q: How hard is it to hike the West Highland Way?
A: The West Highland Way is considered moderately challenging, with varied terrain and some steep sections. Adequate fitness and hiking experience are recommended.
Q: Is the West Highland Way easy to follow?
A: Yes, the West Highland Way is well-marked with signage and waymarkers. However, carrying a map or guidebook is advisable for navigation.
Q: What is the best time of year to hike the West Highland Way?
A: The most popular time to hike the West Highland Way is from May to September when the weather is generally more favorable. However, be prepared for changing conditions and pack accordingly.
Q: Can a beginner do the West Highland Way?
A: While the West Highland Way can be challenging, with proper preparation and a realistic approach, beginners can complete the trail. Building up your fitness level and gradually increasing your hiking distances beforehand is recommended.
Q: How fit do you need to be to walk the West Highland Way?
A: A reasonable level of fitness is necessary to tackle the West Highland Way. Regular exercise, including cardiovascular workouts and hiking practice, will help prepare you for the physical demands of the trail.
Q: Are there toilets on the West Highland Way?
A: Yes, there are toilet facilities available at various points along the West Highland Way, including campsites, visitor centers, and some villages. It doesn’t hurt to bring a WAG bag in case you are between toilets.
Q: Which Direction is Best for the West Highland Way?
A. Choosing the direction in which to hike the West Highland Way largely depends on personal preferences and logistical considerations.
- South to North (Milngavie to Fort William): This is the traditional and more popular route. Starting in Milngavie, hikers gradually make their way into the heart of the Highlands, experiencing a sense of progression as the landscapes become more dramatic. The final stretch offers a rewarding view of Ben Nevis and a triumphant arrival in Fort William, where hikers can celebrate their accomplishment. Another bonus of hiking in the same direction as most people is that you get to know other wayfinders and build camaraderie.
- North to South (Fort William to Milngavie): While less conventional, this direction offers its own unique appeal. Beginning in Fort William, hikers immediately encounter the awe-inspiring beauty of Ben Nevis. The route then takes them through the rugged Highlands, eventually leading to the more gentle and picturesque landscapes of Loch Lomond. This direction may be preferred by those seeking a quieter start or by those looking to enjoy a gradual easing into the trail’s challenges.
Q: What is the Hardest Section of the West Highland Way?
A: The West Highland Way presents diverse terrain, and each section comes with its own challenges. However, many hikers consider the most demanding part to be the segment known as the “Devil’s Staircase.” This section is located between Kinlochleven and Glen Coe, and its steep ascent tests both physical endurance and mental fortitude. Despite its name, the Devil’s Staircase rewards hikers with breathtaking panoramic views, making the effort well worth it. Personally, I felt the section between Rowardennan to Inverarnan was the hardest because there was so much up and down over rocky terrain.
Q: What is the Easiest Section of the West Highland Way?
A: The portion between Milngavie and Drymen is often considered one of the easiest stretches. This section is relatively flat and passes through beautiful parkland and woodlands, providing a gentle introduction to the trail. It allows hikers to ease into the journey, building confidence and stamina before encountering more rugged terrain later on.
Walking the West Highland Way is a truly unforgettable experience, offering breathtaking scenery, rich history, and a chance to immerse yourself in Scotland’s natural beauty.
Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a beginner seeking an adventure, this iconic trail will leave you with lifelong memories. So, lace up your boots, pack your backpack, and get ready to embark on an extraordinary journey through the enchanting Scottish Highlands.
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- Girls Weekend in Edinburgh
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- Day Trip to Island of Hoy, Orkney, Scotland
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