Meander along rolling hills of the lush Scottish countryside, trace the banks of Loch Lomond while making your way through vibrant oak forests, and wander up and over the windswept highlands as you walk the West Highland Way from its southern terminus in Milngavie (pronounced Mul-guy) to its northern terminus in Fort William.
This 96 mile (154.4km) expanse of trail is perfect for fit and healthy adventurers of all ages. If you like to rough it, pack your gear on your back and wild camp the entire way. If you prefer a few creature comforts, campgrounds are easily found in each town you pass through - treat yourself to a hot shower, restock on food and enjoy a cold draft at the tavern. If you are not on a budget and would delight in the extra luxury, spend each night in an inn and be treated to a warm bed and breakfast the next morning.
Baggage Carrying Service
Some of you may be thinking, “This all sounds well and good, but I am not sure I want to carry a pack with all my belongings the entire way.” You are in luck! There are slackpacking services that will pick up your bags at a campground or inn and drop them off at your next stop. You only need to carry the essentials. This service can be especially helpful if you are spending more time traveling than the week or so it will take you to walk the trail.
My husband and I walked the West Highland Way last May as part of our three week trip in Scotland. We carried our full packs the seven days we were on the trail. Although it was certainly doable, there were days I would have gladly given up my pack to one of the baggage carrying services, had I not convinced myself I would be missing out on the full experience. This is coming from someone who hikes and backpacks frequently - do not be a hero. If your knees hurt, lighten your load. Your body will thank you.
Things to know before you go:
- Purchase this guide book - Walk the West Highland Way
- Bring rain gear. It is Scotland afterall, it could rain at any moment.
- Pack trekking poles. Your knees will thank you.
- Time of year can make a big difference. My husband and I planned our trip for late April - early May. In doing so, we mostly avoided midges and ticks, which can be rather miserable to deal with.
- Go at your own pace. Most walkers take six to nine days to complete the trail.
The majority of those who walk the West Highland Way begin in Milngavie - a charming town on the outskirts of Glasgow. If you prefer to stay out of the hustle and bustle of the city, I recommend renting an AirBnB in Milngavie. The cab ride from the airport is a quick twenty minutes and there are numerous places to stay within a short walk of the trailhead.
Milngavie has a market where you can purchase any supplies you did not bring from home. One of the many comforts of this trail is that you can plan it so you pass through a town every day. This eliminates the need to carry multiple days worth of food. I do not recommend carrying more than a few days worth at a time, it will only add unnecessary weight to your pack.
Once you have gathered your supplies, treat yourself to a cup of coffee or fish and chips and explore Milngavie. It is quite beautiful with it’s many green spaces and cobblestone streets. Then get a good night's rest. Your journey is about to begin.
Milngavie to Drymen
Milngavie to Drymen is the first leg of the West Highland Way. This twelve and a half mile (20km) stretch meanders through the verdant Scottish countryside. You cover a lot of miles on pavement, so be mindful of your knees. It is much easier to injure yourself walking on hard surfaces than traversing a dirt path.
If you want to take it easy, I recommend making Drymen your stop for the day - the next town with accommodations is another eight to ten miles away. The camping in Drymen is rustic and a bit of a walk from the village. If you think the accommodations will be unsatisfactory, this may be a good night to reserve lodging or plan on wild camping along the trail.
Before leaving town, though, enjoy a coffee or cheese toasty at Skoosh and be sure to get a reservation at the Clachan Inn. If the restaurant is booked, stop by the bar. It may be standing room only, but you can order a scotch and warm yourself by the fire while you wait for a table.
Drymen to Rowardennan
Drymen to Rowardennan makes up the second leg of the Way. This fifteen mile (24km) stretch includes Conic Hill - a steep, but gratifying climb that leaves you overlooking Loch Lomond. On your descent you will find yourself in Balmaha, where you can explore the Loch Lomond visitor center and get your first glimpse of the lovely loch up close.
Stop by St. Mocha Coffee or the Oak Tree Inn for a refuel before trekking onward to Rowardennan- a tranquil town, nestled at the foot of Ben Lomond. Along with spectacular views of the highlands to the north, you will find dining and lodging to meet your needs.
If you are feeling adventurous, there is a trail just outside of town that leads you up to the top of Ben Ben Lomond. Or, sit back and enjoy the views from the Loch shore. I assure you they do not disappoint.
Rowardennan to Crianlarich
The third leg - Rowardennan to Crianlarich - is a long, twenty mile (32.5km) stretch leading you along the forested banks of Loch Lomond and, at last, into the soaring highlands. If you want to take your time with this section, it can be split up in a couple different ways.
Eight miles from Rowardennan awaits the Inversnaid Hotel, which offers lodging and dining. If you are up for a short day, stop here and relax by the peaceful Inversnaid Falls or take a tour of Loch Lomond on the ferry.
If fourteen miles sounds more like your pace, you will find yourself in Inverarnan. Here, Beinglas Farm offers a variety of accommodations from camping to chaltes, as well as a bar and restaurant. Or, a short walk off the Way is The Drover’s Inn, which came highly recommended by many of the people we met.
Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy
For the fourth leg of the Way you will walk out of Inverarnan and follow the River Falloch to the halfway point, Crianlarich. The West Highland Way skirts this village, but there is a spur trail if you decide to stop here for a refuel. From the split you will walk through forest and over glen coming to the village of Tyndrum - located twelve miles (19.3km) from Inverarnan.
In Tyndrum you will find ample lodging, camping, and dining options, as well as a small market to restock on food for the trail. From here, you may continue on to Bridge of Orchy, as it is only a little more than a mile beyond Tyndrum. However, unless you plan on wild camping, the only accommodation is the hotel.
Whether you stay at the hotel or just stop by for a break, sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and try a slice of carrot cake - just be sure you don’t confuse the sugar cubes for marshmallows.
Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse
Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse, a twelve mile (19.4km) walk, is one of the most scenic sections of the Way. The views of the highlands, including prominent peaks Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dòthaidh, are especially striking in the spring with a dusting of snow still clinging to the highest pinnacles.
After climbing steadily up behind the village, you crest the hill and are greeted with a panoramic view of mountains and heather - a perfect place to stop for photos and a snack before descending into the valley below.
At the base of the hill you will find the Inveroran Hotel. If you are walking from Tyndrum or Bridge of Orchy you probably are not ready to stop for the day, but you can treat yourself to lunch before following the Old Military Road on to Kingshouse, which offers a hotel and camping accommodations. You will also find ample opportunities for wild camping along the Old Military Road.
Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
The Way is coming to a close as you leave Kingshouse on your way to Kinlochleven - one of the shorter stretches of trail, extending eight and three-quarter miles (14km). As you leave Kingshouse, the trail follows the highway through the iconic Glen Coe before diverging uphill into one of the more strenuous stretches of the walk.
Once you reach the top, the path is almost entirely downhill until you come to Kinlochleven. This village offers a variety of inns and camping options, including MacDonald Hotel and Cabins, where my husband and I set up our tent for the night.
If your feet are not too tired and your knees not too sore from the long descent, take time to explore the village. It boasts great views of Loch Leven and the surrounding highlands.
Kinlochleven to Fort William
Kinlochleven to Fort William is the final stretch, reaching fourteen miles (22km) between the two villages. You begin with a steep ascent out of Kinlochleven into the wild sequestered highlands. Ahead lies Lairigmor (The Great Pass), which yields easy walking between the towering mountains.
As you traverse this section of the Way, you will pass interpretive signs regaling you with the rich and woeful history of the Highlanders. Walking on, lost in thought as you wander through forestry plantations, you will catch your first glimpse of Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis.
If you wish to climb this great mountain there are spur trails that will lead you to the top. Or, you can keep to the Way and complete your walk at the bronze statue in Fort William town centre. Take a photo if you can squeeze in around all the other folks celebrating their ninety-six mile escapade!
You have reached the end of your walk, but the journey does not have to end here. Fort William is an excellent place to recover from the trail. Spend a few days in an AirBnB, explore the town’s museums and historical sites, dine on fresh muscles and sip Glenmorangie at The Geographer, while you plan your next Scotland caper.