Few countries can match Scotland’s dramatic landscapes. Get your walking boots ready for these 20 greatest hikes, including best coastal walk, top island walk, best family hike and Scotland’s greatest view
Old Man of Hoy, Orkney (Wilderness Scotland)
Catch a ferry across to the island of Hoy, in the Orkney archipelago, off Scotland's northeast coast, and you'll be able to walk along some of Britain’s highest sea cliffs before catching your first glimpse of the iconic red sandstone sea stack: the Old Man of Hoy.
This popular hike takes you uphill from Rackwick along a well-defined, easy-to-follow coastal path towards the UK’s tallest sea stack, the iconic Old Man rising out of the blustery Atlantic Ocean to a height of 450 feet.
Standing on the cliffs on a clear day, you can see as far as Cape Wrath on Scotland’s north coast. The round-trip, returning the same way, takes around three hours.
One of the best coastal walks in Shetland can be found at the superb headland of Eshaness, exploring the coast around the Villians of Ure, the Grind of the Navir and the Holes of Scraada.
View from top of Stac Pollaidh (Wilderness Scotland)
Stac Pollaidh is one of the best ‘little mountains’ in Scotland. Standing at just 613m high in the Northwest Highlands, the peak displays a rocky crest of Torridonian sandstone. With lots of pinnacles and steep gullies, it’s often likened to a porcupine.
The hike only takes around three hours, climbing up the steep winding pathway, but the summit ridge views, reached with some scrambling in the final stages, is pure wilderness and provides panoramic views that are second to none.
You’ll want to spend some time up there at the top to soak up the 360-degree views, including mountains like Cul Mor and Suilven, which rise steeply from the watery Inverpolly Nature Reserve, as well as Scotland’s rugged and watery west coast.
Translating as ‘Jewel Mountain’, Ben Alligin in Torridon has one of Scotland’s most dramatic locations. Starting at only 50m above sea level and with the highest point reaching 986m, this is a walk that’s guaranteed to get your heart pumping, not just with the exertion; when you hit the summit on a clear day, you get to see remarkable Highland scenery that stretches as far as the Outer Hebrides.
Muckle Flugga lighthouse, seen from Unst (Dreamstime)
The dramatic coastline of Muckle Flugga, the northernmost tip of Britain, on Unst in the Shetland Isles, was made for hiking and getting back to nature. A walk here makes it easy to forget work and everyday cares.
Overlooking Muckle Flugga is the Hermaness National Nature Reserve, which, in a dramatic clifftop setting, provides a haven for thousands of seabirds, including the world’s largest bonxie breeding colony.
About an hour’s walk through grassy moorland from the Visitor Centre, the cliffs at the old lighthouse shore station are a base for numerous nesting seabirds, including fulmars, gulls, shags, gannets, puffins and kittiwakes. As well as birdlife, you can also expect to see an incredible wealth of marine life and colourful wild flowers.
Knoydart. Often described as the last wilderness in Scotland, the untamed Knoydart peninsula of high mountains and twisting sea lochs, isolated from the rest of the Western Highlands by the ‘rough bounds’, is a notorious strip of mountainous terrain.
Castle ruins on Loch an Eilein (Dreamstime)
Loch An Eilein, deep in the forest of Rothiemurchus, has been voted Britain’s Best Picnic Spot. Sheltered by ancient Caledonian pines and with lovely views of a 13th century island castle, the low level route around the loch is perfect for families, even if they're pushing off-road buggies.
En route, look out for forest wildlife, including red squirrels and Scottish crossbills, before finishing up with an ice cream at the shop.
With the UK's highest funicular railway and plenty of other possibilities beyond hiking, from mountain biking in summer to skiing in winter, it’s no wonder the Cairngorms is one of Scotland’s hotspots for outdoor adventurers.
On the way north to Loch an Eilean, you can stop at the Hermitage, where various trails lead through a beautiful forest to Ossian’s Hall, a Victorian folly, from where, in late summer, you can watch salmon trying to leap up a waterfall to reach their spawning grounds.
Achmelvich Beach (Wilderness Scotland)
Hike along the grand Assynt coastline of the great wild north of Scotland, starting from the ruins of an old grain mill. The millstone was reputedly hewn from the summit of the 731m high peak of Suilven, which dominates the views looking east.
Head towards the legendary white sands of Achmelvich beach (no dogs allowed in high season), passing a secret beach and Europe’s smallest castle, Hermit's Castle, along the way.
As well as being one of Scotland’s many pretty beaches, Achmelvich is renowned for diverse wildlife, including cetaceans, seals, basking sharks, otters, ospreys and white-tailed eagles.
Later, cut across the peninsular on a good trail that leads back to Lochinver village.
Sandwood Bay, Sutherland, has a great beach in a perfect arc of sand in the middle of nowhere, untouched by human beings. It’s right next to Cape Wrath. Reached only by a good wilderness hike, you’ll see the 60m high sea stack of Am Buachaille (meaning 'The Herdsman') in all its glory.
Lighthouse at Cape Wrath (Dreamstime)
Fancy hiking an 864 kilometre long-distance walking route that runs the length of Scotland? From Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders to Cape Wrath in the far northeast, The Scottish National Trail is clearly a mission for hikers with a bit of time on their hands (or to complete in stages).
The Trail mostly follows long-established footpaths, and takes in other well-known paths along the way, including parts of St. Cuthbert’s Way, the Southern Upland Way, the River Tweed, the Union, Forth and Clyde Canals, the West Highland Way, the Rob Roy Way, the Great Glen Way, and the Cape Wrath Trail, making it a kind of ‘Best Of Scotland’ hiking trail.
A trail this big comes with plenty of different terrain and offers walking of different abilities, but it becomes progressively difficult as it heads north, finishing up with some challenging terrain.
The Fisherfields Round, Fisherfield Forest in Wester Ross. The ultimate wilderness walk in the Highlands, the Fisherfields Round contains the remotest munros in all Scotland, taking in no less than five munros and a corbett (formerly a munro).
Lovers' Stone, St Kilda (National Trust)
Visitors are drawn to the remoteness of St. Kilda and by the island’s double World Heritage status but this beautiful day hike also draws you into the romantic legend of the Lovers’ Stone.
Jutting out over the Atlantic below this slip of rock is a drop of 135 metres. Tradition has it that young men had to prove the sincerity of their love by climbing the rocks and balancing on one leg. Where better to prove your love than the edge of the world? It certainly beats a bunch of petrol station flowers, though such dangerous behaviour might explain
Take this trail on Skye through the romantically stark landscapes and unusual rock formations of the Quiraing where, on the big screen recently, Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth was seen receiving the title ‘Thane of Cawdor’.
Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe (Dreamstime)
Although prominent at the east end of Glen Coe, the bulky outline of Beinn a’Chrulaiste, which rises from the northern end of Rannoch Moor, goes virtually unnoticed by most visitors, as eyes are inevitably drawn to its majestic neighbours.
But an ascent of Beinn a’ Chrulaiste provides one of the truly outstanding Highlands views. The scene that greets hikers looking southwestward to the gable end of Buachaille Etive Mor across Glen Coe is one that’s likely never to be forgotten.
Walk up the west ridge and descend to Kingshouse, returning to the start point along a section of the West Highland Way.
The Shadow of Lochnagar. This superb circular hike explores Glen Muick, which lies in the shadow of the famous peak of Lochnagar, and takes you through ancient pine forest, past one of Queen Victoria’s hunting lodges and beneath towering cliffs, as you circumnavigate beautiful Loch Muick.
Ocean looking towards Eigg and An Sgurr (Dreamstime)
Few rock features in the British Isles can equal the grandeur that’s found on An Sgurr, the highest point on the island of Eigg, which has an ascent of 393 metres.
The dramatic plug of columnar pitchstone rises abruptly from wild moorlands. The route is fairly straightforward but involves a steep climb with a short rocky scramble. Care should be taken on the summit.
From its impressive sloping peak, there are fine views over this beautiful and varied island. Look across to the nearby emerald wedge of Muck, one of the Small Isles, and right over to Skye and Ardnamurchan.
Isle of Islay, Scotland’s whisky island. Visit the nature reserve and then take a circular hike on the shores of Loch Gruinart.
Shores of Loch Lomond at Milarrochy Bay (Dreamstime)
Scotland’s most famous long distance trail, the West Highland Way stretches 96 miles from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow to Fort William in the Highlands.
The classic adventure travels along the ‘bonnie banks’ of Loch Lomond, across atmospheric Rannoch Moor, past dramatic Glencoe and over the high pass of the Devil’s Staircase, before finishing at the foot of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis.
This iconic route is packed with history and legends, and plenty of flora and fauna highlights along the way.
Rob Roy Way. Follow the long distance path that was once taken by Rob Roy MacGregor, Scotland’s most notorious outlaw, through the southern Highlands, on this fairly recently waymarked trail through ancient forests, past beautiful lochs, across open moorlands, and over rolling hills.
Slioch and Loch Maree (Paul Tomkins / Visit Scotland)
Those who love the challenge of a higher peak should ascend the mighty mountain of Slioch in Wester Ross. Slioch, which translates as ‘The Spear’, is renowned from appearances in countless landscape photography calendars, thanks to its magnificent peak that dominates the landscape.
Hiking to its summit is a challenging but rewarding climb, ascending into a high corrie before making the final push up to the summit at 981m.
Go on to enjoy a short ridge walk to a subsidiary peak, completing the circuit and enjoying views north across the Fisherfield wilderness, before making the descent.
Ladhar Bheinn, Knoydart. Often quoted as being Scotland’s most remote munro, it’s also one of the best. Start from idyllic Barisdale Bay and follow a steepening ridge up to the graceful summit, which enjoys outstanding mountain and sea views.
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness (Kenny Lam / Visit Scotland)
This incredible long-distance walk along a spectacular geological fault line is a chance to take in three of Scotland's most beautiful lochs.
The Great Glen Way’s 117km route traverses Scotland from coast to coast through deep glens and past dramatic mountain ranges.
From Fort William, beneath the slopes of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, you’ll pass the canal locks of Neptune’s Staircase and journey northeast through spectacular scenery, past Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, and towards the famous Loch Ness, keeping an eye out for a certain shy creature, before finishing in the capital of the Highlands, Inverness.
Beautifully calming Loch Lomond offers a sanctuary to wildlife and incredible scenery at every turn. The West Highland Way follows its remote eastern shoreline.
Luskentyre beach, Isle of Harris (Graeme Green)
Follow the ancient Coffin Road, the route that was used by pallbearers to carry the dead from the Bays district over to the west side of Harris, so they could be buried in the deep soils of the machair (fertile low-lying grassy plain).
Start and finish at Leac a Li, with the first half of the route through moorland and along tracks well waymarked by poles. To the south of Bealach Eòrabhat is Creag an Eoin, which means the ‘rock of the bird’, where walkers should keep their eyes peeled to see an eagle or two.
Harris is also home to some of Scotland's finest beaches, including Luskentyre and Seilebost. While on Harris, which shares the island landmass with the Isle of Lewis, make time to stop in at the new Harris Distillery for a tour and to pick up a bottle of their fine gin or, in a few years, whisky.
Kilmartin Glen, near Lochgilpead, in the Argyll Isles. Walk back in time on a morning hike through the prehistoric sites of Kilmartin Glen, which include Celtic crosses, Bronze Age chambered cairns and stone circles. Afterwards, visit nearby Dunadd, a hill fort that’s said to be the ‘birthplace of Scotland’.
This article was put together with expert advice and information provided by Wilderness Scotland, who arrange guided and self-guided hiking, cycling and other active trips throughout Scotland. For more, see www.wildernessscotland.com
Main image: Hikers on Suilven in the Northwest Highlands (Wilderness Scotland)