Scotland is a walker’s paradise. One day you could be hiking in the Scottish Highlands, the next walking along the white sands of a remote beach.
There is also a more unassuming side to Scotland’s trails, with quiet valleys and accessible foothills, making it the perfect walking retreat for all abilities and families.
Here is our pick of the best day walks and hiking routes in Scotland, including the Scottish Borders, Highlands and Scottish Isles.
The most spectacular hikes in Scotland
The Quiraing, Isle of Skye
3.4km/2.1 miles | 1.5 hours | moderate
The Old Man of Storr is kept company by other rock spires, collectively called the Sanctuary. These pinnacles and their brothers on the Quiraing were formed as the result of landslips that occurred on the 19-mile long escarpment. Gravity caused the immense weight of the upper volcanic layers of the Trotternish ridge to dislodge the weaker underlying sedimentary rock layers.
Now the entire escarpment can be walked as part of a very long outing, but most walkers might find it easier to explore the broad ridge on a shorter ramble.A two-mile hike to the peak of the unique and breathtakingly dramatic Quiraing on the Isle of Skye.
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17km/10.6 miles | 6 hours | challenging
Gothic in style, the Church of St Mary and St Finnan stands like a stoical watchman over the mountain-flanked waters of Loch Shiel, surely one of Britain’s most enchanting landscapes. Seek refuge from the cold inside this majestic churches, then venture into the Highlands past the wizards’ railway to the dramatic mountain pass of Bealach a’Chaorainn.
Dunnottar Caste, Aberdeenshire
8.3km/5.1 miles | 3 hours | moderate
Perched high on a rocky peninsula, with sheer cliffs rising up from the crashing North Sea on all its sides but one, Dunnottar is perhaps the most dramatically located castle in the entire British Isles.
A short but invigorating walk runs from Stonehaven to Dunnottar, navigating steep climbs and a great number of steps to the castle. Look out for cormorants, curlews and fulmars along the rocky shores. If you’re lucky, you may even catch the odd sighting of dolphins, seals and whales in the cold North Sea waters. Both the coastal path and the castle are a photographer’s dream and, as the sun doesn’t rise until after eight o’clock at this time of year, walkers can experience the glory of the golden hour after a hearty breakfast.
Ben Lomond, Argyll and Bute
12.3km/7.6 miles | 4.5 hours | moderate-challenging
Ben Lomond is the most climbed of the Munros (Scottish mountains over 914m), not only because it’s the most southerly, but also because of the direct ascent to its 974m summit.
Climb north up the tourist path from Rowardennan, then either retrace your ascent route or take the rougher return along Ptarmigan Ridge to the west. It is a tall hill, so bring clothing and supplies for any eventuality.
Handa Island, Sutherland
6.4km/4 miles | 2.5 hours | easy-moderate
Wrapped by brutish Atlantic swells and biting winds, this remote island off the west coast of Scotland makes for harsh living. But in spring, enduring these forces is one of north-west Europe’s largest seabird colonies – guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and Arctic terns nest alongside puffins and, by summer, the island reverberates with the sound of 100,000 breeding seabirds, one of north-west Europe’s largest colonies.
the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s visitor centre – a modest stone building, crammed with animal bones, old ID books and binoculars for hire – is the perfect starting point for a circular walk around the island.
Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge, Highland
3.2km/1.9 miles | 1.5 hours | moderate
Tapering south from the Highland town of Fort William, gorgeous Glen Nevis is bounded by several high, rugged mountains, including the huge bulk of Ben Nevis, which, at 1,344m (4,409ft) above sea level, is the highest point in the British Isles.
Other iconic peaks include Sgurr a’ Mhaim and Stob Ban and the glen is a playground for mountaineers, mountain bikers and white-water rafters.
However, it is a low-level, two-mile walk through the dramatic Nevis Gorge that really packs a punch and provides an unforgettable aural and visual experience. Sections of the path can be rocky and slippery but with a little care this is a superb walk, suitable for almost everyone.
River Braan, Perthshire
9.6km/6 miles | 4 hours | moderate
Despite appearing natural, the woods surrounding the Perthshire town of Birnam were planned by the Dukes of Atholl in the 1700s. Cutting the forest in two are the gorgeously clear waters of the River Braan, where a series of cascades descend to Black Linn waterfall before flowing into the River Tay near Dunkeld
Follow the white water of Scotland’s River Braan through a fabled woodland of giant Douglas firs, fairy-tale bridges and an ancient oak immortalised by Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Loch Katrine, Stirlingshire
8.3km/5.2 miles | 3.5 hours | easy-moderate
Loch Katrine has wooed artists and poets for centuries – the Wordsworths and Coleridge, to name a few. And for good reason: extending through remote country for some eight miles and overlooked by craggy hills at its southern end, it’s a place of great beauty.
Enjoy a tranquil five-mile stroll around a Scottish loch in the beautiful Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
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Glen Coe, Argyll and Bute
6.6km/4.1 miles | 2.5 hours | moderate-challenging
It’s claimed that the MacDonald clan used to stow their rustled cattle in the lofty folds of the Lost Valley in Glen Coe. Experience the atmosphere is this hidden gem on a beautiful mountain walk tucked away in the glorious glens of the Scottish Highlands.
Glen Affric, Highland
17km/11 miles | 5-6 hours | moderate
Often hailed as the Highlands’ most beautiful glen, Glen Affric not only boasts shimmering lochs and rugged mountains, but it is also one of the largest remnants of the pine forest that used to cover much of Scotland. For centuries the flanks of the glen were blanketed with birch, rowan and magnificent Caledonian pines.
Much of the forest was felled during the Industrial Revolution, but in recent decades Glen Affric has been at the centre of a determined attempt to conserve and extend the remaining woodland.
For most visitors, even reaching the start of this walk will involve a fairly epic journey to a remote part of the country. But it’s well worth the effort, as the surrounding scenery is nothing short of breathtaking.
5.5 miles/8.9km | 3.5 hours hours | moderate
Bennachie is a prominent prospect as you travel through the hills and river valleys of Deeside, its unique profile visible for many miles around.
Rising from the flat plains of Aberdeenshire, a few miles west of Inverurie, Bennachie’s twin tops of Oxen Craig and Mither Tap grant far-reaching vistas. At 518m, Mither Tap is slightly lower than Oxen Craig (528m), but its shapely character leads to Bennachie’s Gaelic derivation ‘mountain of the breast’.
Glenmore Forest Park, Highland
8.6km/5.3 miles | 3 hours | moderate
Ryvoan Pass and Glenmore Forest Park are a great introduction to the Cairngorms National Park. Peppered with Scots pine trees, gently wooded slopes give way to a wilder landscape of rocky hills and untamed moor. Many of the park’s more elusive creatures can be found here.
Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
20.8km/12.9 miles | 8 hours | challenging
Sandwood Bay is one of Britain’s most remote and beautiful beaches. Flanked by grassy dunes and buffeted by the rolling breakers of the Atlantic, the swath of white sand is a wild and wonderful place.
The only way in is on foot and the car park at Blairmore, on the narrow road between Kinlochbervie and Sheigra, is the perfect place to start.
Calgary Bay, Isle of Mull
3.1km/1.9 miles | 1.5 hours | easy
Head to the brightly coloured island capital of Mull and you’ll find comfy pubs with hidden snugs and roaring fires.
Tobermory is a firm favourite with summer holidaymakers, but it is in the winter months, when snow covers the surrounding hills, that the true magic of the town is revealed
Revel in the festive shops, illuminated streets and charming harbour of a small island town in the Inner Hebrides before taking a walk to the sandy shores of Calgary Bay.
Loch Garten, Highland
3.8km/2.7 miles | 2 hours | easy
Hidden within Abernethy Forest in the lowlands of the Cairngorms National Park is Loch Garten. With its ancient Caledonian pine forest, boggy woodland and rich waters, the reserve is an embodiment of the wild and compelling nature of the Scottish Highlands.
May is an ideal time to visit. The weather is warming but the swarms of midges are yet to descend. The herby scent of pine fills the air, birdlife is abundant as summer migrants such as redstarts and tree pipits arrive, and the ospreys should be hatching their chicks – it’s a unique chance to see these graceful fish-scooping predators in action
Mabie Forest, Dumfries and Galloway
7.1km/4.4 miles | 2.5 hours | moderate
Forestry and Land Scotland’s Mabie Forest lies just outside the town of Dumfries in south-west Scotland and is managed in association with Butterfly Conservation Scotland, whose reserve – their largest – occupies 100 hectares in the middle of the forest.
Ancient oak woodland, wetlands and grassland are all here, offering ideal conditions not just for butterflies, but also bats, red squirrels, roe deer and dragonflies.
St Abb’s Head, Berwickshire
5.4km/3.3 miles | 2 hours | moderate
Raucous seabird colonies, ancient grassland rich in rare plants and butterflies, a sheltered freshwater lake with wildfowl and dragonflies – there’s so much to discover at St Abb’s Head.
Winter light can be great for photography, highlighting the contrast between the peninsula’s red rock and the stormy North Sea, yet it feels eerily empty without the seabirds. By early summer, however, they are back in force and the headland is throbbing with life. May is an ideal time for photographing the spectacular vistas and delicate details.
Enjoy a 5.4km walk on the coastal cliffs of southern Scotland, spotting thousands of nesting seabirds, splashes of pink thrift and maybe even otters.
8.8km/5.4 miles | 4-5 hours | challenging
When it comes to summiting mountains, it’s all about perspective. Some are merely rounded bulges, making it easy to pick out an ascent route, even from the bottom. But then there are others – those pesky, pointy numbers – that present a perplexing problem and get us asking, how on earth can we, mere mortals, make it to the top?
Case in point is the Scottish peak of Suilven. At 731m, some 200m shy of the coveted Munro status, it’s small by mountain standards north of the border. Yet, certainly from most vantage points, it looks impossibly steep – Suilven means ‘pillar’ in Old Norse, a name bestowed to the peak by the sea-fearing Vikings.
Glen Sligachan, Isle of Skye
17.1km /10.6 miles | 6-8 hours | challenging
Menacing yet darkly beautiful, the jagged Cuillin Mountains are your steady companion on this remote island walk through Glen Sligachan.
Winding through true wilderness country, you’ll feel a real sense of progression as you ford several rivers, moving from one loch to the next, past herds of red deer and the dramatically located Camasunary Bay, before arriving at the houses of Kirkibost. Save it for a fine September day after a spell of dry weather – the midges will be fewer, the burns lower – and you will have a memory to last a lifetime.
Birks of Aberfeldy, Perthshire
4.3km/2.6 miles | 5 hours | moderate
When Robert Burns came to visit Aberfeldy in 1787, he was so impressed by the spectacular waterfalls and birch woods outside that he wrote a poem celebrating the area’s natural beauty.
Today, a 4.5 mile circular path allows you to follow in his footsteps and be equally inspired by this amazing place.
Ardmeanach, Mull, Inner Hebrides
18km/11.2 miles | 6 hours |challenging
On the western coast of the Scottish island of Mull, beneath the brooding volcanic massif of mighty Ben More, lies one of the wildest environments in the British Isles.
A single-track road gives way to a logging track at the hamlet of Tiroran, navigating the southern side of the peninsula along Loch Scridain. The six-mile stretch of headland between here and the sea is known simply as ‘The Wilderness’. It’s a fitting description of this trackless terrain characterised by deserted beaches, sparse coastal undercliffs and stunted trees beneath stark basalt terraces.
Ben More, Isle of Mull, Argyll and Bute
8.9km / 5.5 miles | 5 hours | challenging
If you’re going to tackle a mountain, you might as well go for something substantial. Ben More – ‘The Big Mountain’ in Gaelic – ticks all the boxes for a challenge, but one that is achievable for experienced hill walkers.
Once, this lofty island peak was a mass of molten rock. Its igneous origins date back some 60 million years when the Isle of Mull was a major volcanic complex. Glaciers later shaped the mountain’s 966m summit.
Crail to Anstruther, Fife
6.1km / 3.8 miles | 2.5 hours | moderate