Best Laid Plans: The Four (Five?) Trails I’m Hiking in Scotland this Spring

The plans for hikes, like so many other things in life, rarely survive first contact with the real world. Anyone who has put together a spreadsheet of daily mileages and resupply points will know better than most that a successful hike is as much about adaptability as planning. 

That said though, a plan is always a good thing to have, even if you don’t intend to stick to it exactly. Those who know me personally will know that this is as much a mantra for my life as for my hikes, but I digress…

When I started thinking up this idea for a long hike in Scotland, I ran into an immediate and somewhat obvious problem – Scotland isn’t actually all that big. It took me stringing together 4 different long distance trails here in Scotland to even meet the length of the Long Trail (272 miles), which runs the length of one of the smallest states in the USA. 

It has been said that the difference between Americans and Europeans is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, and Europeans think 100 miles is a long way; American hikers in Scotland will appreciate this better than most. \

However, one of the advantages of this reality is that planning a long hike in Scotland can have an element of modularity that can be hard to find in American distance trails. I struggle to think of anywhere in the USA (Colorado maybe?) where you could link together upwards of 4 significant routes without getting off-trail to flip-flop. In that vein, each of the 4 trails I will be hiking for this thru come with their own unique characteristics, sights, and challenges.

For any fellow yanks out there considering doing some trails in Scotland (as I hope to encourage you to do), let this serve as an introduction to just some of the many many trails this beautiful country has to offer, and a preview of the kind of stuff I’ll be writing about in just a few week’s time.


The Rob Roy Way
Distance: 79 miles (94 with alternative route)

photo courtesy Creative Commons

Named after the famous Scottish folk hero and slightly more famous whisky-based cocktail, the Rob Roy Way is a gentle route through the southern Highland region of Perthshire. 

The route begins in the resort town of Pitlochry and runs all the way down the south bank of Loch Tay and through the Trossachs National park before linking up with the West Highland Way (more on that below) in the town of Drymen. There is a side trail that adds an extra 15 miles to the overall route, but I will be sticking with the main path for the sake of making good time for later in the route.

The route is normally walken NOBO from Drymen, but given the easy rail links between Edinburgh and Pitlochry, I am going to be hiking it SOBO. This brings me to the first unique feature of this part of the route – it is not nearly as popular as soe of the other routes on this list. Overshadowed by the West Highland Way and Great Glen Way nearby, it is not often hikes, and even less so SOBO, so I suspect that there will be an element of solitude for those first few days of my journey.


The West Highland Way
Distance: 96 Miles

Probably the best known of these four routes, the West Highland Way is one of the most well traveled long distance trails not just in Scotland, but the entire UK.

Frankly though, this is for a good reason, as it takes you through some of the most famously gorgeous spots in the country, including Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor, Glencoe, and the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest mountain. It also brings you right by the Glengoyne distillery if whisky is your thing – makes for very very good trail drinking.

I’ve actually hiked the West Highland Way before, hiking with my mom way back in 2019 when I was still in university in Edinburgh. However, my 2019 hike was more slackpacking than thru-hiking, staying in BnBs every night and carrying only a day pack for our walks. This style of trekking is much more common in Europe, and I don’t mean to dunk on it at all – it supports the region’s economy, provides walkers a much needed respite from the weather, and gives a chance to meet the locals in a way that hiking with a tent and sleeping bag sometimes doesn’t. Hike your own hike, as the saying goes. 

That said, this year’s stint on the West Highland Way will be in the elements whether I like it or not. 

This trail brings a few unique considerations when compared to the other three. Firstly, it has the most elevation gain, with a bit over 10,000ft of total gain over the 94 miles. This is still pretty quaint by most North American standards, but still stands out when compared to the other parts of the route.

Secondly, as mentioned before, this trail is very heavily traveled; it will be an interesting shift going from the solitude of the Rob Roy Way to the heavy foot-traffic of the West Highland Way. Some of this may be mitigated by the fact that I will be hiking pretty early in the season, but I kind of hope that there will be some other groups of hikers I can tag along with for a few days. The community of any trail is often one of the best parts of any hike, and the West Highland Way is most likely to have that kind of community.


The Great Glen Way
Length: 75 Miles

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

The Great Glen Way is the middle child of these 4 hikes. Not as well traveled as the West Highland Way nor as solitary as the Rob Roy Way, it is shorter than the two trails that I’m hitting before it, but not as short as the last one.

The route follows along two of my favorite Lochs in Scotland: Loch Lochy for its natural beauty and funny name, which roughly translates to “Lake Lake,” and Loch Ness, both for the monster legends and the sheer scale of it, which will take your breath away even next to all the other views of the route. 

Another way in which this trail clearly stands out is its terrain, which only gains 6,000 ft of elevation throughout. I am planning on taking a 0 in the highland city of Fort William before starting this leg of the journey, and I am hopeful that the gradual terrain of the trail combined with my fresh legs will make this one an easier stretch. 


The Affric Kintail Way
Length: 44 Miles

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

The Affric Kintail way was somewhat of a late edition to my route planning, but has become one of the parts I am most excited about.

It is easily the shortest part of the trip at only 44 miles – 2.5/3 days of good hiking at my normal pace. The route begins about a day away from the end of the Great Glen Way in the village of Drumnadrochit, and goes through Glen Affric, one of the most remote and beautiful valleys in Scotland, or so I’ve heard. 

If all goes according to plan, I am hoping to yo-yo this one, ending up back in Drumnadrochit where I can hike out the last day of the Great Glen Way and catch the train back to Edinburgh from Inverness. However, if I am behind schedule, or just don’t feel like it, I might just call it at the end of this trail – only time will tell. 

Either way, the remoteness of this leg is both the biggest appeal and the biggest challenge. Particularly if I want to yo-yo the trail, I will need to be carrying 6 days worth of food at one point, which would be the heaviest and longest food carry in my hiking career so far. It will be well rewarded by the sounds of it though, and I will have the privilege of staying overnight in the Camban Bothy, one of the most remote in Scotland. 

Glen Affrick is also home to the most remote youth hostel in the country, though I will be missing its opening dates by just a few days. As I always say when missing an opportunity like that – gives me a reason to come back.



With my route plan all ready to be messed up, all that is left to do is pack and get hyped. 

Hiking in Scotland requires a few unique considerations when it comes to gear and such that might not be the case in most of the USA – plus a few controversial choices of my own. All that and more in the next few series on the page.

Until then, let me know in the comments which trail you are most excited to see on the blog, and as always, happy hiking. 

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Comments 3

  • Connan Morrissey : Mar 23rd

    What a great way to spend your final weeks in Scotland. Hope the rain lets up for a couple of hours at least. 🙂


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