Whether you are an avid cyclist or simply looking for a new and more sustainable way to travel, cycling the Caledonia Way from Oban to Fort William might just be the adventure you’re looking for! Find out how a sceptic like me was converted to plan a cycling holiday in Scotland and read on for suggested itineraries, day trip options and lots of practical tips.
From family-friendly paths along canals and rivers, to challenging climbs through the mountainous Highlands and scenic long-distance routes – Scotland is a cyclist’s paradise.
The routes on the National Cycle Network crisscross the country and make it easy to get just about anywhere on two wheels.
But cycling is also hard work 😅
Whenever I went on multi-day cycling trips in the past, I absolutely hated it. Going uphill is my nemesis – a literal uphill battle. But when Sustrans Scotland asked if I’d be up for cycling the Caledonia Way on Scotland’s west coast on an e-bike, I was all game.
e-bikes are literal game changers. They make cycling holidays in Scotland way more feasible for a lot more people. Once you don’t have to worry about struggling up a hill, you can focus on the enjoyable parts of a cycling trip.
And that’s exactly what I did!
This guide contains:
- The benefits of a cycling holiday in Scotland,
- Suggested itineraries for 3 or 5 days,
- Tips for planning a cycling trip,
- What to pack,
- And many other tips for the road,
So, whether you are an avid cyclist looking for your next adventure, or a curious sceptic who likes trying new things on your own terms – read on and feel inspired to plan a cycling trip on the Caledonia Way!
Table of Contents
Watch a video about our journey
The benefits of cycling in Scotland
Travelling by bike comes with all the flexibility you normally only get with a car.
You can move at your own pace and follow your nose to explore what’s waiting at the end of unassuming roads. And the best thing is that you never have to worry about parking again.
It’s also a much more sustainable way to travel – and who doesn’t want to reduce their impact on the environment?! Many cycle routes in Scotland are well connected by train, so it’s easy to plan a trip entirely without a car.
Add to that that the physical activity will also be good for your mental wellbeing and you’ve got yourself a winner!
How fit do you need to be?
A cycling holiday in Scotland requires a basic level of physical fitness, but if you go by e-bike (as opposed to a regular bike) you don’t actually need to be super fit.
I went to the gym a few times before my trip, but I didn’t really train.
Routes like the Caledonia Way connect towns and villages, which makes it easy to adjust your daily mileage to your comfort level.
You might also like: 14 ways to travel more responsibly in Scotland
Finding cycling routes in Scotland
There are countless cycle routes in Scotland. From short paths for fun days out to challenging multi-day routes through the Highlands, along the coast or across the islands.
The best place to find cycle routes for all sorts of adventures is the Sustrans cycle map.
The Caledonia Way
The Caledonia Way runs 234 miles from Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula to Inverness on the Moray Firth. It can be cycled in one go, or in stages – depending on how much time you have.
This coast-to-coast cycle path is a scenic journey through the Argyll and the Highlands as you explore the best of the west coast and make your way through the Great Glen. Along the way, visit bustling coastal towns, feast your senses on beautiful mountain ranges, tour famous castles and hop across to the Hebridean islands for day trips.
The route follows the National Cycle Network Route 78 and is really well-marked with Caledonia Way signposts. It mostly follows quiet backroads or separate bike paths away from traffic.
Caledonia Way itineraries
Sustrans Scotland suggest taking 11 days to cycle the entire Caledonia Way at a leisurely pace – 6 days if you’re up for a challenge.
If that seems a little daunting, here are 2 suggested itineraries for the Caledonia Way.
3 Days on the Caledonia Way
This is the perfect itinerary for a weekend adventure on the Scottish west coast. You can reach the start and end point by train and you’ll cycle between 12 and 21 miles each day.
Day 1: Taynuilt to Oban
approx. 12 miles
Take the morning Highland Explorer train on the West Highland Line from Glasgow Queen Street to Taynuilt. The journey takes just under 3 hours which means you’ll start cycling in the early afternoon.
From Taynuilt train station make your way to the main road and follow the cycle path on the quiet road down Glen Lonan. Stop for the scenic views of the glen and the Strontoiller stone circle. The tallest stone, known as Clach na Carraig or Diarmid Stone, marks the grave of an ancient Irish folklore hero.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot a herd of Highland cows in the glen!
Where to stay
Stay in Oban – my personal favourite is the waterfront boutique B&B Witchwood House – or at the incredibly cool Inverlonan Bothies, luxurious off-grid cabins in a secluded woodland setting. Each comes with a wood burning stove, wood-fired pizza oven and awe-inspiring views of Loch Nell. Inverlonan can supply breakfast baskets, dinner options or DIY pizza kits with ingredients sourced from local producers.
Day 2: Oban to Port Appin
approx. 21 miles
In the morning, make your way to Oban for some sightseeing. Climb the hill to McCaig’s Tower and enjoy the views. Tour the Oban whisky distillery or join a boat trip from the waterfront for a chance to spot local marine wildlife.
If you’re up for something more adventures, cycle along the Oban Esplanade and past the ruins of Dunollie Castle to Ganavan Sands, a beach popular with local wild swimmers. Book a swim session with Dan the Merman, an open water coach and wild swimming guide to make sure you have a safe and enjoyable swimming experience on the Scottish west coast.
You might also like: 13 amazing things to do in Oban
From Oban backtrace your steps up the hill towards Glen Lonan – this is where you’ll be grateful for hiring an e-bike! – and continue on the quiet backroads to Connel Bridge. After a break for refreshments at the Oyster Inn, cross the bridge and follow the traffic-free bike path to Appin. Port Appin is just a short detour from there.
Where to stay
Book a room at the Pierhouse Hotel which overlooks the pier of Port Appin and the Isle of Lismore. The hotel is renowned for its seafood restaurant, but it’s also on the Argyll vegan trail, so there are options for everyone.
Day 3: Port Appin to Lismore to Oban
approx. 20 miles
In the morning, take the small ferry from Port Appin to the Isle of Lismore. The island is only 12.5 miles long and 1.5 miles across, which makes it perfect for a day trip. Visit the castle ruins dotted around the island, learn about the island’s culture at the Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre and enjoy the countless viewpoints.
Use the Isle of Lismore day trip suggestion to plan your island hopping trip.
Catch the afternoon ferry from Achnacroish to Oban and make your way back to Glasgow by train.
5 Days on the Caledonia Way
If you have a bit more time, extend your tour of the Caledonia Way. Follow Day 1 and Day 2 as above from Taynuilt to Port Appin, spend half a day exploring Lismore, and then continue north into the heart of the Highlands.
Day 3: Port Appin to Glencoe
approx. 33 miles (although you choose how much you’ll cycle on Lismore)
Take the short ferry from Port Appin to Lismore and explore the island.
Return to the mainland in the afternoon and follow the quiet bike path towards Glencoe. Bypass Appin by crossing the Jubilee Bridge, which was built in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. It offers stunning views of Loch Laich, Loch Linnhe and Castle Stalker in the distance.
The Caledonia Way follows the coastal road, but rarely runs right next to it. Your views are always accompanied by the mountains of the West Highland Peninsulas across the water. Highlights include the ride through the Highland Titles Nature Reserve and through the fascinating geology above Kentallen.
Where to stay
You could cycle all the way to Ballachulish or Glencoe, but if you don’t want to say good-bye to these beautiful coastal views just yet, check in at the Holly Tree Hotel near Kentallen. The hotel has a swimming pool and spa area – the perfect treat after a long day on your bike.
Day 4: Glencoe to Fort William
approx. 21 miles
Follow the coastal route from Kentallen to Ballachulish, cross the bridge with views down Loch Leven and continue on the other side until you reach the pier of Corran ferry.
Cross over to the other side and cycle up the quiet Ardgour road. Keep your eyes peeled – on a clear day, Ben Nevis and the other peaks of the Nevis Range might pop into view over on the other side of Loch Linnhe.
Make sure you keep an eye on the time, so you don’t miss the last ferry from Camusnagaul to Fort William.
If you want to make this day more challenging, cycle the Loch Leven Circuit from Ballachulish to Glencoe and Kinlochleven, and on along the north shore of Loch Leven. This adds about 19 miles to your journey.
Where to stay
Day 5: Caledonia Canal & Loch Arkaig
approx. 38 miles (although you can turn around at any point to cut your day short)
From Fort William you can catch the ScotRail train back to Glasgow – this route isn’t served by the Highland Explorer train yet, but there is limited space for bikes on each train.
Before jumping on the train though, you should explore the local area around Fort William.
Follow the Caledonia Way north and make your way up the Caledonian Canal from Banavie to Clunes. You’ll cycle up Neptune’s Staircase – a series of locks on the canal that allows boats to clear the big difference of elevation between Loch Lochy and Loch Linnhe.
After Clunes follow the quiet road to Loch Arkaig. You could go as far as the Allt Mhuic Butterfly Reserve and then return to Fort William to catch a train back to Glasgow.
Make it a week
Make it a week-long trip by adding a second night in Oban and another in Fort William. Cycle down Glen Nevis and hike to Steall Falls or choose something else from my list of things to do in Fort William.
Tips for a cycling holiday in Scotland
Planning your route
Use the Sustrans cycle map to plan your trip on the Caledonia Way or other multi-day cycling routes in Scotland.
Follow one of their, or one of my itineraries (3, 5, 6 or 11 days) which includes suggested overnight stops, highlights on each daily section and options for detours and day trips.
Where to hire a bike or an e-bike
You can hire bikes in most cities and large towns, such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Oban, Fort William or Inverness. Even e-bikes are getting easier to find. My e-bike came from Katrine Wheelz near Aberfoyle.
You can also hire e-bikes from:
- Biketrax or Cycle Scotland in Edinburgh
- Oban Cycles or Rusty Cycle Shed in/near Oban
- Off Beat Bikes or Nevis Cycles in Fort William
You can find a few more places to hire e-bikes from here.
Charging your e-bike
If you hire an e-bike, it should come with a charger cable to keep the battery full. You can pop out the battery, take it to your room and charge it at any regular power outlet overnight.
Sustrans Scotland are working with Bosch to install public charging stations along the Caledonia Way. They will be available in Oban, Glencoe, Fort William and Fort Augustus.
The Caledonia Way, just like many other bike paths on the National Cycle Network, follows traffic-free paths or quiet backcountry roads with hardly any traffic.
Read up on tips for riding on shared-use paths here.
When you hire a bike, make sure you also get a helmet.
Maps & navigation
Cycling routes on the National Cycle Network are well signposted, so you really don’t need a cycling map for navigation. Additionally, it’s easy to plan your route with Google Maps – I found it useful to know how long it would take me to cycle to my next stop.
You can book any kind of accommodation while you’re cycling the Caledonia Way, but bike-friendly accommodation should be able to offer you secure bike storage, a drying room and maybe even a bike wash spot.
VisitScotland and Sustrans have tips on bike-friendly accommodation along the route.
What to pack for a cycling holiday in Scotland
My biggest worry was what to pack for a multi-day cycling holiday in Scotland. Here is a rough list of everything I packed for my 5-day trip.
First up, I had three pannier bags on my bikes. Two came with my hire bike – they are often available for a small daily surcharge – and the last one was from my own bike back home.
I would have also loved a small bag to attach to my handle bar to have easier access to snacks and my camera.
Bring a puncture repair kit and spare inner tube, and make sure you learn how to repair a puncture before you go.
In addition to your e-bike charger, also pack a bike lock – I prefer D-locks – and a pump.
While you could go out and buy cycling-specific clothing – tops often are longer at the back and have additional pockets for quick access – I actually packed a lot of the same clothes I wear for hiking.
Bring active-wear t-shirts that are quick-dry and breathable, and a warm mid-layer – I had a thin wind-proof jacket with a zip and hood to either stay warm, or open up to cool down on the bike.
No packing list for Scotland would be complete without waterproofs. Bring a jacket and waterproof trousers, but don’t forget to get ankle straps. Waterproof trousers are often loose fit and you don’t want them to get caught in your bike chain.
The only bike-specific clothing I bought was two pairs of padded cycling leggings – one pair of long leggings and a pair of shorts. Your behind will be grateful!
And on that note, I also got anti-chafing cream to prevent chafing from sitting on my bike all day.
Handy bike accessories
One of the best things I packed for this trip is this handlebar phone mount. I use it all the time for navigation and to have easy access to my phone.
My e-bike cycling trip on the Caledonia Way has certainly convinced me that a cycling holiday is a great way to see the Scottish west coast – even if you are not a super experienced cyclist.
I can’t wait to hire another e-bike soon and explore another corner of Scotland on two wheels.
Have I inspired you to try it too?
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