The West Highland Way is the most popular long-distance trail in Scotland – not at last because it leads through and past some of the most iconic landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. This guide to walking the West Highland Way contains all the information you could need along the route, a detailed FAQ with trail information and some tips for tackling this incredible hike in Scotland yourself.
This post contains affiliate links which I may make a commission from. Find out more here. Walkabout Scotland provided us with free luggage transfer from Crianlarich to Fort William and VisitScotland covered the cost of our hotel in Fort William. All opinions are my own.
I hiked part of the West Highland Way in 2017 – solo hiking the whole WHW had been on my bucket list for years, but when two friends from Berlin decided to join me, I quickly rearranged my plans. Together, we hiked just over half the distance of the entire West Highland Way and spent 4 days on the trail from Crianlarich to Fort William.
This guide is based on this personal experience on the northern half of the WHW, but also an in-depth knowledge of the areas the West Highland Way leads through between Milngavie and Crianlarich.
The West Highland Way is a great activity to include in an outdoorsy and active Scotland itinerary- or dedicate an entire holiday to. It does not require a huge amount of preparation or logistical experience, but there are many things to consider when planning your holiday on the trail. This guide contains everything you need to know:
- a detailed FAQ about the West Highland Way,
- day-by-day trail descriptions and suggested itineraries,
- recommendations for restaurants and places to stay,
- budgeting tips,
- a useful packing list,
- my top tips for guidebooks and map material,
- and notes on solo hiking in Scotland, especially as a woman!
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West Highland Way FAQ
Where is the West Highland Way?
The West Highland Way leads from the southern edges of the Highlands into the heart of the Ben Nevis mountain range. It begins in Milngavie, a suburb just outside of Glasgow and ends in Fort William, the gateway to the Western Highlands.
Along the way it leads along the bonny banks of Loch Lomond, runs through the woodlands of the southern Highlands, across the wilderness of Rannoch Moor and into the dramatic mountains on the Nevis Range. It offers a variety of landscapes and some of the most remote views you can get in the Scottish Highlands.
West Highland Way Map
Check out this map for al West Highland Way recommendations:
Getting to and from the West Highland Way
Milngavie is very easy to reach by train from Glasgow Queen Street. You could also walk along the Kelvin Walkway which connects Glasgow’s West End with the West Highland Way.
Arriving in Fort William, you can either continue to explore the Scottish Highlands by public transport, or return to Glasgow by direct train. This train line – the West Highland Line – is supposedly one of the most scenic train journeys in the UK.
How long is the West Highland Way?
The West Highland Way is 96 miles (154 km) from Milngavie to Fort William.
How long does it take to walk the West Highland Way?
On average, most hikers take 6 to 8 days to complete the West Highland Way. However, if you have more time, you could easily fill a two-week holiday along the route, as there are many mountains you could climb along the route, such as Ben Lomond, Ben More, Buachaille Etive Mor or Ben Nevis. Fort William also makes for an excellent base to explore more of the Highlands by car, train, bus or on foot.
Some even hike the West Highland Way in 5 days, but that requires a very fast pace and many long days on the trail. The record lies somewhere around 35 hours and has been achieved during the annual WHW race. Challenge accepted?
Budget for hiking the West Highland Way
Depending on your budget, you can go all out or do the hike on a shoestring budget. How much you spend depends mainly on two factors – where you stay overnight and where you eat.
Camping and preparing your own meals all the way are the cheapest option while staying in comfortable hotels or B&Bs and eating out every night bring up the price tag. Additional costs may include luggage transfer services, post-trail drinks in the pub or activities such as ice climbing or boat cruises along the way.
We tried to keep our budget at a low level for accommodation but were happy to spend more on warm meals, well-deserved pints and the comfort of luggage transfer.
We paid between £14 and £30 per night per person in the hostels. We usually booked private rooms and the rate always included bedding. In pubs, we spent around £15 per meal per person including an alcoholic beverage. Luggage service costs about £45 for the whole Way.
When to hike the West Highland Way
The best time for hiking West Highland Way is Spring and early Summer or Autumn. At the height of Summer, there is no denying that this is one of the most popular walking trails in Scotland, and it gets busy!
In Spring the trail is not as busy as in during the summer. Baby lambs can be spotted everywhere along the trail for added cuteness, and the dreaded Scottish midges are yet to emerge. March can still bring quite some snow, but April is a suitable month to start the hike. Just watch out for the Easter holidays, as accommodation might be busier then.
Waiting until May can have the benefit of drier weather – May is after all the driest month to visit Scotland. However, the traffic on the trail increases and early swarms of midges frequent can become a nuisance, particularly on drizzly days and around dusk. Despite May being quite a busy month for hiking the West Highland Way, fellow hikers quickly disappear behind the next corner or over a hill. The winding route of the trail constantly gives you the illusion of being alone on the trail.
In autumn, from September to November, the Scottish Highlands change colours. The green grass and fern swap place with the orange bracken and purple heather. First sprinklings of snow high up in the mountains create a mysterious atmosphere. Some accommodation providers may close up early for winter and camping might get a little chilly, but hiking at this time of the year is still really spectacular.
No matter when you go, remember that this is Scotland and the weather in the mountains can change swiftly. Most of the northern half of the West Highland Way, in particular, leads through a treeless landscape. Be prepared for mercilessly sunny days as well as horrendous rainy days – there is often no shelter from the rain or sun whatsoever. Make sure you check out my packing list below!
If you want to hike Scotland during the summer months, but can’t stand the idea of crowds, check out these other ideas for long-distance trails in Scotland.
Booking with West Highland Way Tour Companies
There are many tour companies that offer West Highland Way accommodation packages for self-guided hikes as well as guided walking holidays with an experienced mountain leader. These packages usually include accommodation suitable to your budget, daily route descriptions, door-to-door luggage transfer, additional transport if your B&B is off route (e.g. in Glencoe Village) and map material.
WHW packaged can make planning and preparing for your hiking vacation a lot easier – but personally, I also think they take away the fun of planning. I like having full control over the places I stay at and how many miles I walk each day. I also like to know that what I pay goes 100% towards the businesses I deal with, and not to some middleman agency.
It can be intimidating to plan your own walking holidays in Scotland, but if you’re up for the challenge, follow my “6 Easy Steps” guide!
West Highland Way Luggage Transfer
I’m a huge fan of making my life easier where possible – especially when I’m trying something new. Why would you hike the entire West Highland Way with a heavy backpack, if you can get cheap door-to-door luggage transfer to all your accommodations, and hike only with a bay bag?!
We decided against carrying everything ourselves. We packed two bags between the three of us that we filled with spare clothes and food, and had them transported from hostel to hostel by Walkabout Scotland. Walkabout Scotland is a company providing walking holidays in Scotland, among which you can find the West Highland Way. While we drafted our itinerary and booked all accommodation ourselves, going through an experienced company like Walkabout Scotland can save you a lot of hassle navigating the many options along the way.
There are many companies offering luggage transfer:
- Baggage Freedom, from £65
- AMS Scotland, from £45
- Travel-Lite, from £55
- Sherpa Van, from £65
- Ginger Routes, from £60
- Highland Transfers, from £45
How hard is it to walk the West Highland Way?
The West Highland Way is a physically and mentally challenging walk, yet it requires neither particular hiking experience or navigational skills nor extensive physical preparation. The West Highland Way is manageable with a reasonable level of fitness and a great sense of determination.
It is a great long-distance hike for enthusiastic beginners and experienced trekkers alike. It is clearly waymarked and the trail is always recognisable as such. It comes with perks such as B&Bs and pubs along the way, affordable luggage transfer services, and plenty of drop in/drop out points accessible by public transport.
That said, you will probably get blisters on your feet and a sore back from carrying your backpack. Since this is Scotland you might also have to walk through rain and storm. This is where your enthusiasm for hiking will kick in, and get you through that mental challenge.
The West Highland Way Guidebook
The map is great to get an overview of each day’s distance and terrain – we frequently checked it to get an idea of where we are and how long we had to go. While the waymarkers en route minimise navigation requirements, it is essential to have a map and know how to read it. In case of an emergency, you have to be able to tell Scottish Mountain Rescue where you are to ensure quick assistance.
The guidebook provides detailed descriptions of the trail and lots of practical advice – it’s a great resource when preparing for your trip. The only thing I would add is that the book’s estimated walking times (even with the suggested 20-30% added on for breaks) must have been calculated for very fast walkers. It usually took us longer than suggested in the book, even though we didn’t take extensive breaks.
Solo hiking the West Highland Way
My initial plan of solo hiking the West Highland Way never came true, but still, I asked myself, would I hike the West Highland Way by myself?
The short answer is YES.
The longer answer is that on the first day I might have been a bit nervous – it was drizzling and humid, guys hiking in groups passed by us and disappeared along the forest trail, the thought of carrying everything by myself, rather than splitting the load with my friends made my backpack seem even heavier. BUT in the end, I knew that those feelings of uncertainty were only an effect of being on a long-distance hike for the first time ever.
Since then, I have hiked solo a lot in the Scottish Highlands – both long-distance trails and summitting mountains. From these experiences, I can whole-heartedly say, that I find the West Highland Way a very safe and suitable route for female solo hikers.
I was happy to be able to share every moment of the trail with my friends, but I absolutely would encourage any woman to hike this trail on her own. There is regular phone reception, no necessity to wild camp, there are plenty of other (solo) hikers on the trail who can help you in an emergency and there are luggage transport services providing cheap transfer of your bag so you only have to carry a day bag. It could not be easier to dip your toes into solo trekking!
You might also like: The Power of Hiking Alone as a Woman
West Highland Way Trail Route Planner
The West Highland Way guidebook by Charlie Loram offers a variety of route options for 6, 7 or 8 days depending on whether you camp, stay in hostels and bunkhouses or in B&Bs and hotels. Where you overnight not only depends on how many days you have for the entire route but also what kind of accommodation is available in a given village.
Since we stayed in hostels and bunkhouses all the way, I will consider this accommodation type in my route planner.
West Highland Way in 8 days
Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen – 12 m / 19 km Overnight at Kip in the Kirk
Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan – 14 m / 22 km Overnight at Rowardennan Lodge Youth Hostel
Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan – 13.5 m / 22 km Overnight at Beinglas Farm camping pods or Drovers Inn
Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum – 12.5 m / 20 km Overnight at By the Way Hostel & Bunkhouse
Day 5: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy – 7 m / 11.5 km Overnight at West Highland Way Sleeper
Day 7: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven – 8.5 m / 13.5 km Overnight at Blackwater Hostel
As you can see, this is a fairly relaxed approach to walking the West Highland Way and it is the route I would have followed on my planned solo hike. There are several shorter days in the itinerary and the longest day doesn’t come until the end, which means your body can acclimatise to the physical challenge of a long-distance hike before you ask too much of it.
Our route was very similar to the second half of this breakdown, the only difference is that we started in Crianlarich which added 6 m / 10 km to our first day on the trail (day 5 in this breakdown).
You might also like: 15 Things to do in Fort William
West Highland Way in 6 Days
Day 2: Balmaha to Rowardennan – 7 m / 11.5 km Overnight at Rowardennan Lodge Youth Hostel
Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan – 13.5 m / 22 km Overnight at Beinglas Farm camping pods or Drovers Inn
Day 4: Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy – 19.5 m / 31.5 km Overnight at West Highland Way Sleeper
Day 5: Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven – 21.5 m / 34.5 km Overnight at Blackwater Hostel
Comparing this to the 8-day itinerary, it is clear how much more challenging it is to do the West Highland Way in just 6 days. There are several long days around 20 miles including the first day on the trail. Worst case, if you get blisters from over-challenging your feet on the first day, it might interfere with your enjoyment of the rest of the walk.
Personally, I don’t enjoy walking more than 15 miles per day, and I certainly would not want to push that boundary several days in a row. If this is your first long-distance trail, I recommend you take it easy and if you have less than 8 days for the trail, rather just do a section of it, than rush yourself through the entire walk.
If you only have a few days and want to experience some of the best sections of the West Highland Way, without hiking the entire distance, I recommend following my 4-day WHW route from Crianlarich to Fort William.
If you have more than 8 days, I’d recommend adding a few break days to your West Highland Way route not only to give your body a break but also to explore more of the beautiful regions you hike through. A great place to take an extra day is Loch Lomond. Balloch near Balmaha is the perfect starting point for a cruise on Loch Lomond and from Rowardennan you can climb Ben Lomond, the southernmost Munro in Scotland.
You could also break in Glencoe where you can choose from a variety of activities, such as easy walks, challenging hikes, water activities or a cycle along Loch Leven.
You might also like: 13 Munros for beginners
West Highland Way Accommodation
Overall, there is a lot of accommodation along the West Highland Way and as long as you plan and book early enough, there is a place for any budget.
The cheapest way to stay along the West Highland Way is camping. There are many campsites on the trail and apart from the eastern shore of Loch Lomond – which is part of a national park – you can also wild camp as long as you stick to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
You might enjoy my guide for wild camping in Scotland!
On the other end of the spectrum, there are lovely hotels such as the traditional Bridge of Orchy Hotel or the newly renovated Kingshouse Hotel. In between, you will find a plethora of walker-friendly B&Bs, guesthouses, hostels and bunkhouses. However, not every village has the same variety of accommodation types available. Places like Rowardennan, Inverarnan, Bridge of Orchy or Kingshouse, for example, have very limited options and can book out way in advance.
No matter where you stay, I therefore highly recommend booking several months prior to your trip. If you hike the West Highland Way during high season, which is from May to August, during school holidays like Easter, or over bank holiday weekends you should look into booking accommodation by January at the very latest.
Here are the hostels we stayed at during our 4-day hike along the West Highland Way:
For our first night, we chose the SYHA Hostel in Crianlarich. It is right next to the train station and in walking distance to nearby pubs serving food. However, there are also self-catering facilities! We had a room with three single beds, out own sink and shared bathrooms just down the corridor. As per usual with hostels of the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, the hostel was clean, all facilities in great condition and the staff really helpful.
Book at SYHA Hostel in Crianlarich here!
Our next stop was the West Highland Way Sleeper bunkhouse in Bridge of Orchy, which could do with an upgrade (and cleaner showers). Still, the uniqueness of sleeping in the middle of an operating train station won me over. It is also the only budget accommodation in Bridge of Orchy, apart from camping.
I was happy to return to the Glencoe Independent Hostel in Glencoe for our next night. The village is slightly off the trail, but since the bunkhouse at the Kingshouse Hotel is currently undergoing renovation (due to re-open in 2019), there is no other option than making your way to Glencoe. I spent a cosy October night at the hostel a few years ago and was not disappointed this time around. We stayed in a 4-bed dorm with shared bathroom and self-catering facilities.
Book at Glencoe Independent Hostel here!
Our favourite hostel along the way was definitely Blackwater Hostel in Kinlochleven. It is located in beautiful surroundings and has great self-catering facilities while also being nearby the restaurants in town. Nearby, you can even go for a refreshing dip in the icy cold river behind the hostel!
Book at Blackwater Hostel in Kinlochleven here!
In Fort William, we stayed at Muthu Hotel (previously, West End Hotel), a traditional highland hotel that could do with a bit of modernisation and more generous vegan breakfast options. The hotel’s location & views however, as well as the exceptionally helpful reception staff easily make up for that. We had a triple room with a bathtub – there is not more you could ask for after a long-distance hike!
Book at Muthu hotel in Fort William here!
Places to eat: Vegan food on the West Highland Way
Hiking the West Highland Way as a vegan is absolutely doable. I generally prepared my own breakfast (muesli with coconut milk) and packed my lunches with bagels, store-bought hummus, snack veggies, fruit and high protein snacks like nuts and Trek bars. Most accommodation providers on the West Highland Way offer packed lunches for walkers, but satisfying vegan options are a rarity.
Vegan-friendly restaurants on the West Highland Way
On the way towards Tyndrum, we were surprised to stumble across an adorable artisan cafe called Country Mumkins. It is located a few minutes off the trail in an old church and makes it a great stop for coffee & cake or fresh lunch. Remote as it seemed, they fixed up a soy latte for me.
Also in Tyndrum, you could stop at the Real Food Cafe – an award-winning fish & chip shop with a separate vegan menu. I love their vegan burger!
Dinners were much easier sort and we ate out a lot. Most pubs we found on the West Highland Way (in Crianlarich, Bridge of Orchy, Glencoe, Kinlochleven) had a vegan option available or could prepare a vegan meal for me. Surprisingly, Fort William was the hardest town to navigate and finding coffee with plant-based milk was almost impossible.
The staff at The Grog & Gruel was very accommodating though and helped me create a vegan evening meal, and the Wetherspoon’s at the finish line also has a vegan menu. With the opening of The Wildcat cafe, there is now also a vegan cafe in Fort William!
Supermarkets along the West Highland Way
There are plenty of shops along the West Highland Way, although there can be up to two days between them. It is best to stock up on snacks and anything you might need before you leave – either in Glasgow or Milngavie. We packed some of our food supplies in the bags we had transported to our accommodations.
There is, for example, no shop between Tyndrum and Kinlochleven, unless you do a detour to the Glencoe Village shop 14 miles off route. Also consider, that many of the small shops along the way will have a very limited selection of supplies and might be more expensive.
You might also like: How to travel Scotland as a Vegan
West Highland Way Packing List
Packing for long-distance hiking is an art form. When you have to carry everything you need on your back, you think twice about every single piece of equipment you pack. Having your luggage transferred from door to door takes a lot of weight off your shoulders (pun intended), but you still have to put some significant thought into what to pack on your day bag.
I have written a full packing list for walking holidays in Scotland which contains all the kit I bring on my hikes, but here are some essentials you should definitely bring.
The most important piece of equipment to bring on a walking holiday is, of course, a good pair of hiking boots. I recently replaced my trustworthy, but worn-out hiking boots with a brand new pair of Zamberlan Ultra Lite boots.
Hiking with new boots comes with a great risk of blisters and worse, but the Zamberlan boots surprised me with a perfect fit, even though I only managed to take them out for two little walks prior to hiking the West Highland Way. The wrong footwear can cause an early end to any hiking adventure, so make sure you have suitable footwear and break it in before your hike!
Just as crucial is a good backpack with a hip belt. I used my Osprey Tempest 30 daypack but I have larger backpacks for hikes where I need to bring my camping equipment.
One of my friends had brought her regular backpack from home, and while it was more stylish than my hiking pack, it lacked a hip belt. Her shoulders were thus considerably sorer due to the distribution of weight on her back. Hiking is a time when practicality is worth more than style.
You might also like: 10 Features that Make a Perfect Trekking Backpack
I bet you have heard about the dreaded Scottish midge – a tiny black insect that moves in swarms and can easily ruin your hiking holiday. They hatch sometime in May and stick around throughout the summer. They are most active in the morning and the evenings but can be annoying all day if the conditions are right. They particularly like wind-still and overcast days.
I highly recommend a midge repellent called Smidge, which was specifically developed with the Scottish midge in mind. You can pick it up at any shop in the Scottish Highlands or in outdoor shops in Glasgow.
If you decide to camp on the West Highland Way, consider investing in a midge net to protect your face – remember that the mesh of regular mosquito nets is too big and lets them right through).
Many visitors cover the distance between Glasgow and Fort William in less than three hours by car, rushing through some of the most beautiful landscapes Scotland has to offer. Walking the West Highland Way is a unique way to explore the Scottish Highlands in a slow pace and explore these iconic mountains in-depth. This guide will set you up with everything you need.
Have you hiked the West Highland way before? Share your story in the comments!
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