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A beginner's guide to hiking in Scotland


 
With its diversity of landscapes and rich history, the United Kingdom has long been one of the best destinations in the world for a walking holiday. And of all the places you can explore on foot around this island nation, Scotland is a fantastic choice for first-time hikers looking to take their first steps participating in this active pastime. Novice hikers are spoiled for choice with hundreds of easy and beginner-friendly trails across the country, each offering something different and unique whether it's stunning views of epic mountain ranges and windswept coastlines or the chance to explore historic sites or view native wildlife.

Here is a beginners’ hiking guide to help you plan a hiking trip to this incredible country, either as a solo adventure or as part of a small group tour.

 

Hiking in Scotland: nature, culture and adventure

Covering more than 30,000 square miles of mountains, moorlands, shimmering lochs, and rugged coastlines, Scotland offers both new and experienced hikers a breathtaking range of natural beauty to explore and discover on a Scottish hiking holiday. Historic castles, ancient ruins, cosmopolitan cities, and countless points of interest are waiting to be discovered, adding a cultural dimension to your tour.

Hiking in Scotland can also be tailored to fit — whether you want to explore specific areas on day hikes or undertake a multi-day, long-distance route like the West Highland Way. Beginners may benefit from joining a small group tour alongside an expert local guide and like-minded fellow travelers. And all the planning, accommodations, and travel arrangements are taken care of for you.

 

What are the best places to go hiking in Scotland?

While every part of the country has beautiful and unique landscapes to explore, these peak hiking destinations rise above the rest.

 

The Scottish Highlands

Encompassing the northwestern part of the country, the Scottish Highlands are best known for being the home of Loch Ness, as well as majestic Scottish mountains like Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the United Kingdom at 4,411 feet above sea level.

The Isle of Skye

The legendary abode of fairies and giants, the rugged Isle of Skye, located off Scotland's northwestern coast, offers hikers the chance to explore breathtaking landscapes steeped in local folklore and history.

The Orkney Islands

Along with incredible bird-watching and coastal hikes, the archipelago of Orkney off Scotland's northern coast is home to many of the best-preserved Neolithic sites and ruins in Europe, making hikers feel as if they've journeyed back in time.

 

The best hiking trails in Scotland for beginners

Beginner hikers don't have to look far to find easy but rewarding hikes in Scotland: from the 4-mile Quiraing hike on the Isle of Skye to the twin peaks of Cul Mor in the Highlands. With numerous routes to choose from, you can read our guide to hiking in the Scottish Highlands for some of our top trail recommendations, many of which you can try yourself on our Walk the North West Highlands and Skye Tour.

Newcomers to hiking can also take part in the Scottish tradition of Munro bagging. Similar to peak bagging, Munro bagging is the practice of summiting Munros, which are Scottish mountains standing over 3,000 feet high and named after the British mountaineer Sir Hugh T Munro, who climbed and cataloged them in the late 19th century. The end goal is not only the incredible views from the top but the sense of achievement and accomplishment. Luckily, there are many Munros out there that are suitable for beginners, like Ben Lomond in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, and the Mountain Track leading up Ben Nevis.

 

What to pack for hiking in Scotland

When packing for hiking in Scotland, it's important to pack for all kinds of weather regardless of when you're visiting. That means moisture-wicking base layers, thermal layers, and waterproof outer layer shells. That way, you can take off or put on gear as needed depending on the temperature, time of day, and weather.

For footwear, trail runners can work fine for most beginner-friendly trails. But a high-quality, durable pair of hiking boots with good ankle support is best. Be sure to break in your boots before your trip to avoid getting blisters, and buy boots that are sturdy, comfortable, and waterproof.

For more gear recommendations, check out our complete packing guide about what to wear for hiking in Scotland.

 

Top tips for beginner hikers planning a trip to Scotland

When going hiking in a region that is new to you, it's always better to be over-prepared rather than under-prepared. Here is some additional advice to keep in mind ahead of your Scotland hiking trip:
  • Always check the weather before heading out on a hike
  • Know your limits and don't try hikes or sections that you feel uncomfortable with, take you out of your comfort zone, or are beyond your fitness level
  • When in doubt, it's always better to go with a guide for safety and assurance
  • Even on day hikes, pack water, food, and a first aid kit
  • If you want to go on a long-distance hike but it's your first one, tackle a number of day hikes first to acclimate
  • Whether traveling solo or as part of an Explore Scotland walking tour, book well in advance, especially if you're visiting during the summer high season
  • If you're going exploring during the summer, pack midge repellent

 

Explore Scotland on foot on a walking tour

There's no better way to connect with the land and immerse yourself in the history and culture of this storied nation than on a Scotland walking and hiking trip, which you can undertake solo or as part of a small group walking tour accompanied by an expert guide from Explore.

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